Illustrated Atlas Map of Menard County, Illinois 1874|
Published by W.R. Brink & Co., of Illinois
Son of William and Mary Rourke, was born in Queen's County, Ireland, April 19, 1825, and is the youngest of ten children. He was left an orphan at an early age. In 1837 he, with his family, emigrated to America, landing in Philadelphia May 26; joining John and Sarah, who preceded them ten years before. From 1837 to 1839 he was in school, after which he served an apprenticeship of four years with A. D. Caldwell, a carpenter and joiner. In April, 1845, Mr Rourke sought a home in Illinois; coming by rail and canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and thence by steamboat to St. Louis, Missouri, and thence to Havana, Illinois. From Havana he traveled on foot all day without dinner, a stranger and alone, save his faithful dog, Caesar. Crossing Salt Creek on a log, tired and hungry, he arrived, late in the evening, at the cabin of his brothers, John and Michael, near Sugar Grove, in Menard County, May 2, 1845, and was received with the warmest fraternal greeting.
When the Mexican War broke out, Mr. Rourke enlisted for one year in Company "F," 4th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, under Captain (afterward Major) Thomas L. Harris. Under Captain Harris, the company repaired to Springfield, to join the regiment of the gallant Colonel Baker (killed at Ball's Bluff, Virginia, in 1862). From Springfield the regiment marched to Alton, and were transported thence to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, to be equipped for active service. From this point his regiment passed down the river to New Orleans, and shipped thence to Brazos Santiago, Texas. Crossing into Mexico, below Matamoras, it joined the veterans of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, under General Taylor; advancing to Camargo, his regiment and others were ordered to join General Scott, in his expedition against Vera Cruz. Marching to Tampico, they embarked, and arrived before that city in March, 1847. His regiment participated in the investment, siege, and the perils of war in that fatal climate; and nobly aided in planting the old flag upon the frowning ramparts of the Castle San Juan de Ulloa, the strongest fortress in America; thus opening the gateway to the heart of the country, and paving the way for the capture of the Mexican capital. Early in April, 1847, Mr. Rourke's regiment began its advance toward the City of Mexico over a broken country; coming upon the enemy posted in the almost impregnable fortress at Cerro Gordo. On the 18th, the army, under General Scott, began the assault, gallantly sealing the heights, and storming the intrenchments of the enemy. While Colonel Harvey was storming the heights, General Shields, with the gallant 3rd and 4th Illinois Volunteers cut through the dense chaparral, in order to gain the Zalapa road and intercept the Mexicans' retreat; but before he reached the road he encountered a body of the enemy strongly posted behind a stone wall, and supported by a battery of six guns. This battery the gallant 4th, led by the intrepid Colonel Baker, charged to the very muzzle through a tempest of grape, canister, and musket-balls that swept off, one-third of their number. Here, where the carnage was thickest, while repelling a charge of Mexican Lancers, and while in the act of capturing the battery, the heroic Rourke received a grape-shot through both legs above the knees, which hurled him senseless, mangled, and bleeding, to the earth; crushing his left limb, and maiming him for life. And here on the heights of Cerro Gordo, amid the crash and roar of battle, the shrieks and groans of the wounded and dying, the cries of the terror-stricken foe, and the exultant shouts of victory, our gallant Irish lad paid the dear purchase price of that Freedom and Liberty that he and his children fully enjoy. Soon after this battle, Mr. Rourke's term of service having expired, he returned to Menard County, a mere wreck of his former manhood. In August, 1847, he was elected to the office of Recorder of Deeds of Menard County; in which office he continued until elected to the office of Clerk of the County Court, November, 1849. Mr. Rourke performed the duties of this office to the satisfaction of the people till November, 1866, a period of sixteen years, serving four consecutive terms. Since retiring from public service, he has been extensively engaged in the lumber trade.
Mr. Rourke was married to Miss Axia J. Cleveland, a very beautiful and accomplished lady, in Springfield, June 11, 1848; but in August, 1856, he met his greatest bereavement in the death of his wife, who left five small children. In 1858, June 8, Mr. Rourke was again married, in Philadelphia, to Miss Anna Phillips, by whom he has seven children.
The subject of this memoir has always been a consistent member of the Catholic Church; and it is owing almost entirely to his influence and munificence that that substantial and elegant structure, the Catholic church, now adorns the town of Petersburg.
In Petersburg, August 15, 1874, the few survivors of that gallant band which, twenty-eight years before, had gone forth in defense of the country's honor, that so heroically drove the enemy from stronghold to stronghold, always victorious, till it waved the Stars and Stripes over the Halls of the Montezumas and conquered a glorious peace in the capital of the enemy's country, met to commemorate the deeds of 1847-48, and reorganized and elected company officers. The subject of this biography, Cornelius Rourke, in remembrance of his gallant services and suffering, was unanimously chosen Captain of the company; Thomas Watkins, 1st Lieutenant; William A. Stone, 2nd Lieutenant; Rial Miller, Orderly Sergeant; Walter W. King, 3rd Duty Sergeant; C. R. Pierce, 4th Duty Sergeant.
The acts of Mr. Rourke need no eulogy. They are an eloquent eulogy to themselves. His life and character as a citizen of Menard County are above reproach. He came among us a poor, unknown, and almost friendless orphan Irish lad; but, by his untiring industry, unimpeachable integrity, and honorable conduct, has become a representative man of Menard County, the Garden of Illinois.