FIRST BLACK TROOPS
Some early black troops from Illinois
On May 25, 1863, a group of fifteen to twenty African American men gathered at a railroad platform in Springfield to begin a journey east to Massachusetts. There they would be mustered into the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the Union's earliest black military units. The men were some of the first of many black troops from Illinois that would fight in our Civil War.
It is likely that a number of factors led blacks from Illinois to enlist in units raised and organized by Massachusetts, which became the 54th and 55th regiments of infantry. Perhaps the most important was opportunity. The Bay State eagerly sought out African American recruits for units that would be made up of black privates and non-commissioned staff, and led by white officers.
Such was not the case in Illinois. As early as the summer of 1862 some black men residing in Illinois, supported by local white leaders, offered military service to state officials. The larger public, however, was not ready to place weapons in the hands of black men so that they might fight for the nation.
Reports of a rally held in Chicago in late April 1863 noted that the African American leader John Jones expressed sadness that the "State of his present residence would not accept his services in this glorious cause, but he was determined to participate, and... should embrace the opportunity presented by the noble and patriotic Governor of Massachusetts." Jones was "willing to adopt Massachusetts as his home, provided she gave him the right which every freeman covets, namely, that of fighting for her honor, and the honor of his country."
The meeting unanimously adopted a series of resolutions, one noting that African Americans had been "ever loyal to a government that has oppressed us for 200 years and more, and do pledge our lives and sacred honors to... aid and assist in defending the common liberties of the entire nation."
The meeting also issued a call for black men in Illinois to enroll in the Massachusetts units, declaring that they would play a crucial role in bringing freedom to their brothers and sisters throughout the South:
"In this war the liberty of the slaves is at once established, so soon as the Proclamation is carried to them.
Who is to bear to our brethren of the South this good news... thousands of whom have not yet heard it. It is our duty-the duty of the black man to bear this proclamation, which can only be effectively accomplished by entering the army as soldiers... and thus carry it by fire and sword, not only to the heart of the South, but into the hearts of rebels."
Where were they from?
Massachusetts records and the published history of the 55th show recruits in varying numbers from towns across Illinois, including: Alton, Bloomington, Cairo, Champaign, Chicago, Jacksonville, Newman, Peoria, Quincy, Springfield, Tuscola, and Waterloo.
It appears that many of those from Chicago, Springfield, and Jacksonville, among others, were new to Illinois, having recently escaped slavery. Among them was Andrew Jackson Smith, an escaped slave who had come north to De Witt County after working as servant to Colonel John Warner of the 41st Illinois Infantry.
A surprisingly large group of the state's first black enlistees were the men from rural Clinton County, located about forty-five miles east of St. Louis. The father-son team of Daniel and James Mayhew gave their home as Breese Station, as did Tecumseh Pendergrass. Nearby Jamestown was home to John Coleman, Joseph Haren, John Morgan, and John Oglesby.
The standouts in the Clinton County cluster were members of what appears to have been an extended family. Franklin Curtis and the brothers Napoleon and Richard Curtis hailed from Jamestown, while John, Joseph, and Pleasant Curtis all hailed from near Carlyle. Census and land sale records show the family group to have arrived in the area by the late 1830s. Like many other of the earliest settlers the heads of the family purchased public domain land directly from the federal government. The U.S. population census for 1840, taken shortly after the family's arrival, shows 111 African Americans living in Clinton County as free persons. Another 10 were held as slaves, some of them on farms located within a mile or so of members of Curtis family farms.
The 55th in service
The 55th was mustered into service at Readville, Massachusetts, on June 22, 1863, and a month later headed south. The men then began a long stretch of fatigue duty on South Carolina coastal islands. It was the kind of work seen by most Americans, north and south, as being most appropriate to African Americans. In February 1864 the regiment moved to serve near Jacksonville, Florida, for two months, after which they returned to the islands of the South Carolina coast. On July 2, the 55th took part in a small action on James Island.
Shortly after a November transfer to Hilton Head, South Carolina, the regiment took part in what would be its most notable fight, on November 30, 1864, near the town of Honey Hill. The action, in which the 55th fought with the now-famous 54th Massachusetts, was small but very deadly. The ground to be crossed in attacking Confederate lines was broken and covered with thick underbrush, making rapid movement impossible. Rebel rifle and artillery fire took a large toll. The two sides continued their small arms fire through the day in spite of the inability to see their opponents due to the thick vegetation. That evening the Federal forces withdrew under cover of darkness. The men of the 55th had acquitted themselves well. Andrew J. Smith, who lived at Clinton, Illinois, at the time of his enlistment, saved the regiment's flag when the color bearer was "blown to pieces by the explosion of a shell." Smith's exploit was rewarded, in 2000, with the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After Honey Hill the 55th returned to its pattern of frequent movements along the South Carolina coast, punctuated by occasional short expeditions up the area's rivers. In February 1865 the black troops of the 55th had the privilege of marching through the just-captured Charleston, South Carolina, perceived by many as the birthplace of the secession movement that had led to the war.
During its term of service the regiment lost 64 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, among them Joseph Haren of Jamestown, Elijah Thomas and Alvers Northrup of Springfield, Andre Haggins of Quincy,
John Abbott of Bloomington, and Emery Burton of Jacksonville. Another 128 were taken by disease. One of them was John Curtis, of the Clinton County family that contributed six members to the 55th.
After the war
Authors of the 1868 regimental history made at least some attempt to locate veterans of the 55th. Many of the men who had enlisted from Illinois had returned to the state, including the surviving members of the Curtis family, and Daniel and James Mayhew, all of Clinton County. Others returned to their prewar homes of Alton, Champaign County, Chicago, Douglas County, Jacksonville, and Springfield.
A few Illinoisans of the 55th, however, adopted Massachusetts as their postwar home, at least for a time. William Miledam and Jacob Payne located in Boston, while Lewis Clark who enlisted from Jacksonville, lived elsewhere in the Bay State.
Interested in learning more?
Bert G. Wilder, The Fifty-Fifth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, colord, June 1863-September 1865, which includes a regimental roster, can be found online at
Who in the world was Lewis B. Parsons?
In December 1861 Lewis Baldwin Parsons was placed in charge of all military rail and river transportation within the Department of the Mississippi, which extended from Pittsburg to west of the Mississippi and south to New Orleans. In a war that made huge use of steam to move troops and supplies, Parsons was a crucial player.
Lewis Parsons was born in New York State in 1818, the year of Illinois statehood. After graduating Yale in 1840 he began teaching in Alabama against the wishes of his father, who feared the influences of living in a society based on slavery. He soon began the study of law at Harvard, and after graduation began a practice in Alton, Illinois. Parsons soon began to invest in land, by 1855 owning an estimated 2,000 acres. About the same time he began work as an officer of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. He left the company in 1860, as the nation's sectional crisis reached a new level of intensity.
War's early days
Parsons lived in St. Louis when secessionists fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Southern sympathizers and Union men struggled for control of the city. The former railroad attorney served as a volunteer aid to unionist politician Francis P. Blair, Jr., taking part in the capture in May of secessionists gathered at Camp Jackson on the city's outskirts.
Months later Parsons served on the staff of Gen. George B. McClellan, an old acquaintance. McClellan had been named president of the eastern division of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the time Parsons left the company in 1860. After small but notable early victories in western Virginia, McClellan was called by President Lincoln to reorganize the Union forces that had been trounced at the First Battle of Bull Run. On November 1, 1861, Parsons's friend was named general-in-chief of Union forces.
Bringing order from chaos
The day before McClellan's promotion Parsons had been transferred to the army quartermaster's department at St. Louis, where he served on a commission to make sense of financial claims against the government that had been incurred during the command of Gen. John C. Frémont.
Parsons's most important wartime service, however, began with an order issued December 9, 1861:
"You will take charge of all the transportation pertaining to the Department of the Mississippi by River and Railroad and discharge all employees not required to facilitate this particular service."
The former railroad man quickly set out to put the transportation of masses of men, equipment, and animals on a businesslike basis. Up to the time of his appointment quartermaster officers had operated largely on their own. The result was a chaotic system without an overarching plan of operation. Parsons established a strict standard of accountability for officers' actions, declaring that if the U.S. treasury was not to be bankrupted "some general system would be required for the entire West." That shaking up caused anger among some shippers, who quickly protested Parsons’s orders.
Other problems came from lack of communication within the army. The important Illinois Central Railroad, which had been financed largely by a federal land grant, complained that it was not being paid for its services. Parsons wanted to pay but could not get information from superiors about rates. Final orders regarding the payment did not come for almost nine months. Parsons also felt in a bind because he was not informed of plans for the future campaigns and the transportation needs that they might involve. Able only to guess at the army’s future plans, Parsons could write to his subordinates in December 1862 only that "Large Movements are in prospect, and you will require very soon, a large supply of coal...."
Parsons also shook up the system by which basic transportation costs were established. In the early days much of the transportation was arranged by charter and rates thus varied from project to project. The business-like Parsons established regular rates by term contracts. This was especially important in arranging steamboat transport, which carried the majority of food, equipment, and clothing to the army. While railroads were owned by corporations, steamboats were owned by individuals or small groups of investors. Arranging to use many boats meant dealing with many owners. The contract negotiated in December 1862 for all river transport between St. Louis and New Orleans provided for "precedence and prompt dispatch to transportation of the United States" and set rate specific rates for passengers and goods. (For the specific rates see his Reports to the War Department link at the end of this feature.)
The pre-arrangements provided by contracts made by Parsons allowed for quick movement of troops and military equipment. In early 1862 his work played a crucial role in supporting water-based campaigns including Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Island Number 10. When in late December 1862 Gen. William Sherman planned an attack on Haines's Bluff, Mississippi, and
Parsons provided transports for 13,000 men on twelve hours' notice. When the assault failed the transports evacuated Sherman's army and their equipment by next morning, saving the force from real trouble.
More rank and responsibility
Parsons's work in quickly moving troops and war materiel was hailed throughout the army. On August 26, 1864, he was promoted to Chief of the Quartermaster Department's Division of Rail and River Transportation. He was now in charge of all military rail and river operations.
Parsons soon received the biggest test of his career. In January 1865 he organized and supervised the movement of the 20,000 men and 1,000 animals of the 23rd Army Corps from Eastport, Mississippi to Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic coast, where they would join the war's final campaign. After receiving his orders Parsons began to gather hundreds of railroad cars and the locomotives needed to move them. He then began the process of dealing with managers of the different railroads whose lines would be used. He also arranged for enough steamboats to bring men to the major rail center of Parkersburg, West Virginia, from which they would move east by rail.
It was not an easy proposition. Freezing on the Ohio River forced many boats to land at Cincinnati, where the men transferred to trains that had been rerouted from their original starting point. The trains then contended with miles of snow-drifted track. In spite of these problems things could not have gone much better. In a bit over two weeks Parsons and those working under him moved 20,000 men, with artillery and animals, a distance of about 1,400 miles. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton called the successful effort "without parallel in the movement of Armies." Months later
President Lincoln signaled his appreciation by calling for Parsons to be promoted to the rank of brigadier general.
It is impossible to know the exact numbers of soldiers, animals, and tons of equipment moved under the superintendence of Lewis Parsons. One small sign is a record of the amount of military transportation (by rail and river) that moved through the single city of St. Louis during the year ending June 30, 1863:
|Food, ammunition, clothing, medical equipment, etc.||491,014,463 lbs.|
|Wagons and ambulances ||4,348|
|Board-feet of lumber||2,314,619|
Interested in learning more?
A short sketch of Parsons's life and work is Harry E. Pratt, "Lewis B. Parsons: Mover of Armies and Railroad Builder," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 44:4 (Winter 1951): 349-54, which can be found online at:
After the war Parsons wrote about his work- Reports to the War Department by Brev. Maj. Gen. Lewis B. Parsons, Chief of Rail and River Transportation (1867) http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044086280112 and Rail and River Army Transportation in the Civil War (1899)http://hdl.handle.net/2027/pst.000004306702
The major collection of Parsons's papers can be studied at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.
Illinois schools during the war
While the nation was preoccupied with events on the battlefront, important things were happening on the home front. In Illinois hundreds of thousands of youngsters continued to attend classes in the state’s relatively new system of public schools.
The system in 1861
Laws enacted in the 1850s Illinois created a mandatory system of public schools financed through taxation. The system was overseen by a state superintendent of public instruction. Each county organized itself into districts, each of which operated a school. Persons seeking employment as teachers had to be certified as competent by county school officials. Textbooks were adopted at the local level, though the state superintendent offered advice as to the quality of textbooks offered in the marketplace. An Illinois State Normal University (today Illinois State University) operated as the state’s teacher-training institution.
When Fort Sumter was fired on in April 1861 the Illinois public school system consisted of about 9,300 schools serving almost 473,000 students. This was estimated to be about 80% of the white population between the ages of 5 and 21 years. In 1860 males dominated the field of teaching with 8,200 positions, while just over 6,400 women worked in classrooms. Males also dominated the pay scale, receiving on average over 50% more than their female counterparts. Officials in many counties reported some opposition to public education and consequently slow advances in raising the quality of their teaching staff and in improving school buildings and instructional equipment.
The school laws used the word "white" to designate the clients of the system. Some small provision for African American children was made by declaring that in "townships in which there shall be persons of color, the board of trustees shall allow such persons a portion of the school fund equal to the amount of taxes collected for school purposes from such persons of color..." While this did in the abstract create a right on the part of black children to public education, in the concrete it all but ensured a level of public funding that would make impossible a genuine education.
Ideas about education and the war
In his 1863 report on the state's schools Superintendent of Public Instruction Newton Bateman, after outlining the workings of the system, raised "deeper questions... questions that look beyond the domain of means, far out into the realm of results; that... propound to us the earnest inquiry, what then?" The result was a lengthy section about the role of educators in the national life, asking further "What is the great end of popular education? Are our public schools answering that end? How can they be made to do so more perfectly?"
Bateman's answered his own questions. "The chief end is to make GOOD CITIZENS. Not to make precocious scholars—not to make smart boys and girls-not to gratify the vanity of parents and friends... but simply, in the widest and truest sense, to make good citizens." What exactly did that entail? Bateman provided a long explanation highlighting some important characteristics. Most important was “cordial submission to lawful authority" -good citizens willingly submitted themselves to the law of God and of the just governments that God ordained. Another important attribute was "moral rectitude," which could be taught by exposing children to the sad examples of failed individuals and nations. Teachers, though, should also raise positive models and "fail not to point the young to those substantial and enduring honors which cluster... upon the brow of virtue." A final goal was to engender love of country. "The true American is ever a worshipper. The starry symbol of his country's sovereignty is to him radiant with a diviner glory than that which meets his moral vision." The southern rebellion, Bateman argued, was a consequence of ignorance and a resulting lack of true good citizenship.
The war brings a change
Probably the greatest effect the war had on schools was to change the composition of the teaching force. Several county superintendents reported difficulty in finding competent replacements for experienced men who enlisted in the military. Coles County's superintendent lamented that "I have been compelled to grant certificates... to persons who failed to come up to the standard I have adopted, in order that the schools might all be supplied."
Local schools responded by hiring women to fill many vacant teaching positions. By 1865 the number of male teachers had dropped to 6,172. Women picked up the slack with 10,843 presiding over classrooms.
Some districts employed women reluctantly, but later reported happy results. Jersey County's superintendent wrote that many "female teachers have had but little experience in the art of teaching, but, by the assistance of the directors and patrons, have succeeded in giving pretty general satisfaction." W. L. Campbell of Mercer County proved much more enthusiastic. He noted that 80% of new teachers in his county were women and complained of the injustice of their being paid roughly 60% of the salary awarded their male counterparts. "I cannot see why this difference should exist. The competent, faithful and true female teacher... is entitled to just as much compensation as the male. She performs the same amount of mental labor, undergoes the same wear and tear of mind and body, and accomplishes the same amount of good. The honest truth is, we do not pay our teachers enough, and particularly our females."
The return of peace in 1865 changed many things in Illinois. One was the trend of women dominating public school teaching. Between 1865 and 1866 the number of male teachers rose by about 650. In that same period the number of women teaching declined by about 400. Though holding a smaller percentage of all teaching positions, women continued to preside in a solid majority of Illinois classrooms. They would continue to do so—a major change from prewar days.
One thing that did not change was the status of African Americans in the public school system. The 1850s statute that allowed but did not mandate public education opportunities for black children remained in effect. State superintendent Bateman put it bluntly in early 1867: "For the education of these six thousand colored children [of school age], the general school law of the State makes, virtually, no provision. By the discriminating terms employed throughout the statute, it is plainly the intention to exclude them from a joint participation in the benefits of the free school system." He joined the Illinois State Teachers' Association in calling urgently for the General Assembly to remove the word "white" from the state’s school laws. That would take some time.
Interested in learning more?
The state superintendent of public instruction issued biennial reports that included much statistical information and reports by county school superintendents. Reports covering the war years can be found online at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433075985816 and http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433075985808
Fireworks in Springfield
The competing public meetings to discuss emancipation held by the political parties at the state capitol building in Springfield in early January 1863 (see the January 2013 monthly feature) foreshadowed a complete breakdown of relations between the Republican governor and the Democratic majority in the legislature. The 1863 session of the Illinois General Assembly was filled with fireworks and ended with an action never seen before—or since. Here are a few high points.
Battling over emancipation
Not surprisingly one of the first issues to arise after the session's January 5 opening was emancipation, the President Lincoln’s proclamation having gone into effect just days before. In his opening message to the new legislature, Republican Governor Richard Yates proudly declared himself a radical in the struggle against slavery, arguing that freedom was the will of God:
"[T]he only road out of this war is blows aimed at the heart of the rebellion, is the entire demolition of the evil which is the cause of our present fearful complications....The rebellion, which was designed to perpetuate slavery....is now, under a righteous providence, being made the instrument to destroy it....I demand the removal of slavery. In the name of my country, whose peace it has disturbed....in the names of the heroes it has slain....in the name of justice, whose high tribunals it has corrupted....in the name of God himself, I demand the utter and entire demolition of this Heaven-cursed wrong of human bondage."
Democratic legislators had very different ideas. In fact they worked to walk back the steps made toward freedom. The first days of the legislative session saw the submission of a bill by which Illinois would ratify a proposed amendment to the U. S. Constitution approved in December 1860 by Congress and President James Buchanan. If ratified by the needed number of states, it would give permanent protection to the institution of slavery in the United States. Strong majorities in both houses of the Illinois legislature passed the law by which the Prairie State would ratify the proposed amendment.
