The Battle at Allatoona Pass, Georgia: Henry Rifles, Signal Flags, and a Famous Hymn
On October 5, 1864, Federal and Confederate forces struggled for control of Allatoona Pass, Georgia. Hard-pressed troops from Illinois and other "western" states held until a relief column drove away their attackers. The battle would remain largely a footnote in the war's history but for the important role of some Federal armament and the popularity of a hymn inspired by the fight.
Following William T. Sherman's capture of Atlanta in September 1864 the Confederate army of Gen. John B. Hood was reduced to attacking Federal supply lines, hoping to draw out small forces that might be defeated, and to seriously disrupt Sherman's access to food and ammunition. Surprising his opponent, Hood was initially successful, destroying miles of important railroad track. By the time Hood ordered the capture of the supply depot at Allatoona Pass and the destruction of a nearby railroad bridge, Sherman was on the move against him.
On October 5 a Federal force of just over two thousand, about one-half of them Illinoisans of the 12th, 50th, 57th, and 93rd infantry regiments, defended the pass, ringed with defensive trenches and other works. Confederates mustered an estimated three thousand men to attempt capture of the position. The rebel commander, Gen. Samuel G. French, first called upon his opponent, Gen. John M. Corse, to prevent the needless shedding of blood by surrendering. Corse refused.
Powerful Confederate attacks drove Allatoona's defenders from their outer positions into a fort at the summit and threatened them with capture. A special feature of the action was the presence in the 7th Illinois of about 190 men equipped with Henry rifles capable of rapidly firing sixteen shots without requiring a reload of the magazine.
Sherman, determined to hold his supply station and preserve the railroad bridge, sent Corse messages by signal flag - "Sherman is moving in force. Hold Out," "General Sherman says hold fast," "We are coming," and "Tell Allatoona hold on. General Sherman says he is working hard for you." It was a near-run thing. Corse and his men held on, awaiting relief from Sherman. As they did so, the Henry rifles belched an estimated 31,000 rounds of ammunition—about 160 per man. The rates of killed and wounded on both side were horrendous—25% for the Confederates and 32% for the defenders.
Men of the 7th Illinois ever after believed that they and their special weapons (which they had purchased using their own funds) had changed history. As one recalled at a regimental reunion, "But for" their regiment and its special weapons, "the Union flag would have gone down in humiliation on those hills that day, and Sherman's contemplated march to the sea that year would have been defeated... The importance of the issue then and there involved has never, and never can be exaggerated."
Battlefield to Sunday school meeting
The small but very sharp fight at Allatoona likely would have remained a footnote in the war's history to all but those who participated in it but for a chance meeting at a Sunday school convention held in Rockford, Illinois. The dramatic story of the garrison's relief following the wig-wagging of messages by signal flag inspired a hymn that would sweep the nation.
At the April 1870 Winnebago County Sunday School Convention, Daniel W. Whittle recounted the defense of Allatoona. Whittle, who had served during Sherman's Atlanta campaign on the staff of Gen. Oliver O. Howard, dramatically described Sherman sending a message during the fight reading "Hold the fort; I am coming." For Whittle that day in Georgia was "an illustration of the inspiration derived by the Christian from the thoughts of Christ as our commander and of His coming to our relief."
Whittle's story proved an inspiration to one member of the audience, Philip P. Bliss, attending the convention as a vocalist. According to Whittle, on the day following the convention in Rockford the two men conducted a meeting in Chicago. There Bliss wrote out a chorus and sang for the first time a song inspired by 1864 events at Allatoona he had heard described just the day before, calling for the audience to join in the chorus:
Ho, my comrades, see the signal,
Waving in the sky!
Reinforcements now appearing,
Victory is nigh.
"Hold the fort, for I am coming,"
Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to heaven,
By thy grace we will."
See the mighty host advancing,
Satan leading on,
Mighty men around us falling,
Courage almost gone!
See the glorious banner waving,
Hear the trumpet blow!
In our Leader's name we'll triumph,
Over every foe.
Fierce and long the battle rages,
But our help is near,
Onward comes our great Commander,
Cheer, my comrades, cheer.
"Hold the Fort" was published that same year in Chicago as sheet music and soon took the country by storm. It proved to have international appeal as well, when Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey introduced it in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In 1874 "Hold the Fort" was published in the popular hymnal Gospel Songs. In April of that year Bliss and Whittle, while travelling in north Georgia, visited Kennesaw Mountain. There they saw remains of the signal station from which Sherman's messages had been sent by signal flag and, in the distance, Allatoona itself. The two knelt and sang "Hold the Fort," Bliss later calling the event "one of his blessed days."
William T. Sherman, credited with authorship of the phrase that inspired the hymn, apparently did not learn of "Hold the Fort" until 1875. On June 22 of that year he wrote to William E. Dodge, a member of the committee responsible for publishing Gospel Hymns, that he was "glad to know for the first time that one of hymns of Messrs Moody & Sankey was founded on the defence of Alatoona Ga." He added, "I do not think I used the words—'Hold the Fort'; that however was the duty of the garrison and they did it nobly—Manfully."
Interested in learning more?
The 1864 Battle of Allatoona Pass is well covered in a new study: Brad Butkovich, The Battle of Allatoona Pass: Civil War Skirmish in Bartow County, Georgia (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2014). A detailed account of the hymn and its history is: Paul J. Scheips, Hold the Fort!: The Story of a Song from the Sawdust Trail to the Picket Line Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology 9 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), which can be accessed at http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/HistoryTechnology/pdf_hi/SSHT-0009.pdf . To hear "Hold the Fort" visit http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/o/holdfort.htm .
Illinois feels a draft
In September 1864 Illinois for the first time experienced involuntary conscription of men for military service. As in other states, conscription in Illinois brought resistance, some of it violent. For all the sound and fury, by the end of most military operations in April 1865 the draft brought a relatively small number of Illinoisans into military service.
The spring and summer of 1861 saw huge numbers of men in the loyal states volunteer for service in the army and the navy. Strong patriotic feelings and the belief that the war would not be a long one led many men to volunteer when, in other circumstances they might not have. As the summer wore on patriotism held strong but the Battle of Bull Run, Virginia, in July 1861 and other Union losses dimmed hopes of a short war. Volunteers became much more difficult to find.
One result of the falling off of enlistments was the July 1862 passage by Congress of a Militia Act that, among other things, provided for the enrollment of men of military age and for a draft of men into service if quotas set by the War Department were not met through voluntary enlistment. In Illinois the use of monetary enlistment incentives known as bounties and the stigma may connected with forced service by a draft led to voluntary enlistments that actually exceeded the state’s quota. (For more on the 1862 recruitment process see the August 2012 monthly feature on this website.)
Similar efforts in some states proved less successful and in March 1863 Congress passed a Conscription Act. It required the continued enrollment of most men aged twenty to forty-five years. Exemptions were allowed to men who were not citizens of the United States or could prove physical or mental disability. The law included other means of avoiding service, including hiring a substitute to serve in one’s place or paying a $300 cash commutation fee (this highly controversial avenue of avoidance was abolished in February 1864).
Reaction to the new law was swift and, in a highly politicized atmosphere, very often unfavorable. Those feelings became clear in the summer of 1863 when federal officials in Illinois carried out the initial enrollment. Rather than requiring men of military age to register themselves, as is the case today, each enrollment officer made a door-to-door round of his district. Perhaps most officers received at least some verbal abuse, while others experienced physical intimidation and even actual violence. In parts of the state armed military escorts were required to provide for the safety of enrollment officers. Assistant Provost Marshal General James Oaks, the army officer who oversaw the draft operation in Illinois, blamed the violence on bands of army deserters and the whipping up of antiwar sentiment by what he believed to be disloyal newspapers.
Other means of avoiding enrollment came in less dangerous forms. One was resistance by removal. Newspapers reported large numbers of men boarding railway trains out of Illinois and of families suddenly headed for new homes in states west of the Mississippi River. Home-based means of evading enrollment included the refusal by families and neighbors to provide information about the presence of draft-age men and, in some cases, actually hiding potential draftees.
Once a draft was actually enacted other means of evasion came to the fore. Many men sought medical exemption. Thousands in Illinois successfully sought removal from the rolls due to physical disability. Many able-bodied men were caught feigning disability in an attempt to be exempted. A Springfield reporter, for example, noted in December 1863 that the provost marshal’s office was thronged with men seeking physical exams and that “every imaginable excuse is offered” for exemption. On examination one man claiming chronic swelling of the legs was found to be wearing three pair of heavy wool stockings.
The wheel of fortune
Illinois continued to fill its enlistment quotas until the summer of 1864. The failure to find volunteers enough to fill Lincoln’s July 18, 1864, demand for new troops forced the first actual draft in Illinois.
Names from the rolls were placed on individual cards, and within each sub-district placed into envelopes. On the day officially set for the lottery the cards were placed into a large box or rotating drum. After rotating the container several times an official, who had been blindfolded, began to remove the cards and announce who would be called to service. Twice as many names were drawn as were necessary to fill the quota, to allow for a loss to medical exemptions and evaders who refused to report.
A man’s name being chosen in the draft lottery did not necessarily mean that he would ever see military service. Many hired other men to serve in their place, as allowed by law. Prices for substitutes soon rose, reportedly reaching over $1,000 in some places. Many counties, believing the need for enforced conscription within their borders to be shameful, provided funds of ever larger monetary incentives to encourage voluntary enlistments.
