Ron and Nancy Clevenger live in Farmer City, Ill., but have strong connections to Chesterfield and the part it played in the Civil War. Their relative, Lewis Hurley, a Union soldier, was killed during the five-day Battle of Proctor’s Creek.
The couple visited Chesterfield three years ago after visiting Richmond Battlefield Park, where they thought they may get information on Ron’s ancestor. They were given the name of historian George Fickett the Civil War historian and expert in Chesterfield. Fickett took the Clevengers to the earthworks at Branches Bluff, but the future site of 39th Illinois Park was yet to be developed and was not accessible.
When the Clevengers returned last week, they saw a historic park that had been developed since their 2013 visit, and construction at the Branch’s Bluff community was completed. Now the park was easily accessible, consisting of a trail with interpretive markers along the way.
“We thought that he [Hurley] had been killed in the First Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, but we found out after doing some research that it was the Second Battle,” Ron said. “We’re proud of this guy, [Fickett] we wouldn’t be here without him.”
Nancy is just as appreciative. “We were running around Drewry’s Bluff for the day, and it’s a beautiful place but not what we were looking for,” she said.
Between Ron and Hurley, there were at least three generations, and the name is notable in Farmers City, Illinois. Dennis Hurley was reported as being the first white settler to establish a home in the vicinity. He was Hurley’s father.
“It’s great now that we know where it is, we can tell our grandson where his great-great-great grandfather died,” Ron said.
Hurley was in enlisted in the 39th Regiment and served Ron knew that his ancestor, died on the west end of the Proctors Creek line. During the battle there were miscommunications between the Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler and his Union troops. The 39th were left to fight the last of the battle, which the Union lost. The Union lost 3,004 during the battle and the Confederates lost 1,000 out of 57,000 engaged in the battle.
Mr. Fickett met them at the earthworks at the 39th Illinois Park giving them a tour of the site where Ron’s great-great-great grandfather had been one of the thousands killed.
Debbie Stoddard from Finer Homes helped in donating the site to the county. “It is people like her that makes saving sites so easier,” Fickett said.
Many developers have no knowledge of or don’t understand the historic value of the earthworks on the property they want to develop. The old fortifications look like a ditch and a hump, and it is not unusual to see them in the woods, but it is hard to take notice of them.
Knowing the works were there, Fickett approached Finer Homes and asked them to leave the site intact. Finer Homes donated two lots in their Branch Bluff subdivision to Chesterfield County for the park.
“George is one heck of a guy,” said Stoddard, “We thought we should give back to the community. We are tickled to death to have the park in the Branches Bluff community. In fact, she said, the development is named after the Branch family and Drewry’s Bluff.”