Col. Jonathan Merriam was born in Passumpsie, Vermont, on the first day of November, 1834. Here we will give a short sketch of his parents. Rev. Jonathan Merriam was born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, November 6, 1791. He commenced preaching in Brandon, Vermont, in 1819, and was licensed by the church the following year. He entered the Philadelphia Theological Institution the same year, and the following year when that institution was removed to the District of Columbia, he became a student in the Columbian College. He was united in marriage to Miss Achsah Olin, daughter of the late Hon. Henry Olin, of Leicester, Vermont, May 19, 1824. The following autumn be was ordained pastor of the Baptist Church in Bridport, Vermont, which relation he sustained for nine years. He then removed to Passumpsie and labored for three years. In the fall of 1836 he left New England for the west, arriving at Springfield October 20, 1836. Receiving a call, he became pastor of the Baptist Church of that place and continued his labors for three years, when be moved to Alton, Illinois, where he labored one year, and from there to Hittle township, Tazewell county, Illinois, where his widow now resides, with her son Col. M., spending the evening of life in peace and quietude.
The Colonel was raised upon the farm. At the age of seventeen he attended the Illinois Wesleyan University, at Bloomington, where he paid his expenses by sawing wood. After spending one year at the above place he next entered McKendre College, located at Lebanon, St. Clair county, Illinois, where he spent two years, after which he returned home, and owing to the death of his brother Henry, the whole duties of the farm devolved upon him. He had, however, prior to this, purchased a farm of six hundred acres in McLean county, which he sold, and purchased the old homestead, where he now resides. Col. Merriam is a thorough Illinoisan, having lived in the state since 1836. His father was one of the early settlers. Up to the outbreak of the war Col. M. lived the life of a quiet, industrious citizen, taking no share in public affairs beyond the immediate vicinity of his home. He has always been known, however, as an avowed, outspoken member of the great republican party. From its earliest beginning he acknowledged allegiance to its ideas, and as a good citizen, he gave his strength for the accomplishment of its objects. No man In Tazewell county stands higher than Col. Jonathan Merriam for honesty of purpose, integrity of demeanor, and thorough devotion to the best interests of the country.
When the south rose in rebellion and strove to assassinate the Union which our fathers had declared to be perpetual, and when the mighty men of the north, too, rose and swore that they would save the nation from its enemies, Col. M. was found among the number. He felt, as did thousands of others, that the government which had protected him in peaceful days demanded his best services when assailed by the terrible hatred of the slave-holders’ war. Becoming connected with the one hundred and seventeenth (117th) Illinois infantry, he was elected lieutenant colonel of the regiment, then rendezvoused at Camp Butler, near the city of Springfield, under the command of Col. Risdon M. Moore. On the 19th day of September, 1862, the regiment was mustered into the service of the United States by Capt. Washington, U.S. A. On the 4th day of November it moved from Camp Butler, and arrived at Memphis, Tennessee, on the 17th inst., where it was stationed on duty, and remained until the following July, when the important position of Helena, Arkansas, being threatened by a rebel army, the regiment was sent to reinforce the garrison at that point. After the scare passed away, it returned to Memphis, and in December was sent after Forrest, in western Tennessee, who was then returning south from one of his raids. During this raid the regiment had one or two skirmishes, and lost several men killed and wounded. December 29th, 1863, the command was moved to Vicksburg and took part in the first assault upon that stronghold, and afterward participated in the Meridian campaign and engaged in several hotly fought skirmishes, during which many men were killed and wounded. On the 4th day of March the regiment got back to Vicksburg, but was not allowed much time for rest and recuperation, being ordered March 10th to embark on the Red River expedition, which proved so disastrous to our armies. In this campaign the 117th regiment distinguished itself by aiding in the capture of Fort De Russey, and in the celebrated battle of Pleasant Hillu. On the 11th day of April the command was ordered to Grand Ecore, and subsequently was stationed at Campta, Louisiana, for the purpose of protecting transports belonging to the government. While in the afore-named state the regiment took part in several engagements, notably that of the battle of Yellow Bayou, fought on May 18th, 1864. On the 27th of May they arrived at Vicksburg again, but were soon ordered to aid in driving the rebel General Marmaduke from Arkansas. After returning from this expedition they were sent to the relief of Gen. Sturgis, in Tennessee, and on this campaign took part in the battles of Tupelo and Old Town Creek. Afterward they were moved from point to point, where they were most needed, until November, 1864, when they were ordered to Nashville, Tennessee, to help drive back Gen. Hood, who was then advancing against the entrenched forces of General Thomas. Taking position in the works, they engaged in the terrible battle of Nashville, which resulted in the complete overthrow of the only remaining rebel army in the west on the east side of the Mississippi river. January 4th, 1865, the regiment embarked upon its last campaign—that against Mobile. It was then under command of Gen. A. J. Smith, the fighting veteran of the sixteenth corps, took an active part in the operations against Spanish Fort, and afterward against the Blakely batteries, by which Mobile was defended. The assault upon these strongly constructed works was a perilous and gallant undertaking and right nobly was it accomplished. The fighting days of the 117th were now over. A few months more of barracks life and garrison duty, and their work was done. On the 5th day of August, 1865, the regiment was mustered out of service at Camp Butler, the very place where, nearly three years before, it had been mustered in, having, during its absence, traveled 778 miles by rail, 6,191 miles by water, and 2,307 miles by marching, and participated in six pitched battles and thirty-three skirmishes, This record is a noble one, and can be surpassed by few regiments in the service during the war. During all this time, through all the marchings and counter-marchings on land and water, on picket, in camp, and through the rage and danger of battle, Col. Merriam was with his men. His war record is one of which he and his friends may be proud.
We have stated, that up to the beginning of the war Col. M. took no part in public affairs beyond performing his duties as a good citizen. After he came from the war he was nominated by the republican party of Tazewell county for the state legislature. A contest arose upon the election, and the county clerk issued a certificate of election to Dr. S. R Saltenstal the democratic opponent of the Colonel. This was thought to be unjust, and it was determined to contest the seat in the legislature. It is understood that because Col. Merriam refused to make his support of what was known as the “Lake Front Swindle,” a condition precedent to his admission to the legislature, the seat was denied him and given to his opponent. Returning to his home, the Colonel was soon taken up by his constituents and elected to a seat in the constitutional convention. In that body he made a good record, and showed his appreciation of the men who elected him by insisting on such provisions being inserted into our organic law as would tend to weaken the power of railroads and monopolies and increase the standing and influence of the farmer and laboring man. In August, 1870, he was nominated by the republican party of the eighth district for Congress, but owing to some disaffection on the part of his competitors for the nomination, he was beaten by Mr. Robinson, one of the ablest of his party.
The Colonel was married to Miss B. A. Barland, daughter of Rev. Thomas Barland, formerly of McLean county, on the 6th day of June, 1859, at Esu Claire, Wisconsin. She died on the 19th day of June, 1861. He was again married on the 10th day of November, 1864, to Miss Lucy C. White, daughter of Rev. John B. White, of Greenville, Bond county, Illinois.
From Atlas map of Tazewell County, 1872, p. 47