When we trace the history of our leading men, and search for the secret of their success, we find as a rule that they were men who were early thrown upon their own resources, and whose first experiences were in the face of adversity and opposition. Such was the case with the subject of our sketch, an outline of whose life may be found in what follows:
He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1830. He was, by the death of his parents, thrown upon his own resources at a very early age. In 1837 he became a resident of Illinois, and lived in Sangamon county until 1840, after which he lived and labored on a farm until he nineteen years old, near Franklin, in Morgan County, attending common school during a part of each winter. He attended school at Illinois College, Jacksonville, having previously earned the money to pay for his tuition and board by labor on farm, and after entering college by teaching school at intervals. In 1850 he became a student at McKendree College, Lebanon, Ill., taking the scientific course, and graduated in 1851. In the fall of 1852 he became a resident of Carlinville, and a student in the law office of John M. Palmer, and after he had made suitable proficiency in his studies was admitted to the bar in 1854, and to practice in all of the courts of Illinois, and immediately thereafter entered upon the practice of his profession, in which he continued uninterruptedly until the breaking out of the late civil war.
In 1862 he raised a regiment of men, which was organized in August, 1862, at Camp Palmer, Carlinville, and known as the 122d Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers. He was elected and commissioned Colonel. The regiment was mustered into the service September 4th, 1862, and was ordered to report for duty at Columbus, Ky., and from there was ordered to Trenton, Tenn. In December following the regiment, with other troops, marched in pursuit of the enemy to Lexington, Tenn., after which they returned to Jackson. On the 27th of December went in pursuit of Forrest, who had attacked the hospitals at Trenton, and captured the sick and about sixty enlisted men of the regiment. At Parker's cross-roads they met the enemy, and a fight ensued, in which they, in connection with other troops, drove the enemy from the grounds, and captured seven pieces of artillery and five hundred prisoners. In this engagement Col. Rinaker was severely wounded. The command to which the regiment belonged moved in February, 1863, to Corinth, and from that time to the close of the war it constituted a part of the army of the Tennessee, and shared the fortunes of the 16th army corps, either with the right or left wing. In January, 1864, a part of the regiment was stationed at Paducah and a part at Cairo. Col. Rinaker was then assigned to the command of the post at Cairo, and remained there till June of 1864, when he was ordered with his regiment to Memphis and thence to Lagrange, where it joined the forces under Gen. A. J. Smith, who was then commanding two divisions of the 16th army corps, and became a part of the First Brigade, second division 16th army corps. Col. Rinaker commanded the regiment in the battle of Tupelo, Miss., 14th of July, 1864, where his regiment lost 9 killed and 24 wounded. His regiment held the most advanced and exposed part and centre of the Federal line, and held it successfully against repeated attacks of the rebel enemy under S. D. Lee and N. B. Forrest. The rebels were utterly defeated at Tupelo.
After the battle, he went with his regiment to Missouri, and took part in the hardships of the campaigns against Price's command in the fall of 1864. After the campaign closed in Missouri the command returned to St. Louis, and embarked for Nashville, Tennessee, where they arrived November 24th. They were still a part of Gen. Smith's command, then known as a detachment of the army of the Tennessee. In December following fought and assisted in annihilating Hood's army; they followed in pursuit of the enemy as far as Eastport, Miss. In February, 1865, he was placed in command of the First Brigade, second division, 16th army corps, and with his brigade embarked for New Orleans, and then took part with the forces in the campaign against Mobile. In April they were a part of the command that stormed the works of Fort Blakely. And here it would be proper to state that the responsibility of making the assault on the works was thrown on Gen. Rinaker. As Canby, the General commanding, had given no order to assault, Gen. A. J. Smith, commanding 16th army corps, desired that Ben. Garrard's division should assault the enemy's works, yet was not in a position to issue an order to that effect; so it was agreed that if that division would attack, Gen. Smith would back it up with Carr and McArthur's divisions if necessary; and at Gen. Garrard's headquarters it was agreed that if Rinaker would make the attack with his brigade he should be supported by the rest of the division. Rinaker held a position nearest the enemy's works, so led the assault, and his brigade carried the works in its front, and broke the enemy's line, capturing 22 pieces of artillery and a large number of prisoners. When the movement was taken up by the rest of the line and Blakely fell, and a way was thus opened, so that, without firing another shot, our ships moved unvexed into the wharves of Mobile; and it was for this meritorious service that he was recommended for and received promotion. From Blakely the command was ordered to Montgomery, and thence to Mobile, where the 122d regiment was mustered out of the service July 15th, 1865, ans was finally discharged at Springfield, Ill., August 4th, 1865. Gen. Rinaker was breveted and promoted Brigadier General for gallant and meritorious conduct, to date from March 13th, 1865.
During his career in the army he made for himself an honorable record, being distinguished for that cool courage that always wins. Well may the soldiers of that war who bravely defended the Stars and Stripes look back on their military record with pleasure. They have done a noble self-sacrificing service; and, living or dead, a grateful country will honor them.
After the war closed, Gen. Rinaker returned to Carlinville, and resumed the practice of law. He has attained a prominent standing at the bar, and is recognized by members of the profession as a good lawyer and a man of ability, and is an effective speaker both before the court and juries. While he has never been a politician in the sense of office seeking, yet he is one of the best political speakers in the state. He has also been a Presidential elector for the district in which he lives, and in 1876 was one of the Presidential electors for the state at large. In politics Gen. Rinaker was a democrat up to 1858, when he left the democratic party and united with the republican party. At that time the democratic party in Central and Southern Illinois was in a triumphant majority. The republicans did not constitute one third of the voting population in the county of Macoupin, nor in any county south of Springfield.
But at that time it was evident to his mind that the democratic party was used simply as the bulwark of slavery, and that its principles no longer were those of Jefferson and Jackson, but were those held by the slave propagandists and the advocates of nullification and secession; and he did not hesitate to abandon the dominant party, and become a member of the party which regarded slavery as wrong and the doctrines of secession as tending to anarchy; that regarded both doctrines as the enemies of liberty and union. He has been frequently honored with offices of trust and honor in his locality and state, but has refused them. In 1874 he accepted the Republican nomination for Congress, but was defeated. It may be mentioned as evidence of his popularity, where he is best known, that he ran 750 votes ahead of his ticket in Macoupin county, a county that gives usually 400 for the democratic ticket.
Thus, in brief, have we sketched an outline of the life and public services of Gen. Rinaker. In his manners he is affable, full of anecdote, and possessed of fine conversational powers.
He married Miss Clara Keplinger, October 16th, 1855. She was born in Morgan county, Ill. This union has been blessed by five children, one deceased. The eldest son, Thomas, is a graduate of Blackburn University and the law department of the University of Michigan, and is now practicing law in partnership with his father.