In my previous column, I mentioned that Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s neighbor, Julia Remann Sprigg, was reared in Vandalia. The Lincolns lived across Eighth Street from the Sprigg household.
Julia, a widow, had boys, too, and Willie and Tad Lincoln were frequent guests in the home with the Sprigg back yard one of the children’s familiar haunts.
Julia’s brother, Henry Remann, lived a block from his sister, so members of his family, too, were Lincoln neighbors. Both Henry and Julia left Vandalia after the capital was moved to Springfield.
Julia and Henry, along with brother, Fred, and sister, Sophia, arrived in Vandalia on Dec. 19, 1820, with their parents, Frederick and Dorothy Remann, as members of the Ernst Colony from Hanover, Germany. The Remanns were natives of Reiden, Hanover, and signed up as colonists on the expedition funded by capitalist Ferdinand Ernst.
Frederick Remann Sr. was the colony’s butcher. He died within the first year of their arrival in Vandalia and is buried in the Old State Burial Ground, although no stone marks his grave. In February 1822, his widow, Dorothy, married August Rosemire, the colony’s blacksmith.
With the premature death of his father, the burden of helping his mother care for the family fell to the eldest son, Fred, then 12 years old. By his own tenacity, he acquired a good practical education. Fred served in the Black Hawk War of 1832 and was paymaster for John Dement’s Spy Battalion.
Returning to Vandalia, he opened a grocery store and married Julia Greenup, daughter of William C. Greenup, who was the superintendent of construction of the National Road in Illinois. After Julia’s death in 1852, Fred headed west to the gold mines of California.
Fred came back to Vandalia with some gold dust, courted and married the widow Mary Whiteman Jerauld, and in 1859 built her a 22-room brick mansion. This home has since been added to and serves as the Fayette County Courthouse.
The eldest Remann daughter, Sophia, was married on Apr. 16, 1823, to George Leidig, 30 years her senior. George was also a member of the Ernst Colony and became an early tavern keeper. George Leidig died in 1846 and Sophia in 1851, leaving two children, George Jr. and Olivia.
George Leidig Jr. was reared in Vandalia by relatives, while his sister, 9-year-old Olivia, was sent to Springfield to live with her aunt, Julia Sprigg, thus becoming a playmate of the Lincoln children. George Jr. served two terms as Vandalia’s mayor: 1870-1872 and again in 1875.
Julia Remann married in Vandalia on June 13, 1832, to John C. Sprigg, a native of Maryland, who came to Vandalia from Kaskaskia with the capital. The couple were parents of at least five children, the first two born in Vandalia – Margaret in 1834 and Fred R. born in 1838 – followed by John C., born 1843, Ann, born 1846, Zachary Taylor, born 1848, and Isabella Sprigg, born in 1850.
By 1860, Julia Remann Sprigg was a widow. John Sprigg’s name appears on a list of 1856 burials in Hutchinson Burying Ground in Springfield.
The youngest son, Henry Remann, was living in Vandalia when he married Mary Black in 1841. Her uncle, James Black, testified that Mary’s father, William Black Malcolm, gave consent. James Black, born in New York City, served in the Illinois House of Representatives in 1828 and 1829, was director of the State Bank of Illinois in 1835 and postmaster from 1827 to 1832. He lived out his life in Vandalia.
By 1850, Henry and Mary were living down the block from his sister, Julia. Their daughter, Eizabeth Remann, married Albert Edwards, son of Ninian and Elizabeth Todd Edwards, and nephew to Mary Lincoln.
Henry’s younger son, Henry Remann Jr., was a Springfield buddy of Willie Lincoln. It is known that Willie attended Miss Corcoran’s school, and Henry Remann may also have been a student there.
Several letters written to Henry from Willie survive and are mentioned in the book, "Lincoln’s Sons" by Ruth Painter Randall.
One of the more famous was from June 6, 1859, when 8-year-old Willie accompanied his father to Chicago, where Mr. Lincoln was trying a case. Willie wrote his friend, “This town is a very beautiful place. Me and father have a nice little room to ourselves,” telling of the two beds, two pitchers on a washstand, “the smallest one for me and the largest one for father.”
In a May 3, 1861, letter from the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., Willie wrote to Henry, telling that he had written to his brother, Bob, that there were at least 10,000 soldiers stationed at the capitol building.
In a second letter, he told him of the fortification he and Tad and their comrades had built on the roof of the White House. Willie wrote that their attempts to raise a battalion had failed – so, too, the dream of a regiment. The Lincoln boys ended up with a "company" of boys, “Mrs. Lincoln’s Zouaves,” to defend the White House.
With the stories of Julia Sprigg and the letters of Willie Lincoln to his friend, Henry Remann, a personal insight into the family life of Abraham and Mary Lincoln is provided, one not provided elsewhere.
Henry Remann Jr. grew up in Springfield, filling the job of railroad clerk in 1880. In 1904, Henry became head librarian at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, which was handily located across the street from his house. He held this position until 1920.