A call for an armistice and a peace convention
The Democratic majority also quickly began a movement to adopt an official statement denouncing the Lincoln administration's conduct of the war and calling for a convention of the states that would work to bring peace between North and South.
The Democratic majority of the House Committee on Federal Relations condemned the president's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the closing of opposition newspapers by military authority, and other infringements on civil liberties. Such moves, they said, threatened to create "a consolidated military despotism." Members then declared that, given the failure and the corruption of the Lincoln administration’s war effort, "it is to the people we must look for a restoration of the Union, and the blessing of peace." A convention should be held at a place to be determined upon by the states "to so adjust our National difficulties that the States may hereafter live together in harmony." Six commissioners—all but one opponents of the war—were named to work with similar groups from other states to arrange a military ceasefire and convention.
Members of the Republican minority issued a report of their own, a full-throated call for supporting President Lincoln's conduct of the war. The Emancipation Proclamation was called "a necessity demanded of the President....a necessary and constitutional war measure." Violations of the civil liberties of citizens were deplored, but the report declared that civil rights had little to do with fighting traitors-"no man has a right to be a traitor-no man has a right to aid and abet the enemies of his country." Most important, it was imperative to "crush out the existing rebellion," said the Republicans. "Our own happiness, prosperity and power as a people, and the fate of republican institutions throughout the world" turns on the success of the Union, they declared.
An observer later wrote that "no one not present at the time can imagine the bitterness, even ferocity of temper, with which these resolutions were discussed." After days during which little else was addressed, the majority resolutions, including the call for a negotiated peace, were adopted by a party-line vote. The majority then called for a recess until June, to allow the proposed convention to meet and attempt a peace.
Senator Funk explodes
As the legislature prepared to recess, the actions by the antiwar majority brought Senator Isaac Funk to white heat. The McLean County legislator announced that he would happily serve as judge, jury, and executioner against those fellow legislators that he saw as enemies of the United States:
"Mr. Speaker, you must excuse me; I could sit no longer in my seat and listen to these traitors. My heart....would not let me. My heart, that cries out for the lives of our brave volunteers in the field, that these traitors at home are destroying by thousands, would not let me. My heart, that bleeds for the widows and the orphans at home, would not let me. Yes, these traitors and villains in the senate are killing my neighbors' boys, now fighting in the field.
Mr. Speaker, these traitors on this floor should be provided with hempen collars. They deserve them. They deserve hanging, I say.... I go for hanging them, and I dare to tell them so, right here, to their traitorous faces. Traitors should be hung. It would be the salvation of the country to hang them."
Funk's speech was a sensation, astonishing some and bringing cheers from others in the galleries. It was reported or quoted at length in newspapers throughout the northern states and was even issued in pamphlet form in both English and German.
Thinking during the recess
The General Assembly returned to Springfield on June 2, following the recess that was meant to await the results of the national peace convention to which it had appointed delegates. There was no report because there had been no convention.
Legislators who had followed the public press knew that there was much dissatisfaction with their earlier actions. Published reports of meetings of Illinois regiments at the battle fronts indicated anger among the troops over what were seen as measures that hurt the military. Many soldiers bitterly denounced the proposals for a cease-fire and peace convention, threatening to punish what they saw as treason at home after defeating traitors in the South. In spite of weariness after two years of war, a number of public meetings across Illinois expressed similar feelings.
Governor Yates's coup
Governor Yates and others quickly decided "that the State and country would receive a greater benefit from the adjournment of this legislature than from the passage of any measure" it might pass. When the two houses did not agree on a date for adjournment Yates used a provision of the state constitution to "prorogue" the legislature—to declare the session at an end. Republican members immediately deserted the legislative chambers, leaving Democrats to fume at Yates's stunning move. Opposition leaders soon brought before the Illinois Supreme Court a suit challenging the governor's action. Months later, at a time when the case's outcome could have little practical effect, the court sustained the governor. Richard Yates would fight the rest of war without further legislative restraints.
Interested in learning more?
A fuller look at the struggle between Governor Yates and the Democratic opposition is Jack Nortrup, "Yates, the Prorogued Legislature, and the Constitutional Convention," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 62:1 (Spring 1969): 5-34. It can be found online at http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1969spring/ishs-1969spring-005.pdf
Isaac Funk's speech in pamphlet format can be read at http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/2900928.html
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring free Africans Americans held as slaves in areas under Confederate control. This followed his September 22, 1862, preliminary proclamation, which warned those in rebellious states that they could save their "peculiar institution" by laying down their arms and renewing their allegiance to the Unites States within one hundred days. Reaction to the proclamation in Illinois—like that in the Union as a whole-varied from condemnation to approbation.
Mass meetings to express opinions
Reactions of the two political parties came quickly. Political leaders from throughout Illinois gathered in Springfield for the January 5, 1863, opening of the new legislature. They soon followed the old practice of holding public meetings during the legislative gathering to develop and stake out their stands on emancipation.
Democrats condemn the president and his policy
Democrats, who held majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, called a public meeting for that very evening to condemn the Lincoln administration and its policies, especially the emancipation of African American slaves. Representatives Hall was reported to be filled, while "Hundreds came and went away, unable to obtain entrance." A committee on resolutions met to develop an official statement of belief, while speeches were made condemning national war policy. The resolutions committee's statement was enthusiastically adopted, laying out the Illinois Democratic position on emancipation. It condemned Lincoln's action, charging him with changing the purpose of the war, creating radical and highly dangerous social change, and encouraging the kind of violent uprising of enslaved people envisioned by men such as Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and John Brown:
"Resolved, That the emancipation proclamation of the president of the United States is as unwarrantable in military as in civil law; a gigantic usurpation, at once converting the war, professedly commenced by the administration for the vindication of the authority of the constitution, into a crusade for the sudden, unconditional and violent liberation of three millions of negro slaves; a result of which would not only be a total subversion of the Federal union, but a revolution in the social organization of the southern states, the immediate and remote, the present and far-reaching consequences of which to both races cannot be contemplated without the most dismal forebodings of horror and dismay. The proclamation invites servile insurrection as an element in this emancipation crusade-a means of warfare, the inhumanity and diabolism of which are without example in civilized warfare, and which we denounce, and which all the civilized world will denounce, as an ineffaceable disgrace to the American name."
Leading Democrats spoke again at a meeting on January 8. This time they generally condemned Lincoln's management of the war and the arrest of administration opponents. Several advocated peace even if it included disunion. A single speaker spoke against the Lincoln administration but emphasized support for the struggle against rebels who would destroy the Union established by the Founders with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Republicans stand with their leader
Republicans held their first public meeting in Representatives Hall on January 9. Again, the chamber was reported to be packed, with hundreds turned away for lack of room. "[P]atriotic Union ladies of Springfield and other parts of the State-those who are daily laboring with their hands for their brothers, relatives and friends in the field" composed a large part of the audience. A special level of patriotism and support from Illinois soldiers was suggested by decorating the front of the room with the bullet-riddled flags of several regiments.
The main feature of the evening was a speech by Major General Richard J. Oglesby, who had been nearly killed three months before at the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi. Oglesby's speech emphasized the importance of supporting the war to preserve the Union, referencing the Emancipation Proclamation as a necessary action on the part of the Lincoln administration to preserve the Union.
"This proclamation is a great thing, perhaps the greatest thing that has occurred in this century. It is too big for us to realize. When we fully comprehend what it is we shall like it better than we do now."
On January 15 Republicans held another meeting, this one to adopt formal resolutions supporting the actions of President Lincoln in fighting the rebellion. One of them touched upon the proclamation:
"Resolved, That the Constitution of the United States confers upon the Government of the same all the powers necessary to the effectual suppression of the rebellion... and to this end it may deprive them [those in rebellion] of life, liberty or property if required, in its judgment, and that an imperious necessity demanded of the President of the United States the issuing of his proclamation of freedom to the slaves in the rebellious States... and we pledge ourselves to sustain him in the same."
Emancipation as a military necessity united Republicans, many of whom did not oppose slavery primarily on humanitarian grounds.
Illinois troops respond
In his January 9 speech General (and later governor) Richard Oglesby, lately arrived from the war front, commented, "You want to know about the proclamation, and what the army thinks about it. I do not know the sentiment of the army. No man knows the sentiment of so large a body of men." The sentiments of Illinoisans in the service began to trickle in, mostly through letters to friends and family, many of which found their way into local newspapers. Some condemned Lincoln's proclamation and perceived evils that they saw arising from it, including racial mixing. Many more supported emancipation, not as a move toward human rights but as a blow against traitors who wished to kill them. Depriving rebels of slave property removed a source of labor that could be used by Confederates against Union troops. Practicality aside, emancipation also punished people who had turned against the nation.
How did Illinois African Americans note the day?
It is not possible to know exactly how Illinois African Americans reacted to the January 1 proclamation. Meetings likely were held in those towns that were home to a black population of any size. Certainly more concerned with emancipation's meaning for its white readers, the press (an all-white institution in the Illinois of 1863) seems to have given such meetings very little notice. Frederick Douglass' Monthly reported that "At Chicago, as our Western correspondent 'PILGRIM' reports, the colored people celebrated the gladsome New Year's Day with appropriate public festivities-feeling sure of the coming of the Proclamation, before it was issued."
Interested in learning more?
It is possible to get an idea of reaction to emancipation in Illinois towns by reading their locally published newspapers. A catalog of Illinois newspapers on microfilm available for loan through the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library can be found online at http://www.illinoishistory.gov/lib/newspaper.htm
Studies of the reactions of Illinoisans to emancipation include Bruce Tap, "Race, Rhetoric, and Emancipation: The Election of 1862 in Illinois," Civil War History 39 (1993): 101-25. David W. Adams, "Illinois Soldiers and the Emancipation Proclamation," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 67 (1974): 406-21 can be found online at http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1974sept/ishs-1974sept-406.pdf
"You are sure to be happy again":
President Lincoln consoles Fanny McCullough
Executive Mansion, Washington, December 23, 1862.
It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer, and holier sort than you have known before. Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.
Miss. Fanny McCullough.
Your sincere friend
Abraham Lincoln's letter to twenty-one-year-old Fanny McCullough stands as one of the great writings of consolation. Though less famous than the 1864 letter to Lydia Bixby, the mother of several sons thought to have been lost in the service, the McCullough missive holds special interest. Firstly, the original letter exists today, which is not the case with Bixby. Secondly, Lincoln's words were written as encouragement to a young person whose life had been devastated by the war.
The death of William McCullough
Bloomington resident William McCullough joined the 4th Illinois Cavalry in the summer of 1861 and was commissioned lieutenant colonel. The disabled fifty-year-old (he had lost his right arm to a threshing machine) left behind his wife, two daughters, and two sons. Judging by surviving correspondence Mrs. McCullough and all of the children suffered from some form of bad health or behavioral issue. Friends at home worried for the McCulloughs.
William had developed a wide circle of friends in the legal profession while serving McLean County as sheriff and later as circuit clerk. Among them were Abraham Lincoln, who had practiced regularly in McLean County, and local Republican party leaders including David Davis and Leonard Swett. At the time of William’s death in 1862 those friends were president of the United States, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the recent Republican nominee for U. S. Congress.
McCullough died on December 5, 1862, in a skirmish near Coffeeville, Mississippi. His unit had been surrounded in the late afternoon dusk. Refusing to surrender, he was killed by musketry. The body was recovered under a flag of truce to be returned to Bloomington for burial.
The sad news
News of McCullough's death reached Leonard Swett in Bloomington on December 8. During the Civil War information about soldier death moved through informal channels rather than by government telegrams or visits of army officials such as that portrayed in "Saving Private Ryan." Swett described how he broke the news to the colonel's family:
"'Col McCullough killed in battle—buried by the enemy, flag of truce gone for the body'
The first shock of this terrible news over, the question was how I should bear the news to this already afflicted family I did not know in just what condition Mrs M was; so taking the advice only of my wife, I concluded first to see Mrs Orme [McCullough's elder daughter].
The announcement of course affected her considerably, but, it was solid grief for her 'poor Father'.... She soon composed herself, for I told [her] if she were the only one I could leave her to grieve, but her Mother & Fanny were so weak, I had to come to [her] for help to strengthen them. It was but very few moments until she rallied from it & at her request I went with her to Mrs McCullough's
We found Mrs M. sitting up apparently quite comfortable. Mrs. Orme had advised telling the both of them together so Fanny was sent for and I began what to me I would rather have avoided than a battle. I told that I was the messenger of evil that would shock & wound, that they were both unable to bear it, that before I told them they must bear themselves up & summon all their fortitude, that I was afraid of its consequences Mrs. M. sat quietly & told me to go She could bear it.... She seemed like one taught in the school of affliction. Fanny manifested impatience to hear it quick but her face looked as though she would dodge the blow There [was] a shrinking and fear in it.
....Is it Father said Fanny? It is, it is I replied I was sorry to say that was true Mrs McC. as she sat in her chair quietly dropped her head in her hand & wept Fanny dropt her head on her Mother's shoulder A moment of silence when Fanny began to show signs of nervous excitement She rung her hands crying Father's dead! Father's dead! poor Father! Is it so? Why don't you tell me, why don't you tell me. The anxiety of all for her, knowing her nervous condition led us all to forget everything else The doctor was sent for She became gradually more quiet & soon sat in her chair composed A few people came & she shortly went to her room—locked herself in A lady friend stood at the door & finally got in"
Friends fear for Fanny McCullough
Fanny's behavior continued to worry friends even as her mother showed what seemed to be resignation toward her husband's death. Swett's wife Laura wrote to David Davis, now serving on the U. S. Supreme Court, that Fanny appeared "afflicted—crushed, and I fear, broken-hearted.... She has neither ate or slept since the tidings of her father’s death, but shuts herself in her room, in solitude, where she passes her time in pacing the floor in violent grief, or sitting in lethargic silence."
Davis was himself heartbroken at the death of his old friend, and especially concerned about Fanny. To Laura Swett he commented on Fanny's suffering in words that said much about his own:
"Would that I was in Bloomington. I could do much to sooth, my poor friend, Fanny McCullough
I love her as I would a child, & believe, that if I was at home, that I could do a great deal to lift her out of her great grief- She has had trials & griefs such as few girls of her age ever had.
She is a guileless, truthful, warm hearted, noble girl. The good hearted people of Bloomington shd not let her sink under this affliction
Her father was my devoted friend, for many long years- In his friendships he was as true as the needle to the pole- Where he loved he gave his whole heart.- He had his faults- who of us does not. Let them be buried with him in the silence of the grave-
One by one, my old friends drop off- A feeling of intense sadness has been on me all weeks- Poor Fanny, loved her father, with all his faults, as devotedly as ever child loved a parent-
She should not be suffered to grieve over much- I know that Mr Swett & yourself will do all that is in your power, to comfort her-
I know exactly how she feels, and how dark the world is to her"
".... a very good effect in soothing her troubled mind"
It may be that David Davis informed President Lincoln of William McCullough's death. He wrote on December 16 that "Mr Lincoln had a warm attachment to McCullough & feels his loss keenly." Probably prompted by Davis himself, the president promised that "He will write to Fanny."
Business intruded, however. The president was dealing with the fallout of the Federal defeat on December 13 in the disastrous battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Conflict between the secretary of state and the secretary of the treasury threatened to tear apart Lincoln's cabinet. Davis told his wife that he continued to write to Fanny "frequently" and that "I will see Mr Lincoln again, & prompt him to write her- He promised the other day that he would- The cares of this Government are very heavy on him now, & unless prompted, the matter may pass out of his mind."
Lincoln composed his letter on December 23. Five days later David Davis happily informed Laura Swett in Bloomington that "Mr Lincoln has written to Fanny." On the evening of January 1, 1863, the president's letter was delivered to the young woman. William Orme wrote to Justice Davis in Washington that "Fanny is still in much distress of mind- But your letter to her was so full of good kind love for her that it did much to relieve her. Last night she received a letter from Mr Lincoln which was beautifully written and had a very good effect in soothing her troubled mind.”
Interested in learning more?
An image of the letter of President Lincoln to Fanny McCullough can be found at http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/lincoln/presidency/CommanderInChief/BattlingIncompetence/ExhibitObjects/ExperienceEnoughtoKnow.aspx .. Much correspondence among William McCullough's friends discussing his death and Fanny's reaction to it are in the David Davis Family Papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, and in the William W. Orme Papers located in the Illinois History Collection at the library of the University of Illinois-Urbana.
The 92nd Illinois riles Kentuckians
The 92nd Illinois riles Kentuckians
In November 1862 the 92nd Illinois Infantry, which had become known as a "slave-stealing" regiment for its refusal to return fleeing slaves to their owners, marched through Kentucky towns with weapons loaded to overawe threatening pro-slavery mobs. The controversy mirrored the evolving struggle in the North over how the war should affect African American slavery.
Time and change
President Abraham Lincoln declared with the opening of war that his government's purpose was to preserve unbroken the nation established by the Founders, not to end or modify the institution of slavery in the rebellious states. Under this policy many African Americans who escaped slavery and sought freedom within U.S. Army lines were returned to their masters.
As the war stretched from weeks to months, many in the loyal states began to rethink the place of slavery in the struggle. This was the result in part of dealing with circumstances and issues unseen in the war's first days, but also of changing attitudes toward stubborn rebels who refused to lay down their arms.
The military complicated matters when Major General Benjamin Butler used the Confederate concept of the enslaved being a form of property to declare escaped African Americans who entered his Federal lines to be contraband of war, subject like other forms of property to seizure by the government. Many other officers began to use this legalism to employ escapees as army laborers.
Congress also played a role, passing laws regarding confiscation of rebel property. In March 1862 a new article of war—a portion of the code that governed the armed forces—was adopted. It declared that all military officers "are prohibited from employing any of the forces under their respective commands for the purpose of returning fugitives from service or labor, who may have escaped. ..." Officers found guilty by a court-martial of violating the article were to be dismissed from the service.
President Lincoln took part in the process by signing the Congressional legislation, though sometimes with misgivings. In the fall of 1861 he drew the line at supporting a general emancipation, forcing the revocation of Major General John C. Frémont's proclamation of emancipation in Missouri. The move, Lincoln wrote, was among other things "not within the range of military law, or government necessity." Twelve months later the president thought differently. On September 22, 1862, he issued a preliminary proclamation of emancipation that warned those living in areas under Confederate control that if they did not lay down their arms by January 1, 1863, their slaves would be declared free.
