Abner Clark Harding

Abner Clark Harding was born February 10, 1807, in East Hampton, Connecticut, but moved to Plainfield, New York, where he spent his boyhood years, tried to enlist in the navy, taught school, and engaged in business. He then moved to Bridgewater, New York, where he read law; to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he was admitted to the bar and practiced for several years; and to Monmouth, Illinois, where he made his residence from 1838 until his death. He became interested in Illinois politics and was elected to a number of local and state offices and to the constitutional convention of 1848, being progressively a Jacksonian Democrat, a regular Whig, an an-tislavery Whig, a Free-Soiler, and at the end a Republican. Around 1851 failing eyesight compelled him to turn from law to business. He was eminently successful, leaving at his death a fortune of $2 million amassed from banking, railroad construction, and investments in farm lands. Harding's Civil War career was brief but highly creditable for a man of his age. He enlisted in the 83rd Illinois as a private but was soon commissioned its colonel. This regiment was recruited and mustered at Monmouth in August, 1862, and saw mainly bridge-guard duty until it became the Federal garrison of Fort Donelson a year after U. S. Grant had captured it from the Confederates. In February, 1863, two of the South's foremost cavalry leaders attempted to recapture the post in order to seize control of the Cumberland River: Generals Joe Wheeler (in command) and N. B. Forrest surrounded the position and sent in a demand for surrender. Harding invited an attack which resulted in heavy Confederate casualties and the retirement of the Rebel forces and a breach between Wheeler and Forrest—the latter stating that he would never again fight under Wheeler. For this exploit Harding was promoted to brigadier general to rank from March 13, 1863; however, in June he was compelled to resign from the service because of his failing eyesight. This handicap did not prevent his election to Congress in 1864 and his reelection in 1866. He died in Monmouth on July 19, 1874, and was buried there.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.