Friday, April 11, 2014


One day last fall I was wandering through the Jewish section of Rosehill Cemetery when I happened upon a very unusual tombstone:

On the tombstone was the following epitaph:

Mark Well That 
In This Earth a
Soldier Naps - 
Whose Love of
God and Country
None Surpassed

In front of the tombstone was a flat stone:

Abel Davis 1874 - 1937

I really didn't think much about it - I just created a Find a Grave memorial page and posted the photos to the page.  Then recently I was contacted by someone who said "I am a descendant of General Abel Davis" and asked about the Find a Grave page and the photos.  After I responded, I checked Wikipedia for "Abel Davis" and found this:

Brigadier General Abel Davis was an officer in the Illinois National Guard. He was regarded as "the second highest ranking Jewish officer in the Illinois National Guard, and one of the highest ranking Jewish officers in the United States Army." He served in the 66th infantry.

After reading this, I decided that General Abel Davis would be a perfect subject for this blog.  And so, here is the story of Abel Davis, an inmmigrant from Lithuania who rose to the highest ranks of the US military.

Abel Davis was born December 26, 1874 in Koenigsberg.  Koenigsburg was at different times, part of Prussia, Germany and Russia, although Davis always said he was from Lithuania.  His parents were Pesach (Peter) Davis (1836-1903) and Keile (Katherine), nee Lipshitz (1839-1915).  Pesach and Keile had nine children:   Haim (1865-1938), James (1869-1943), Ralph (1870-1940), Anna (1872-1958), Abel (1874-1937), Olga (1875-1920), Marie (1877-1962), Ida (1879-1968) and Maurice (1880-1962).  

The Davis family emigrated to America in January, 1891 when Abel was seventeen.  His obituary erroneously calls him "A lifelong resident of Chicago."  He started his career as an errand boy in the shipping room of a State Street department store at $1.50 per week.

As the Spanish American War broke out Abel Davis felt drawn to the military and enlisted in the Illinois First Infantry, based in Chicago. When the First Infantry marched into Cuba in 1898, Private Abel Davis was with them.  According to tales he spun in later years, he was also part of the famous charge up San Juan Hill. After the armistice was signed on August 12, 1898, Davis returned home to Chicago.

He returned to work in the department store, but now as an errand boy in the executive department. Meanwhile, he studied law at night, receiving his law degree from Northwestern University in 1901.

The 1900 US Census finds Abel living st home with his parents and siblings.  Home was #14 Fowler Street  (now 1915 W. Schiller) in Chicago:

1915 W. Schiller, Chicago

Abel's father listed his occupation as a salesman of notions, and Abel listed his occupation as insurance agent.

1902 was a big year for Abel Davis.  On May 13, 1902 he was admitted to the Bar, having passed the examination, and in November he was elected to the Illinois General Assembly from the 23rd District as a Republican.  Abel Davis served in the General Assembly at the same time as future Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, the subject of a previous article in this blog.

Abel's father Peter died in Chicago on May 6, 1903 at the age of 66, having lived long enough to see his immigrant son elected to the Illinois General Assembly. 

Once he had a taste of politics, Abel must have liked it, because in November of 1904 he was elected Cook County Recorder on the Republican ticket, being elected with a plurality of over 96,000 votes.  Here is a photo of Davis from that era:

The 1910 US Census has the Davis family (now headed by Keile) living at 1408 W. Hoyne.  Keile said that she had given birth to nine children, and that all nine were still alive in 1910.  Unfortunately 1408 N. Hoyne is now a vacant lot.  Abel listed his occupation as a general practice attorney.

During this time between the Spanish-American War and World War I, Abel Davis continued to serve in the Illinois National Guard, working his way up through the ranks.

Abel Davis served two terms as Cook County Recorder and also maintained a private law practice.  In 1912, at the end of his second term as Recorder, he decided to return to private life and was elected Vice President of The Chicago Title and Trust Co.

Davis' military career (and life) almost came to an end on July 6, 1912 when he, and a group of other soldiers, was struck by lightning at Camp Lincoln outside of Springfield, Illinois.  Here is the report from the Chicago Daily Tribune of July 7, 1912:

Davis (by now a Major) was the most seriously injured and reported to be in critical condition.  Mercifully, he recovered. 

Keile Lipsitz Davis died in Chicago on May 9, 1915 at the age of 75.

In 1916, Major Abel Davis, with his First Infantry, spent some time patrolling the border between Mexico and the Southern United States and was engaged in at least two skirmishes with the forces of Pancho Villa.

