Isaac’s father Charles Andrew Harry (born November 17, 1800) was part of the second generation of the Harry family to be born in this country. His mother was Elizabeth West born July 27, 1810 in Williamsburg, Ohio. It is believed that the Harry’s (originally Harre’s) migrated from France to Germany and then to this country sometime after 1738. They were known to be hat makers.
Isaac was born May 3, 1843 in Williamsburg, Ohio and was the seventh of eleven children. Isaac from the age of 10 through age 17 lived with and worked for his maternal grandparents, George and Nancy West. He earned 10 cents a day and gave all his earning to his Mother, except what he needed for his clothing. When he was 17 or 18, he went to Charleston, Illinois to work in a blacksmith shop for his brother, William E. Harry. After six months in Charleston he enlisted in the Union Army, Company A 123rd Illinois Regiment.
Isaac Harry, at the age of 96 was interviewed by the Charleston Illinois Daily Courier and gave the following account of his service in the Civil War. Possessing all of his faculties, this 96 year old veteran can recall with all of the vividness of youth, incidents occurring in his three years of army life.
“We came into actual army life at Louisville, Kentucky, in August of 1862,” he said “I was in the infantry for the first six months of the campaign and then became a member of the mounted infantry under Colonel Wilder in his brigade.” The horse he rode was called Dolly, a little black mare. The mare was acquired by the customary wartime tactics – “taken from a pleading southern widow woman,” according to the General’s command. He was in the service for three years from 1862 to 1865.
In the three years, the army worked its way from Louisville to Atlanta, Georgia arriving there in 1865. All in all the regiment, which was composed entirely of Coles County young men, fought 111 engagements of which the three major battles, Perryville, Chickamauga, and Atlanta, are a major part of the history of that bitter struggle.
“At Perryville, Kentucky, our first major battle, over 170 from our number were either killed or wounded. At Chickamauga our loss was light and we were able to penetrate the enemy lines with little difficulty.”
“Colonel James Monroe of Charleston was in command of the 123rd Regiment and he was a fine leader and soldier, and had the respect of his men. He was killed at Farmington, Tennessee when Joe Wheeler led a band of confederates in a raid against our brigade.”
“We usually had enough rations although one time we went three days without food. That time, however, the mess sergeant had confiscated many of our supplies and sold them. On our raiding parties we took only food and things that we needed. We destroyed no property only that which had been devastated in battle.”
One incident that Isaac Harry tells is of the time that his brigade was camping near Pulaski, Tennessee. “It was the coldest weather that had ever been experienced in that part of the country. That night it froze ice in the streams deep enough to support the weight of a horse. Frank Waters of Ashmore and I pitched our pup tent alongside a huge log which protected us from the wind. The leaves alongside the log kept us warm through the night. Many of the party, however, could not sleep it was so cold that they kept dragging logs onto huge fires.”
“I served under three generals, Buell, Rosecrans and Sherman. I was under Sherman’s command at Atlanta but when he started his march to the sea I was assigned to a contingent that was after the rebel commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest. We finally caught him at Selma, Alabama, where after a bitter battle we were able to take 2000 prisoners from the Confederate ranks but we lost over one third of our brigade in winning. Forrest and about 200 of his men were able to escape.”
“Following this skirmish we were returned to Macon, Georgia at the end of the war and from there we were brought back to Springfield, Illinois where I received my discharge. I was given the horse “Dolly” and rode it to Charleston where I remained for a while before returning to my old home at Williamsburg, Ohio.”
In all Isaac Harry fought in 111 engagements and never received a scratch. His company of 1000 was reduced to 22 upon returning after the war. He lived to be 101 years old.