GENERAL DELEVAN BATES

Source: HISTORY of Hamilton & Clay Counties, Nebraska
Vol. II; Chicago; S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1921
George L. Burr, Supervising Editor


Photo taken in the 1880's

No history of Hamilton county would be complete without extended reference to General Delevan Bates, who was so long an active, prominent and honored figure in connection with the upbuilding and progress of this part of the state. He was among those who homesteaded land here in an early day and later he was on various occasions in public of ce, while in business affairs he contributed to the material development and substantial welfare of the community. His record as a soldier of the Civil war was a brilliant one and at all times his career reflected credit and honor upon the people of the state who honored him.

General Bates was born in Richmondville, Schoharie county, New York, March 17, 1840, and had attained the age of seventyeight years when he passed away at Aurora, Nebraska on the l9th of December, 1918. His youthful days were passed in the Empire state and his educational advantages were thosť accorded by the public schools. He had attained his majority when on the 23d of August,1862 he responded to the country's call for troops to aid in the preservation of the Union and became a second lieutenant. He was at that time residing at Worcester, Otsego county, New York, and he assisted in recruiting the One Hundred and Twentyfirst New York Volunteers, being mustered in with that regiment on the 18th of August. The command was assigned to the Sixth army corps and had its baptism of fire in the battle of South Mountain, Maryland, on the l4th of September, less than four weeks after entering service. It soon won a well deserved reputation as a fighting regiment and in the course of the war lost two hundred and twenty-six of its men or one fourth of the entire number of the regiment. It was during the disastrous campaign of General Joe Hooker that Lieutenant Bates was taken prisoner and for sixteen days incarcerated in Libby prison, his capture being effected at Salem church, just after the fall of Fredericksburg, when he and about forty companions were surrounded by a superior force. They were sent to Richmond where they were placed with between three and four thousand other Union prisoners who had been captured at Chancellorsville. After Lieutenant Bates had been confned in Libby prison for a little more than two weeks his exchange was effected, his name being the last one called on a list of several thousand prisoners and an entire year elapsed before another exchange was made.

He rejoined his regiment just before the battle of Gettysburg,participating in a forced march in the race with Lee and reaching Little Round Top during the second day's fight, just before Longstreet charged that critical position. When the rebels caught site of the Greek cross, which was the battle flag of the Sixth army corps, they halted and never renewed the assault. From his vantage point on Round Top, Lieutenant Bates had an excellent view of Pickett's famous charge through what became known as the Bloody Angle. It was at Gettysburg that Mr. Bates' promotion to a first lieutenancy came to him. When in 1864 congress passed a resolution to accept colored volunteers, providing, however, that the regiments must be officered by white men who had seen service in the field, Lieutenant Bates was examined for an appointment of this character in February, 1864, and was made colonel of the Thirtieth Regiment, United States Colored Troops, on the 1 st of March following. His military record from that time on has been given in a local paper as follows: "For weeks the Union forces had unsuccessfully assaulted the rebel works around Petersburg. Finally a tunnel was dug under the entrenchments and a plan was made to explode several tons of gunpowder. Through the gap thus made in the rebel line the works were stormed. The colored division of which Colonel Bates' regiment was a part was first chosen for this important duty but the plan was changed on account of a fear that if the assault failed the commanding general would be censured for `sending the niggers into such a place.' The weakest division in the corps was chosen by lot and when the explosion gave signal for the assault it was repulsed. Bates' division was then ordered forward and as ranking colonel he led the first regiment into `the crater' made by the explosion. This hole was about the size of a city block and was the grave of two hundred and fifty men. Several hours' delay ensued in preparing for the second attack and the enemy had recovered to a considerable extent from the almost complete demoralization which immediately followed the explosion. The black soldiers drove them out, however, and kept them out. Just as they were settling down to a rest, a staff officer rode up to Colonel Bates with an order from General Burnside to charge a rebel battery on a nearby hill which was doing considerable damage to the Union forces. In forming for this charge Colonel Bates gave his men the usual instructions to pay no attention to the wounded who fell until after the battery was taken. If that order had been obeyed his life would surely have been lost that day. Just as the colored troops swept across a ravine they encountered a galling crossfire from five thousand enforcements under General Mahone and Colonel Bates fell with a fifty-eight calibre Enfield ball through his head. The bullet entered his right cheek and passed out just behind the left ear. The variation of a hir's breadth in its course would have meant instant death. But worse danger was coming. Bitter prejudice existed among the confederates against colored soldiers and especially against their white oi cers. The confederate congress had, in fact, declared that no mercy should be shown them. Wounded officers in such cases were invariably killed by bayonet. But for the heroism of Bates' black soldiers who carried him to safety he would undoubtedly have met that fate. October 11th he returned to duty and was given command of a brigade with the rank of General, also a medal of honor for the work he did at Petersburg. In January, 1865, his brigade was sent to North Carolina, where it joined General Sherman's army. General Bates' brigade remained at Beaufort, NorthCarolina, during the period of reconstruction and was mustered out in December,1865."