It was at the end of World War I that Abel Davis' military career reached its peak.  He was sent to France in 1918 as colonel of the 132nd Infantry. His regiment was in the midst of the fighting during the last six months of the war.  Davis and his regiment were in Amiens in July, were engaged in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in September, were attacked with the 17th French army corps east of the Meuse in October and were in the thick of the fighting at St. Hilaire three days before the armistice.  For repulsing an enemy attack at this point, Davis was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Here is the text of his citation for the Distinguished Service Cross:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Colonel (Infantry) Abel Davis, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 132d Infantry Regiment, 33d Division, A.E.F., near Consenvoye, France, 9 October 1918. Upon reaching its objective, after a difficult advance, involving two changes of directions, Colonel Davis' regiment was subjected to a determined enemy counterattack. Disregarding the heavy shell and machine-gun fire, Colonel Davis personally assumed command and by his fearless leadership and courage the enemy was driven back.

and for the Distinguished Service Medal:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Army Distinguished Service Medal to Colonel (Infantry) Abel Davis, United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility during World War I. As Commanding Officer, 132d Infantry Regiment, 33d Division, Colonel Davis displayed in a marked degree the many and varied qualifications of a successful commanding officer of troops. In the organization and training of his regiment he brought it to a notably high state of efficiency and morale with great thoroughness and in a remarkably short time. Afterward he handled it in all its actions against the enemy with marked success, displaying courage, resourcefulness, tactical skill, and military leadership of the highest order.

After the war Davis became a brigadier general, commander of the 66th Infantry Brigade, Illinois National Guard.

The 1920 US Census has the remainder of the Davis family living at 5125 S. Ellis Avenue, in Chicago:

5125 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago

Abel's brother Ralph was listed as Head of Household; Abel listed his occupation as Vice President of a real estate company.  In 1920, Ralph, Abel, Maurice, Olga and Ida were still all living together.

Here is a photo from 1921 of Davis with Col. C. M. Caldwell, Julius Rosenwald, and General George Bell, Jr. at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois:

It was not all war and real estate for Abel Davis.  On December 28, 1922, he married Marjorie, nee Mayer (1902-????).  Marjorie was the daughter of David (1852-1920) and Florence, nee Blum (1872-1934).  At the time of their marriage, Abel Davis was 48, his bride was 20.

Here is a photo of Abel and Marjorie Davis shortly after their marriage:

Abel and Marjorie were blessed with three children:  Florence (1924-????), Abel Jr. (1925-2013) and Jean (1932-????).

In 1930, Davis resigned his command in the Illinois National Guard, saying that it was time to make room for a younger man to take over.

The 1930 US Census finds the Davis family living at 600 Sheridan Road in Glencoe, Illinois.

600 Sheridan Road, Glencoe

They owned the home, to which they assigned a value of $50,000.00. Davis listed his occupation as "Vice President of a Bank." They also had a live-in nurse, Johanne Oltmanns.  The house recently (2014) sold for $3.5 million dollars.

In 1931, Abel Davis was elected Chairman of the Board of The Chicago Title and Trust Company, a post he held until his death.

In 1932 and 1933, Davis served as one of the Trustees of the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.

In 1935, Abel Davis resigned from the Illinois National Guard, having achieved the rank of Major General.

Abel Davis died in his home on January 7, 1937 at the age of 62.  He had been suffering from anemia for two years, although the immediate cause of death was, as it often is, pneumonia.

As befits a man of such heroic stature, Abel Davis was given a full military funeral with all the trimmings:

Abel Davis throughout his life, dedicated himself to the service of his adopted country, both as a soldier and as an elected official.  He is truly one of Illinois' finest sons.

Abel Davis, an American patriot - may he rest in peace.


  1. Hello,

    I was hoping you could help me out with some research. I'm working with the Wikipedia:GLAM (Galleries, libraries, archives and museums) project. The entry for Abel Davis needs to be expanded. Your blog has a wealth of information and I was hoping you might share your sources so I can properly expand and cite the article.



  2. I would be glad to help. Let me know how to contact you or contact me at

  3. Abel Davis' grandson and Florence Frankel's son, Mark Frankel of Middleton, WI is very grateful for your diligent and thorough research. You post contained several important details about my grandfather that I learned for the first time .

  4. You should embellish your excellent article with further details about Marjorie Mayer's family. Her father was a founder of the Schlesinger and Mayer Department Store, which commissioned architect Louis Sullivan to design their store on Chicago's Street, and where you can still see the initials S & M in the magnificent scroll work Sullivan designed. Other relatives of Marjorie helped form the law firm that still bears their family name in its current appellation, Mayer Brown, one of the most distinguished law firms in the entire United States!

  5. An exhibit featuring the Abel Davis Collection is on display at the Glencoe Historical Society:

  6. This exhibit includes The Abel Davis Collection: