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Civil War Era History

Captain Bela Turner Clark - 42nd Illinois Infantry

Armand Pallissard

Bela Clark was the second born of Lorenzo Clark's four children who pioneered in Illinois. The others were Milan Orlando (1815-1885), Joseph (1834-1916), and Cynthia (1825-?). Bela was the first of them to settle in Momence, IL (abt. 1844); in 1847, he married Charlotte Temple Thayer (b. 1828 in Ohio; d. 1904 in Momence, IL). In the family line of Lorenzo and Laura Clark, Bela, with his wife, Charlotte, raised the First Clark Pioneer Family in Kankakee County, Illinois, and they had eight children who survived to adulthood. Several of them remained in Momence, married, and raised large families there; some, sooner or later, moved away from Illinois to other states.

Bela was a farmer, a civil engineer, and the first surveyor of Kankakee County. In the Civil War, he served a year as a captain in the Union Army (1861-1862). He commanded Co. D, 42nd Infantry (Illinois Volunteers). His troops elected him to command their company.

Serving in his company were his brother Joseph (a private) and his future son-in-law Benjamin Franklin Gray, whom he promoted from corporal thru several NCO ranks to first lieutenant. In 1868, B.F. Gray would marry Bela's first-born daughter, Florence Amanda Clark, and they would raise a family of eight children. Bela resigned from active military service in 1862 after being disabled by a severe chronic intestinal infection, which ultimately led to his early death in 1873 at the age of 52.

Capt. Clark's Union Military Service in the Civil War

In volunteer units of the Union Army during the Civil War, it was common practice for soldiers to elect their commanding officers. Thus was Capt. Clark elected to command Company D, 42nd Infantry (Illinois Volunteers). In the first year of the Civil War, he led Company D in the campaign of Atlanta, Georgia, against units of the Confederate Army. With him in service were Benjamin Franklin Gray (his future son-in-law) and his brother Joseph Clark. Benjamin Gray had entered service as a corporal, but within a year Capt. Clark had promoted him—first to the rank of sergeant, then to the rank of first sergeant, and finally to the commissioned rank of 2nd lieutenant. At the end of a year in combat, Capt. Clark was discharged from active service. He lived only 12 more years, dying at the age of 52. His daughter Mildred Augusta Clark (my grandmother) was quoted as saying she believed that his disability had shortened his life.