The 92nd Illinois enters the fray
Into this state of affairs marched the 92nd Illinois Infantry. Raised in the northern Illinois counties of Stephenson, Ogle, and Carroll, the regiment was commanded by Republican attorney
Smith D. Atkins of Freeport. The men learned of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation while being organized in Rockford in September 1862. According to the regimental historian, "little knots were gathered through the camp discussing it. The general verdict was approved. Indeed, many hoped that the war would not end before the hundred days [allowed by the Proclamation to the rebels to lay down their arms and retain their slaves] expired, and the freedom of the black man had become secure."
The newly organized regiment marched into Kentucky in October 1862. The slaveholding state had remained loyal, but how the Lincoln government dealt with slavery always threatened to upset the relationship. When African Americans flocked to the 92nd's camp seeking refuge, Atkins sent them away. But when ordered by his superior officer to return to the owner a slave who had actually come within the regiment's lines Atkins pondered the situation. He studied the War Department's General Orders 1391. The fugitive was not surrendered to his owner, but put out of the lines and pointed toward the Ohio River and the free states beyond. A meeting of the officers of the 92nd determined that future orders to surrender fleeing slaves "should not be obeyed."
On November 2 Colonel Atkins issued a proclamation assuming command of the Mount Sterling area. In it he warned that "no part of my command will in any way be used for the purpose of returning fugitive slaves. It is not necessary for Illinois soldiers to become slave-hounds to demonstrate their loyalty..." He justified his stand to a friend in Illinois, writing that "under the President's proclamation of Sept 22d 62. I cannot conscientiously force my boys to become the slavehounds of Kentuckians & I am determined I will not." Hoping to make the matter moot, he issued orders to keep all civilian personnel, white and black, outside the regiment's lines.
Over the next weeks scores of African Americans sought refuge within the lines of the 92nd. Colonel Atkins responded by turning the refugees out of his lines but refusing to return them to their masters or to local law enforcement officials. About fifteen blacks remained with the regiment, working for Union officers as servants.
Marching through Winchester and Lexington
On November 16 the regiment marched toward Winchester. Atkins was warned that a mob in the town planned to remove the black servants and restore them to their owners. On reaching the brow of a hill overlooking the town it was seen that hundreds, including the 14th Kentucky Infantry, were milling in the streets awaiting the Illinois regiment. Atkins ordered the regiment to load their muskets and fix their bayonets. He then declared "we are threatened with difficulty in passing through this town. I hope there will not be any. Listen to my orders. You will march in silence.... If a gun is fired at you; if a brickbat, or club, or stone be thrown at you,—do not await orders, but resent it at once with steel and bayonet.... You must not fire first; but if fired upon, kill every human being in the town and burn every building." A member of the regiment remembered later that "a shout from the regiment that shook the houses, told that the men understood the orders...." As the regiment entered the town Atkins was met by the local sheriff and served with "a hat full of documents" demanding the surrender of stolen property in the form of escaped slaves. Atkins received the papers, and the regiment proceeded through town without further incident.
Days later the 92nd marched to Lexington, the hometown of Henry Clay and Mary Lincoln. A section of the regiment's last company was surrounded and cut off from the rest of the unit by sheriffs, special deputies, and members of the 14th Kentucky Infantry who attempted to pull a black servant from the ranks. The sergeant in command ordered his men to block the attempt with their bayonets. A Kentucky officer asked the sergeant if he "intended to defend the ------ n…..r." The sergeant affirmed he did to which the Kentucky officer replied, "I have come for him, and will have him or die." The full regiment soon marched back into town and Atkins gave an ultimatum, allowing the mob three minutes to disperse. If they failed to do so, he warned, "these streets will run with blood." The mob broke up without incident. The following day the local sheriff arrived to serve more papers in additional cases accusing Atkins of theft of property.
The end of the story
In December 1862 Colonel Atkins reported to the Secretary of War on his recent legal problems. He informed the War Department that
"[t]he Grand Jury of Montgomery County have found several indictments against me for stealing negroes—Grand Larceny. These negroes came into my camp, said they belonged to the enemies of our country, claimed protection, were employed ... as servants; Col. J. C. Cochrain ... ordered me to deliver them up- I declined to do so- and find myself proceeded against as a 'criminal' in these Kentucky Courts that a few weeks ago could not hold a sitting were it not for the protection of the bayonets the union soldiers wield. I have acted in good faith throughout, trying only to do my duty.... and I will, of course, expect the government I serve to protect and shield me from these oppressive suits."
At the same time Atkins also wrote to abolitionist leader and congressman Owen Lovejoy of Princeton to ask for legal advice. Atkins feared that as he could not "stop from the pursuit of rebels" to attend civil courts and so would lose the court cases by default, his "property in Illinois go to sale to pay for the freedom of these men that the law has made free, and the Presidents order and article of war forbid my sending back to bondage." If that happened, he warned, "we ourselves.... become the victims, and that for only obeying the Articles of war, the Orders of the President, and our consciences as men."
Atkins did not become a victim. The whole Kentucky incident, which had threatened eruptions of musketry, ended with a whimper of court summonses that were coolly ignored.
Interested in learning more?
The regimental history Ninety-Second Illinois Volunteers (1875) is unusual in its declaration that "African slavery was the real cause of the war." Pages 33 to 56 discuss the 1862 Kentucky affair, printing many of the official documents. The book is online at http://www.archive.org/details/ninetysecondilli00illi . Colonel Atkins's copies of documents are in the regiment's papers in "Administrative Files on Civil War Companies and Regiments," RS301.018, in the Illinois State Archives. Other documents regarding the incident are found in Ira Berlin et al, eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation 1861-1867 series 1, volume 1, pp. 528-38. An important study of the hardening Federal attitude toward rebels is Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War (1997). The twisting road toward emancipation and Lincoln's role in it is laid out in many works, including David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995) and Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004).
The popular literature of the Civil War is filled with inspiring accounts of courage and sacrifice. Countless such acts, even if exaggerated, took place. Every great event, however, contains many stories that create bumps in the overall smooth narrative. One is the story of desertion during the American Civil War. Military officials estimated that about 200,000 men deserted the U. S. Army during the conflict. Illinois contributed to this number, though not in proportion to the number of Illinoisans who joined the military or were subject to a call for service.
What and why?
What exactly qualified as desertion? The most basic definition was any form of being absent from one's unit without official leave. Army officials admitted that many men were unjustly listed as deserters due to poor record keeping and genuine inadvertence, especially in the confusion of battle and its aftermath. The definition also included men who had been called up in a draft but never appeared for examination and potential induction, or disappeared after having been examined and certified for service.
What led a man to take the risks involved in intentionally leaving his regiment? After all, the Articles of War governing the U.S. Army specified
death by execution as a legitimate punishment for the crime.
Army officials believed that ignorance of military law and the fact that most new volunteer soldiers "had always freely acted according to their own ideas and wishes, restrained by no other legal requirements than those of the civil law governing a free people" caused many excusable problems, especially in the early months of the war.
Many men were moved to desertion by letters from family members telling of suffering at home in the absence of the chief breadwinner. Many (but by no means all) counties provided for financial assistance to soldiers' families, but the support levels were generally low.
Others were thought to have left because they believed they could get by with it. In many areas opponents of the Lincoln government's war policies helped to shield deserters from detection, sometimes allowing them to live openly at their homes.
Deserters from Illinois
Desertions from Illinois regiments reached their wartime high in October 1862. From the war's earliest days the number of Illinois troops deserting in any month was generally a trickle of under 100. In July 1862 the rate climbed rapidly, to more than 300, continuing to grow until it reached 823 in October. It then began to fall, though slowly, until July 1863 when it fell to a fairly consistent rate near 100 per month. A single unit that certainly skewed the statistics was the 128th Illinois Infantry. In April 1863, after less than five months in service, the regiment’s roster had been reduced from 860 to 161, mostly by desertions. The War Department broke up the unit, bouncing the sadly incompetent officers and sending the remaining enlisted men to the 9th Illinois Infantry, where most served well.
In April 1863 the army created a new system of assistant provost marshals general operating in each state. One of this officer's tasks was the apprehension of deserters. James Oakes, the assistant provost assigned to Illinois, reported in August 1865 that he had arrested and sent back to their units 5,805 Illinois deserters.
As was the case in other states, in some parts of Illinois military deserters could count on aid from neighbors. On January 28, 1863, Illinois Governor Yates telegraphed the War Department that civilians in several counties covered for deserters and that a mob in Paris (Edgar County) had forcibly rescued a deserter from military arrest. Fulton County was especially troublesome. During the summer of 1863 draft enrollment there was disrupted and several army deserters camped in the area, counting on local sympathy to protect them. In August 1863 Colonel Oakes informed newspapers of new army orders that deserters who surrendered themselves would be treated leniently, suffering only the loss of pay for the time they were absent.
The punishment of desertion by execution was seldom carried out. While more than 200,000 Union soldiers were reported as deserters, only about 200 paid with their lives. Those from Illinois and their execution dates were:
Valentine Benjamin, 44th Illinois Infantry, Nov. 13, 1863
Erastus Daily, 88th Illinois Infantry, Nov. 13, 1863
David Geer, 28th Illinois Infantry, March 4, 1865
Henry McLean, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, Aug. 25, 1865
William Wilson, 12th Illinois Cavalry, July 28, 1865
Charles Conzet, 123rd Illinois Infantry—deserter
An Illinois case that sheds light on an important motivation for desertion was that of Charles Conzet, who lived near Greenup (Cumberland County). On January 9, 1863, Conzet deserted his post as a second lieutenant in Company B, 123rd Illinois Infantry, as the unit passed through Nashville, Tennessee. Weeks later he was taken into custody at his Illinois home and soon returned to Tennessee for trial.
At Conzet's request Major James A. Connolly of the 123rd represented him at the court martial. After his appearance Connolly wrote of the affair:
"One of our young lieutenants deserted when our regiment came through Nashville, and he was arrested at his home in Illinois and brought back here in irons. He was tried on a charge of 'desertion in the face of the enemy,' before a general court martial at Murfreesboro, and he sent to me to defend him. I went, but I knew he was guilty and I wanted to see him punished, yet at the same time I was very sorry for him. He had been married very shortly before entering the service and he left his wife but very little money, expecting to receive pay form the government two months. In this he was disappointed like all the rest of us. His wife kept writing to him that she was out of money and could scarcely procure the necessaries of life, and finally she wrote him that she had become a mother. The poor fellow could stand it no longer, he didn't know how to make out a leave of absence, and he determined to go home and make some provision for his wife and infant child, risking all consequences. This is his story and there is nothing in evidence to contradict it. I don't yet know what the finding and sentence of the court is but I presume they found him guilty, and probably sentenced him to be shot, but I am sure President Lincoln will never let him be shot. It’s a hard case, but he had no business to have a wife—and baby to think about."
The court found Conzet guilty of desertion and sentenced him "to be stripped of his badges of office, and shot until he is dead, with musketry." His division commander and the army commander, William S. Rosecrans, approved the sentence. The regiment's field officers and company captains petitioned Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton for a commutation. They wrote that Conzet was "induced to abandon his post by letters from his wife begging him to come home an relieve her from her destitute condition, representing to him that the community in which she lived was opposed to the war, and would do nothing to relieve her necessities because her husband was in the Army." They also noted that the regiment had not been paid for over five months and requested that the punishment be reduced to "reduction to the ranks with forfeiture of all pay and allowance." Conzet himself wrote of his hope that he would "be allowed to return to his company so that he may yet prove himself to be a man." Abraham Lincoln saved Conzet's life but did not allow for the redemption of his honor. On September 24, 1864, the president ordered, "Let the prisoner be ordered from confinement and dishonorably dismissed [from] the service of the United States."
Interested in learning more?
A marvelous, detailed study of Illinois military desertion during the Civil War is Bob Sterling, “Discouragement, Weariness, and War Politics: Desertions from Illinois Regiments during the Civil War,” Illinois Historical Journal 82 (Winter 1989), pp. 239-62, online at http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1989winter/ishs-1989winter239.pdf .
Volunteer soldiers had barely gathered in training camps and organized into units in the summer of 1862 (see August 2012 feature) when Illinois Governor Richard Yates began to receive panicked messages calling for the new regiments to be sent forward to protect Kentucky against rebel invasion. Confederate armies were on the move, hoping to take back territory lost earlier in the year.
The Confederate government and its armed forces were determined to regain ground lost during the spring and summer of 1862. The capture in February by federal armies of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, Grant's hard-won victory in April at Shiloh, and the May capture of Corinth in northern Mississippi had driven most rebel forces from Kentucky and Tennessee. Union forces also threatened to capture Chattanooga, which could then be used as a base for operations against the Deep South.
Confederates hoped to retake much of Tennessee and of Kentucky by strikes to the north, aiming for the Ohio River and important cities—Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio - that lay on its banks. Major General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding Confederate forces at Knoxville, Tennessee, would first attempt to clear the Cumberland Gap of federal troops. He would then link with army of General Braxton Bragg to drive the federals from middle Tennessee. Smith moved in mid-August, soon forcing Union troops in the region to retreat to the Ohio River. On September 1 he captured Lexington, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region.
Bragg moved his army north, marching from Chattanooga on August 28. He headed for the Bluegrass, intending to link with Smith but also hoping to gain recruits and supplies for his army. Several small clashes with federal troops took place as Bragg's federal opponent, Major General Don C. Buell, retreated northward toward Louisville, carefully keeping his army between the Confederates and the Ohio River.
Illinois responds to the growing fear
As the Confederate plan unfolded, federal commanders showed great concern. On August 24, Major General Horatio G. Wright, commanding the Department of the Ohio—which included the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and central and eastern Kentucky—wrote Illinois Governor Richard Yates to "Send your troops here [Louisville, Kentucky] as rapidly as possible." Wright needed to counter the move of Smith's Confederates, said to be "in large force" near Richmond, Kentucky. Yates responded the same day, "I am doing everything in my power to send troops." About 50,000 Illinoisans had been recruited, but a lack of mustering officers prevented units from being organized and sent to the front. Yates reported to Wright that he hoped to be able to send from sixteen to twenty-five infantry regiments during the next two weeks.
At the same time he was appealed to for soldiers to Kentucky, Yates make efforts to secure Illinois itself from the possibility of invasion by Confederates or rebellion by disloyal citizens. On August 25 it was announced that "In order to protect the State from raids without and rebel sympathizers within," camps would be established at Quincy, Jonesboro, Chester, and Shawneetown. "It will be seen by these dispositions of troops the Governor is protecting the flanks of the State from guerilla raids, and also looking to this possible contingency of secession sympathizers at home. The Governor originally urged this disposition of troops, but other officers did not think them necessary."
On August 30 General Wright again telegraphed Governor Yates from Cincinnati asking, "When and how fast can regiments and batteries be forwarded from your State? Let them all go to Louisville as fast as transportation to that point is available. Buell seems to be in a tight place, and a force for his relief must be collected... The troops must do the best they can without tents till supply can be obtained." That was followed three days later by yet another telegram, this one declaring, "It is of last importance that fifteen regiments be sent from Illinois at once. Seize all transportation and send them forward as fast as possible." The governor responded by sending "telegraphic imperative orders to all parts of the State where troops are located" for newly organized regiments to move for Kentucky.
Governor Yates offers advice
On September 15, as Confederate armies continued their advance in the East and the West, Governor Yates issued a proclamation to the people of Illinois, criticizing the Lincoln administration for its conduct of the war and offering suggestions for change. Firstly, the government was too soft in dealing with traitors. "By reason of the conciliatory policy of the General Government, disagreements among our Generals, or some other cause, the rebels have succeeded not only in regaining the ground they had lost in front of Washington, but have also undertaken the daring project of invading the loyal states..." He called on the federal government to create a reserve force of one million armed and equipped men, to be ready to move at any time to any place of danger. All the stops should be pulled out. "We should ever be ready to march upon the enemy with an overwhelming force. We should make the very earth tremble beneath the feet of our well trained and invincible battalions."
In closing, Yates wrote that there might be problems aplenty, but "I shall never, so help me God, harbor any other idea than that of an unshaken faith in the re-establishment of an unbroken and perpetual union of all the States. I do not know the councils of Almighty God; but at least I may be permitted to believe, that it is not in the plans of Providence to permit the destruction of the noble fabric of government—the temple of civil and religious freedom, the beacon of light to oppressed nations, the hope of humanity now and forever."
A turning point?
Days after Yates issued his message to the people of Illinois, one portion of the Confederate advance began to recede, when the Army of the Potomac won a victory against the Army of Northern Virginia at the battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Losses on both sides were high, but the rebels retreated across the Potomac River, ending Robert E. Lee's invasion of the loyal states.
The situation in Kentucky, however, remained grim for the friends of the Union. Bragg and Smith remained on the move, sparking panic in Ohio River cities such as Louisville and Cincinnati. General Wright continued his frantic calls on northern governors to hurry troops to the field "as fast as they can be mustered and armed. The rebels are passing rapidly northward and must be met with larger forces than we yet have. Every day is of importance." On September 23 he again begged Yates to hasten new Illinois regiments to Kentucky, as Louisville "is seriously threatened by Bragg." Ten days later he telegraphed, "It is of the utmost importance that the new regiments be got ready... Delay is ruinous. One regiment now is worth more than many would be a few weeks hence." Yates and other state officials worked frantically to move the men south.
A week later, on October 8, the armies of Bragg and Buell stumbled into battle at Perryville, Kentucky. Several of the new Illinois infantry regiments took part in the action, often fighting beside more experienced troops. The 123rd Illinois Infantry was raw to the point of never having taken part in a battalion drill. Most of the new units acquitted themselves well in their first combat. At Perryville Buell won a victory, of sorts. Confederate foreces retreated to the southeast, and the invasion of Kentucky came to a close.
Interested in learning more?
A recent account of the Kentucky campaign of late 1862 is found in: Earl J. Hess, Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River. Much of the correspondence between General Wright and state officials in Springfield is found in Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies... series 1, volume 16, part 2
"We are coming Father Abraham"
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."
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 .
Cheatham Hill, Georgia: The Illinois Civil War Soldiers and their Monument
It is an easy 200-yard walk from the parking lot at the Cheatham Hill section of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield to the Illinois Monument. Ironically, the stroll meanders through a placid oak-hickory forest that is so like the woodlands of Illinois that one could imagine the setting is in the Land of Lincoln instead of fifteen miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Similarly, one could easily misconstrue the low ridge beside the path as a soft, natural rise in the landscape. But a sign instructing visitors to stay on the trail sets the record straight about the ridge: "CONFEDERATE EARTHWORKS," the plain wooden message declares in all capital letters, "PLEASE KEEP OFF." At a preserved Civil War battlefield, pains are taken to preserve everything.
