LEONARD FULTON ROSS, one of the youngest Brigadier Generals whom Illinois has the distinction of having furnished during the war, is, with the exception of Generals Cook and Logan, the only native Illinoisan of the entire number. His father moved to Illinois from New York in 1821, and settled in Fulton co., upon the site of Lewistown, the present county seat, at a period when there were but two other white families within what are now the limits of the county. Here he was born, July 18th, 1823. Passing his childhood upon the frontier, where the principal portion of the population consisted of roving bands of Indians, and in a village which derived its only importance from the fact of its being an Indian trading post, his early opportunities for acquiring the education of the schools were of course limited, but it may well be doubted if the habits of activity, enterprise and observation engendered by these circumstances were not ample compensation for any such deficiencies. At the age of seventeen he was sent to Jacksonville, where he passed some years in study, and having completed the prescribed course, entered a law office as student, and was admitted to the bar in 1845. In November of the same year, he married Catharine M., daughter of R. C. Simms, Esq. The Mexican war breaking out the following year, upon the first call for volunteers he enlisted as a private in Company K, 4th Regiment Illinois Volunteers, commanded by the gallant Baker, for whom he entertained an enthusiastic admiration, and between whom and himself at a subsequent period there sprung up a warm personal friendship. After serving in the ranks for two months, he so gained the confidence and esteem of his comrades, that, by a vote of the company, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, to fill a vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Lieut. G. W. Stipp. During his term of service he was in command of the company about five months, including the time of the investment and capture of Vera Cruz, and the battle of Cerro Gordo, where he exhibited such distinguished gallantry as to elicit especial commendation from Col. Baker. Previous to the battle he commanded the body-guard of Gen. Shields, while making a difficult and dangerous reconnoissance of the ground preparatory to the anticipated engagement. In January, 1847, Gen. Scott desiring to send important dispatches from Metamora to Gens. Taylor and Patterson at Victoria, Lieut. Ross cheerfully undertook the perilous duty, and accomplished his mission successfully, making his way safely through a populous and hostile country a distance of two hundred and fifty miles, accompanied only by a guide, an interpreter, and an escort of nineteen men.
On returning to his home at the close of the war, he, somewhat to his surprise, found himself the most popular man in his county, and a candidate for Probate Judge. For six years he filled this and other important county offices, and then declining further political honors, he turned his attention to business, dealing in real estate, merchandising, etc., and meeting with the most gratifying success. One of the most public-spirited citizens of the community in which he resided, he always contributed liberally, both of money and personal efforts, to advance its business and educational interests.
On the breaking out of the rebellion, notwithstanding all his political affiliations had been with the Democratic party, he at once became an advocate of the most active and vigorous measures for maintaining the integrity of the Government, and while many of his old political associates were hesitating between their wish to preserve the Government and their reluctance to aid an Administration to which they were politically opposed, he promptly raised a company and tendered it to the Governor. It was accepted, and ordered to rendezvous at Peoria; and when a regimental organization was effected, May 20th, 1861, Capt. Ross was unanimously chosen Colonel of what has since been known as the 17th Regiment Ill. Volunteers. His services in the field since that time are too recent and too well known to require particular mention. His regiment, while he commanded it, was almost constantly in active service, marching very many hundreds of miles through Missouri and Kentucky, most of the time in unsuccessful pursuit of a retreating enemy. At the battle of Fredericktown, fought by a brigade commanded by Col. Plummer, the rebel force having been unexpectedly encountered in ambush while Col. Plummer was some distance in the rear, Col. Ross was in command of the forces, and had made his disposition of the troops with such skill and rapidity, and attacked the rebels with such vigor, that the battle was virtually over before Col. Plummer appeared upon the field. During this engagement, Col. Ross had his horse shot under him. The troops engaged in this affair moved from Cape Girardeau on the 18th of October, and returned on the 25th, marching over 160 miles, and winning the first of the brilliant series of victories that crowned our arms in that fall campaign. During a portion of the winter, Col. Ross commanded the post at Cape Girardeau. His regiment was ordered up the Tennessee river in February, while he was called home by heavy domestic afflictions, and he joined it only in time to participate in the last day’s fighting at Fort Donelson.
In April, 1862, Col. Ross was promoted to Brigadier General, having been in command of a brigade since the capture of Fort Donelson. After the evacuation of Corinth, he was assigned to the command of a division, and stationed at Bolivar, Tenn., which he has surrounded with a cordon of fortifications, erected by negro labor, that renders it impregnable; while the firm and vigorous policy he has pursued has secured the entire loyalty, “voluntarily or otherwise,” of the population for many miles around.
SOURCE: James Grant Wilson, Biographical Sketches of Illinois Officers Engaged In the War Against the Rebellion of 1861, p. 108-10