The numbers in Illinois
Provost Marshal General Oaks, responsible for managing the draft in Illinois, issued his final report to the War Department in August 1865. Of the 32,279 men called to service by conscription: 9,840 failed to report; almost 3,900 were discharged without an exam; over 9,000 were discharged after an examination. The number of men actually held to service was 8,945. Of those 5,404 hired substitutes, leaving 3,541 to serve personally.
Illinois Adjutant General Isham Haynie on January 1, 1866, reported to Governor Richard J. Oglesby that during the war the War Department quotas for troops from Illinois totaled 231,488. Thus, roughly 96.1% of the Illinoisan who served their country during the war were volunteers (even if encouragement by the use of large money incentives was required). Only about 3.9% of those men were brought to service through the draft.
Interested in learning more?
Much information on the operation of the draft can be found in Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Series III, especially the August 9, 1865, report of Gen. James Oakes, the army’s assistant provost marshal general for Illinois, in Official Records Series III, volume 5, pp. 803-42, which can be accessed at: "http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;view=toc;subview=short;idno=waro0126"
A fine outline of the operation of the draft in Illinois and the often violent reaction against it is: Robert E. Sterling, "Civil War Draft Resistance in Illinois,"
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 64:3 (Autumn 1971), 244-66, which can be read at: "http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1971autumn/ishs-1971autumn-244.pdf".
Battle flags of Illinois
U.S. Army regulations required infantry regiments to carry two flags measuring 6'6" by 6'—a national color carrying the unit's official designation and a regimental flag of blue decorated with a large eagle. For centuries large banners helped commanders to locate units on the battlefield and provided a prominent point on which men could rally in the confusion of battle. When Federal troops wavered during the unsuccessful May 22, 1863, assault on the defenses of Vicksburg, General Thomas E. G. Ransom "rushed to the head, seized the colors of the 95th [Illinois Infantry], and waving them high above his head, shouted, 'Forward, men! We must and will go into that fort! Who will follow me?' The tide was turned." During the war the stained and tattered colors of many Illinois regiments were replaced with new sets and returned home, often to be proudly displayed in the statehouse at Springfield as vivid symbols of courage and sacrifice.
For much of the war's first year Illinois outfits relied on friends and local organizations to provide a set of colors. As the state quartermaster general wrote, given the need to quickly supply thousands of troops during the emergency of spring and summer 1861, "none but articles of absolute necessity have been provided for our volunteers; on the other hand, complaints have been made that many things essential to the full equipment of a Regiment, and allowed by Army Regulations, have not (perhaps through mistaken economy,) been furnished... and Regimental Colors, Standards, Guidons... without which evidences of their nationality and distinctive character no regiment should go into the field."
Local folk happily filled the void, providing many individual companies on their departure with flags of non-regulation shapes and sizes. As the companies were organized into regiments some of these flags were retired while others were "promoted" to serve as regimental colors. Flag presentation ceremonies proved to be a high point in the early service of most units. Men in newly issued uniforms stood proudly before friends and family as a community leader (often a lady) spoke words of benediction, to be flowed with gallant thanks from the unit commander.
Though always an important part of a regiment's equipment, the colors came to have special meaning in battle. The banners often held an important symbolic value for men who marched under them. Most soldiers looked upon the loss of a flag as a kind of disgrace, leading them to fight hard to prevent such a humiliation. Rebels felt the same way, making the capture of Union flags a great prize. It all added up to make membership in a regiment's color guard a risky business. Letters and regimental histories are filled with stories of defending flags and the physical abuse they suffered in battle.
A correspondent of the 93rd Illinois Infantry wrote of the regimental flags barely surviving two major fights. On May 16, 1863, at Champion Hill, Mississippi, the outfit "fell back fifty yards, leaving over one-third of our brigade dead and wounded on the field, our colors riddled with bullets, seven balls struck the staff, the color bearer killed, and over half the color company killed and wounded." Six months later in fighting that broke the siege of Chattanooga, "Our colonel was killed. Three men had been shot holding the colors,—he then took them and was shot through the head and fell dead. Our flags are all shot away. We have part of the field of the colors with one star left. The regiment flag is all gone but the staff—shot away by the enemy's grape and cannister.—We are saving the pieces."
Some of the state's flags came to be stained with the lifeblood of those who carried them. On July 12, 1863, at Jackson, Mississippi, George Poundstone "made desperate attempts to keep the enemy from capturing the flag" of the 53rd Illinois. The fight was desperate, with almost 80% of the regiment being killed or suffering wounds at its close. Poundstone, wounded in the chest, took the flag from its staff and "thrust it in his bosom," successfully preventing the banner's capture. As the curator of the state's flag collection wrote in 1886, "his heart's blood has written upon the flag he loved so well, a record of his devotion and bravery that speaks more plainly than could epitaph on marble."
After the war
As regiments arrived back in Illinois at the close of their service there was a need to dispose of the colors. In June 1865 the War Department issued an order that all flags purchased with government funds and issued by the quartermaster department remained government property. Units were to turn such flags over to their state governor to be cared for in a manner decided upon by state officials. Flags that had been presented by individuals and volunteer organizations could be disposed of as unit officers saw fit. Some were returned to the donors, others placed in courthouses, schools, or other public buildings, while many more remained in the care of a trusted comrade. Today they can be found in collections scattered across Illinois.
The flags placed under the care of the governor were first stored in the state arsenal in Springfield. In 1878 they were moved to the newly constructed state capitol, where beginning in 1884 they were displayed in glass cases with photos of some of the men who had fought under them. Today the state's treasured collection of Civil War flags is cared for in special facilities by the Illinois State Military Museum, 1301 North MacArthur Blvd., Springfield, Illinois 62702 www.il.ngb.army.mil/museum
Creating the 29th Unites States Colored Infantry
On July 30, 1864, men of the 29th United States Colored Infantry Regiment, raised and organized in Illinois, took part in savage fighting now famous as the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg, Virginia. The attack, botched by mid- and high level officers, failed terribly with great loss of life. The struggle of that day proved the courage, skill, and level of sacrifice of which black men were capable. The road that brought those men to the battlefront was long and winding.
First moves toward black troops from Illinois
The road leading to the action near Petersburg was a long one. From the war’s earliest days African Americans of both sexes sought refuge from slavery by fleeing to Illinois. The refugee situation combined with black aspirations for secure freedom forced the army, Congress, and the Lincoln administration to consider the future role of black men in the conflict. Males soon began to be employed as laborers under the direction of army officers. The men, however, were not considered members of the military.
As the war entered its second year attitudes held by many whites in the Northern states on issues of race had begun to change. Strong prejudice against blacks was tempered by anger against rebels, eventually leading a growing number of Unionists to accept the notion of putting black men into uniform.
In the spring of 1863 a number of African American men who were native-born or longtime residents of Illinois jumped at the opportunity to join black regiments being formed by Massachusetts, becoming the first blacks from the Prairie State to don military uniform. (For more on these troops see this website’s May 2013 monthly feature.)
The First Illinois Colored Regiment comes to be
Illinois governor Richard Yates expressed radical views regarding how to deal with traitors and in favor of a new status for blacks in America. On July 28, 1863, he wrote to Sec. of War Edwin M. Stanton about inquiries made as to whether a "colored " regiment was to be raised in Illinois. Stanton responded that the War Department "is anxious to raise colored troops wherever it can be done." If Yates felt able to raise black regiments authority would be given to do so. One month later Yates wrote Stanton that "I am satisfied that it is my duty to attempt to organize a colored regiment in this State." On September 25, 1863, the War Department authorized the state of Illinois to raise "one regiment of infantry to be composed of colored men."
It was a big step, but problems remained. U.S. law offered black army privates $10 per month, less than that of white men. African American men were also denied the federal monetary enlistment incentives known as bounties. Illinois Adjutant General Fuller, an advocate of black troops, expressed "fear that the regiment cannot be raised on the terms proposed," as black men working as common laborers "can command at home readily form $12 to $15 per month." Federal officials quickly responded that "it is not in the power of the Department to offer any further inducement."
Discrimination in pay likely led to the slow response to recruiting efforts in Illinois’ centers of black population. Efforts were made to level the field, as when Cook County offered $100 in enlistment incentives and confidently informed potential recruits that Congress would in its next session provide for equal pay with white troops. Even recruiting in Missouri and Wisconsin brought indifferent results.
Discrimination closer to home also hampered recruitment efforts. The Woodstock Sentinel expressed the problem and called upon men to stand up to "A DUTY " :
"Responses are not being promptly made to the call. The free negroes fall back upon their dignity, and declare that, as they cannot vote, they will not fight. That so long as the black laws disgrace our statue book, they will not take up arms in defense of a Government that barely suffers them to exist.
This is all wrong. It is the duty of every colored man, that can leave his family, to take up arms. This war is working out the enfranchisement of the colored race. It is converting the whole nation into abolitionists. The success of the Federal army carries with it the freedom of the negro; it secures liberty to the bondman, and the birthright of citizenship to the freedman."
Enlistees gathered in Quincy, Illinois, to be organized, equipped, and trained. That efforts to recruit the regiment still lagged was made clear when, in April 1864, only five companies of the proposed regiment were of the minimum strength to be sworn into service. Still there was a feeling of pride when on April 25, 1864, what had been called the First Illinois Colored Infantry was mustered into service as the 29th United States Colored Infantry. At a ceremony during a short stopover in Chicago a white officer declared that the black men ranged before him "are made like unto ourselves by the uniforms they wear."