Footsteps trod upon this path today traverse the site where fighting in late June of 1864 claimed the lives of nearly four hundred men from a brigade largely composed of Illinois soldiers. When the survivors of the fierce battle were much older, they sought to commemorate their fallen comrades. Thanks to their efforts a sixty-acre parcel was purchased; it was the first step of a historic preservation movement that resulted in the protection of nearly three thousand acres of American history. Today, Kennesaw Mountain is one of the nation’s most visited Civil War battlefields, hosting over one and a half million guests annually.
Along the path, which runs mostly parallel to those Confederate earthworks, there are several interpretive panels describing the awful carnage of that early summer nearly 150 years ago. It is easy to be taken aback by one particular sign's reminder that nature bears the scars of battle long after the humans who fought have gone. This graphic says that a dead oak removed from that spot in 1980 was found to have a number of Civil War bullets imbedded in its trunk; several still-living trees are deformed at their canopies due to scars from the firefight.
Presently, the visitor arrives at the focal point of the trail, the Illinois Monument itself. An article in the Atlanta Constitution in 1922 opines that "(it) is one of the finest memorials in the country," high praise indeed coming from a southern paper whose readership included a few people old enough to remember the conflict and perhaps still disturbed by the actions of the Yankee soldiers. The spirit of the Monument represents Illinois, but its composition is strong, beautiful marble from Georgia. Rising twenty-six-feet high and covering eighteen square feet at its base, the Monument is no larger than some similar memorials in cities, but it is striking how standing here, the only manmade structure in a woodland clearing, the Illinois Monument commands a presence it would not have in an urban town square.
The layout of the trail mandates an approach to the Monument from its rear face, which bears a long inscription. One might stop here to read this text, but the brightness of the open field ahead tends to exert a subtle forward pull, leading the visitor to first encircle the Monument and look at it from the front, where it rises above two flights of a dozen steps each. Here, with a grassy field sloping gently downhill at his back, the viewer's eyes are drawn to the main feature of the work, a grouping of three prominent bronze figures. Standing seven feet tall, the central figure is an austere soldier in the parade rest position, his rifle at his right hand. On either side he is flanked by a six-foot-tall female figure. The woman to the soldier's left represents Illinois; she holds the state's coat of arms snugly with both hands. To the soldier's right, the woman has a more universal representation--she symbolizes peace. Above the figures, framed by a wreath, the word "Illinois" appears in bold relief on the marble. Soaring over it all are two eagles: one contained in the medallion bearing another Illinois coat of arms, the other, crowning the Monument, a magnificent bird with wings outstretched.
What exactly happened here at Cheatham Hill? The story is told by that inscription on the back of the Monument and by several signboards posted nearby.
Named after Major General B.F. Cheatham of the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee, Cheatham Hill was the site of one of the battles waged during the Atlanta Campaign. In early May 1864, nearly one hundred thousand Union troops under the command of General William T. Sherman, set off from Chattanooga, Tennessee, intent on taking the city of Atlanta, about 120 miles to the south. Along the way, Union troops encountered determined resistance, but they overcame it. By June 27th the Northern forces had reached the ground upon which the Illinois Monument now stands.
The fighting that spring of 1864 was widespread—indeed, the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park includes several sites of conflict—but the inscription on the Monument concentrates on the clash at this particular spot. In part, it reads:
"On this field the men of Col. Dan McCook's 3rd brigade, 2nd Div. 14th Army Corps assaulted the Confederate works on the 27th day of June, 1864, losing four hundred and eighty killed and wounded, including two commanders… (The) brigade reached Confederate works and at less than one hundred feet from them maintained a line for six days and nights without relief, at the end of which time the Confederates evacuated."
McCook's brigade included five volunteer infantry regiments: the 85th, 86th, and 125th Illinois; the 22nd Indiana; and the 52nd Ohio, plus a volunteer light artillery regiment, Battery I, 2nd Illinois. So composed, the majority of the troops in the brigade were from Illinois; Colonel McCook, however, was from Steubenville, Ohio.
A daunting and hazardous task faced McCook's brigade: attacking Cheatham's Tennessee troops at a protruding point of their earthworks that both sides ominously nicknamed "The Dead Angle." While the Monument's inscription stresses that the Third Brigade held the line for six days, it does not mention that the real horror of war was manifested in a twenty-minute charge on the 27th; nearly all of the soldiers in the brigade who lost their lives were killed in that short span. Particularly hard hit was the 125th Illinois, with 54 killed, 63 wounded, and seven missing in action.
Following the initial carnage, the Northern and Southern troops hunkered down and faced each other separated by just one hundred feet. In pursuit of a plan to approach the enemy underground to plant explosives, the Union soldiers began digging a tunnel towards Cheatham's lines. Laudable as the effort of the McCook brigade to hold the line may have been, it was actually Union troops moving in from elsewhere that led the Confederate forces to finally evacuate the earthworks, which, in turn, caused the Third Brigade to abandon their unfinished tunnel.
Colonel McCook—affectionately known as "Colonel Dan" to those he commanded—was a well-educated man; prior to the war he was a law partner with General Sherman. And he knew his poetry. To inspire his troops, he recited from Horatius, a poem about a hero of classical Rome written by the nineteenth-century Englishman Thomas Macaulay. Stanza 27 of this long poem contains the lines McCook hoped his men would take to heart:
"Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
'To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,'"
McCook himself was among the casualties of the battle, suffering a mortal wound, but living long enough to be carried back home to Steubenville to die.
The Union pressed ahead and took Atlanta that summer. In the spring of the following year, 1865, the Civil War ended.
Three and a half decades passed. Then in 1899, survivors of the Third Brigade's Illinois regiments bought the sixty-acre Cheatham Hill parcel. As these gentlemen aged, perhaps it tugged at them that they had a solemn responsibility to preserve the site where many of their comrades fell in combat. In any case, the following year, the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union veterans, held its national encampment in Chicago. Illinois veterans in attendance formed the Colonel Daniel McCook Brigade Association for the express purpose of raising funds to build a monument. When they were unsuccessful securing sufficient donations, they turned to the General Assembly of the State of Illinois for help, and in 1911 the legislators approved the expenditure of $20,000 for the project. The resolution authorizing these funds noted that the Third Brigade was "largely composed of Illinois troops, conspicuous for their courage and gallantry" and declared that "It is a patriotic duty for people of this State to keep in perpetual remembrance the heroism of our fallen soldiers."
Propelled by that government assistance, a monument was commissioned. Illinois' own state architect, James B. Dibelka was the designer; sculptor J. Mario Korbel created the striking bronze figures. Interestingly, both Dibelka and Korbel were Czech immigrants, a reminder of the great impact of immigration to America following the Civil War.
On June 27th, 1914—the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Battle of Cheatham Hill—the Illinois Monument was unveiled. One week earlier, an article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune describing the upcoming event; it remarked that a special train had been arranged to carry Governor Edward Dunne and other Illinois dignitaries to Georgia for the dedication. Among these VIPs were the men who formed the monument commission, those fortunate few who survived the battle and were still alive that half century later: W.A. Payton of Danville, Captain L.J. Dawdy of Peoria, J.B. Shawgo of Quincy, and H.F. Reason of Mason City. The names of all these veterans are inscribed on the Monument except, inexplicably, for that of Shawgo. No further information about the service of Shawgo or of Reason appears in the Tribune piece, but it does report that Payton served as a drummer boy and that "Capt. Dawdy was wounded while so close to the Confederate breastworks that he fell across the trenches, where he was seized and made a prisoner." The Tribune also mentions the touching way the ceremony stressed the importance of the Civil War to those for whom the conflict was part of a distant, unfamiliar past—Payton's eleven-year-old granddaughter Sarah Fadely would do the unveiling.
In 1935, more than twenty years after dedication of the Illinois Monument, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park was established by Congress; the designated land included the original Cheatham Hill purchase. Subsequent acquisitions led to the 2,923-acre historical park that exists today, but the work of preservation began when the Illinois veterans sought to honor their lost comrades.
Kennesaw Mountain is certainly not the only Civil War battlefield with a memorial for Illinois troops. There are monuments commemorating the service and valor of Illinois soldiers at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Chattanooga, Vicksburg, and elsewhere. These are of notable variety in design. For example, the Illinois State Monument at Vicksburg, Mississippi is a grand looking temple based on the Pantheon in Rome. One could plausibly argue it appears more impressive than the subdued structure at Cheatham Hill.
But in a 1941 article considering these various Illinois memorials, former Chicago newspaperman and co-founder of the Civil War Roundtable, the late Donald Russell, noted an important distinction. At the other battlefields the monument for Illinois is one among several, as similar works dedicated to soldiers of other states stand nearby. At Cheatham Hill, however, a lovely monument to soldiers from the Land of Lincoln stands by itself, having no competition and therefore commanding full attention. This is what makes the viewing experience powerful and moving: the sight of the Illinois Monument rising alone, proudly but respectfully prominent in a landscape that is wonderfully peaceful today but was the scene of deadly combat in late June of 1864.
Interested in learning more?
Anonymous. 1914. Illinois Tribute to Dead in South. The Chicago Daily Tribune, Jun 21, p. F 19.
Bunting, Frank C. 1922. Memorial to Illinois Civil War Soldiers, Erected by Western State, Stands Near Marietta. The Atlanta Constitution, June 11, p. 7.
Harper's Ferry Interpretive Design Center and the National Park Service. 2010. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Long-Range Interpretive Plan.
Russell, Don. 1941. Illinois monuments on Civil War battlefields. Papers in Illinois History and Transactions for the Year 1941, pp. 1-37.
About the Author
Brett Bannor is a freelance writer. Bannor was born and raised in Chicago, but as an adult lives in Georgia. His grandmother was born and raised in Georgia but as an adult lived in Chicago. Given this coming full circle in two generations, Bannor naturally had an interest in the connections between the Prairie State and the Peachtree State.
Brett Bannor, Atlanta, Georgia
Looking for Excitement: The Story of Albert D. J. Cashier
Women have served in every war this nation has fought since the Revolutionary War, when Deborah Sampson Gannett took up arms. Ironically, it is only in the 20th and 21st centuries that women have been excluded from the infantry. The number of women who disguised themselves as men to fight on the frontlines in the American Civil War was estimated at about 400. Mary Livermore, a key agent and organizer of the U. S. Sanitary Commission, believed the number to be much higher "then was dreamed of." There are references in the writings of soldiers to uniformed women found dead in the "heaps of bodies" on the battlefields, newspaper accounts of women attempting to enlist, and many documented accounts in regimental histories and official records of women soldiers discovered after injury or death. Illinois, having raised more troops than most other states, no doubt had its share of women who served their country during the conflict.
One well-documented story is that of Albert D. J. Cashier, an Irish immigrant born in Clogherhead, Ireland, on December 25, 1843. Jennie Hodgers, as he* was known at birth, left that name far behind when he came to America. Unlike many other women who disguised themselves to go to war, Cashier was living as a man prior to his enlistment. He worked as a farm hand, laborer, and a shepherd. Though he often refused to speak of his past or family, later in life Cashier offered a variety of reasons for his choice to live as a man many of which were conflicting. In one account, Cashier said he was given the name Albert by his stepfather and worked with him in a shoe factory in New York. A second story held that he joined the army to follow his lover. And, in yet another account, he told his former sergeant, Charles Ives, that he had a twin brother and that his mother dressed them both in boys' clothing. Whatever the truth may have been, from a practical stand point, Cashier could earn a better wage and have more opportunities for work as a man. He could also own property, have a bank account, and vote. None of those rights were afforded to Jennie Hodgers, a woman.
With this background, the transition to the life of a soldier was an easy one for Cashier. He was accustomed to hard work and, as an illiterate immigrant, he was used to less-than-ideal standards of living. The medical exam given to prospective recruits at the time was cursory at best. The muster record indicates that Cashier was nineteen years old, with amber hair and blue eyes, and stood 5'3" tall. Upon mustering into Company G of the Illinois 95th Infantry in the Union Army on August 6, 1862, at Belvidere, Illinois, the regiment was sent to Camp Fuller at Rockford for training.
Cashier saw action in more than forty skirmishes and battles, including the Siege of Vicksburg and the Red River Campaign. The 95th traveled more than 9,500 miles according to its regimental history and was considered a strong fighting unit. Many of his fellow soldiers noted that while Cashier was of small size he was "able to do as much work as anyone in the company." He was noted for his bravery in battle and was considered an exceptional soldier. During reconnaissance at Vicksburg, Cashier was captured by a Confederate outpost. He escaped by knocking away a pistol from the hand of his guard and out-ran his captors to return to his unit. Cashier and his fellow soldiers endured great hardships at Brice's Crossroad near Tupelo, Mississippi. His unit had marched quickly to arrive at the scene, enduring the intense heat of June, which had made some soldiers faint from exhaustion. Despite the death of their Colonel Thomas Humphrey and removal of Captain William Stewart from the battlefield, the unit fought on. Eventually they retreated, in chaos and exhaustion. After regrouping, the 95th endured several more difficult encounters with the Confederates before being mustered out in August 1865. Cashier chose to retain his masculine identity after the war.
Cashier proved an able soldier though not an outgoing one. In Robert D. Hannah's deposition, taken prior to Cashier's death in 1915, he noted that Cashier was "very quiet in her manner and she was not easy to get acquainted with." Despite this, his comrades came to his aid after the War on more than one occasion and for a brief period Cashier owned a plant nursery with a fellow soldier. He settled in Saunemin, Illinois, and worked various odd jobs. He later worked as a farmhand for the Chesebro family. The family built a small home for Cashier, frequently hosted him in their home, and provided a burial plot in the family's cemetery. In 1890, Cashier applied for a soldier's pension, which he received. Experiencing some difficulty of circumstance and health issues, he requested an increase in benefits in 1899. His application was supported by more than a dozen of his former comrades who signed a letter confirming his status.
Cashier continued to work and from time to time did odd jobs for Illinois State Senator Ira Lish. During one such job, the Senator inadvertently ran over Cashier's leg with his car. When the Doctor, called in by Lish, set the leg he realized Cashier's nearly life-long secret. Senator Lish and the doctor agreed to keep the matter quiet, only telling the Chesebro sisters who were enlisted to help care for Cashier. The leg, which was broken, did not heal properly and by the age of 66, Cashier was an invalid. He was placed at the Quincy Soldiers and Sailors home with the assistance of Senator Lish, who made sure his identity as a woman remained a secret. The staff of the home did not reveal the new resident was anything other than an aged male veteran.
As with many elderly people, Cashier's mental health began to decline. The superintendent of the Soldiers and Sailors home assigned Dr. Leroy Scott, a psychiatrist, to Cashier. Scott spent many years interviewing Cashier about his life and trying to establish his history. By 1913 the physicians at the Soldiers home determined that Cashier was beyond their ability to care for and began proceedings to have Cashier declared insane. In 1914, it was revealed to the public that Cashier was, in fact, a woman. The sensational story made its way to newspapers across the country. When the news reached the Pension Bureau, an investigation was immediately launched. Several depositions were taken with Cashier's former comrades and many were interviewed. The Pension Bureau determined that Jennie Hodgers and Albert D. J. Cashier were indeed the same person and that no fraud had been perpetrated. Cashier continued to receive his pension benefits.
In March of 1914 Cashier was sent to Watertown State Hospital after the courts concluded that he was insane. Cashier's comrades visited him often. Some expressed concern and anger over his treatment at the State Hospital and by those reportedly caring for him. One letter remarked that a priest was more interested in Cashier's money than his person. Upon arrival at the hospital, Cashier was placed in the women's wing and forced to wear a dress despite his objections. This insensitivity proved to be his undoing. Being unaccustomed to long skirts and dresses, Cashier fell and broke his hip. He died shortly thereafter on October 10, 1915, and was buried in uniform with full military honors. His tombstone, at Sunnyslope Cemetery in Saunemin, Illinois, reads simply Albert D.J. Cashier, Co G, Ill Inf, 1843-1915. Local residents later added a stone honoring both Cashier and Jennie Hodgers.
Albert D. J. Cashier remains the only known female soldier to serve a complete tour of duty and to receive a military pension. He endured the horrors and hardships of war like any other soldier. As to why he chose to fight, Cashier remarked "Lots of boys enlisted under the wrong name. So did I. The country needed men, and I wanted excitement."
* Throughout the article I have used to the masculine pronoun when referring to Cashier to honor his choice to live life as a man, regardless of his biological sex.
Interested in learning more?
Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook.They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War.Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.
Clausius, Gerhard P. "The Little Soldier of the 95th: Albert D.J. Cashier."Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 51 no. 4 (1958).
Davis, Rodney O. "Private Albert Cashier as Regarded by His/Her Comrades."Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 72 no. 2 (1989).
Dunn, Margaret "Peggy".With Hearts of Fire: Women in the Civil War. Springfield: University of Illinois at Springfield, 2005.
Lannon, Mary Catherine. "Albert D. J. Cashier and the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry (1844-1915)." Master's thesis, Illinois State University, 1969.
Tsui, Bonnie.She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford,
Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003.
"Every thing reminds me of Arthur": Mourning a lost friend
Lieutenant Arthur L. Bailhache of Springfield, adjutant of the 38th Illinois Infantry, died of disease at Pilot Knob, Missouri, on January 9, 1862. His body was sent to Springfield for burial.
Bailhache's death left a void in many lives, including that of Anna Ridgely. The daughter of Springfield banker Nicholas and Jane Huntington Ridgely, Anna kept a journal into which she poured her anxieties, as well as accounts of her life's enjoyable moments. Anna's journal provides a poignant look at how one young woman in Illinois dealt with a painful wartime loss.
In late 1861 Anna was a nineteen-year-old, struggling to build her Christian faith. Spiritual crises were a recurrent theme of her writing. She was often conscience-stricken and certain that she did not measure up to the standards of a true Christian. As her family members were not believers, she sought help from a Presbyterian minister but found him to be of little help—"He generally talks of his affairs and never mentions my own."
The opening of the war seems to have had little practical effect on Anna's life. Her position as daughter of a leading Springfield family kept her in the social whirl, "yet still feel that it has not been very profitable-it seems so selfish to be doing for our own pleasure all the time when there is so much to be done for others." It appears that church work for the city's needy served as her outlet. The war did come prominently to her mind in October 1861, with the military defeat and death of one-time Springfield resident Edward D. Baker at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia. The defeat raised difficult questions, which Anna quickly put to rest with the knowledge that "God who directs all things knows what is best for us and we must pray for resignation and trust in him."
As 1861 came to an end Anna dwelled especially on her spiritual state, worrying about what she saw as her ingratitude to God. "I have so many mercies, such continued health a perfect body and sound mind." She feared that she must rebuild the relationship "or God will send upon me a real trouble a real sorrow."
A "real sorrow" came days later when Anna learned of the death of her friend Arthur Bailhache. "I went slowly up into my own room, locked the door and sat down perfectly stunned. I could not believe it... I sat thus all evening. tears would not flow. I could not weep no only groan and moan and think of Arthur. I fell asleep and thought of him all the time and awaked often in the night saying it cannot be it cannot be."
Anna visited Arthur's remains at the family home in Springfield. The tears finally came to her "as we gazed upon that sweet face." On returning home she "staid up in my room all the evening thinking, thinking." "[I]t was some comfort to look upon the cold and silent face. I could imagine he slept and bent over his lifeless form and implore him to speak to me. but now he is put way out of my sight and I must live on without him... every place remind me of my lost friend."
Arthur's funeral at the Episcopal church was an impressive affair, his casket covered with an American flag atop which lay his sword and military cap. At the cemetery a military honor guard fired three volleys over the new grave. Anna "felt as if I should die. it was so awful to leave Arthur there all alone in the cold ground, and we wept and moaned so bitterly..." Still, within days Anna worried "that I will soon forget Arthur."
It was a foolish fear. In fact, she found it difficult to see many faces and places because they reminded her of her lost friend. In February Anna wrote of visiting Arthur's father. Seeing him "reminded me of a gentle face I had last seen cold and silent == oh will this aching sadness ever leave me. every thing reminds me of Arthur. where ere I go I think of him and sometimes I am so rebellious yes rebellious toward so kind a Father-but I do miss him so much...I long to be with him once more."
Anna's inability to forget Arthur continued. Several weeks later she wrote, "some how to day I feel very unhappy. I do not know the reason unless it is... my unattractiveness-and then I think of Arthur. How he loved me with all and was interested in all I did and then comes the painful thought that he is gone never, never to return and I reflect how little I valued his friendship how little I appreciated him whom I now would give worlds to see..." She quickly turned away from such thoughts, her faith telling her to trust providence even when she could not understand it-"all this is wrong and shows a stubborn unregenerate heart. what shall I do, where shall I turn for a loving friend. oh for a kind christian friend to help me."
It appears that Arthur's death may have awakened Anna to the dangers faced by soldiers. In February she for the first time attended a meeting of the Springfield Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society, formed the previous August. Her journals indicate that Anna began to make regular visits to the society's rooms to sew, knit, or make bandages to be sent to Illinois soldiers in the South. At the same time she began to reengage with the social "duties" she so feared would cause Arthur to leave her consciousness.
On September 16, 1862, Anna Ridgely wrote the last lengthy mention of her great wartime loss. "I have thought a good deal of Arthur lately—perhaps I have grieved away the holy Spirit in mourning for him, but I miss him so much. so many things recall his dear memory I am just beginning to realize his loss-to feel that he is really gone-but has not the Lord removed him, and 'shall not the judge of all the earth do right.' God forgive me and oh be merciful."
Interested in learning more?
After the war Anna Ridgely married James L. Hudson. The wartime journals of Anna Ridgely Hudson can be read in the Manuscripts Department of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. A book that uses hundreds of diaries, collections of letters, and journals like Anna's to learn about American's attitudes regarding issues including faith and death is Lewis O. Saum, The Popular Mood of Pre-Civil War America. Two recent books dealing with American attitudes toward death during the Civil War era are Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War, and Mark S. Schantz, Awaiting the Heavenly Country: The Civil War and America's Culture of Death.
Governor Richard Yates visits the battlefront
On April 10, 1862, Governor Richard Yates and a handful of other state officials left Springfield for Cairo. There they would meet dozens of volunteer surgeons and nurses and proceed to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, to provide care for and evacuate hundreds of Illinoisans seriously wounded during the battle of Shiloh. The governor had arranged such an expedition following the fight at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, several weeks earlier, but the Pittsburg Landing project would dwarf his earlier effort.
Illinois at the battle of Shiloh
The number of Illinoisans killed and wounded at Shiloh (more than 700 killed, 3,000 wounded, and 800 captured or missing) rocked the folks at home. Illinois had been represented at Shiloh by the army commander, four of the army's six division commanders, and more than two dozen regiments of infantry and cavalry, and several batteries of artillery.
Governor Yates plunges ahead
On receiving word of the number of Illinoisans wounded in the fight, Governor Yates immediately planned an expedition to the battlefield to aid Illinois' wounded. He issued a call for volunteers to serve as doctors and nurses and chartered the steamboat Black Hawk, operating out of St. Louis, with all to meet at Cairo before moving to Tennessee.
The steamer arrived late at Cairo, delayed perhaps by the necessity of purchasing and loading goods to be used in the relief effort. The State of Illinois purchased from St. Louis merchants large volumes of special foods, including rice, macaroni, vermicelli, teas, tomatoes, and other items not a part of regular army issue.
An observer reported an outpouring of volunteers for the expedition, which led Yates to charter another vessel. "[C]onsiderable difficulty was had to confine the list of surgeons, nurses and assistants to anything like moderate proportions—three times as many insisting upon a passage as could be accommodated. The best was done that could be under the circumstances..." On April 13 religious services were held aboard the boat "to offer up thanks for our late victories, and prayers on behalf of our many wounded and their afflicted families." At Fort Henry the boat landed and a "brief half hour" was given to touring the fort.
On April 14 the party reached Pittsburg Landing, mooring near boats sent by other state governors. "Having been so fortunate as to obtain an order to receive Illinois wounded alone," the boat began loading men at 2 p.m. and reached its full capacity by 6 p.m. On leaving from nearby Savannah (Tennessee) for Cairo, several surgeons and nurses volunteered to remain and help with wounded there and at the battlefield itself.
At Cairo many of men disembarked so that they could travel home by rail. As the boat continued to St. Louis "the wounded began to improve very much—good nursing and good living had worked wonders with them." The expedition, one participant wrote, "was one of entire success. His Excellency, the Governor, was untiring in his efforts to accomplish everything possible... The wounded were full of expressions of gratitude to him for having done more for them than the Governor of any other State had been able to do for their wounded. ..."
The second voyage of the Black Hawk
On April 24 the Black Hawk began a second trip from Quincy to the Pittsburg Landing area, chartered by Adjutant General Allen Fuller on instructions of Governor Yates. This time the men making up the volunteer corps resisted the urge to visit the battlefield in search of souvenirs and remained at the boat. "When the sick and wounded were taken on board, day and night did these true men stand by the suffering soldiers... until all were either started toward their homes or safely deposited in the hospital at Quincy." There were some problems along the way-at Savannah, Tennessee, Fuller found between five and six hundred ill or wounded Illinoisans believed to have been already evacuated, and there was a delay in removing men from Pittsburg Landing for fear of imminent battle at Corinth, Mississippi.
Some lessons learned
Adjutant General Fuller returned from the relief expedition with suggestions for changes in future operations. He first noted that the practice of accepting donations to be shipped only to specific units was absolutely "impracticable" and suggested that soldier relief organizations in Chicago and St. Louis "are eminently deserving [of] the confidence of the public, and I recommend that supplies be sent to them for distribution." He had also seen the confusion that resulted when boxes arrived without invoices revealing their contents, and the waste that resulted from unneeded or useless goods filling precious cargo space. In the future, "Boxes containing such supplies should be plainly marked and invoices of their contents should accompany them," and would-be donors should contact the central relief commissions to see what is needed at a given time. "A little attention to this, will prevent an unnecessary accumulation of some articles and a deficiency of others."
A new hero
Governor Yates continued the relief operation through late May, again personally visiting the battlefield and nearby hospitals. Illinoisans celebrated the good work of their governor. "Every care and attention that can be shown them is rendered. Good surgeons, faithful nurses, and an abundance of medical stores of every kind, ice water, (a luxury that our poor boys prize above gold,)... all that the sick could desire, is here to cheer them on their homeward way. The forethought and energy of Governor Yates in providing for the emergencies of the forthcoming battle of Corinth is beyond all praise. Before this letter is before your readers, thousands of hearts will be made glad by the return of the loved ones whom Illinois, acting through her Governor, has snatched form the very jaws of death."
Even non-Illinoisans gave thanks for Yates's efforts. A newspaper correspondent wrote that on a trip to Mississippi in May, Yates encountered the 7th Iowa Infantry. Its commander shouted to his men, "Soldiers, I have the honor to introduce to you Gov. Yates of Illinois. We are citizens of Iowa, and love her, yet to Gov. Yates... we owe a debt of gratitude for furnishing us clothing and other supplies at a time of sore need, when our government, though inability or carelessness, failed to supply us. I propose three cheers for Gov. Yates."
Interested in learning more?
Hawk, including invoices for goods provided, are located in: "Richard Yates (1815-1873) Correspondence, RS101.013, Illinois State Archives. Governor Yates's interactions with Illinois soldiers are discussed in Jack Nortrup, "Richard Yates: A Personal Glimpse of the Illinois Soldiers' Friend." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 56 (1963): 121-38. (It can be found using the webpagehttp://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/index.html). Many documents relating to the voyage of the Black Hawk, including invoices for goods provided, are located in: Richard Yates (1815-1873) Correspondence, RS101.013, Illinois State Archives.
Illinois boys in blue
For 150 years the military service of boys has provided iconic images of Civil War memory. Stories in wartime newspapers and magazines celebrated young—and often unnamed—patriots who served their country. During the postwar period people could hear concerts of war songs by an adult "Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock." Three of the four groups of statuary placed on the tomb of Abraham Lincoln (designed in 1868) include figures of very young men. The Civil War centennial period gave birth to the 1959 novel Johnny Shiloh and its 1963 adaptation for television by Walt Disney. Boys, these images would tell us, were everywhere on the battlefield.
Boys and young men certainly played a role in fighting on both sides during the war. Was it as large a role as the iconic images would lead us to think? Statistics based on military records kept during the war are notoriously slippery. Scholars over the years have estimated that boys under 18 made up anywhere from 1.0 to 1.5% of the U.S. army that fought the war. Those numbers are based on enlistment records and take at face value the statements of enlistee ages. However, many minors lied about their age in order to enter the service, though just how many cannot be known.
During the war years most states conferred legal adulthood on males when they reached their twenty-first birthday. A federal statute enacted in 1850 provided that young men between the ages of 18 and 21 could enlist in the army, but only with the written consent of "his parent, guardian, or master," and that "recruiting officers must be very particular in ascertaining the true age of the recruit." The act also provided for the discharge of minors who had somehow managed to enlist without parental consent.
In the early days of the war a number of males under 21 years enlisted in the army. Many of them obeyed the law, sometimes serving in the same units as their fathers or adult brothers. Others entered the service fraudulently, lying about their age and the need for a parent's consent.
Problems developed as the excitement of the war's early days passed and soldiers learned the drudgery and danger of army life. By late 1861 discharges from the service were being sought by many under-age soldiers and their parents. In Chicago federal judge Thomas Drummond ruled that under the law "if a minor has enlisted in the regular army, or the volunteer service, who is under the age of eighteen years, and who has been enlisted without the consent of his parents or guardian, such enlistment is illegal."
Congress in February 1862 passed a new statue, that rescinded both the rule allowing young men under 18 to enter the service and the one requiring recruiting officers to "be very particular in ascertaining the true age of the recruit." The new law declared that "the oath of enlistment taken by the recruit shall be conclusive as to his age," and youngsters who lied about their age were stuck with the consequences.
Judge Drummond, despite finding the new statute "a harsh, unjust and oppressive law, ignoring the authority of the father over the son, and discreditable to the Legislature," was now forced to rule differently in cases of minors seeking to leave the service. The Chicago Tribune approved of the change, commenting, "It may be thought harsh... as under the rendering of the late law a youth of ten years, if once enlisted, could not be discharged... by the usual application... It will have a good general effect upon all future enlistments. Recruiting officers will not be troubled with boys, and if boys enlist they will not be able to play soldier a few months and then beg off by pleading the baby act."
Illinois sent an unknown number of minor boys to the field during the Civil War. Some entered the service with the consent and even encouragement of their families, others apparently by lying about their age. Here are short sketches of just a few.
Lyston D. Howe
Lyston D. Howe of Waukegan joined the 15th Illinois Infantry with his father, William, in June 1861, both serving as musicians. Lyston was 10 years and 9 months old at the time of enlistment. The boy, who stood 4' 2" tall, was discharged "for youthfulness" in October 1861 after five months of service. Four months later Lyston joined the 55th Illinois Infantry, his father's new outfit, in which he served a full three-year enlistment.
Orion P. Howe
Orion, Lyston's older brother, entered the service as a member of the 55th Illinois Infantry—his father's and brother Lyston's unit- in September 1862, at the age of 13. During an assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, in May 1863 Howe was one of several soldiers sent for supplies of badly needed ammunition. The others were killed and Howe was badly wounded in his successful attempt to reach Gen. William T. Sherman. The exploit won him a postwar appointment to the naval academy at Annapolis (he was too short for West Point), and, in 1896, the Medal of Honor.
George R. Yost
Fourteen-year-old George R. Yost joined the U. S. Navy in January 1862 and served as "first class boy" aboard the river gunboat USS Cairo. George was on duty manning a gun on the morning of December 12, 1862, when a mine ignited by an electrical charge tore into the Cairo, sinking the vessel in about fifteen minutes. Yost survived the attack and saved the journal he kept during his service, which provides wonderful insight into life on the war vessels that steamed the great rivers.
Ransom P. Stowe
Ransom P. Stowe joined the 33rd Illinois Infantry in May 1861 at the age of 14. He served with the regiment through the war, only to be badly hurt by an accident in March 1865. The injury led to his discharge from the service in June 1865 and the award of an invalid pension in the 1870s. Ransom committed suicide in 1908, which friends and family attributed to the years of suffering due to his wartime injury.
Rebels come North: POWs near Springfield
On February 1862, the U.S. army commanded by Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Donelson, Tennessee. The loss to the Confederates was great—control of a portion of western Tennessee, dozens of pieces of artillery, and over 16,000 soldiers. Federal officers moved quickly to transfer the captured men to the North, away from friendly territory and potential aid.
For the first time a large number of non-resident secessionist sympathizers would be residing in Illinois, at Camp Butler near Springfield, at Camp Douglas outside of Chicago, and at the old state penitentiary at Alton. Governor Richard Yates, Secretary of State Ozias Hatch, and Auditor Jesse Dubois argued with military officials against sending any number of captured Confederates to Springfield, because "there are so many secessionists at that place." Gen. Henry Halleck replied a few days later that “I shall probably be obliged” to send about 3,000 men to Springfield, and ordering that a force of guards ready to receive them.
That same day a train full of prisoners from the 51st Tennessee passed through Springfield on the way to Chicago's Camp Douglas. Crowds gathered to see them during a short stop. One observer noted that they "presented rather a motley appearance, being clothed in almost every style and color, and rather the worse of the wear at that. Quite a crowd assembled at the depot to see them, and we were glad to notice that very little ill feeling was manifested toward them by the crowd. Several jokes passed between them...." The curiosity and friendly banter was noticed in other towns, too.
A few days later prisoners began to arrive at Camp Butler, which still lacked a perimeter wall. A local newspaper editor "welcomed" the men. Its editor hoped that they would be treated with respect, remarking "we trust that nothing like taunt or insult will be exhibited towards them.... [L]et us treat them not as rebels, but prisoners of war. It is no part of magnanimity to crow over and, least of all, deride a conquered foe." Like many in the North, this writer saw the average Confederate soldier as a man who had been used by scheming politicians and ambitious landed elites for their own ends. "Hundreds of those soldiers come among us with less reluctance than they entered the ranks of the rebellious army. They were impressed into the service, against their wishes.... They are poor men, and they know very well that they have nothing to gain by the rebellion, even if it were successful. They know, as well as we that this rebellion means nothing more than.... the perpetuation of slave labor, to the detriment and disgrace of free labor." The sense expressed in those comments seems to have represented, at least for a time, a large part of the unionist population. Even members the Springfield Soldiers' Aid Society, which created hospital clothing and gathered other supplies for the men defending the Union, expressed feelings of good will.
Sympathy of another kind soon appeared as well. Prisoners disappeared from the camp, and it was suspected that "disloyal" locals helped them on their way home through southern Illinois. Among others, six men living south of Springfield were arrested and sent to the prison at Alton on a charge of aiding a prisoner to escape. Soon a petition called for their release, Governor Yates was said to have vouched for some of the accused. Springfield's Republican Illinois State Journal suggested that two weeks in the Alton prison provided lesson enough, and that the men should be released.
The feelings of many, however, soon began to change. The victory at Fort Donelson did not end the war in the West-far from it. Heavy losses on the field of battle and in hospitals continued. Numbers of prisoners refused to see the error of their ways and sought to escape back to the Confederacy. Others expressed their scorn for the Union and those who supported the war to preserve it. The Illinois State Journal, which had earlier called for Southern brothers to be treated with respect, reflected the changed attitude. In reporting about Camp Butler the newspaper began to talk of unrepentant "braggarts," and called for an end to "kindly treatment.... 'Tis time we were tired of throwing pearls before swine." Though some humanitarians and others who sympathized with the secessionists continued efforts to comfort Camp Butler's prisoners, real war, with its characteristic hardening of hearts, had come.
Interested in learning more?
The issue of treatment of prisoners during the Civil War remains a contentious one. It has generated a huge literature. Prisoner of war activities at Camp Butler are discussed in Camilla A. Corlas Quinn, "Forgotten Soldiers: The Confederate Prisoners at Camp Butler, 1862-1863," Illinois Historical Journal 81 (1988): 35-44, online at http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1988spring/ishs-1988spring35.pdf.
The shift from initial friendly interest to harsh feeling tempered by the efforts of humanitarians and those sympathizing with the South also played out in Chicago. For coverage of Camp Douglas see Theodore J. Karamanski, Rally 'Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War (1993), chapter 5.
For military prison at Rock Island, opened in December 1863 following the victories at Chattannoga, see Neil Dahlstrom, "Rock Island Prison, 1863-1865: Andersonville of the North Dispelled," Journal of Illinois History 4 (2001): 291-306, and Benton McAdams, Rebels at Rock Island: The Story of a Civil War Prison (2000).
General Benjamin M. Prentiss of Quincy, Illinois
Dr. David Costigan
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Benjamin M. Prentiss of Quincy (Adams County), a colonel in the Illinois militia, was given command of seven companies with which to defend Cairo, located at the critically important junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In late April his men seized munitions aboard river steamers bound for the South, an indication of his aggressiveness. It was done four days before the War Department authorized such confiscations. The Virginia-born Prentiss received some military experience as a militia lieutenant in Illinois' Mormon "troubles" of 1844-1845 and as captain at the battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War.
In August 1861 Prentiss received promotion to brigadier general, one of the early generalships awarded to Illinois. Most of those named were lawyer-politicians, with the exception of former U.S. Army captain Ulysses S. Grant. When Grant received an assignment to Cairo, he gave orders to Prentiss, who balked, claiming that he was the senior officer. Grant announced that by law, because of his former rank in the U.S. service, he was the superior officer. Prentiss demurred before leaving for St. Louis to seek another command. He subsequently was assigned to oversee northern Missouri above the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. In his Memoirs, Grant lamented Prentiss's decision to leave his command. He wrote: "General Prentiss made a great mistake.... When I came to know him better, I regretted it much.... He was a brave and very earnest soldier. No man in the service was more sincere in the cause for which we were battling; none more ready to make sacrifices or risk life on it."
Dramatic events of April 1862 in western Tennessee vindicated Grant’s faith in Prentiss. The high point of Prentiss's service came as he commanded the 6th Division of Grant's Army of the Tennessee at the battle of Shiloh. Union troops encamped near Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, were surprised by a rebel assault under the command of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston. Prentiss's troops managed to hold off the rebels for about six hours. Prentiss's position was overrun and he was compelled to surrender. Nevertheless, some historians contend that Prentiss and his troops bought valuable time with their brave defense, which helped the Union forces on the second day turn the tables on the rebels at Shiloh, producing an important victory.
Prentiss remained in Confederate prisons until October 1862, when he was exchanged. He was rewarded for his service with a promotion to major general, reassigned to Grant's command and detailed to oversee the defense of the eastern district of Arkansas.
In early July 1863, news arrived in Quincy that Prentiss's troops had been attacked at Helena, Arkansas, by troops commanded by Confederate Gen. Sterling Price. The Quincy Daily Herald published Prentiss's account of the battle. Prentiss had anticipated an attack and established formidable defenses, placing four batteries of artillery on heights overlooking invasion routes. Trees were felled to block roads. The outcome was an impressive victory. Prentiss's forces were outnumbered by approximately 6,500 to 4,000. The victory, however, was overshadowed by the huge Union successes won at the same time at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The action at Helena, also ironically, constituted Prentiss's final combat action.
On July 17, less than two weeks after his notable victory, Prentiss returned to Quincy and was feted in a reception hosted by the activist women's organization, the Needle Pickets. Prentiss sought a new command but none was forthcoming. In October 1863 he resigned from the army on grounds of health and family responsibilities. In fact, he was perturbed at being passed over for command. Gen. Stephen Hurlbut, a self-promoting officer and a fellow division commander at Shiloh, notified General-in-Chief Henry Wager Halleck that he disapproved of any position for Prentiss. Thus a "hero" of the battles of Shiloh and Helena spent the last eighteen months of the war at home.
The Prentiss story reveals more about Civil War leadership than immediately meets the eye. Early in the war the huge expansion of the military required a hurried search for leaders. Prentiss had served in the Mexican-American War and had run for political office, and thus appeared to fill the bill. He acquitted himself well at Cairo, Shiloh, and Helena, but authorities now decided that other officers better suited their plans for conducting the remainder of the war. The sorting process had consigned Prentiss to the sidelines.
Prentiss practiced law in his return to civilian life in Quincy. When Ulysses S. Grant became president in March 1869, he appointed his old comrade a federal pension agent. He served in this capacity for eight years. In 1881, Prentiss moved to Bethany, Missouri, where he served as general agent for the federal land office. In 1888, President Benjamin Harrison named him postmaster of Bethany and he was reappointed by President William McKinley. The government he had served had taken care of him with three separate patronage appointments. Prentiss died in 1901 at the age of 81.
Was Benjamin Mayberry Prentiss a politician who became a general? The answer must be a qualified one.
In the military situation brought on by the Civil War, there was need to almost instantly expand the army from about 16,000 troops to more than 75,000. Where were the officers to come from? Because of his previous military experience, Prentiss seemed a logical choice for command and acquitted himself quite well. Later in the war he was deemed of lesser competence and was deprived of additional commands. Whether this was a legitimate judgment is debatable. As a Republican politician he had advantages in receiving a significant command. His partisan posture likewise aided him in the postwar picture. Did the system work in Prentiss's case? It can be concluded that a jerry-built structure worked tolerably well, and Prentiss brought credit to himself and to his community.
David Costigan is professor emeritus of history at Quincy University
. He held the Aaron M. Pembleton Chair of History at Quincy University
. He is a member of the advisory board of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Interpretive Center.
Interested in learning more?
A sketch of Prentiss's life can be found in Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Studies of the battle of Shiloh and role played in it by Prentiss and his division are: O. Edward Cunningham, Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862, Gary Joiner and Timothy B. Smith, editors; Wiley Sword, Shiloh: Bloody April; and James L. McDonough, Shiloh: In Hell before Night. Official eyewitness reports describing Prentiss's action at Shiloh can be found in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series I, volume 10, part 1, online at http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;view=toc;subview=short;idno=waro0010.
An end and a beginning
December 1861 closed a tumultuous year that saw secession of southern states following the election of a Republican president of the United States and bloodshed after the organization of the Confederate States of America. Perhaps more so than in most years, the close of 1861 was a time to reflect on the meaning of the past and to anticipate the future.
A major change in the Illinois command structure took place on November 11 with the appointment of Allen C. Fuller of Belvidere (Boone County) as adjutant general, the state government's chief military administrator. At the time of Fuller's appointment, thousands of volunteers had gathered in camps at Springfield and Chicago, awaiting organization into regiments. Many units were too small to be accepted for service, and they waited while men who hoped to become officers worked to enlist more recruits. Fuller soon became determined to create regiments out of these fragments regardless of the concerns of would-be officers. He made a "flying visit" to Camp Douglas in Chicago "to consolidate the skeletons and complete at once their regimental organization." That trip and time similarly spent at Camp Butler near Springfield quickly resulted in the organization of units ready for service, one newspaper happily announcing "the satisfaction of stating that . . . both encampments [are] entirely cleaned out, without a remnant of a company or a squad being left."
On December 10 Fuller reported to Governor Richard Yates the number and location of Illinois troops. He noted that 60,540 men served in Illinois regiments. More than 17,400 of them were still encamped in Illinois, soon to be sent to the front. The great majority of regiments already in the field were stationed in Missouri. Fuller noted with real concern that an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Illinois men had enlisted in regiments raised in Missouri, Kansas, or Iowa at a time when the federal government refused to accept eager offers of more troops from Illinois.
On December 12 Governor Yates issued a statement calling attention to Adjutant General Fuller’s report on "the grand army of Illinois." He also noted proudly that through his efforts during the last two weeks over 6,000 "new and superior arms" had been distributed to Illinois units "most exposed to the enemy." The state was also taking delivery of a number of James rifled cannon—"obtained from the Secretary of War during my last visit to Washington"—to be issued to new companies of artillery.
Illinois' "grand army" grew in size and confidence, and it was relatively unbloodied by the first months of fighting. At the end of December most counties counted a few men lost in the national service. The pace of the fighting had been slow, and few battles had been fought, most notably for Illinoisans at the Missouri towns of Lexington, Fredericktown, and Belmont. By the end of December 1861, Springfield—the state’s fourth-largest city with a population just less than 10,000—had lost two residents in battle. Most deaths occurred off the battlefield, in camps, with illness and accident claiming victims.
Observance of Christmas 1861 in Illinois seems to have been affected little by the outbreak of war. Newspapers were filled with the usual advertisements announcing the imminent arrival of Santa Claus and accounts of church gatherings at which attention centered on "Christmas trees" decorated with small gifts.
Still, there was a difference. An antislavery newspaper editor from Peoria likely reflected the belief of many as he wrote of a terrible judgment being responsible for the current state of affairs: "This will be a strange Christmas to a large number of American citizens . . . [as] war, horrid and unnatural, reigns supreme over the land, making hundreds of hearths desolate to-day, and thousands of happy homes sorrowful. Like all other public calamities, this is only the result of a violation of the Divine Law . . . that we must do unto others as we would have others do unto us."
Illinois men in military camps felt the absence from loved ones but seem to have borne it well. Many units created celebrations around boxes of goodies shipped by friends from home. A member of the 36th Illinois Infantry wrote almost lightheartedly that "even in the rebel states of Dixie, Christmas is regarded by all as a day of feasting and pleasure. . . . But with us, living this military life of ours, all days are the same, and thus we have passed, for us, the strangest Christmas." Apparently the 36th did not receive gifts of food from home, "yet on this day almost every mess has managed to procure some extra that they might at least keep up a semblance of those not yet forgotten festivities around the family table."
New Year's Day seems to have been celebrated much in the prewar spirit as well, with the male heads of families making calls upon their friends while wives and daughters served refreshments to callers at their homes. In another old tradition many boys who delivered newspapers distributed an elaborately printed annual "carrier’s address," hopeful of a tip for the past year's service.
The end of 1861 and advent of 1862 brought high hopes to many. A perhaps typical feeling was that of George Willis of the 15th Illinois Infantry. Stationed near Otterville, Missouri, he wrote in the last days of the eventful year 1861 that "The coming year will like the present, be fraught with bright hopes and fair promises, some of which hopes, will be disappointed, and some of the promises will be forgotten, still we feel kindly towards the stranger [the year 1862], and rejoice that our acquaintance of nearly twelve months is about to bid us farewell forever."
For the Boys: Early soldier aid efforts
The opening of war with the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 found the northern states woefully unprepared for a military conflict. As the federal and state governments struggled to arm and equip the men who rallied to the flag, local governments and civilian groups worked quickly to aid their husbands, sons, and brothers who had enlisted in the service. These were the first steps in creating soldier-aid services that would provide crucial support through four years of war.
Creating a military look
In the first weeks of the war most efforts to support local troops took the form of creating uniforms. Many county board meetings in April and May appropriated funds to reimburse such projects. Carroll County authorized $5,000 for military clothing, while Stark County offered up to $3,000 at the rate of $6 per uniform. While some towns ordered uniforms from tailors or wholesale houses, located mostly in Chicago, many created the clothing locally. Several Illinois newspapers described how community merchants supplied the cloth (often at cost) and tailors did the cutting, after which the pieces of fabric were parceled out to women who did the actual assembling and sewing, sometimes in improvised sewing shops but more often in their own homes. In some cases the uniforms produced were simply trousers and a decorative shirt. More often they included uniform jackets patterned on those of the U.S. army or a militia organization. This resulted in many early Illinois outfits wearing uniforms of the grey color that would later be associated with their Confederate enemies.
An important event in the life of many military companies was the presentation, usually just before its departure from town, of a United States flag. It appears that until at least early 1862 Illinois units carried only flags made by women of the town or purchased from a supplier located in one of the state’s larger cities, such as Chicago or Peoria. No matter what their origin, soldiers saw their flags as a special link to their home communities and promised to return them, stained perhaps with battle smoke and blood but untouched by the hands of traitors.
For families left behind
When county officials voted funds to supply local volunteers with proper military uniforms most also made another appropriation to be used in providing financial support to the families of soldiers. The amounts of such appropriations ranged from $5,000 to $10,000, while the city of Pekin (Tazewell) authorized $1,000. The Will County board set benefit rates at $1.25 per month for a woman heading a family and 50c per month for a child under the age of 12. In the first glow of patriotism such payments were largely welcomed, and in most counties they continued to be made through the war. Later, at least some dissatisfaction was felt over special public benefits being provided to needy wives and children of soldiers. Early on Jasper County appropriated a special fund to assist soldiers’ families but soon reverted to the standard prewar system of support for paupers.
An ongoing, organized effort begins
By the fall of 1861 the reality had begun to sink in that the war would not end with a few decisive battles. One response was the formation of permanent organizations to provide local servicemen with needed items that the army did not or could not provide. On April 20 those meeting at the Lee County courthouse in Dixon formed the Lee County Volunteer Aid Association, but this seems to have been unusual during the war’s first weeks. The fall months, however, saw such groups organizing in towns across the state, including Galena (Jo Daviess), Galesburg (Knox), Middleport (Iroquois), Salem (Marion), Sterling (Whiteside), Toulon (Stark), and Wyoming (Stark).
The experience many Illinoisans had with religious and other organizations likely made soldier-aid societies seem the obvious answer to the complaints of hometown soldiers regarding food and shortages of medical supplies. The new groups just formalized efforts that had been improvised a few months before. For months they would periodically ship Illinois state arsenalboxes of goods direct to their friends in camp, sometimes accompanied by a local civic leader who returned with a first-hand account of how the boys were doing.
Women performed much of the labor. They knitted socks and mittens, sewed clothing for hospital use, and prepared foods that supplemented the army basics of salted beef or pork, beans, hard bread, and coffee. It seems that in these early days the feeling was one of excitement and rather lighthearted. The women of Middleport, however, apparently realized that their men were involved in the business of killing. In November they issued a public appeal that called especially for mittens “knit with one finger, so as to give free use of the index finger of the hand.”
Interested in learning more?
Newspapers are the best source for learning about community efforts to support the troops. Many Illinois libraries hold copies of local newspapers of the period. Microfilm copies of many Illinois newspapers may be borrowed via interlibrary loan from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. The catalog of holdings can be found at: http://www.illinoishistory.gov/lib/newspaper.htm .
Women, children, and explosives: Making ammunition at the state arsenal
In the rush to war following the firing on Fort Sumter, Illinois Governor Richard Yates launched a crash program to arm the state’s newly enlisted troops, especially those sent to protect the strategic city of Cairo at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. While agents visited the East in hope of purchasing supplies of muskets and cannon, officials in Springfield created a factory to produce the ammunition that would be consumed by those weapons. For more than seven months in 1861 the Illinois state arsenal employed not just men but also dozens of women and children in its explosives operation.
On April 22, 1861, an anonymous writer to the Springfield Illinois State Journal commented, "We do not know how long the present unhappy contest may continue. The public safety requires that we should rely upon ourselves" to provide the resources to protect the state from attack. That very day the Illinois state arsenal began operating an ammunition factory. At first the work probably was done in the arsenal building itself. Soon it would expand to rented and newly constructed buildings on and near the arsenal property. Within a month a local newspaper reported that the business was "going on briskly," with about forty employees making about 12,000 to 14,000 musket cartridges per day. In early June workers began to produce artillery ammunition as well.
The presence of the factory brought real benefits to Springfield. The Illinois State Journal crowed in mid-June 1861 that "Altogether, this business is the means of disbursing a good quantity of gold and silver in our city." Virtually everything needed by the operation could be purchased from local vendors. At one point ten men at the foundry of John C. Lamb cast iron shot for artillery pieces, twenty more cast musket balls for the contractor Newman & Fisk, and another twenty turned lumber by the carload into shipping cases. Dozens of others earned money assembling the different elements into finished cartridges.
During a period in July 1861, when officials worried about a potential attack in Cairo, the shop operated even on Sunday with eighty employees rolling musket cartridges or assembling artillery rounds. Two women sewed woolen powder bags for the artillery, while two men used lathes to turn the wooden sabots that held together the large iron shot and the explosive powder charges. At one point a day’s production reached 25,000 musket cartridges and 425 rounds of artillery ammunition.
From a small start of ten employees the ammunition factory workforce grew quickly. The great majority of the employees were women and children, some reported to be as young as eight years old. Women sewed the woolen powder bags used to create artillery rounds, and both women and children created the cartridges to be used in infantry weapons. Officials declared a priority of giving jobs to the wives of men in the army, "many of whom are strictly dependent upon their labor for their support." The Illinois quartermaster general remarked that “the manufacture of ammunition employment was given to a large number of children, both boys and girls, from eight to sixteen years of age, who, besides helping in the maintenance of their mothers and their younger brothers and sisters . . . acquired habits of industry and became accustomed to a discipline that will have its salutary effect upon the formation of their characters.”
Pay rates varied by the type of work. Males engaged in skilled work such as turning sabots on lathe received $1.25 per day, while the great majority of the women and children received 50 cents or 33 1/3 cents per day. Judging by army ordnance manuals, ten hours made up a full day of work. Though officials claimed priority for women and children struggling for an income, a few of the less needy found jobs, including twelve-Beverly Herndon—the twelve-year-old son of Lincoln law partner William H. Herndon—and four children of factory superintendent Enoch Paine.
For all of the enthusiasm about the benefits of employing soldiers’ wives and helping children to learn good habits, producing ammunition was inherently dangerous work. In 1864 explosions at large factories in Washington, D.C., and Springfield, Massachusetts, each killed dozens of workers. Army ordnance manuals discussed the need to be conscious of safety; for example trying to prevent sparks by ordering those in the presence of black powder to wear socks or moccasins rather than shoes, and to not drag or shuffle one’s feet while walking.
The Springfield arsenal operation produced musket rounds of different calibers to suit the weapons being used by infantry troops. For a time the arsenal supplied a major portion of the musket ammunition used by General John C. Frémont in Missouri. Large amounts were also sent to General George B. McClellan, then fighting in western Virginia. Each individual round consisted of a musket ball and a charge of explosive black powder wrapped together in a paper tube. The finished cartridges were then packaged in lots of ten, which were distributed to soldiers. One hundred of those packages were then boxed for shipment to the front.
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The artillery ammunition made at the arsenal factory consisted of a projectile, attached to a cloth bag full of explosive powder by means of a wooden sabot. The bags, sewn by women at the factory, were of wool merino or serge “closely woven” so that powder did not sift out. The sabots that brought the projectile and powder bag together were made of poplar or some other “close-grained” wood lathe-turned at the factory.
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Surviving records show that from April 22 to August 31 the cartridge factory at the Illinois state arsenal produced about 1.4 million rounds of ammunition for muskets and rifles, just over 8,000 for artillery pieces, and 6,000 for pistols. During the four-month campaign in 1864 to capture Atlanta, Georgia, which included several major battles, General William T. Sherman’s army reported firing just short of 22 million rounds of musket ammunition and over 149,000 rounds of artillery ammunition.
The factory closes
Factory operations closed at the end of November 1861, as the war department took over from the states the purchasing of ammunition, arms, and other military equipment. Governor Yates and other state officials protested the Federal takeover and consequent loss of control over contracting. Closing the ammunition factory was especially sad, “the employment of hundreds of little hands, thereby affording a means of support to many a desolated soldier’s household,” making it a matter of “great regret.”
Interested in learning more?
Surviving records of employees and production at the state arsenal factory are located at the Illinois State Archives in Record Series 301.082. Detailed instructions on how to produce musket and artillery ammunition are found in The Ordnance Manual for the Use of the Officers of the United States Army (1861) on pages 255–81. It can be found online at http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924031187887.
Lexington, Missouri—A battle is lost but a flag is saved
The capture of Illinois and Missouri regiments at the siege of Lexington, Missouri, in September 1861 added to the list of defeats suffered by Federal troops during the summer and early fall of 1861. A bit of comfort, however, was provided by a young private from Illinois who outwitted the rebels and redeemed a captured United States flag.
Missouri in 1861
Missouri became the frontline of action for many Illinois troops beginning in April 1861. After Cairo and southern Illinois were made secure, the Ohio River front became temporarily quiet as both Federal and Confederate governments respected the shaky neutrality declared by Kentucky. Missouri, however, was soon flooded with Federal troops, many of them from Illinois. Some took part in the removal to Illinois of weapons from the U. S. arsenal at St. Louis (see the monthly feature for April 2011). Others moved to protect railroads and loyal citizens from Confederate sympathizers as the state wrestled over the question of secession.
In September 1861 Federal forces and loyal Missouri units attempted to hold the line of the Missouri River and protect the capitol at Jefferson City. Missouri State Guard units numbering about 8,000 men and commanded by Sterling Price moved northward following their defeat in August of U.S. forces at the battle of Wilson’s Creek, hoping to encourage support for secession. They soon headed for Lexington, a Missouri River town held by Federal troops under the command of Col. James A. Mulligan of Chicago. Lexington was targeted because of its location commanding the river, the secessionist leanings of the nearby population, and the more than $900,000 cash that had been taken from a local bank by the Federals.
The siege and battle
Mulligan’s force was made up of his own 23rd Illinois Infantry, more popularly known as the Irish Brigade, the 1st Illinois Cavalry, the 13th and 27th Missouri Infantry, and a number of small unionist home guard units. It totaled about 3,500 men. They occupied a former college campus overlooking the river and quickly began to build defenses. What would prove a fatal mistake was made when a spring of water was left outside the defensive line, leaving only a few wells to supply water for the men and horses. The lead units of Price’s force arrived at Lexington on September 12, the army's size almost doubled by new recruits and continuing to grow. Price laid siege to the fortified college campus, the two sides struggling to control buildings that could conceal riflemen. Mulligan held on, convinced that reinforcements were on their way. They were not. The wells, supplying water to 3,500 men and several hundred animals, soon began to run dry. On September 20 the Missourians continued to press the Federal forces, this time using soaked hemp bales as a moveable, bullet-resistant barricade. Confusion soon broke out within Mulligan’s lines when a subordinate displayed a white flag. Mulligan asked for terms of surrender, to which Price responded that the surrender must be unconditional. The terms were accepted.
For Mulligan and his men the defeat was a bitter one. A witness wrote that "the scenes at the capitulation were extraordinary. Col. Mulligan shed tears. The men threw themselves upon the ground...demanding to be led out and 'finish the thing.'" It was reported that some cavalrymen "shot their horses dead on the spot, unwilling that their companions in the campaign should now fall into the hands of the enemy." Officers were to be held as prisoners of war. The enlisted men were to be released on turning over their weapons and all equipment except the clothing on their backs. As the secessionist band played "Dixie" many of the defeated Federals "wept to leave behind their colors [flags], each Company in the Brigade having its own standard presented to it by their friends."
Redeeming the flag
But not all of the United States flags at Lexington were surrendered. Nineteen-year-old private
Henry C. Carico of Co. A, 1st Illinois Cavalry saved the company's flag from capture, wrapping it around his body and then covering it with his uniform before being marched away. Carico’s exploit electrified Illinoisans bitter over the Lexington defeat. The banner was proudly displayed as Company A passed through Illinois towns on the return to Bloomington. On October 12 "the old battle-worn flag" fluttered from the rear of the train that brought Company A to Bloomington in triumph.
People rushed to "look at the torn banner... The contrast in the appearance of the flag when it was borne from here, and its looks on its return, indicates fully the scenes it has passed through. Then, its silken folds glistened as it waved in the breeze, bright... and unstained. Now, it still floats as proudly as ever, with its honor untarnished, but torn and defaced by cannon balls and bullets, dimmed by battle smoke, and stained here and there with spots of blood."
The crowd at a public meeting held at the McLean County courthouse raised three loud cheers for the flag, three for Capt. John McNulta and the men of Co. A, "and three for private Carico, who rescued the flag and brought it safely home."
Interested in learning more?
An accessible history of the siege is the Lexington, Missouri, Historical Society's, The battle of Lexington, fought in and around the city of Lexington, Missouri, on September 18th, 19th and 20th, 1861, by forces under command of Colonel James A. Mulligan, and General Sterling Price. The official records of both parties to the conflict; to which is added memoirs of participants (digital format: http://digital.library.umsystem.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?;c=umlib;idno=umlc000087 ).
The history of James Mulligan and the Irishmen of the 23rd Illinois Infantry is outlined in Harold F. Smith, "Mulligan and the Irish Brigade," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 56:2 (Summer 1963), pp. 164-76. The State of Missouri operates the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site. For more information visit http://mostateparks.com/park/battle-lexington-state-historic-site.
August 1, Emancipation Day
On August 1, 1861, many African Americans in Illinois joined others throughout the Union in celebrating Emancipation Day, marking the anniversary of the August 1, 1834, abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire. For many African Americans, August 1 seemed more appropriate for celebration than the Independence Day anniversary just weeks before. They certainly sensed more than their white countrymen the contradiction between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the reality of millions of their fellows being regarded as a form of property. Even for those blacks residing in free states, daily life involved limitations that brought into question the "self-evident" truths of the Declaration.
Emancipation Day celebrations were first held in eastern states during the 1840s. In larger towns and cities they included large, organized parades, much like those of Independence Day. The events, planned by local black community leaders including ministers, usually began with prayer and included long, formal speeches that often included a history lesson highlighting the role Africans had played in building the nation. The planners aimed for an atmosphere of religious and educational uplift and restrained celebration, in part, to prove to white neighbors that African Americans were “respectable”—an important attribute among those aspiring to the growing middling class—and as capable of carrying civic responsibility as any other American. Many participants seem to have looked forward more to the picnic lunch and a chance to spend a peaceful day meeting and relaxing with friends.
Emancipation Day in Illinois
It appears that Emancipation Day observances came to Illinois in the middle 1850s, a time of growing tension over the role of slavery in national life and growing hostility to the institution. In 1857 more than 200 Chicago blacks and whites met at the African Methodist Church and marched to the railroad depot, led by the city band. At a grove south of the city they listened to several speeches and enjoyed a picnic lunch. After a late afternoon return to the city another gathering was held downtown. After short speeches and "an elegant supper," participants danced until after midnight. The event seems to have been fairly typical, one to which white neighbors were welcomed and which at least some supported and attended.
In Galesburg, a center of antislavery activity, African Americans from several counties gathered on property owned by white antislavery activist George W. Gale. The event opened with "a fervid prayer," followed by singing of a women's choir. Joseph H. Barquet then made a speech lasting over an hour, "full of burning eloquence, deep thorough and historical research... recurring the bloody scenes that were being enacted in the State." Joseph D. Allen of Knoxville followed with a sermon. After an elaborate picnic lunch the meeting resumed, formally adopting statements that condemned the U. S. Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision, which ruled that blacks were not, and never could be, citizens of the United States. Another resolution officially invited Frederick Douglass to lecture in central Illinois. The last action thanked Gale for use of his grounds, "and the citizens of Galesburg, for their liberality and protection," the altter an important point since African American civic events were sometimes disrupted by disapproving whites. At Galesburg, "the meeting then adjourned; every body in the best of humor."
Emancipation Day 1861
In 1861 Emancipation Day came less than four months after the opening of hostilities at Charleston, South Carolina. Any excitement felt over the possibilities for black freedom that might come from the war apparently melted in the oppressive heat that covered Illinois. In Bloomington, where the temperature topped 100°, the celebration took place in a local grove. The local newspaper reported that "their Fourth of July" comes at a time too hot for whites, "yet they are going in with heart and strength to have a good time." Any activities that had been planned for Springfield fell by the wayside because "The day was entirely too hot to feel good." The people in Quincy stuck it out, and the observances "took place in one of the public squares, and were appropriate and harmonious."
Emancipation Day 1862
By August 1862 the war had been underway for over a year, and circumstances had pushed Abraham Lincoln and the Congress to actions that slowly changed the situation of African Americans. Black men were being quietly recruited into the army, and newly signed laws gave freedom to the slaves of those actively involved in the rebellion and ended slavery in the District of Columbia and the territories of the United States.
Emancipation Day ceremonies in Bloomington emphasized the promise of the hour. Local blacks were reported to have celebrated "in the usual style, though we think with something more than the usual spirit and interest." E. Hutchens, "a man of many years, whose life has been spent amidst slavery," made a speech in which he "dwelt at length upon the duty of his brethren in the free states, to educate their children, elevate their moral and religious character, and fit them for the higher position which he dared to hope they would soon be allowed to enjoy." J. W. Hill of Peoria spoke on temperance and education, "and the importance of the African demonstrating that he is capable of self government." The white reporter in attendance commented that "if any one is impressed with the idea that the negro cannot enjoy freedom, a few moments spent on the ground yesterday would have dispelled it... and it seemed pleasant to reflect that the fond dreams of freedom so long indulged by this oppressed people, promise a speedy realization."
Interested in learning more?
Detailed studies of Emancipation Day observances and how they changed over time can be found in Mitch Kachun, Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915, and J. R. Kerr-Ritchie, Rites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World.
Going to Camp
In the months from April 1861 to the summer of 1865 more than forty military camps dotted Illinois. Most were temporary and served as places where individual companies from a small region gathered and organized into regiments, received arms and uniforms, and experienced the first doses of military discipline. A few permanent facilities, notably Camp Butler (near Springfield) and Camp Douglas (Chicago), served as training, staging, and processing stations throughout the war. Other camps in Illinois served fully trained and equipped units as jumping off points to the nearby scenes of conflict in western Kentucky and eastern Missouri.
The response to the Illinois legislature's April 1861 call for ten infantry regiments set a pattern for dealing with the organization, equipping, and training of regiments later in the war. A temporary camp was established in each of the state's nine congressional districts. There, the units raised in that district would be organized and begin their military lives and the transition from home, family, and friends to the battlefront. Officials helped to ease the movement of units by locating most campsites within an easy march of a river landing or a town on the growing network of railroads, which in 1860 consisted of about 2,800 miles of track.
Many of these camps occupied the fairgrounds owned by county agricultural societies. In fact, officials cancelled the 1862 state fair to be held in Peoria because of occupation of the site by troops undergoing training. Fairgrounds proved to be almost perfect for use as military camps. They contained shelter in the form of animal sheds and other buildings, plentiful water supplies, large open areas that could be used for marching and drilling, and, usually, a well-established boundary that could be policed. Will County historian George Woodruff later recalled Camp Goodell, which in 1861 on "the old fair grounds on the well-known Stevens' place, having on it fine, shady oak openings, an abundant spring of water, and buildings already erected... To these, company barracks were quickly added." He also noted sadly that military use of the grounds meant that "men were now reversing the prophetic scripture, and turning their scythes in to swords and their pruning-hooks into bayonets."
In other cases officials raised camps from scratch, constructing buildings and establishing parade grounds on what before has been open land. Camp Butler (near Springfield), Camp Douglas (Chicago), and Camp Fuller (Rockford) quickly rose on old farms or local picnic grounds. One recruit at Camp Fuller described the newly constructed barracks as having "bunks from floor to ceiling and two men would occupy a bunk... When any of the boys were out on guard two hours in the night, he would declare when he returned that the barracks stank enough to knock him down."
The establishment of a camp often helped the economy of the nearby town, especially in those cases where all of the buildings had to be constructed by local labor using locally produced lumber. Even when camps occupied already existing buildings on a fairground, local vendors received orders for necessaries such as bread, pork or beef, firewood, straw for bedding, and feed for horses. Soldiers visiting town on passes visited photograph studios, saloons, and restaurants.
For most men, life in camp after enlistment provided their first encounter with military discipline and the transition from civilian to soldier was not an easy one for many men. Camp Scott (Freeport) provided several examples of recent inductees having difficulties with military discipline. In May 1861 a circus visited Freeport. Many soldiers decided to attend, quietly slipping out of camp without a pass. A man gave his friends the password that would allow them back into the camp before roll call. When officers got wise to the scheme and suddenly changed the password "you had better think there was some swearing about the time they wanted to come in... There were some 40 or 50 put in the guard house..." Later in the month the camp commandant placed almost two hundred men under arms as a guard to crush the threatened mutiny of one of the companies.
Visits to camps by friends from home softened the sting of new and unfamiliar discipline. Visitors often brought delicacies and picnic foods to the hometown boys, one of whom described army food as "none of the fancy kitchen fixings." An especially important moment of connection with friends from home came with the presentation to the unit of a United States flag. Until early 1862 the state government did not issue flags, and friends were more than happy to fill the need. Presentation ceremonies were very public affairs, often including hundreds of outside spectators. The program usually included a short speech, often by a young woman, on behalf of the donors, who were often women. The company or regimental commander responded with a speech of thanks, followed by the cheering of the men and the singing of patriotic songs.
The final parting from the home folk came when the new regiment left for one of the state's large permanent camps, or for one of the battlefronts in the South. John King of the newly created 92nd Illinois Infantry recalled the regiment’s 1862 departure by train from Rockford: "We all realized that it would be a last good-bye for many of us; we could not tell who would fall or who would return... Tears were gradually dried as we sped along towards Chicago... What was going to be our future?"
Camps and Musters
Click above to see a List of Illinois cities and towns hosting training camps, compiled from Schedule A, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois... Containing reports for the years 1861-66 (revised 1900), vol. 1, pages 151-56.
Interested in learning more?
A regiment-by-regiment list of towns in which units mustered into service is found in Jasper Reece, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois ... Containing Reports for the Years 1861-66 (revised 1900), vol. 1, pages 151-56, which can be found at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiuo.ark:/13960/t66401872 .
Many Illinois newspapers printed letters from local men in the service, who described their new lives as new soldiers in the Illinois camps. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library holds microfilm of many of these newspapers. For their newspaper microfilm catalog, visit http://www.illinoishistory.gov/lib/newspaper.htm.
Many regimental histories and soldier memoirs include accounts of soldier life in Illinois camps of instruction. Historian Daniel Sauerwein argues for the importance of the Illinois camp experience in his paper "The Impact of Camps of Instruction on Illinois Soldiers and Communities" at http://civilwarhistory.wordpress.com/2007/10/08/the-impact-of-camps-of-instruction-on-illinois-soldiers-and-communities/ .
Benjamin H. Grierson --- Not Only a Great Civil War Soldier
Keith A. Sculle, Ph. D.
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (retired)
Think of Illinois and the Civil War and what quickly comes to mind for most of us? Abraham Lincoln, man of the people risen from modest means to perhaps the greatest President, saved the nation from dismemberment in the bloody Civil War. He further added to the United States' unique idealism in the family of nations by promoting an end to slavery. Yet, nearby, during Lincoln’s years in central Illinois, a lesser known man matured deserving memory too---Benjamin Grierson (1826-1911).
Born of Scots-Irish immigrants in Pittsburgh who later moved west to Youngstown, Ohio, Grierson's moorings typify many who fought for the Union---finding his way in the world according to his talents. In 1851, Grierson relocated to Jacksonville, Illinois. The city was founded but a few years earlier (1825) as a speculative venture on the Illinois frontier but, it rapidly grew into a sophisticated city for its time and was well connected to the world beyond. The seat of Morgan County, Jacksonville quickly attracted many professionals, one of Illinois' first public care facilities, a medical school, two colleges, and a railroad. A man of many talents, including music and the written word, Grierson recorded in his autobiography that "During my residence in Ohio, I had composed and arranged a considerable amount of music for bands and orchestras, and after my arrival in Illinois much additional music was written and arranged for the excellent band and orchestra in Jacksonville, of which I was the leader." After marrying an early sweetheart from Ohio, whom he became reacquainted with during her visits to relatives in nearby Springfield, he decided that his income as a music teacher was insufficient to start a family and moved to nearby Meredosia. There, in 1855, he and a partner opened a store that was lucrative until the financial crash of 1857 but remained open until 1860. Grierson, who gave up his homestead to pay his debts, was, by his own accounting, "virtually left without a dollar" and moved back to Jacksonville.
By no means a quitter, his reflection on why he had spent five years in Meredosia exemplified his faith "that the experience thus gained in sustaining what I deemed a just and righteous cause was absolutely necessary to enable me to put forth greater efforts in the memorable struggle which was soon to follow." This 'memorable struggle' referred to in Grierson's cryptic note began with his decision to join and support a new political party In an overwhelmingly Democratic county and at seemingly physical peril to himself, he joined the new Republican Party. He campaigned for and helped organize the fledgling party and its first presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. He also remembered that during this time he "composed a great many songs which were widely sung and published throughout the country, and, often met and was intimately acquainted with Mr. Lincoln."
1863 was the year that saw Grierson's reputation vaulted to new heights. The raids of April 17th to May 2nd--some 15 days--mark a turning point in the Civil War and represent the legacy of Benjamin Grierson. Might it have ever been guessed that his background prepared him for it?
At his mother's request, he had refused an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Years later, in April 1861, when southern secessionists bombarded Fort Sumter, he resolved to go to war. He was initially an aide de camp, later rose to major in the Sixth Illinois Cavalry , in April 1862 to a colonel and in November of that year to brigadier cavalry commander in the Army of the Tennessee. Grierson's assignments were limited to comparatively small operations but, in them, he had earned his men's respect. General Sherman recommended him to General Grant to command 1700 men in a diversion slicing approximately 600 miles southwestward from the southern tip of Tennessee through Mississippi to Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This feint would distract the Confederate army, permit Grant's conquest of Vicksburg, split the Confederate forces to enable Union control along the entire length of the Mississippi River, and end the Confederacy's flow of material eastward. This bold strategy was successful during a particularly low ebb in Union fortunes. With both Union and Confederate forces bogged down in the East, however, hope glimmered in the West. As skill and as luck would have it, Grierson accomplished his mission. He and his exhausted men were surprised to be greeted as heroes and opinion rose that the Confederacy could be defeated. Even a beaten Confederate commander praised him: "Grierson was here; no, he was there, sixty miles away. He marched north, no, south, or again west... The trouble was, my men ambushed you where you did not go; they waited for you till morning while you passed by night."
In time, Grierson's miraculous reputation dimmed, and, after the Civil War, he went on to a long military career in the West where he organized a unit of the black cavalry known as the Buffalo Soldiers . A century later, the Grierson's Raid rekindled imaginations when Dee Brown, head librarian of the University of Illinois and later famous for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, wrote an account of the raid and Harold Sinclair, a lesser known novelist and creative non-fiction writer from Bloomington, wrote a fictional account, The Horse Soldiers . Hollywood adapted it for a star-studded movie cast.
Grierson---an historian too---penned a true and idealistic testimony deserving memory: "It is said that whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings, and as we can only at most, form a vague conception of the future, the time may not be unprofitably employed in glancing through the past, even if we gain nothing thereby beyond a better acquaintance with the history of our ancestors." He meant it about his family; but it can just as easily stand for our collective history.
Ulysses S. Grant goes to war
On April 25, 1861, Ulysses S. Grant departed from Galena for Springfield, accompanying Jo Daviess County volunteers responding to President Lincoln's call for soldiers to put down the insurrection. While in the state capital Grant came to the attention of Governor Richard Yates. Exactly how that happened is uncertain, since many claimed to have played a role in the process. In any event, the visit presented Grant with opportunity that put him on a road to acclaim.
Grant, a West Point graduate and former captain of infantry, had fallen on hard times, and was working in his father's Galena leather-goods store when secessionists fired on Fort Sumter. Though Grant was a relative newcomer, local leaders including U.S. Congressman Elihu B. Washburne invited "Captain Grant" to preside over a meeting to enlist volunteers, and later to assist in their organization and to ride with them to the capital.
The day after arriving in Springfield, Grant wrote to his wife, Julia, that Washburne persuaded him to stay for a time, though he had intended to return immediately to Galena. Governor Yates hoped that Grant would organize and train additional volunteer companies to be accepted under the terms of legislation moving through the General Assembly. On April 29, Grant carried out his first military task for the governor— an inventory of weapons stored in the state arsenal. This and other duties did not seem challenging - "I am on duty with the Governer, at his request, occupation principally smoking and occationally giving advice as to how an order should be communicated &c." Still, Grant's knowledge of military organization allowed him to serve Yates as a troubleshooter. He wrote to Julia, "I don’t see really that I am doing any good. But when I speak of going it is objected to...." On May 4 he was placed in command of Springfield's Camp Yates, and a few days later departed for southern Illinois, where he assisted in organizing regiments and mustering them into service.
Though he recognized the importance of his civilian service, Grant hoped for command of a regiment with the rank of colonel. To accept lesser rank would not be acceptable, given his West Point training and previous army service. Achieving the rank, however, required his being elected by a regiment's volunteer officers or favored by "log rolling" political leaders, "and I do not care to be under such persons," wrote Grant. Still, he recognized that "the time I spend here [in Springfield]... has enabled me to become acquainted with the principle men in the state... I do not know that I shall receive any benefit... but it does no harm." He offered his services to army officials in Washington by letter and in Ohio in person. No offer resulted.
While in Indiana, returning from the fruitless Ohio visit, Grant learned of his appointment as colonel in the Illinois volunteer force. Governor Yates had appointed him to command an infantry regiment that had been mustered at Mattoon but had since fallen into chaos due to incompetent leadership. Officials moved the regiment to Springfield and on June 18 Grant took command. His process of quiet but firm discipline and military instruction soon paid off. When officials asked the men, who had volunteered for a term of one month, to extend their enlistment for three years, the response was overwhelming. The regiment came into the service as the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry. Within weeks they headed for the front, to guard rail facilities in northern Missouri. While most regiments moved by rail, Grant decided that his would pick up some experience by marching the ninety-odd miles to the Mississippi River town of Quincy.
In mid-July Col. Grant received orders to deal with secessionist Missouri State Guard troops under Thomas Harris. After days of marching, Grant and his men finally closed in on their objective. He recalled later that
Interested in learning more?
Grant described his early wartime service in chapters 17 and 18 of his Memoirs.
Conflicting postwar memories as to how Grant came to the notice of Illinois officials and who assisted him are reviewed in Lloyd Lewis, Captain Sam Grant, chapter 23.
Grant's service through the appointment as brigadier general is found in Brooks D. Simpson, Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865, chapter 6.
Grant's correspondence during this period—and the whole of his life—can be found at http://library.msstate.edu/usgrant/facstaff.asp.
"my heart kept getting higher and higher until I thought it was in my throat. I would have given anything then to be back in Illinois, but I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on. When we reached a point from which the valley below was in full view I halted. The place where Harris had been encamped a few days before was still there... but the troops were gone. My heart resumed its place. It occurred to me at once that Harris had been as afraid of me as I had been of him. This was a view of the question I had never taken before; but it was one I never forgot afterwards... I never forgot that [the enemy] had as much reason to fear my forces as I had his. The lesson was valuable."
On July 31, 1861, Abraham Lincoln nominated Grant for promotion to brigadier general. Grant's name was one of six sent to the president by the Illinois congressional delegation, placed at the top of the list by Galena's own Elihu B. Washburne. On August 5 the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment.
Illinois responds to Fort Sumter
The firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, and President Lincoln's April 15 call for troops found Illinois largely unprepared. Although Americans had discussed the possibility if not likelihood of war since the election of a Republican president in November 1860, the state had made no real preparations for the coming of conflict. Illinois leaders had to make up for lost time, and they moved quickly on multiple fronts.
Legislation and bureaucracy
After calling for men to volunteer for national service, Governor Richard Yates called for the Illinois General Assembly to meet in special session to begin on April 23. The agenda included, among other things, providing for the organization of volunteers into regiments, providing funds for the military defense of the state, and providing for the arrest and punishment of those who would destroy the railroad's capacity to carry troops or military supplies or who would use telegraph lines "for illegal and revolutionary purposes."
With the opening of war the state's adjutant general, who administered the skeletal militia, became a lead player in organizing the state’s war effort. Men volunteered by the thousands, and the adjutant had to decide who to accept and who to turn away. Regiments then had to be organized, fed, clothed, and armed. A Springfield newspaper noted that on April 15 the "Adjutant General's office, in the State House, began ... to assume quite a military appearance, an orderly in full uniform being stationed outside the door, and military men constantly coming and going." Two days later "Adjt. Gen. Mather, with several aids, was busy all day registering the companies as they were reported, receiving and answering dispatches, and in the transaction of other business pertaining to his department." The chaotic situation calmed somewhat late in the month when a former U.S. army captain, Ulysses S. Grant, "took supervision of the muster rolls and assignments of companies, and before a week had expired had brought order out of chaos in the papers."
Keeping weapons from rebels
On April 17, 1861, a group of Illinois state officials including Governor Yates and U. S. Senator Lyman Trumbull wrote President Lincoln to warn of the danger that secessionist leaders in Missouri might capture the 30,000 muskets stored at the U. S. arsenal in St. Louis. They proposed that the arsenal commander be ordered to provide Illinois with at least 10,000 of the weapons, some of which could then be provided to Union men in St. Louis. The more guns removed the better. "We are anxiously waiting for instructions... Our people burn with patriotism..."
On April 20 Secretary of War Simon Cameron instructed Governor Yates to send Illinois troops "to support the garrison of the St. Louis Arsenal, and to receive their arms and accoutrements there," with an additional 10,000 muskets for later distribution. Captain James Stokes moved on April 24, steaming from Alton, Illinois, on the steamboat City of Alton. Stokes hatched a plan with arsenal commander Captain Nathaniel Lyon to haul the guns to the steamer under cover of night and then move quickly to the Illinois side of the river. A decoy shipment of broken weapons diverted the attention of secessionist scouts, and wagons carrying about 20,000 muskets reached the City of Alton without being detected.
The removal of arms from the St. Louis arsenal and their provision to troops enlisted to defend the Union provided a boost to Illinoisans in the weeks after the surrender of Fort Sumter. The operation provided weapons for several Illinois regiments, while others were soon ordered shipped to Ohio and Wisconsin, much to the disappointment of Governor Yates. Newspapers described the exploit to their readers, and the Illinois General Assembly voted its thanks to Captain Stokes "for the tact and energy displayed by him” in capturing the " arms and munitions requisite for equipping the volunteer forces of this state."
Holding Cairo for the Union
The same April 17 letter to the president from Illinois officials declared that if "Federal troops can be spared... they ought to be sent instantly to Cairo, that point being considered the most important and commanding point of the West." On April 19 the Secretary of War ordered state officials to occupy the city. Located at the far southern tip of Illinois and overlooking the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, control of the city meant control of large stretches of the two important waterways. Holding Cairo would also make it easier to protect the important Illinois Central Railroad line, and to prevent the movement of weapons, ammunition, and other military goods to the rebellious states.
Governor Richard Yates immediately ordered Richard K. Swift of Chicago to move without delay all available men to carry out the War Department's instructions. About 600 troops departed Chicago on April 21. Others joined the force as it moved south on the Illinois Central Railroad, finally totaling about 900. The men, "indifferently armed with rifles, shot-guns, muskets and carbines, hastily gathered from stores and shops in Chicago," reached Cairo on the morning of April 23. Troops continued to arrive, establishing what would be a major base throughout the whole war.
The following day, orders came from Governor Yates to stop the steamboats C. E. Hillman and John D. Perry, said to be carrying "large quantities" of weapons and munitions south from St. Louis. The ships were stopped, boarded, and the military goods confiscated. Though the seizure was not ordered or authorized by the War Department, federal officials soon gave their approval for this act and issued orders that made Cairo a crucial point in attempting to choke off the flow of goods to the South.
Interested in learning more?
A detailed study of the history of the St. Louis arsenal and the capture of its weapons in 1861 can be found at http://www.civilwarstlouis.com/arsenal/index.htm.
For more on the holding of Cairo see William A. Pitkin, "When Cairo was saved for the Union". Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 51 (1958): 284-305, in digital format at:
and the report by Illinois adjutant general Allen C. Fuller on pages 7-9 of
Missions for the president
Abraham Lincoln declared publicly a confidence that cool heads would prevail among Southern leaders, that a kind of silent majority would express its affection for the nation of the Founders, and that bloodshed would be avoided. At the same time he had to consider the fate of Fort Sumter, a U. S. Army post located in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The continuing occupation of the fort, the U.S. flag flying above, was like a bone in the throat to secessionists and threatened to result in violence. Within weeks of his inauguration as president Lincoln sent two old Illinois friends to Charleston. One would sample opinion in the city at the heart of the secession movement. Another would attempt to meet with Confederate leaders in Charleston, as Lincoln "believed it possible to effect some accommodation by dealing directly with the most chivalrous among their leaders; at all events he thought it his duty to try... [The] embassy to Charleston was one of his experiments in that direction."
Lincoln chose for these missionsStephen A. Hurlbut of Belvidere (Boone County), and
Ward H. Lamon of Danville (Vermilion County). A Republican politician and acquaintance since the mid-1840s, Hurlbut had been born into a family of New Englanders living in Charleston, and spent most of his first thirty years living in the city. His professional mentor, attorney James Pettigru, in 1861 was the most vocal (some would say only) unionist in South Carolina. The Virginia-born Lamon had worked with Lincoln during the 1850s on Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit. The burly attorney accompanied his friend on the inaugural journey to Washington, D.C., acting informally as bodyguard.
On arriving in Charleston on March 24, Hurlbut and Lamon parted to perform their separate missions. Hurlbut began visiting old acquaintances, playing the role of "a private person upon my last visit to my relatives." A few days of conversation with Charleston lawyers, merchants, and tradesmen brought a disappointing conclusion—no unionist sentiment existed. Hurlbut wrote to Lincoln that "I have no hesitation in reporting... that Separate Nationality is a fixed fact... that there is an unanimity of sentiment which is to my mind astonishing—that there is no attachment to the Union." In scanning the harbor, "I regret to say that no single vessel in port displayed American colours... the Flag of the Southern Confederacy and of the State of South Carolina were visible everywhere..." Even men who supported President Andrew Jackson against South Carolina's secession movement in 1832 "are now... ready to take arms if necessary for the Southern Confederacy."
Although everyone Hurlbut spoke with supported secession, they split over whether to actually begin a war. He wrote that power in South Carolina and the Deep South states "is now in the hands of Conservatives—of men who desire no war, seek no armed collision, but hope & expect peaceable separation." Others though, "desire to precipitate collision, inaugurate war & unite the Southern Confederacy by that means. These men dread the effect of time & trial upon their institutions... These are the men who demand an immediate attack upon the forts." Summing up, the outlook for sending supplies to and holding Fort Sumter was bleak. "I have no doubt that a ship known to contain only provisions for Sumpter would be stopped & refused admittance Even the moderate men who desire not to open fire, believe in the safer policy of time and Starvation." Moving on to offer Lincoln his opinion and advice, the Belvidere attorney declared, "If Sumpter is abandoned it is to a certain extent a concession of jurisdiction which cannot fail to have its effects at home and abroad," and thus, "At all hazards and under all circumstances ... any Fortress accessible by the Sea, over which we still have dominion, should be held & if war comes, let it come."
As Hurlbut worked to determine public opinion, Ward H. Lamon held conversations that misled both U. S. and Confederate officials about Lincoln’s thoughts regarding Fort Sumter. He informed South Carolina governor F. W. Pickens and U. S. Army major Robert Anderson that the fort would be abandoned by the United States. Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard reported to his secretary of war on March 26 that "Mr. Lamon left here last night, saying that Major Anderson and command would soon be withdrawn from Fort Sumter in a satisfactory manner," but that the general continued to mount additional cannon, just in case. Anderson reported later in the week that "remarks made to me by Colonel Lamon ... have induced me ... to believe that orders would soon be issued for my abandoning this work." When informed that an attempt would be made to resupply Sumter by ship, the confused major responded to his superior in Washington, "Colonel Lamon's remark convinced me that the idea ... would not be carried out." Still, Anderson wrote, whatever the Lincoln administration decided, "We shall strive to do our duty."
An overview of the Hurlbut and Lamon missions and their background can be found in Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2009), chapter 22. Hurlbut's March 27, 1861, report to Lincoln is in the Abraham Lincoln Papers held by the Library of Congress. Search via:
Ward H. Lamon recalls the mission in Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847–1865, pp. 68–79, although most of the account dwells on his boldly standing up to threats of physical violence. Hurlbut's controversial wartime career is described in Jeffery N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut.
A president is elected. States secede. What next?
The election of a Republican as president of the United States quickly led southern states to consider breaking up the nation. Illinoisans held many different views of the crisis and what should be done, and they would continue to do so through the months and years that followed.
As southern states declared independence from the United States, many in Illinois thought that they should be allowed to leave. Some antislavery men did so with an attitude of "good riddance" to what they saw as a way of life that made a mockery of American ideals of freedom. Others saw secession as the only way that slaveholding states could react to a radical party taking power in Washington. A Democratic editor in Belleville wrote shortly after the election that the choice of a Republican president proved "that the North is hopelessly abolitionized," and that the question "to submit...or secede, is forced upon the South... Thus far, they have justice and right on their side." The Rockford Register disapproved of secession but worried over the idea of forcing states to remain in the Union- "If a separation must come, let it be a peaceful one."
Others thought secession to be disruptive of business, misguided, or downright illegal. Some farmers and others who shipped produce and other goods via New Orleans, worried about a foreign power controlling the Mississippi River. However, most Illinois Democrats, though disappointed over the Republican election victory, thought that seceding before Abraham Lincoln was even inaugurated would be foolish. Democratic leader and Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas argued for the principle of majority rule—that the constitutional election of a president provided no excuse for disunion. Beyond that, he believed that no state could on its own decide to leave the Union. The Constitution, he reasoned, is a contract between all of the states, and a state can break from that contract only with the agreement of all the other parties.
Prairie State Republicans tended to be of one mind concerning secession. They had won an election and would not compromise their policies in order to quiet southern radicals. This view was expressed by W. H. Hanna of Bloomington, who wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull: "I am in favor of 20 years of war rather than the loss of one inch of territory or the surrender of any principal that concedes the right of secession, which is the disruption of the government."
As the crisis deepened with the secession of more states, many hoped for some compromise. Senator Douglas, a strong nationalist who believed secession to be illegal, seems to hope for a cooling-off period. He feared that if war began it could end only with the complete, crushing defeat of one side or the other. Even if the Union was maintained by such a war, he thought that bitterness between the sections would be felt for years. Illinois Republicans continued to refuse serious consideration of compromise. Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speech, denying the right of states to leave the Union and promising to "hold, occupy, and possess" federal property throughout the United States, suited them perfectly
The firing on U. S. troops and their flag at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, forced Americans to take sides after months of discussion about the wisdom or the legality of secession. The majority of Illinois residents saw the attack as an outrage that could not be justified. A few Democrats continued to strongly support a right of secession, and others remained unsure as to just what stand they should take, looking to Senator Douglas for an answer. He gave it to them in speeches in Springfield and Chicago, calling on all, regardless of party, to stand for the Union and the preservation of majority rule through the ballot box. Douglas died weeks later, with his last words telling his sons to "obey the laws and support the Constitution of the United States."
Fort Sumter brought Illinoisans together in support of Abraham Lincoln's effort to preserve the Union. As time passed, as costs in blood and treasure grew, and as African Americans became more visible players in the conflict, the united front of Spring 1861 broke. The state's residents again divided, this time over exactly how the nation should be preserved.
Read letters from an American Revolutionary War veteran from Quincy, Illinois and others on the secession of southern states from the February 7th, 1861 edition of the Quincy Daily Herald.
A dated but still worthwhile look at the many shades of opinion in Illinois during the secession and Fort Sumter crises is found in Arthur C. Cole, The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870 The Sesquicentennial History of Illinois, volume 3 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987), chap. 11.