Danville’s courthouse square, Danville’s American Legion Post 210 and column number 189 of Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois bear the name of a great man: Curtis G. Redden.
His burial in Danville's Spring Hill Cemetery took place on Aug. 6, 1920. For thousands of mourners, the somber homecoming and military funeral closed the door on World War I.
As the centennial approaches, the Redden story deserves to be retold.
Redden, 1881-1919, was a natural leader — star football player for the University of Michigan; college football coach; Danville attorney; Spanish-American War veteran; captain of Battery A First Illinois Field Artillery and finally, lieutenant colonel and commander of the 149th Field Artillery Regiment.
After surviving savage fighting, he contracted pneumonia and died in Coblenz, Germany, on Jan. 16, 1919, at age 37. His body was exhumed 20 months later and shipped home.
Redden is a sports legend in Ann Arbor, where he was left end for the University of Michigan from 1900 to 1903. As a member of Coach Fielding H. Yost’s “Point-a-Minute” teams, he was a unanimous choice for the All-Western Team and a third-team All-American.
Michigan went 11-0 and outscored its opponents 550-0 during Redden’s sophomore season. During his junior and senior years, his team went 22-0-1, outscoring opponents 1,769 to 18. Renowned as an all-around athlete, “Cap” Redden served as captain of Michigan’s football, baseball and track teams.
After graduation, he was head football coach at Kentucky University, compiling a 7-0-3 record. In 1906 he signed to play baseball for the Indianapolis Indians. He opened a law practice in Danville in 1908.
As an officer in the 149th Field Artillery, Rainbow Division, Redden saw plenty of combat in France. In an April 1918 letter to a friend back home, he recalled one night on the Western Front:
“ … the guns stamped like stallions and snorted their breaths of fire. The blackness of the night became a series of dots and dashes … to this must be added the shriek of shells, the whistle of fragments, the automatic hammer effect of the machine gun, the rattle of rifle fire, the rockets and star shells out over No Man’s Land, all combined to make the night weird, hideous, fascinating, sublime.”
His funeral cortege in Germany featured an escort of more than 600 soldiers. The flag-covered casket was on a horse-drawn gun carriage. Trailing it was Redden’s horse, Sergeant. Redden’s boots were placed in the stirrups, facing backward.
Twenty months later, In Danville, a riderless horse led the way as another caisson carried his body to the Lincoln Park Pavilion for prayers and tributes. Mourners lined English Street. Businesses closed, flags flew at half-staff. The procession then continued to the cemetery.
“The last rites for the gallant Danville soldier probably were the most impressive ever witnessed in Danville,” the Commercial-News reported.
In his unit history, “Battery A in France, 1917-18,” veteran Warren Albert began: “To Curtis G. Redden, a real man, who was our sincere friend and adviser, this book is fondly dedicated.”
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at email@example.com