On they then moved to Virginia and the history books.
Interested in learning more?
Two recent histories of the Twenty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry cover the military story in great detail: Edward A. Miller Jr., "The Black Civil War Soldiers of Illinois: The Story of the Twenty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry" (1998) and Dorothy L. Drinkard, "Illinois Freedom Fighters: A Civil War Saga of the 29th Infantry, United States Colored Troops" (1998).
For an overall view of the Battle of the Crater see Earl J. Hess, "Into the Crater: The Mine Attack at Petersburg" (2011). Kevin M. Levin looks at the battle through the lens of race in "Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder" (2013).
The story of Lewis Martin, a member of the 29th who was grievously wounded at the Crater, can be found at: http://usctchronicle.blogspot.com/2011/01/they-were-men-who-suffered-and-died.html
Aiding the Freedmen
In June 1864 meetings were held in Springfield to collect money and goods to aid newly-freed slaves-then commonly referred to as freedmen—in the South. Such efforts saw what might be considered unlikely success in wartime Illinois, a state which had from its earliest years statutes controlling the liberties of African Americans. Hundreds if not thousands contributed to the cause of meeting what were seen as the physical, intellectual, and spiritual needs of people living new lives created by the war.
Within a week of President Lincoln's announcement in September 1862 of a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation residents of Belvidere (Boone County) gathered to consider ways to assist ex-slaves. A proposal that freed blacks be brought to Belvidere and provided with work met some resistance. Expressing fear that the new residents might soon become public wards, some demanded that employers sign a kind of contract guaranteeing consistent employment. P. E. Whitman, who had taught in the South, spoke in favor of all forms of aid and celebrated the "great and glorious era in our country's history... the slave was being protected by the Government instead of the Government being his oppressor." Another speaker called helping the freed people a great work of humanity "because any slave which made his escape from the rebels, if recaptured, was shot."
At the same time "two car loads" of African Americans, mostly under age sixteen, arrived in Elgin (Kane County). The "larger portion found employment in the families about there in a short time." It was noted that "a loafer" soon used the Illinois law prohibiting the entry of blacks into the state to swear out a warrant against the army chaplain in charge of the group. He was warned that the chaplain worked under military orders "and concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and sneaked off to a neighboring grog shop" without making an official complaint.
Activity to aid freedmen could be found through most of Illinois. Religious congregations raised funds and collected goods. In a few towns societies formed specifically to assist freedmen, most organizing themselves along the lines of local soldier aid societies.
The operations of the Galena (Jo Daviess County) society were reported regularly in the Daily Advertiser. In early December 1863 members of five Protestant congregations joined to organize their work in behalf of "the needy ex-slaves of the South" and "to secure to them all the blessings of Christian civilization." Elections resulted in women holding all offices and directorships, with men serving on the executive committee. In its first year of operation the society raised $231 in cash (at a time when an army private's pay was $16 per month), and sent to the South six large boxes of clothing wroth about $100 each. Two parcels of clothing remained in Illinois, being sent to Quincy.
Not surprisingly Illinois African Americans took the cause to heart. Black women in Chicago formed the Colored Ladies' Freedmen's Aid Society in late 1863. An early fundraising event featured speeches by a woman abolitionist "of the Garrisonian school" and "Sergeant Bargwett" of the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry. The women quickly went to work - "They meet twice a week—make new garments—mend old ones—cut down large ones—and make small ones." Black residents of Jo Daviess County collected and boxed clothing to be distributed through Galena's freedmen's aid organization. On January 2, 1866, blacks in Rockford (Winnebago County) held a "Freedmans supper," which raised $59. The event was promoted in the white community by a local newspaper, which reminded readers that as "the greater part of the Freedmen are the families, the wives and children of the sable soldiers of the Republic, who have fought bravely in defence of the integrity of the old Union, and the supremacy of free principles on many a bloody battle-field, it is evident that our efforts to aid them should have claims as well on our patriotism as our humanity."
Regionally organized freedmen's aid
In late 1863 the Rev. H. W. Cobb of the Western Freedmen Aid Association spoke at Springfield's Second Presbyterian Church, long known for its antislavery sentiments. The society worked to coordinate aid efforts in states of the Old Northwest, much as the Northwestern Sanitary Commission worked in soldiers' aid. A local reporter noted that the "object of the Society is to attend to the physical and intellectual wants of those slaves who have been declared free by the proclamation of the President, by colonizing them upon lands in the South." The society sought donations of crockery, agricultural implements, in fact "anything useful" to such a social experiment. The perceived importance of religious and general education showed clearly in the 1865 donation by the Peoria Freedmen's Aid Committee of a second hand Sabbath school library of 205 volumes, 246 Sabbath school papers, and 65 primary grammar books.
In July 1864 the Northwestern Commission began publication of a monthly journal titled The Freedmen's Bulletin. It published a constitution that could be used in organizing local societies, and letters from clergymen and teachers working in the South describing their successful efforts. Perhaps most interesting to the student of freedmen's aid efforts in Illinois are the detailed monthly reports of donations of cash and goods received from small towns across the state.
In December 1864 a "Freedmen's Fair" was held in Chicago to assist the aid association. Patterned on the sanitary fairs that raised funds and awareness of soldiers' aid, this event did good by allowing people to have fun. The fair was described by the Tribune as a symbol of the fact that the "mountains of prejudice are so far broken down that the movement has received the hearty support of patriots throughout the West..."
Looking to the future
When in early 1865 Congress sent to the states for ratification a Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution ending slavery in the United States, some Illinois freedmen's aid groups celebrated very publicly. On February 10, 1865, the Peoria Women's National League held an entertainment to "benefit the Freedmen, and for the purpose of ratifying the glorious amendment to the Constitution of the United States, forever abolishing slavery throughout our land, and also the repeal of the infamous black laws of our own State." It contained the traditional musical numbers, tableaux, sale tables, and refreshment tables found at most church, school, or association fairs. "Let every one who feels like rejoicing over this late triumph of ideas... contribute his mite to the comfort of the poor starving freedmen of the South."
With the coming of peace in early 1865 relief activities—for soldiers, their families, and for freedmen—dropped from the minds of many Illinoisans. Others continued the work, though with less publicity, perhaps understanding that Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" was not so much an event but an ongoing process.
Ethnic Illinoisans during the war
Illinois in 2014 has a large ethnic population. The U.S. Census estimated that in 2010 almost 14% of the state's population had been born in another country. That was even more the case when the Civil War began in 1861. Of just over 1.7 million people living in the Prairie State in 1860 over 324,000-about 19%-were foreign born. More Chicagoans had been born in other lands than in the U.S. Those adopted Americans played an important role in the state's response to civil war.
Who was here?
By 1860 natives of the German-speaking states (which had not yet united as a single nation) and Austria numbered just under 131,000. Many had arrived in the United States following the failed revolutions of the late 1840s. Though German likely could be heard in most Illinois counties, especially large numbers of immigrants settled in Chicago and across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in the downstate counties of St. Clair and Monroe.
Natives of Ireland made up the second largest number of Illinoisans born outside the United States. Over 87,000 were scattered across the state, many living in and near Chicago. Irish accounted for some of the new state's earliest settlers, but the numbers began to grow in the 1830s during construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. They rose in the 1840s and 50s as huge numbers fled famine in their homeland.
About 72,000 of those living in Illinois in 1860 had originated in the British dominions of England, Scotland, Wales, and Canada.
Natives of Scandinavia, who began arriving in some number in the late 1840s, tallied at about 11,000 in 1860. Most lived in Chicago or a cluster of settlements in Henry, Knox, and Rock Island counties. Just under 10,000 Illinois residents, many living in Kankakee County, were natives of France.
Joining the struggle
With the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861 foreign-born Illinoisans, like their native-born neighbors, faced the question: What now? For Germans and Scandinavians who, generally speaking, supported the Republican cause in the late 1850s, the answer was clear. Many flocked to the colors, joining local military companies (units of about 100 men) with their neighbors. When the state's quota of volunteers was quickly reached and new men were not being accepted for service, a number of Illinoisans crossed the Mississippi to join German units forming in St. Louis.
For many Illinois Irish the decision was likely more difficult. The Irish had remained loyal to the Democratic Party in the 1850s struggle over the extension of slavery and, like many in their party, were reluctant to fight what many saw as a Republican war. U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas, the champion of Illinois Democrats and Lincoln's main opponent for the presidency in 1860, soon settled the question for many. In late April 1861 he appeared in Springfield to declare that the firing on Sumter had changed the political landscape, leaving only two parties—patriots and traitors. Numbers of Illinois Irish stood to the colors, though many strongly disapproved of the Lincoln administration's movements toward black freedom.
The closest student of Illinois ethnics during the war, William Burton, carefully notes that by far most of the state's immigrant soldiers enlisted in local units with native Americans and men of other ethnic backgrounds. Letters from soldiers in a number of "native" regiments can be found in Illinois' foreign language newspapers.
A few outfits, however, were intentionally ethnic in their makeup.
