Tom Doyle, born Frank Reed:
Civil War deserter who hid his past
- by Alice Marie Beard

The man died as Thomas Doyle, but he was born as Francis Reed. Nineteen months of the Civil War caused Frank Reed to be reborn as Tom Doyle. He lived from 1864 until 1916 with no one knowing who he was. The picture of Tom/Frank was taken when he was an old man:

Just as Jean Valjean became Father Madeleine in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in order to hide his past, Frank Reed became Thomas Reed Doyle in order to hide his past. Just as many who had known Father Madeleine could not believe that he was Jean Valjean, many who have known of Thomas Reed Doyle will have difficulty believing that he was really Frank Reed. However, all evidence points to the inescapable conclusion.

On 25 Jul 1861, in Bloomington, McLean Co., IL, Francis Reed enlisted as a private in Co. K, 8th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, an infantry unit. He signed enlistment papers for three years. He was poor and illiterate, and English was not his first language. Why did he enlist for three years? Likely he did not imagine the war would last as long as it did, and it's likely the financial deal was better if he signed for three years. He enlisted under the name "Francis," the formal name for "Frank."

For the next 19 months, Frank Reed served with his army unit. He was listed with his unit daily from 25 Jul 1861 to 21 Feb 1863. During that time, his unit did battle at Fort Donelson, TN, in Feb 1862, and at Shiloh, TN, in Apr 1862. On 22 Feb 1863, his unit left Memphis, TN, by steamer ship to go to Lake Providence, La. Frank never got on the boat.

The military reported him present thru 21 Feb 1863 in Memphis, TN, and AWOL thereafter. Frank was finally listed as a deserter on 26 Mar 1863. He had been paid through 31 Dec 1862. The Army said he owed them $19.84 on a clothing account.

Where Frank was from late Feb 1863 until early Apr 1864 is so far unknown. By early April he must have been in the same place as Permelia Payne, presumably in Vermilion Co., IL, because they conceived their first child about this time. Also, he must have already begun using the created name "Tom Doyle" because there is no indication anyone in Vermilion Co., IL, ever knew him by any other name. It is interesting to note that the woman he became involved with [Permelia Payne] had recently lost her father. Her father had been shot in a riot and died in late 1863; he had been shot because he was wearing a "butternut pin," seen as support for Confederate troops. Also, Permelia came from a family filled with military men: Her father had served in the U.S. Army. Three brothers fought for the Union during the Civil War. One uncle began his military career in the Black Hawk War and was a captain in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Under Frank's new name "Tom Doyle," he married this young woman from a locally prominent family. Their first child -- a boy -- was named after Tom's wife's family. However, when their second child --another boy -- was born in August 1866, the boy was named Francis and called "Frank." His wife's family had no folks by that name. While Tom/Frank could no longer use his own real name, he could give it to his son.

It is evident that the relationship between Thomas and Permelia had ended before May 1868 because in February 1869 Permelia gave birth to her first of five children fathered by Joseph MALCOM. Tom/Frank never again saw those two sons. For decades, Permelia told people that Tom had died. She was finally forced to reveal the truth when a first cousin of those sons married Tom/Frank's son from his second marriage. (According to one of Permelia's great-granddaughters her last words, on her death bed were, "I'm coming home now, Tom."

In Jan 1873, in Vermilion Co., he married the widow Lucy RODERICK, born Lucy PETERSON. (She was the daughter of Cornelius Peterson and Cilinda Lane.)

On 13 Apr 1882, he filed for a military pension; his claim was number 447342. He claimed he had been honorably discharged at Memphis, TN, in March 1864. On the claim, he used the name "Thomas R. Doyle." This is the earliest document on which this researcher can find any allusion to the middle name "Reed."

Obviously he was lying about being honorably discharged in March 1864. Even if he had been with the military until March 1864, he would have been four months short of completing his three-year enlistment. However, Frank/Tom's war experience had been one of mud and blood. He was an illiterate man who would not have imagined that the war of two decades before also existed in words on paper, filed away in drawers in Washington, D.C.

Correspondence for this claim continued for years. He even found other veterans willing to file statements that he had been with his regiment long after he had deserted. One filed a statement that he was well acquainted with Thomas R. Doyle and knew that he was "discharged at Vicksburg, Miss., on or about the 4 day of July 1864 by reason of expiration of service, I believe." An obvious lie since by then Tom was married to Permelia and living in Vermilion Co., IL. However, it was the 1880s, and all the men were getting Civil War pensions. Civil War pensions were a huge part of the U.S. budget, and everyone was bellying up to the trough. Among the law firms that worked on the case for Tom/Frank in his quest for a pension were Samuel Erskine; and Pennebaker & Pennebaker of Washington, D.C.

In Mar 1886, Tom was sent a letter from the Pension Office, Department of the Interior:

In response to the personal request of Hon. John A. Logan as to the status of your claim, the records fail to show the name Thomas R. Doyle. If you served under any other name, you should state the name under which you served.

[John A. Logan was John Alexander Logan, 1826-1886. Elected U.S. Congressman from IL 1858 & 1860. Resigned seat in 1861; entered Union Army as Col. Served at Ft. Donelson (1862) and in Vicksburg campaign (1862-63). By 1862, was general; in 1864, briefly commanded the Army of the Tennessee. U.S. Congressman from IL 1867-1871, Republican. U.S. Senator from IL from 1871-1877 and 1879-1886, Republican. Candidate for the vice-presidency of the U.S. during 1884 election. First President of Grand Army of the Republic, organization for honorably discharged Union veterans of the Civil War.]

Some time before Sep 1886 Frank/Tom must have revealed who he was to someone working on the case. On 7 Sep 1886, a report was written from The War Department, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, D.C., to the Commissioner of Pensions:

Frank Reed, a private of Company K, 8th Regiment Illinois Volunteers, was enrolled on the 25th day of July, 1861, at Bloomington, 3 yrs, and is reported on roll dated Aug 31, 1861, present. Same to Dec 31, 1862, and to Jan. And Feb 1863 absent without leave since Feb 21, 1863. Mar & Apr 1863 reports him under the head of 'Deserted.' Dropped from the rolls to date from Feb 21, 1863. Co. Mustering Out Roll dated May 4, 1866, reports him Deserted Feb 21, 1863, at Memphis, Tenn. His name is not borne on rolls from Apr 30, 1863, to muster out of Co. Records of this office furnish no evidence of alleged disability. Regiment Hospital Records prior to Feb 21 1863 not on file

There is no indication, however, that the report got to Tom/Frank.

On 17 Mar 1888, someone wrote the following. It is in Frank/Tom's pension file. Whether Frank/Tom attempted it, or whether someone else was writing at his direction is unknown:

March 17, 1888
Mr. Charley Black
Dear Sir,
I got your paper, and you wanted the name in which I went under. Please find the name of Frank Read. It is the name I served in Co. K 8 Illinois is the one I served in. Frank Read is the name I went and you will find it there. The
[unreadable] were McClun of Captain Harvey Regiment, and when you find it you will find mine there. Our second captain was Denison. After that [unreadable] siege at Shiloh [April 1862] the last orderly sergeant was Mareen it was at Fort Donelson [Feb. 1862] where I first took my disease, and it has followed me and will to the grave. I must close and if you want any more, please send, and do all you can for me and oblige old soldier and friend. If you find it, please write soon.

It was first signed "Frank Read." That signature was crossed out so that what remained was "Doyl Doyl." Every other document found for this man has only "his mark."

The years of correspondence ended Jul 1896 when the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pensions, wrote to him citing claim #447342 for "Thos. R. Doyle alias Frank Reed":

Sir: Your above-cited claim was rejected July 17, 1896, on the ground that you have no title to pension, being a deserter at large from the above-named organization, as shown by a report from the records of the War Department. Very respectfully, D. [unreadable], Commissioner.

Finally, the Bureau of Pensions had said it: He was Thomas R. Doyle with the alias Frank Reed, and he was not eligible for a pension because he was a deserter, having deserted after 19 months of a three-year enlistment. Ironically, by 1896 men who had served less than the 19 months he had served were getting pensions. However, they had not made the mistake of enlisting for three years for what turned out to be the bloodiest war this country has ever seen. His 19 months of service -- including the horrors of Donelson and Shiloh -- got him nothing but a new name.

In 1900 he was living as a boarder in Vermilion Co. By the end of that year, his son from his second marriage married the niece of his first wife. Able Wade Payne, who had also served at Donelson and who had once been his brother-in-law, was now the uncle and step-father of his son's wife. In 1910, he was living with that son and daughter-in-law.

In 1915, he was at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Danville. (It is called United Samaritans Medical Center, Sager Campus; 600 Sager; Danville, IL. It was and still is a Catholic hospital. Records as far back as 1916 no longer exist.) On 30 Nov 1915, having "caused trouble" for the sisters at St. Elizabeth's and for the nurses at the county hospital in Vermilion Co., he was sent to the State Hospital in Kankakee, Kankakee Co., IL. It was a mental institution and also a "last stop" for the old and poor with no other place to go. He remained there until he died on 8 Feb 1916. He died under the name Thomas Doyle. According to his death certificate (#017601), he died of "organic heart disease."

Not knowing what else to do with the body, the State Hospital sent the body back to Danville. On 12 Feb 1916, the following notice appeared in the local newspaper:

County Clerk John R. Moore is making a hard effort to locate the relatives of Tim [sic] Doyle, the eccentric octogenarian, who after causing the sisters at a local hospital and the nurses at the county hospital a lot of trouble, was sent to the state asylum at Kankakee. Doyle died at Kankakee last Tuesday morning. The addresses given as to relatives on file at the hospital failed to bring responses to telegrams. At 4 o'clock Friday afternoon Clerk John R. Moore received a message from the superintendent asking that he assist in the search. Mr. Moore has exhausted nearly every endeavor. He now appeals to the public through the newspaper. Doyle was about 85 years of age, and was sent away late last fall.

On 15 Feb 1916, Tuesday, in the dead of winter, with no family member having made any payment, the old man's body was buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery, the cemetery with a connection to Danville's St. Elizabeth's Hospital. In the Feb 15th evening paper funeral notice appeared:

Funeral services for Thomas Doyle, who died on Tuesday of last week at the state hospital at Kankakee, were held at 9 o'clock Tuesday morning at St. Patrick's church. The body was taken to St. Patrick's cemetery for interment. Mr. Doyle was 83 years of age and had spent the greater part of his life in this county. For many years he resided at Potomac.

St. Patrick's cemetery is now called Resurrection Catholic Cemetery. It is at 818 Wendt St., Danville, IL. St. Patrick's Church and St. Joseph's Church merged and are now called Holy Family Church, 444 E. Main, Danville, IL. The church did not begin keeping records on funerals until 1937. According to the caretaker at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, the file cards in his office show that Thomas Doyle was buried in February 1916 in lot 14, block 4, space 6, with no gravestone. Frank/Tom is buried in a space which had been one of four spaces in a block purchased by Edward Boyle. Boyle, not Doyle. Others buried in the three other spaces in that block are Maggie Boyle, buried 1876; Anna Boyle, buried 13 Feb 1884; and Matt Boyle, buried 1890. According to Holy Family Catholic Church, they have baptismal records beginning about 1870. A search for baptism records for any last name DOYLE with a father Tom found nothing. However, the search found a baptism for a Margaret Boyle on 27 Oct 1876, born to Thomas Boyle and his wife whose maiden name was Hannah Sullivan. The search also found mention of an Edward Boyle who had a son John baptized in 1883; a daughter Margaret baptized 26 June 188?; and a daughter Nettie baptized 1887. In other words, there was an Edward Boyle with a definite connection to St. Patrick's, and this Edward Boyle had reason to name a daughter Margaret. The Boyles were not related to Tom/Frank. Why Tom/Frank was buried in their family block is unknown. Most likely it was the solution found by the pastor at St. Patrick's.

Thus, we began with a man named Francis Reed who was also known as Frank. He changed his name to Thomas Doyle after he deserted from the Army. After several years, he added his old last name as a middle name: Thomas Reed Doyle. A newspaper typo had him called "Tim" in one article rather than "Tom." His body was buried in a cemetery plot purchased by a "Boyle" family because some Catholic priest was stuck with the task of trying to figure out what to do with his body. Over the years, folks working with the records for the cemetery became less certain that the surname for the man who was buried in 1916 was "Doyle" and wondered more than once in penciled notes whether the surname should have been listed as "Boyle." However, like Jean Valjean under the unmarked rock, he was only one man -- no matter how many names.


  • military records under name "Frank Reed" at the National Archives
  • pension papers under name "Tom Doyle, a.k.a. Frank Reed" at the National Archives
  • U.S. Census, Vermilion Co., IL, 1880, 1900, 1910
  • marriage license applications, Vermilion Co., IL
  • birth records for some of his children, Vermilion Co., IL
  • death certificate, Kankakee Co., IL
  • cemetery records, Resurrection Catholic Cemetery, Danville, IL
  • newspaper clippings from Feb. 1916, found at the Danville Public Library .

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