On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 new volunteers to join the armies of the Union for a term of three years. That act would result in the composing of one of the great patriotic songs of the war –“We are Coming Father Abraham” – as well as bringing about the largest single influx of Illinoisans into the military during the Civil War.
Lincoln’s call came in reply to a carefully written letter by Secretary of State William H. Seward that was signed by the governors of eighteen northern and border states, who believed
that in view of the present state of the important military movements now in progress and the reduced condition of our effective forces in the field… the time has arrived for prompt and vigorous measures to be adopted … [W]e respectfully request …that you at once call upon the several States for such number of men as may be required to fill up all military organizations now in the field, and add to the armies …such additional number of men as may in your judgment be necessary to garrison and hold all of the numerous cities and military positions that have been captured by our armies, and to speedily crush the rebellion that still exists in several of the Southern States, thus practically restoring to the civilized world our great and good Government. All believe that the decisive moment is near at hand…
Governor Richard Yates in turn soon issued a proclamation calling for Illinoisans to mobilize, noting the recent Confederate successes in defending their capital at Richmond, Virginia.
Your all is at stake. The crisis is such that every man must feel that the success of the cause depend upon himself, and not upon his neighbor. Whatever his position, his wealth, his rank or condition, he must be ready to devote all to the service of the country. Let all, old and young, contribute, work, speak and in every possible mode further the work of the speedy enrollment of our forces. Let not only every man, but every woman be a soldier, if not to fight, yet to cheer and encourage and to provide comfort a relief for the sick and the wounded.
Yates called for a rapid response by the public, repeating President Lincoln’s comment to him that “Time is everything. Please act in view of this.”
Meetings to encourage enlistments were held in towns and villages throughout the state. At a July 22 event at the capitol at Springfield, cannon were fired from the statehouse yard, and the building’s rotunda was so crowded that the gathering moved outdoors. Thousands of men enlisted, in spite of the hardship created by removing workers from an already reduced farm labor force at an important time in the growing season.
The results of such meetings were very encouraging, and more men than were needed were expected to volunteer. State officials telegraphed to the president that “Many counties tender a regiment. Can we say that all will be accepted?” Lincoln forwarded the message to the War Department, saying, “I think we better take while we can get.” He desperately wanted troops, and in early August ordered another call for more even more men.
The War Department’s quotas could be a problem, however. Adjutant General Fuller wrote the War Department that he believed 50,000 volunteers could be put into camps by September 1 “if we can accept them,” but “if they are disappointed and refused permission now to enlist… the reaction in a few days will be terrible.”
Problems arise The outpouring of volunteers made “Adjutant Fuller… the busiest man in the State of Illinois” and overwhelmed the ability of federal officials to provide uniforms, weapons, and even camp equipage for the new enlistees. As a result Fuller on August 14 announced that companies and squads raised in each county should meet at or near their county seat until called to one of the official camps of rendezvous.
In spite of Lincoln’s plea that “Time is everything,” problems of supply hampered efforts to prepare new regiments for service. On August 19 Governor Yates reported to the War Department that within days an estimated 50,000 Illinoisans would be enrolled but, because of a lack of mustering officers, only four regiments had actually been taken into the service. He declared that with proper assistance from federal officials fifty regiments could be organized by September 1. “Our State is much neglected in the failure of the Government to supply our troops with arms, tents, and camp utensils. Thousands are sleeping on the naked earth without any covering.”
In early September officials noted that of 23 regiments taken into service only 13 had been issued weapons. A month later-three months after Lincoln’s initial call-fifteen regiments were still in the process of organization. It was late November before the final units raised under the calls of July and August were officially mustered into the service. Illinois had by that date sent into the field more than 53,800 new volunteers.
Interested in learning more?
“We are Coming Father Abraham,” published in Chicago.
A rendition can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaNKL_dfyi4 .
Full lyrics can be found at http://www.civilwarpoetry.org/union/songs/coming.html.