James A. Mulligan took the lead in forming a regiment (a unit of ten 100-man companies) from the Chicago Irish community. A prominent attorney, Democrat, and peacetime-militia leader, Mulligan soon brought together what would be officially designated the 23rd Illinois Infantry Regiment but known informally as the "Irish Brigade." The outfit played a major role in the 1861 siege at Lexington, Missouri (see this website's feature for September 1861). Captured in Missouri, Mulligan soon was repatriated a reconstituted the 23rd, serving in the Virginia theatre where Mulligan was killed in 1864.
A second Illinois Irish regiment had a more difficult birthing, due to struggle between factions within the community. Formally known as the 90th Illinois Infantry and more popularly as the "Irish Legion," this regiment served in the Western theatre, taking part in the campaign for Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea. The outfit carried a distinctive emerald flag, which survives today (http://www.civil-war.com/searchpages/result.asp?Name=090th&category=Infantry&Submit=Search+for+Flags)
Illinois Germans formed three infantry regiments. Two, the 24th and the 82nd, were initially commanded by Friedrich Hecker, a popular hero of the failed 1848 revolution. Both outfits suffered due to personal conflicts such as those common in native units. Old World prejudices affected the 82nd-a Norwegian leader begged Illinois governor Yates that the Scandinavian company nor be subjected to the command of a German colonel. By all accounts the Scandinavians worked well with their fellows, as did the "Israelitish" members of Company I.
The 43rd Illinois was "sponsored" in part by Gustave Koerner, a Belleville resident and politician who had served on the Illinois Supreme Court and as the state's lieutenant governor.
German-language advertising was used to attract recruits. The regiment saw hard service in the Western theatre. Its first colonel, Julius Raith, was killed and 40% of its men put out of action at the Battle of Shiloh. When its original three-year term of service ended in 1864, the outfit reenlisted as a veteran regiment (see this website's feature for Feb. 1864).
Interested in learning more?
For overviews of the subject see: William L. Burton, "Illinois Ethnics in the Civil War." Illinois History Teacher 4:2 (1997) online at http://www.lib.niu.edu/1997/iht429702.html
and his "Ethnic Regiments in the Civil War: The Illinois Experience," in Selected Papers in Illinois History 1980 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1982).
A sampling of studies of specific groups includes: Eric Benjaminson, "A Regiment of Immigrants: The 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and the Letters of Captain Rudolph Mueller," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94 (2001-02); Suellen Hoy, "Preserving the Union, Shaping the Image: Chicago's Irish Catholics and the Civil War," in Ellen Skerrett, ed., At the Crossroads: Old Saint Patrick's and the Chicago Irish (Chicago, 1997); Roger Kvist, "A Social History of the Swedish Ethnic Units from Illinois in the Civil War," Swedish American Historical Quarterly 50 (1999).
Book-length studies of ethnic Illinois outfits and collections of letters by immigrant soldiers continue to be published; check the library database www.worldcat.org
to find specific titles
Soldiers' homes in Illinois
In April 1864 construction began in Springfield on what would be called a "soldiers' home." One of four such major facilities in Illinois, the home provided individual soldiers in transit between their home and the front line with a short-term place of rest, refreshment, and care.
Meeting a need
As the war ground on into 1862 civilians—especially those living near significant military posts and major rail junctions—noticed that large numbers of soldiers on the road in Illinois suffered in their journey. Many were physically fit but without money due to a notoriously inefficient system for paying troops. Others were ill, some of them seriously so. Local efforts soon began to help these warriors. Most of the support came at the local level, though soldiers' homes in Chicago and Cairo were supported by the regional Northwestern Sanitary Commission.
Located at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and serving as the southern terminus of the Illinois Central Railroad, Cairo saw one of the first and largest concentrations of Illinois troops in the early days of the war. It continued to serve as a north-south transportation hub for the whole of the war. Tens of thousands of troops passed through the city.
The Chicago branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission opened a thirty-bed soldiers' home in March 1862, suing a building formerly used by the army quartermaster department. It was recalled that its only desirable feature was "that of being located conveniently near to the railroad depot and steamboat landing." It soon served 50 to 500 meals every day.
Need soon outstripped the home's resources. Buildings were quickly added to operation, but never quite satisfied the demand. In late 1863 construction of a completely new building began. It opened on February 1, 1864. The dining area could accommodate two hundred at a seating. Special rooms were set aside for the use of women visiting the sickbeds (or graves) of their husbands, and for army nurses traveling to and from the front. During the nine months the home operated in 1864 over 98,000 men were admitted.
A hospital facility caring for men become too ill to travel was an important part of the Cairo home. At the beginning of February 1865 military officials ordered that healthy soldiers in transit make use of a new, separate "Soldiers' Rest," leaving the whole of the soldiers' home building to be used for hospital patients. In the next nine months over 48,000 sick men received treatment before being placed on trains for the north.
By its close on October 1, 1865, the Cairo home had hosted 198,000 men, and served over 476,000 meals. One hundred forty one thousand men had enjoyed overnight accommodation. The Northwestern Sanitary Commission had provided over $14,000 in support at a time when army privates received $13 or $16 per month in pay.
The story Centralia home provides a fine example of local activism in wartime Illinois. Centralia was the junction of the northern branches of the Illinois Central Railroad that ended at Chicago and Dunleith and the home to major repair shops. Thousands of troops moved to the front over the line, funneled to staging points near Cairo at the state's southern tip. Soon, ill and furloughed soldiers began to follow a reverse route to return to their homes.
Many ill soldiers were soon found in Centralia, some of them put off of trains because they were thought too sick to continue on their way. Residents in early 1863 formed a soldiers' aid society to provide them with at least some care. Operations began at the railroad station and a local hotel, but the women managers soon became convinced of the need for a larger facility.
Support for the new home came in multiple forms. Perhaps most important of all, local women provided care and comfort to patients. Donations of beds, cots, and all forms of bedding played an important role. Organizations and individuals across southern Illinois also responded to the call for preserved foods deemed suitable for men suffering from illness. Raising cash was also imperative in order to pay for food and other necessities. Some money was raised by such already time-honored means as benefit fairs, but most came as donations from individuals and aid groups in other towns.
Complete records for the Centralia home do not exist. We do know that on May 27, 1864, fifteen men received hospital care and that 195 men had stopped at the home by the end of June. Of those fifteen had died in spite of the women's efforts.
By the summer of 1864 the home had closed, the property it had used sold and returned to private use. The ladies of Centralia continued as they could to aid acutely ill soldiers "left on the Depot platform." Though the home itself no longer existed, Centralians supported to war's end efforts to aid soldiers with donations of cash, preserved foods, and medical supplies.
Early 1864 saw efforts to create a soldier's home in downtown Springfield. The capital city was the junction of two major rail lines, the north-south Chicago, Alton & St. Louis and the east-west Great Western. As such it provided the transport hub for nearby Camp Butler, one of the state's two largest permanent military processing camps. Numbers of in-transit soldiers with little to do often wandered the city, often to the discomfort of the
Unlike the Centralia home, which catered to soldiers too ill to travel and was supported locally, the building that opened its doors on April 25 in Springfield provided food and rest to able-bodied men and received strong financial support from state and federal government entities. In fact, President Lincoln authorized the use of federal property as the building site.
Once constructed management of the home passed to the Springfield Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society. Formed in the summer of 1861, the society had collected and forwarded to the front and to Camp Butler huge stocks of food, and hospital and medical supplies. When pleas to the War Department for further assistance went unanswered the SAS issued public appeals for donations of food and cash.
The operation was a great success, perhaps too much so. The home's capacity of 60 to 80 men was soon exceeded. On occasion hundreds of men arrived in a single day, expecting refreshment and a clean place to rest. Hundreds of men received meals even if they could not be provided a bed. One evening in July 1864 over forty Iowans took meals at the soldiers' home but then moved to the statehouse (today the Old State Capitol State Historic Site) where they rested until meeting their train.
Spring of 1863 saw the first efforts of Chicagoans to establish a facility for use by soldiers in transit, led by the Y.M.C.A. and the Chicago branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. A June 9 meeting determined to establish a "temporary home" to assist sick, wounded, and destitute soldiers," the whole to be managed by "the loyal women of Chicago." Fundraising fairs soon made it possible to rent a building on Randolph Street, which opened for business on July 4. In the words of one observer, "The little building was always crowded."
Overcrowding led to an expansion of the home in the fall of 1863. One building was to be set aside for the use of disabled soldiers, while another part of the complex served able-bodied individual troops moving through town on their way home or to the field of battle.
Fundraising continued with notable success. The permanent home for disabled soldiers was a beneficiary of the Chicago Northwestern Sanitary Fair of 1863. President Lincoln made the most spectacular donation to the cause—his original draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation. It was sold at the fair for $3,000. Copies of the document suitable for display were soon available for sale to benefit the home, which opened May 10, 1866. It remained in operation until late 1877 when financial difficulties resulted in its close. The residents were distributed among the new system of federally-operated homes for disabled soldiers.
Interested in learning more?
For more on Illinois wartime soldier homes see Glenna Schroeder-Lein, "'Your work is truly a good one': Illinoisans and Soldiers' Home during the Civil War," Journal of Illinois History 11:3 (Autumn 2009), found online at ht http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1996summer/ishs-1996summer099.pdf For the Chicago Soldiers' Rest and Soldiers' Home see A. T. Andreas, History of Chicago from the Earliest Period to the Present Time (19=885), vol. 3, pp. 310-13.
