While scanning Civil War photographs for a researcher, investigations were made to gain more information on a soldier who was later identified as Henry Martyn Thomas. Born Dec. 21, 1841, Thomas served during the Civil War in the 45th Regiment, Illinois Infantry, rising from Private to Commissary Sergeant in Company G.
Henry was one of seven children born to Dr. Alden Thomas (1791-1856). After practicing medicine for a few years, Dr. Thomas moved to a farm two miles south of Rockford on Kishwaukee Road where he lived for two years. After this, he relocated to Rockford where he operated a drug store until shortly before his death. Dr. Thomas was buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Rockford.
On Sept. 28, 1863, Henry Thomas was involved in rescuing passengers from a burning steamer on the Mississippi River. An article in the Rock River Democrat (Rockford IL) stated that Thomas acted “with true heroic gallantry . . . assisted in launching a gang-plank,” and saw to the safety of others on board. He was later lost attempting to swim to shore. The newspaper proclaimed that “he died like a true soldier.” Thomas was twenty-one-years-old.
The photo below was taken seven months before his untimely death.
Another Rock River Democrat article, dated Nov. 25, 1863, reported that the remains of Henry M. Thomas were recovered from the Mississippi and returned to Rockford. He was also buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.
~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student