Biography - George B. Gillespie

GEORGE B. GILLESPIE, attorney-at-law at Vienna, is one of the younger members of the legal fraternity practicing in Johnson County who has already won distinction at the Bar, and gives large promise of attaining eminence in his profession. Vienna is his native city, and June 3, 1863, the date of his birth. He is a son of Capt. James B. Gillespie, an officer in the late war, and now a valued official of the Government.
The grandfather of our subject was George Gillespie, who went from North Carolina to Tennessee. James Gillespie was born in the latter State, and lived there on a farm until he was ten years old. At that age his grandfather, Thomas Gillespie, brought him to Johnson County, the journey being made overland with teams, and the necessary articles were taken along to enable the little party to camp by the way. The grandfather was in moderate circumstances, and the little grandson was given the chance to obtain as good an education as the schools of the time afforded. Later in life his keen powers of observation, and shrewd insight into men and affairs, together with extensive reading, gained him the reputation of being one of our best-informed and most enlightened men. Upon their arrival here his grandfather had entered some Government land in what is now Vienna Township, and had bought other land, and the family took possession of a primitive log cabin, in which they lived amid pioneer scenes, literally in the wilderness, until the death of the grandfather, which occurred when Mr. Gillespie was fifteen years old. He was then thrown on his own resources, and first obtained work as a clerk in the general merchandise store of John Bain, and afterward acted in the same capacity for Chapman & Hess.
The father of our subject was in the employ of the latter firm when the Rebellion broke out, and he threw aside his work and left home and all that was dear to him to take his place among his country's defenders, who were willing to endure any hardship and sacrifice, even life itself, to preserve the honor and integrity of the Union. He was commissioned First Lieutenant of Company I, One Hundred and Twentieth Illinois Infantry, and was in the service nearly four years. For gallant conduct he was promoted to the rank of Captain, and stood high as an officer, who was prompt in obeying orders; was fearless and faithful in the performance of his duty, although it led him to face death in the heat of more than one hotly contested battle; and was one who inspired his men with respect for himself and devotion to the cause for which they fought. At the battle of Guntown his regiment was nearly demolished, and he was captured by the enemy. He was taken to Macon, Ga., and during his stay in the rebel prison at that point he endured all manner of sufferings and privations incident to life within its walls. He had to live on insufficient rations of coarse cornmeal, with an occasional supply of beef, and oftentimes both meal and meat would be unfit to eat. He had to resort to all sorts of expedients to obtain anything that he wanted, and showed great resource and ingenuity at times. He had no writing materials, and wishing to communicate with his wife, who, in her Northern home was waiting anxiously for tidings of him, he secured some rough brown wrapping paper, and with a stick traced a letter upon it, using urine for ink. When dry, the writing was legible, and some of the epistles so strangely written were received and are still extant.
After nine months' imprisonment, Capt. Gillespie was exchanged and subsequently discharged, being unfit for further service, and returned home almost a physical wreck. He took a trip to Kansas, but was not favorably impressed with the country, and returning to Illinois, established himself in the general mercantile business at Goreville, and later was similarly engaged at Carbondale, Jackson County; then in Moscow, Union County; and subsequently in Vienna and at Tunnel Hill, where he went in 1871. From the latter place he removed to Elvira Township, and gave his attention to farming there until 1881, and from that time until 1886 continued his agricultural pursuits in Burnside Township. In the year last mentioned, he resumed the mercantile business, taking up his residence at New Burnside, where he still makes his home. He has disposed of his business, and is at the present time Government Deputy Revenue Collector for this district, his services as an army officer during the Civil War thus receiving merited acknowledgment in a responsible position, for which he is well fitted.
Capt. Gillespie was married in Vienna, to Miss Mary Enloe. Her father formerly lived in Massac County, and was an early settler and prominent man of southern Illinois. He was a Representative in the first State Legislature, was at one time Warden of the State Penitentiary, when it was at Alton, was a leader in the difficulty between the Flat Heads and Regulators, in Massac County, was a great politician and a fine stump speaker, and a great man in his day. Eight children were born of the union of James B. Gillespie and Mary Enloe: George B.; Frank S., agent for a Chicago firm in the lumber business at Metropolis; James B., with Holladay Bros., grain merchants at Cairo; William, a resident of Brooklyn, Massac County, and inspector on the railway; Fannie A., Robert and Thomas, who are at home with their parents; and Henry H., who died at the age of ten months.
George B. Gillespie received a good education in the village schools of Vienna, supplemented by one term at the High School at Metropolis. He worked on his father's farm when not in school, and at the age of eighteen entered upon a short career as a school teacher at Pleasant Grove. In 1884 he went into the office of County Clerk as Deputy, when F. M. Jones was Clerk of the county. He worked under him for eighteen months, gaining a complete insight into the business of the office, and when his superior officer died, he was appointed to fill his place until the next election, when James W. Gore was chosen for the position. He had discharged the onerous duties thus incumbent upon him in a very creditable manner, and left the affairs of the office in perfect order. He served under his new chief some five months. He had in the meantime given some attention to reading law, having never abandoned the habit of studying whenever his duties permitted, and being peculiarly drawn to jurisprudence. When he left the County Clerk's office he formed a partnership with A. K. Vickers, and under his competent instruction went through a regular course of reading in connection with the work of the office. His partnership with Mr. Vickers was dissolved when the latter was elected to the Legislature, and our subject entered the law school at Bloomington. After a year's hard study, he was graduated June 15, 1887, at the head of his class, carrying away the honors of the first prize for scholarship.
Returning to Vienna after his graduation, our subject, who had been admitted to the Bar in May, 1887, again formed a partnership with Mr. Vickers, under the firm name of Vickers & Gillespie, and they continued together until January, 1890. Mr. Gillespie then entered into partnership with L. O. Whitnell, and they are a strong law firm, enjoying an extensive patronage. He was united in marriage to Etta Oliver, a native of Johnson County, November 19, 1890. They have a charming home, cozy, cheerful and attractive, and a little son, whom they have named Alfred, completes their household circle.
Our subject has devoted himself strictly to his business, and has not pushed himself forward in the political field, preferring the practice of his chosen profession to public honors, but his fellow citizens knowing full well his splendid qualifications, elected him in 1892 to the important office of State's Attorney. He is a clear thinker, a logical and cogent reasoner, handles his cases in court with skill and never failing self-possession, and displays considerable oratorical power in his presentation of his client's interests. His reputation as a good speaker caused his election to represent the Republicans in the joint debate August 1, 1892, between the various political parties, including the Prohibitionists and Populists, in which each debater gave his reason for his faith. Mr. Gillespie's address upon "Why I am a Republican" was conceded by all, irrespective of party, to be a masterly effort, couched in terse, strong language, displaying a marvelous knowledge of politics in general, containing many telling points and a solid array of facts, stated candidly and impassionately. Mr. Gillespie's fellow-Republicans were highly pleased with his address, which was copied in the newspapers, and he is to be congratulated as an able exponent of the Republican doctrines.

Extracted 17 Apr 2016 from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois, pages 161-163.

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