The Charleston riot
On March 28, 1864, shots rang out in the courthouse yard in Charleston, Illinois. A sharp, short struggle between local residents disgusted with the Lincoln administration and its conduct of the war and furloughed troops of the 54th Illinois Infantry ended in the death of six soldiers and three civilians and left a dozen wounded—some of the deadliest civil violence in the wartime North.
Tensions build in Coles County
While the level of violence stunned most observers, trouble at Charleston riot did not suddenly spring up from nowhere. Tensions had been building in eastern Illinois-as through much of the loyal North-even since the war's early days. There were numerous points of conflict.
Cultural attitudes helped to divide Illinoisans. As was true in much of the southern half of Illinois, many Coles County residents had been born in or descended from families that came to Illinois from the South. They were unlikely to hold feelings against slavery, in fact many probably approved of the institution, though not living in a state in which it was legal. The coming of black freedom, limited as it was, and an influx of freedmen into Illinois could only be a subject of anger and anxiety.
Suspicion of centralized power—governmental, political, economic, and even religious-on the part of the Democratic Party seemed to be confirmed with every passing month. Fear that the Lincoln administration was subverting the very liberties for which the Revolutionary generation and those since had struggled grew. Arrests of opponents of the Lincoln administration were reported in newspapers throughout the North. In many places persons deemed to be disloyal were humiliated by being forced by local vigilantes to sign loyalty oaths. The suppression of Democratic-leaning newspapers through military order or by the action of mobs that sometimes included soldiers were denounced in countless public meetings (see this website's June 2013 monthly feature).
A kind of battle fatigue also played a role in bringing feelings to the boiling point. Those opposed to the Lincoln administration condemned the seemingly endless bloodshed of the last three years, a struggle with no end in sight. A standard part of their critique was denunciation of what they saw as the administration's bumbling conduct of the war. Many expressed their opinions openly in letters to newspaper editors or by attending political rallies that called for an end to the war.
Large numbers of men in the military service in turn looked upon those who expressed such opposition as worse traitors than those in the rebel army. Confederate troops, they said, stood up honorably in battle while antiwar men at home acted secretly to stab the loyal soldier in the back. In letters home and in resolutions adopted in mass meetings troops often declared that they could not wait to arrive home at war's end and deal with such cowards.
Opposing sides gather in Charleston
Aggrieved citizens and Democrats from Coles and nearby counties gathered in Charleston late in March during court week, to listen to prominent Democratic speakers including Congressman John Eden. By a sad trick of fate the same date had been designated as the time for furloughed veterans of local companies of the 54th Illinois Infantry to gather and begin their return to the front lines. These men had reenlisted after a full three-year term of service during which they had experienced suffering of many kinds. Many shared the feeling common among servicemen that civilians at home who opposed the war effort were worse traitors than Confederate troops. This mix of men carrying chips on shoulders would prove explosive.
March 28, 1864
The two groups gathered near the courthouse square eyed each other warily. Democrats suspected that the troops might force loyalty oaths on some of the prominent antiwar men who were present, something that had happened in the recent past. They were determined to prevent any further such outrages. The veteran soldiers were confident of their ability to “whip” any antiwar men who might put up a fight. Threats were passed.
The critical confrontation finally took place. By a quick, confused sequence of events shots were fired and two men fell wounded. Firing quickly began around the square as civilians ran to wagons to get weapons or pulled pistols from pockets. Armed men tumbled into the courthouse, shooting. Firing continued about the square until the county sheriff formed the antiwar Democrats at a corner of the square and marched them out of town. Two more men would be made casualties when soldiers fired at and killed a captured Democrat who had not reached his compatriots. The same volley killed a merchant who supported the Lincoln administration.
Interested in learning more?
Special events commemorating the riot will be held in Charleston on March 28-30, 2014. Visit www.charlestonillinoisriot.org for detailed information.
The Charleston riot has been well covered by a number of authors. Important studies include Peter J. Barry, "The Charleston Riot and Its Aftermath: Civil, Military, and Presidential Responses," Journal of Illinois History 7 (2004): 82-106; Robert D. Sampson, "'Pretty damned warm times': The 1864 Charleston Riot and 'the inalienable right of revolution,'" Illinois Historical Journal 89 (1996): 99-116, found at http://dig.lib.niu.edu/ISHS/ishs-1996summer/ishs-1996summer099.pdf.
In mid-1863 the Federal government began work to stave off a crisis that could hobble the war effort. Beginning in May 1864 the three-year enlistments of many military units—dozens of them from Illinois—would expire, releasing hundreds of thousands of men from the army at the very height of the campaign season.
The problem and a solution
Officers of the War Department noted in June 1863—as Grant ground away against Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Robert E. Lee began his second invasion of the North—that over the next eighteen months the enlistments of 455 of 956 volunteer regiments would expire. This reality, coupled with the realization that "loss by expiration of enlistment of entire regiments...after they had seen service enough to become valuable soldiers, proved a serious drawback to military operation during the first two years of the war," led the secretary of war to issue on June 25, 1863, General Orders No. 191.
The orders allowed men who had served for nine months or more to reenlist as "veteran volunteers" for a term of three years or the war. Veteran volunteers were offered $402 in enlistment incentives known as "bounty" from the U.S. government, $100 of which was conferred due to their veteran status. The plan allowed veterans to serve with old regiments of their choice. The full amount of bounty was to be paid in installments even if men were discharged honorably before their term expired, or to heirs on a soldier’s death. Perhaps as important as any financial incentive, reenlisting veterans were to receive, "[A]s the exigencies of the service will permit," a thirty-day furlough to visit their families. Where over one-half of the men reenlisted, a unit would receive the honored designation of "Veteran."
Why would men who had for over two years faced hardship and violent death enlist to experience more of the same? Letters from soldiers that were published in local newspapers often described a strong desire to see through to the end the cause for which they had been sacrificing. Other soldiers spoke in less public forums of being called by a loyalty to the comrades with whom they had shared the dangers of soldiering.
While willing to continue to suffer for cause and friends, some veterans suggested that their reenlistment might be based upon the government requiring more "stay-at-homes" to serve in the army. General George H. Thomas was referring to such men when he wrote from Chattanooga, Tennessee, in December 1863 that "The soldiers express a desire to re-enlist, but by so doing they do not wish to relieve from the operations of the draft those men who stay at home to make money whilst they continue to expose their lives to the vicissitudes of war."
Perhaps the most important incentive to reenlistment was the thirty-day furlough during which men could visit their families. Gerald Linderman argues that many soldiers who had experienced more than two years of fighting did not believe they would survive through to the 1864 end of their first enlistment. For them the veteran furlough provided the one certain chance of ever seeing loved ones again.
Illinois units that had veteranized began to arrive home on furlough beginning in January 1864. Most did so to a noisy welcome. The reception of units that disembarked in Springfield before heading to their hometowns followed what became a common pattern.
On January 18 cannon heralded the arrival of the Seventh Infantry at the Great Western depot. "So great was the interest to see this veteran and gallant regiment" that teachers allowed their charges to attend the event "to gratify their curiosity." Led by fire companies and bands, the regiment marched to the statehouse where Governor Yates introduced the men in Representatives' Hall, which was "crowded with ladies." The governor spoke for 45 minutes, followed by the unit's first commander, Gen. John Cook, who spent an hour outlining the unit's history. Colonel Rowett, noting that the men were "weary and hungry...presumed the 'boys' would rather eat than to hear speeches" and the men marched off to a banquet offered by the ladies of Springfield. Before the closing of the ceremonies the regiment presented "the national colors and the colors of the regiment, riddled with shot and shell, showing the deadly nature of the conflict in which they have been engaged."
Smaller Illinois cities and towns also did their utmost to welcome long-absent fathers, sons, and brothers. In Galena the Rev. J. F. Yates of Methodist church published a long poem of welcome to the Jo Daviess County Guards, reciting at length the unit's battle history and honoring the dead. The return of numerous small units to La Salle County meant that "the fair ground at Ottawa was almost constantly in use as a military camp for several months, one after another." In nearby Warren the ladies welcomed furloughed men of the Fifteenth and Forty-fifth infantry regiments. Tables "fairly groaned under the weight of good things" prepared for the dinner. About 500 attended the event, about 80 of them veterans. Many receptions were attended by Governor Yates, who was reported to have spent much of March 1864 criss-crossing the state to welcome returning veterans.
Was it a success?
By all measures the effort to keep veterans in the army was a success. Provost Marshal General James B. Fry reported in 1866 that nationally over 136,000 veterans reenlisted at the end of their original term of service. He noted with pride that "the patriotic determination of these troops who had taken a prominent part in the war to continue it until brought to a satisfactory close was the foundation of the success which attended this enterprise."
In Illinois, the adjutant general reported that of 69 regiments of infantry and cavalry that had enlisted in 1861 for a three-year term, 58 of them veteranized when over half their membership reenlisted for another three years. He wrote during the reenlistment effort, "All honor to them that have so proudly borne themselves, all honor to them that they still swear fresh allegiance to their country, and, with unconquered spirit resolve never to sheath their swords except over the grave of treason, and the vindicated authority of the Government and our glorious union restored."
Interested in learning more?
Many Illinois newspapers published in late 1863 and early 1864 contain soldier letters discussing the issue of reenlistment, as well as describing events held to honor local boys during their furlough. A popular study of the reasons for enlisting (and reenlisting) in the Civil War military is James M. McPherson, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (1998). In Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (1998) Gerald Linderman argues that many men reenlisted in order to take advantage of the veteran furlough, fearing that they might be killed in 1864 before the end of their initial term of service (see pages 261-64).