With the close of the war General Bates returned to his old home in New York. He was married on the 1st of January,1870, to Miss Lana A. Green of the Empire state and to them were born the following children: Lena Metzger, who died at the age of twenty two years: LaVerne, a fruit farmer of Modesta, California: C.L., who is chief clerk in the auditing department of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and resides at LaGrange, Illinois: Mrs. Daisy Tunison, living at Aurora, and the mother of two children, Lawrence and Margaret Tunison, who are in school. Mrs. Bates passed away in the year 1902, while the death of General Bates occurred December 19, 1918. He was therefore nearing the eightieth milestone on life's journey when called to his final rest. He had long been a consistent member of the Masonic fraternity, also belonged to the Ancient Order of United Workmen and he proudly wore the little bronze button that proclaimed him a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. For a number of years he served as commander of his post and was most highly esteemed by all of his old military comrades.

General Bates dated his residence in Hamilton county from 1872, at which time he took up a homestead of one hundred and sixty acres. When he had complied with the law concerning the cultivation of the claim and had received his patent to the land he removed to Aurora, where he continued to reside to the time of his death. For a number of years he was vice president of the First National Bank of Aurora and was recognized as a business man of superior ability, of keen insight and sound judgment, successfully managing all of the interests with which he was associated. His fellow townsmen recognizing his worth and his devotion to the general good called him to several offices. He served as county superintendent of schools, was a member of the city council of Aurora for eight years and for two terms served as mayor of the city. It was while acting as county superintendent of schools that he took op his abode in Aurora, which was then but a tiny village and the subsequent growth, development and prosperity ofthe city are attributable in no small degree to the efforts of General Bates. When Aurora was made the county seat it was not even incorporated as a town and there was no legal way to raise money for any purpose. The citizens agreed to build a courthouse if the voters of Hamilton county would give them the opportunity and at the fifth election at which this question was before the people Aurora won the location. Immediately work on the courthouse was commenced but when the frame was constructed work stopped. Then Aurora learned that the people of the county were claiming that the election had been won by fraud and that an appeal would be made to the courts to declare the election illegal. A mass meeting was then called at which every voter of Aurora was present and the following resolution was passed, "Resolved that the courthouse must be built, and Aurora must build it." General Bates was appointed a member of the committee, together with John Helms and William H. Streeter, to carry this resolution into effect and the next morning he started out with an agreement to be signed by the voters, that each one would stand by the committee in all that they did. Only two men refused to sign the paper. Work was at once begun, General Bates guaranteeing the pay of the workmen and at an early date the courthouse was complete. General Bates was then instrumental in bringing about the incorporation of the town, which was accomplished at the next meeting of the county commissioners, on the 3d of July,1877. He became a member of the first board of trustees and so continued to serve until Aurora was made a city of the second class. He later served as a member of the city council for eight years and was chief executive by reason of his election to the mayoralty for two terms. He did much to guide the policy and shape the destiny during the formative period and his work in behalf of urora is one which entitles him to the respect and the gratitude of all of her citizens. He likewise was instrumental in securing a site for a cemetery for the town. Arrangements had been made to purchase such a site from the Union Pacific Railroad Company but subscriptions were not forthcoming and the contract for the land was cancelled. When his son Loraine died in 1874 General Bates began investigating the condition of the cemetery, renewed the contract with the railroad company and made all payments until the town was incorporated, at which time the contract was turned over to the newly organized municipality. General Bates, however, served as superintendent of the cemetery for the first sixteen years at a nomina.l salary. He was one of the most enthusiastic champions of the Republican Valley Railroad from the time of the first committee meeting until the county bonds were voted. It was during his mayoralty term that the city water works were built and at all times he stood for progress and improvemnt in anything relating to the general welfare. For many years he did important work on the school board without fiziancial reward and he advanced the money to pay for the ground whereon the present high school building stands, the district having no available funds at that time. He it was who raised the funds for the band stand and memorial park in the public square and had charge of both from the beginning to completion. It is almost impossible to give account of his public service, so wide and resultant were his activities. Throughout days of peace he displayed the same loyalty to the public good that he manifested when he followed the nation's banner on the battle fields of the south and while his reward came in less tangible way than during the Civil war when he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, he nevertheless enjoyed the highest regard, confidence and goodwill of his fellow townsmen, who during his life honored him for what he accomplished and since his death have revered and cherished his memory.

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