Sarah Gregg, Hospital Matron
In January 1864 Sarah Gregg, a milliner from Ottawa (La Salle County), arrived at Camp Butler near Springfield to begin service as hospital matron. Over the next year and a half Gregg cared for sick and wounded soldiers and their visiting relatives, and worked with local civilians to provide comforts for wounded warriors. The diary she kept during that service provides a window into an important corner of life in the wartime North-that of caring for living casualties of the war.
Early service and frustration
Sarah Gregg provided aid to sick and wounded soldiers in early 1863 while working at the military hospital at Mound City, Illinois. Her diary opened with frustration when Mary Livermore and other officials of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission, based in Chicago, refused to issue Gregg supplies, "I not being a detailed nurse. There seemed to me to be too much red tape about this matter and may God forgive them for no one else will."
In August, having returned to Ottawa, Sarah sought supplies from the local soldiers' aid society only to be told that she must wait until the organization's next meeting, and that if aid was approved it would be arranged through "Mrs. Livermore's hands." Refusing to be stymied in her efforts, Gregg wrote, "I thought the thing over and made up my mind that it would take so long...through that channel that I at once concluded I would take the responsibility of getting up and forwarding a box myself. So I put on my bonnet and started out on a begging expedition. I called on every drug store, grocery and saloon in the city and did not meet with one denial. I succeeded in raising delicacies of all kinds enough to fill a large box." That box shipped for Mound City the next day.
Matron at Camp Butler
In early January 1864 Sarah was offered the post of hospital matron at Springfield's Camp Butler. She wrote in her diary that she would accept if paid $50 a month. "They seemed to think that was high. I told them I thought I could do as much good in the army as a colonel and I ought to have as good wages." It appears that she settled on $25 per month, almost double the $13 pay of a private in the infantry. Late in the month she began her work, reporting "There are over 400 sick and wounded soldiers here in miserable condition. But with God's help I will make them more comfortable."
Sarah soon established a relationship with the Springfield Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society, which from the war's early days had provided supplies to Camp Butler hospitals. Her requests for food, hospital clothing, and other goods were met with a quick response. Three weeks after arriving at Camp Butler Sarah wrote with relish that she had informed Mary Livermore of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission that "I was confident that the state commission and the Ladies Aid society at Springfield would supply all the sanitary supplies necessary without the aid of the northwestern commission."
Even with enthusiastic aid from local sources Sarah's job was not an easy one. It involved regular loss of men she had come to know. An early indication of what she would face came in early February when she recorded, "Ten of our soldiers were buried today. They were taken from the dead house and put into a wagon. A band accompanied them playing a dead march. The wagon was drawn by four mules. That was the saddest sight I ever saw." In November she lamented that death during wartime was not like that during days of peace, having become almost commonplace: "How sad it seems to see no mourners at a funeral."
Other losses touched Sarah. She wrote on February 26, 1864 that there were "two soldier sick wives to take care of, a Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Shrum. The latter was in her confinement, a female child born, a very pretty little girl." The entries continued: February 27, "Mrs. Shrum worse"; February 28, "Mrs. Shrum died this morning"; March 1, "We have Mrs. Shrum's baby. Mrs Kellogg takes care of it"; March 2, "Mrs. Shrum's funeral took place today."
Life in Camp Butler's hospitals was never uneventful, and surprises were frequent. On June 26 "We were thrown into quite a confusion by having two hundred and twenty sick soldiers sent to our hospital from Sherman's army in Georgia." Even the daily grind involved heavy duty. In December 1864 Sarah was preparing a special "low diet" three times a day for 175 patients.
For Sarah even simple joys of springtime suffered by the war. She recorded in April 1864 that "The grass is green the birds singing. Still there is a melancholy that surrounds us."
Sarah's life at Camp Butler was not without pleasure. In March 1864 she made a request for garden tools, which were soon put to use in planting vegetables and flowers, and transplanting maple trees to decorate the grounds.
Perhaps the high point of Sarah's time at Camp Butler's hospitals was the 1864 celebration of Independence Day. In late June and early July boxes of evergreen cuttings arrived from friends in Ottawa. Sarah meanwhile occupied some of her time in making "ornaments." A Springfield newspaper reported that "even the weakest took an interest in the decoration of the wards... Our excellent matron and her associate ladies were determined to give the patients a treat that would resemble as much as possible their own dear homes... The walls were trellised with cedar and the branches of kindred shrubs, whilst the windows were decorated with fancy paper trimmings, and from the roof hung beautiful ornaments in different shapes, and the colors caused many a weak voice to cry out... 'Three cheers for the Red, White and Blue.'" On the morning of July 4 itself "the patients became impatient to get out; and as the morning was fine, they collected in groups, some talking of the days of their grandfathers, some of home, some of Vicksburg..." To top it all matron Gregg provided a special meal, "determined that the ornaments were not our only treats." The sentiment of all was "God bless the lady for this happy day!"
That sentiment- "God bless the lady" -echoed many others offered in praise of Sarah Gregg. Camp Butler commander James Heffernan celebrated her skill when he wrote in May 1864, asking "how could anything be a failure with you at the head of it?" A year later the superintendent of army hospitals in Springfield, A. B. Buck, declared in a testimonial that Gregg "has not only been faithful & efficient in an eminent degree but has by her uniform kindness, understanding & sympathy, for the suffering made many lasting friends among the unfortunate soldiers & won the respect & high esteem of all officers who have witnessed her untiring efforts."
The men who enjoyed Sarah's care were also generous in their praise. By late 1864 she was popularly called "Mother" by those in the hospital. In February 1865 Sarah recorded that patients in several wards had pooled funds to purchase "a nice photographic album," which was presented to her in a ceremony that made "a very happy day with me." A few months later W. W. Ebbers, a former patient, wrote to Sarah. In the letter he recalled his hospital days, repeatedly referring to her as "Mother," and closed by asking for her photograph.
The army bureaucracy was less effusive. One June 17, 1865, a letter arrived stating that "your contract, as Nurse, is hereby annulled, your services no longer being necessary..." On June 20 Sarah Gregg's war-related service ended. She received a final token of respect-a testimonial signed by 93 wounded warriors who had remained under her care.
Interested in learning more?
A transcript of Sarah Gregg's diary is in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. A study of the diary as a historical source is Kathleen S. Hanson and M. Patricia Donahue, "The Diary as Historical Evidence: The Case of Sarah Gallop Gregg," Nursing History Review 4 (1996): 169-86.
Help for the home front
In December 1863 residents in Springfield and Jacksonville, among other Illinois towns, collected and distributed stocks of food, clothing and, perhaps most important, firewood to needy families of men in the military service.
Early aid for soldiers’ families
In the early rush of patriotism after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 officials in many Illinois counties appropriated funds to assist "deserving" soldiers' families, whose main breadwinners served in the military. In April and May alone counties offering such aid included Winnebago ($10,000), La Salle ($10,000), Whiteside ($20,000), Will ($5,000), Grundy, Peoria, Knox, and Jasper. The city of Pekin (Tazewell County) made $1,000 available to the families of hometown boys.
When it became clear in 1861 that the war would last more than a few months and involve more than short-term hardship for men who had entered the U.S. army and navy, local officials began to really grapple with the issue of financial help for military families. The private soldier's pay of $13 per month was, for most, a severe cut in income. Some extended their early policies of aid. In September 1861 Will County appropriated more money, helping families in need with monthly payments of $1.25 to female heads of families and 50c per child under twelve years. At the same time Jasper County officials rescinded their earlier plan of special aid, instead calling on the needy to seek help through the state's prewar laws on poor relief.
A long slog
A full year later, in the fall of 1862, family aid grew as a topic of concern and argument among Illinois citizens. Poor military pay (it was not until 1864 that privates received a raise to $16 per month) and high wartime inflation brought many families to the point of destitution. Counties differed as to the proper source of assistance-local government or the private sector. Several continued their earlier efforts, though they were seen by some as being entirely inadequate. A citizen of Geneseo (Henry County) complained in a public letter that a mother and five children received only $6 per month in aid. "Is this," he asked, "the feast their families were invited to last summer, when you and I were urging the husband and father of these families to enlist in the Union army?"
At about the same time the McDonough county board called on town meetings to discuss the matter. The result was reported as 113 in support of an aid appropriation, 918 opposed. Citizens opted for aid to soldiers' families through private donations. A county historian wrote in 1878 that although it was "impossible to get the county to do anything in an official way for the relief of soldiers' families, many, as private citizens, thought it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to render all the aid in their power. During the entire four years of war, we think but little actual suffering was experienced by any at home on account of the absence of their natural protectors...." McDonough County was hardly alone in making that choice. An official postwar report indicated that only 31 of Illinois' 102 counties provided any public funds to assist needy military families.
Private relief became, in many towns, the special mission of newly formed organizations such as Springfield's Ladies' Loyal League. "In looking around for a field of operations," the group announced, "one opened to us at the very outset. In our midst were many families of those who, having patriotically offered themselves upon the altar of their country, had been compelled to leave those dependent upon them, illy provided to carry on 'the battle of life'...." In June 1864 the ladies proudly reported that about 75 families had been aided and called for continuing help from the public and prayed "May it be said of each of us, 'She has done what she could.'"
Springfield saw perhaps its largest single distribution of aid to soldiers' families in December 1863. At Thanksgiving a call went out to the city's ladies to donate any "second-hand clothing, such as coats, vests, pants, shirts, dresses, etc., which can be worked up for children's wear.... It will not do for our citizens who have food and raiment and a shelter, to fold their arms and say that the city may take care of its poor. We owe a duty, as individuals, to the families of those men who have left all that we hold dear to fight the battles of our country...." The local paper soon called upon the city's commercial and financial leaders to take part as well, predicting that "every merchant, banker, tradesman and dealer, who can carry a bundle or package, shall appear at the Rotunda of the State House... with a huge load of dry goods, groceries, or the equivalent in legal tender."
The most important donations were of firewood, a particularly expensive commodity that winter. Springfield's efforts along that line, it seems, were spurred along by the example of Jacksonville residents, who had donated to families in their town 160 wagonloads. By December 14 over 93 loads of firewood had been received at the yard of the state capitol. Local farmers were especially praised for their efforts given the terrible conditions of the roads, and the local press published a roster of those who made donations to the good cause.
Through to the end
Efforts to aid soldiers' families, whether through the effort of local government or private action, continued to war's end. Strawberry parties and other entertainments raised cash. More ceremonial "processions" brought donated firewood to heat homes. More calls were made for government action. A Pike County newspaper commented that while private efforts were noble the amounts raised "cannot be relied on as a permanent means of relief" and called for the levying of a county tax. At the same time Governor Yates called for a statewide tax that would touch all residents of Illinois (including-perhaps especially- those who did not support the war effort) to fund family relief efforts. No action was taken. Private action continued to fill the gap, even where county funds assisted soldiers' families. Among others, Springfield's Loyal League held socials in each of the city's ward to the end of 1865. Through the early months of the peace the imperative remained: "Let all resolve to do something to gladden the hearts of soldiers' families, as some slight expression of their gratitude to the men who have periled their lives in defence of the Union."
Interested in learning more?
The postwar report showing the amounts paid by counties and towns to aid needy soldiers’ families can be found on pages 198-209 at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433006977767 .
"One Day for the Gallant Dead"
On November 19, 1863, thousands gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate the Soldiers' National Cemetery. Illinois played what was, in a sense, an outsized role in the creation of what became one of the most famous cemeteries in America.
A cemetery is planned
On August 1, 1863, David Wills, acting for Pennsylvania governor Andrew G. Curtin, wrote to governors of states represented in the fighting at Gettysburg (including Richard Yates of Illinois) to encourage their cooperation in creating a cemetery for the battle’s loyal dead. Pennsylvania had purchased land near the center of the battlefield and hoped to work quickly "as the bodies of our soldiers are, in many cases, so exposed as to require prompt attention."
Preliminary work moved quickly. Plans were developed for landscaping the grounds, interring the dead in lots laid out state-by-state, permanently marking the graves, and creating a
"suitable monument" honoring the dead. The costs were to be assessed to the individual states based upon population as indicated by their representation in Congress. Illinois was the fourth most populous of the states honoring the dead at Gettysburg.
The cemetery is dedicated
Dedication ceremonies of the new burial ground were set for November 19, 1863. Newspapers throughout the North reported on the preparations, including the announcement that the famed Edward Everett was to make the main address, to be followed by President Lincoln with a few short remarks. Governor Yates named Clark E. Carr of Galesburg and William L. Church of Chicago to represent Illinois at the ceremonies.
Two days before the ceremonies Governor Yates received a telegram from Ward H. Lamon, an Illinois attorney, friend of the president, and the designated marshal of the day for the Gettysburg ceremonies. The message, a Springfield newspaper reported, asked "that all flags be displayed on that day at half mast." The editor, asking "One Day for the Gallant Dead," called for "the suggestion [to] be regarded throughout this State, out of respect to the gallant dead." Newspapers in Springfield and Jacksonville later proudly reported the participation of their citizens.
Other Illinois towns "participated" in other ways. Several newspapers published the poem "
The Dead on the Field of Gettysburg" on the day of the dedication or in their reports of the event. The La Salle County Soldiers' Monument Association chose the day of the Gettysburg cemetery dedication to hold a public meeting promoting interest in creating a memorial to the county's war dead.
Illinois takes a hand
Illinois could make no real contribution to the cemetery project until early 1865, when the legislature met for the first time since before the battle at Gettysburg. In his last message to the General Assembly before leaving office Governor Yates in January outlined the story of the cemetery's creation and his cooperation with the project, though "Without express authority" to do so. He then urged members to support the appropriation necessary to cover Illinois' portion of the cost.
Yates's request was supported by commissioners Carr and Church, who appealed to state pride by reminding lawmakers that Illinois' "gallant sons were the first to meet the advancing rebel invaders...whence those invaders were driven back in dismay and confusion."
The legislature responded favorably. On February 16, 1865, the new governor, Richard J. Oglesby, approved a bill appropriating $3,000 to pay Illinois' assessment of the cemetery's startup costs and directing him to name a commissioner to represent Illinois as needed while the project continued. A further appropriation was required in 1867. Under the system of apportionment by population size Illinois, with only six burials in the new cemetery, contributed $11,774.84 toward the cost of its creation.
Some Illinois reaction to "a new birth of freedom"
Within a matter of days of the cemetery dedication President Lincoln's short speech appeared in full in city and small-town newspapers throughout the North. Where any editorial comment appeared the reception was largely predictable-Republicans reported a masterpiece while much of the Democratic opposition saw a very lackluster production.
Some of the opposition press saw something downright dangerous. The Springfield Illinois State Register, one of Illinois' most important Democratic papers, complained of the speech as a Republican attempt to "thrust their revolutionary dogmas [including emancipation] down the throats of thousands of people who had assembled for the purpose of doing honor to the gallant dead."
Lincoln, the Register complained, began his address with the "political falsehood" that "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
"If the above extract means anything at all," the writer charged, "it is that this nation was created to secure the liberty of the negro as well as of the white race, and dedicated to the proposition that all men, white and black, were placed, or to be placed, upon terms of equality. That is what Mr. Lincoln means to say, and nothing else. And when he uttered the words he knew he was falsifying history..." The president could declare a new birth of freedom, but many in the loyal states would require a great deal of selling before possibly accepting the idea.
Interested in learning more?
A fine full account of the development of the Gettysburg as a site of American memory is Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (2003). A brief history of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery can be found at http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Pennsylvania/Gettysburg_National_Cemetery.html .
Sanitary fairs in Illinois
The North-Western Soldiers' Fair, first of the so-called sanitary fairs, welcomed Chicagoans in October 1863. Two-and-a-half years into the war the army suffered a chronic need of special foods, clothing, and medical supplies in great amounts. Mrs. A. H. Hoge and Mary Livermore conceived the idea of a great fair to fill the treasury of the Northwest Sanitary Commission. They and their associates were successful beyond all expectation, taking in about $78,000 beyond expenses, this at a time when privates in the army were paid $13 per month. The Chicagoans' efforts set the pattern for sanitary fairs large and small across Illinois and the North. Almost numberless festivals in Illinois raised tens of thousands of dollars while providing communities with entertainment and a feeling of patriotic action.
Small-town Illinois fairs shared the motivation that inspired the Chicago event. A call to the public at Pekin (Tazewell County) was typical: "The hospitals made vacant by death....are speedily refilled with new faces which disease and exposure have rendered pallid, and emaciated forms shattered by a gun-shot or shell. I tell you my friends we must continue to pour down our sanitary supplies for those bleeding, suffering soldiers of our country....Who has not some father, brother, or beloved friend in our army? Then awake and think. What can you do? Your hands, however tiny, can work up some little items which will either do to send to our soldier boys or will bring money at our soldier's fair."
Overwhelmingly managed by women, fair committees sought donations of cash and goods that could be sold for money. Merchants gave items ranging from farm equipment to clothing and household goods, farmers sent produce, and women created practical items as well as decorative fancy handwork. The donated items then stood for sale at set price, by raffle, or at open auction. Many donations brought far more at auction or raffle than their commercial value.
The 1863 Chicago fair had been able to obtain and display dozens of tattered battle flags of Union regiments as well as captured Confederate flags. Some small local fairs featured a flag carried by local men; almost all of them exhibited at least a few items sent home from the battlefields of the South.
Some of the most special donations for sale came from President Lincoln. The Chicago fair received (with some reluctance on the president's part) and sold his manuscript of the Final Emancipation Proclamation, which brought $3,000. High-quality copies were soon produced and sold, again to the benefit of soldier relief efforts. Managers in Pekin sold autographed photos of President Lincoln. Mary L. Westerman, an officer of the local aid society, had twice written to the White House asking that the president donate an item for the good cause. On October 10 presidential secretary John Hay sent the persistent lady six signed photos.
Village and town fairs brought in tens of thousands of dollars during 1864 and early 1865. The Southern Illinois Union Sanitary Fair, held in Sparta (Randolph County), raised $1,500. During the fair at Loami (Sangamon County) the Baptist church "was beautifully decorated with pictures and other works of art, tastefully ornamented with evergreens." The pews had been removed to make space for tables for the sales bazaar. A special feature was a marble sculpture called the "Lincoln grip," "representing a hand tightly grasping a Copperhead snake with drooping head, life being extinct." Gatherings at Elmwood (Peoria County), Jacksonville (Morgan County), Ottawa (La Salle County), Galesburg (Knox County), Quincy (Adams County), and scores of other towns and villages brought neighbors together to enjoy themselves and help a good cause.
The Illinois State Sanitary Fair at Decatur
Central Illinois women managed a large sanitary fair to be held in conjunction with the state agricultural fair in Decatur (Macon County) on September 12-17. It was hoped that the fair "will reach more generally all classes of citizens than any yet devised. It will occur at the great gala season of our agricultural population, when the labors of the tiller of the soil have been crowned with the fruits of the year."
Booths in the bazaar department were open to any society wishing them. A kind of official uniform for salespersons was adopted and women were requested "to wear a flag apron of red and white stripes, with shield-shaped waist of blue, ornamented with stars. These aprons can be purchased of the Decatur Aid Society at the Bazaar...." Men involved in running departments wore a red, white, and blue rosette. Donations of all kinds poured in. The Springfield Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society suspended other work in order to devote its efforts to the fair, operating a restaurant which served donated foods. It appears that a female scam artist sought cash donations by claiming a connection to the fair.
The fair building held several booths. One refreshment stand run by Champaign County women—called the "Champaign booth"—led "leading temperance folks to outrage until their idea is corrected." A popular display consisted of "the old war-worn battle flags of our glorious regiments from the field. These glorious old banners, representing the trials ... the life-blood of our glorious boys, freely given and poured out for their country, with what interest they are gazed upon and how many tears wet the cheeks of the gazers as they think of husbands, sons, fathers and brothers who died beneath their folds."
Women worked at the booths and food stands to the point of exhaustion. Camp Butler hospital matron Sarah Gregg reported that on one day 20,000 people visited the fair, over 2,400 of whom took meals from the ladies. A few days later she wrote in her diary: "Am very tired. Worked too hard at the sanitary fair at Decatur. We ladies were obliged to sleep on straw while at the fair for one week and on our feet all day waiting on tables." Their efforts were not in vain—the fair realized over $30,000.
During the war much of public life became to some degree political. Illinois sanitary fairs were not immune. It was remembered that Mrs. Westerman and "several of the Democratic ladies of the committee" managing the Pekin fair intended that the proceeds be used to purchase hospital clothing and medicine. Another group within the society urged that the funds be given to buy "tracts and Testaments, thinking... the presentation of a tract... would be more consoling to the dying soldiers than a soft bed and healing medicine." Mrs. Westerman quickly hired an attorney to seek an injunction against spending of the money for tracts. She made her point—local businessmen soon "insisted" that the money be spent on hospital supplies.
The state sanitary fair at Decatur also could not escape politics. Democratic newspapers charged that no prominent representatives of the party had been invited to have any role in the fair, and that "the event was an Abolition institution; designed by Abolitionists, controlled by Abolitionists, managed throughout by a disgracefully partizan manner, and in no sense worthy of the patronage of any Democrat. It was... carried through not for the benefit of the soldiers, but to make capital for the Abolition State ticket" in the November 1864 elections. "There was not a democrat present whose feelings were not outraged by this insulting and indecent appeal for votes."
Another Chicago fair
Another huge Chicago sanitary fair held in May 1865
largely closed the book on such gatherings in Illinois. Planning began months in advance of the event, encouraged by a feeling that military victory finally was within reach. Those hopes were realized by the surrender of the major armies of the Confederacy in April. The murder of President Lincoln and the memorial observances that fallowed cast a pall over Illinois and most of its citizens. By the fair's opening in late May spirits had begun to revive, spurred in part by the return of at least some troops to their homes in Illinois and other Midwestern states. Once again tattered flags, many stained with the blood of those who carried them, bore testimony to the losses of the last four years. Once again thousands flocked to eat a meal prepared in an "old fashioned" kitchen, to buy an attractive piece of a lady's handwork.
Interested in learning more?
The use of special events to raise funds for charitable purposes, both before and during the war, is discussed in Beverly Gordon, Bazaars and Fair Ladies: the History of the American Fundraising Fair (1998). A contemporary account of the Chicago fair of 1863 which includes detailed lists of donations is History of the North-western Soldiers' Fair (1864) found at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044015590946 .
For Chicago see also Christopher J. Schnell, "Mary Livermore and the Great Northwestern Fair," Chicago History 4 (1975): 34-43. The activities of local fairs were often reported in Illinois newspapers, mention of others can be found in early county histories. The recollection of Jane Johns, a leading manager of the Decatur fair of 1864, is in Jane Martin Johns, Personal Recollections of Early Decatur, Abraham Lincoln, Richard J. Oglesby and the Civil War (1912), found at http://www.archive.org/details/personalrecollec00john .
A digital version of the Missouri History Museum's exhibition on the state's role in the Civil War, which contained many artifacts relating to the 1864 Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair held in St. Louis, is found at http://civilwarmo.org .
Hezekiah Ford Douglas: Black abolitionist and soldier
During the spring of 1863 U.S. Army private Hezekiah Ford Douglas made a great transition, winning promotion as officer in a newly-organizing black regiment. It was but the latest achievement in a young life devoted to antislavery activity.
Early life and career
H. Ford Douglas, as he referred to himself, was born in Virginia in 1831 to a slave named Mary. His father, William Douglas, was a white man. Escaping slavery in 1846, he settled in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon became active in the African American community there. By his early twenties Douglas had played a role in the Ohio colored convention movement and established himself as a powerful advocate of African American emigration from the United States to free territory in Canada, then under the government of Great Britain. This came from his view that American blacks should not wait for change that might not come.
Activities in 1850s Illinois
In 1854 Douglas moved to Chicago, where he connected himself with the Provincial Freeman, a black newspaper published in Ontario, Canada. His efforts at education had created a writer and speaker of real power. He periodically served the newspaper as an editor, producing powerful editorials condemning any nation that would allow human slavery. At other times Douglas travelled in the northern United States to build self-consciousness among blacks and to press white Americans to work for equal rights. A man reporting on a meeting near Chicago wrote that "Mr. Ford Douglass, is one of our best young men in every way."
During 1856 Douglas promoted the meeting of a convention of Illinois African Americans to protest against the state's notorious Black Laws. When delegates met in Alton that November he headed the committee that developed a "Declaration of Sentiment," which denounced "the cruel prejudice we are compelled to suffer in this our 'native land,' as dear to us as it is to white men... the blood-bought inheritance of our ancestors." During the meeting he spoke against the acceptance of slavery anywhere in the United States-evil was evil no matter where it existed.
Douglas's view led him in 1858 to condemn U.S. Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln as being no more antislavery than the incumbent, Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln accepted the existence of slavery in old states, opposing only its expansion. H. Ford encountered Lincoln during the senatorial campaign, challenging him to sign a petition to the Illinois legislature demanding repeal of the Black Laws. Lincoln refused, a response that Douglas recalled angrily in a public address during Lincoln's candidacy for the presidency in 1860.
Douglas spoke widely in New England in 1860. At the opening of the Civil War he visited Missouri to urge enslaved blacks to seek freedom.
In July 1862 H. Ford Douglas enlisted for service in the 95th Illinois Infantry Regiment, raised in the strongly antislavery counties of Boone and McHenry, which he had visited during the 1850s. While the U.S. government had begun to move toward accepting black men for service, it was routinely expected that the service would take place in segregated units. Douglas's boldness in signing documents to serve in a white outfit was startling. More so was the willingness of white officials to accept into the regiment a man well known to be an ex-slave and a radical abolitionist.
It appears that Douglas took full part in the life of his outfit. When "comrade" Horace C. Hakes died Douglas was named member of a committee that wrote resolutions of condolence to be sent to the Hakes family. In January 1863 he wrote to the editor of the Belvidere Standard, reporting on the regiment's movements in the earliest days of the Vicksburg campaign, confident that the rebellion and slavery would be crushed.
At the same time Douglas kept in contact with the African American press. Seven days after the signing of the final Emancipation Proclamation he wrote to Frederick Douglass, explaining his reasons for joining a white regiment:
"The slaves are free! How can I write these precious words?... In anticipation of this result I enlisted six Months ago in order to be better prepared to play my part in the great drama of the Negro's redemption. I wanted its drill, it practical details for mere theory does not make a good soldier. I have learned something of war for I have seen war in its brightest as well as its bloodiest phase and yet I have nothing to regret."
In February 1863 he again wrote to Belvidere, hailing the beginning efforts to raise units of black troops, and clearly hoping to play a part. He reported that thousands of African Americans in the area of Lake Providence, Louisiana, could be turned into "the toughest soldiers the world has ever seen," ending with the declaration that "it is the wrath of the negro, his determination to remain on the soil enriched by the blood and tears of his race for six generations, that makes liberty and union possible."
Douglas wrote publicly of his satisfaction with service and the trend of the war. At least one surviving private letter indicates that, not unexpectedly, he felt the sting of racism from fellow soldiers:
".... as it is now I am respected by my own Regiment and treated kindly by those who know me... still there are those in other Regiments with whom I come in contact who have no regard for my feeling simply because I have the hated blood coursing in my veins. My position therefore... is anything but agreeable."
Even in August 1862 as Douglas trained in Illinois as an infantry private prominent leaders in Boone County submitted a petition with hundreds of signatures to state officials asking that "the eloquent & patriotic H. Ford Douglas of Belvidere" be allowed to raise and organize a regiment of Illinois African Americans. By April 1863, though not mustered out of the 95th Illinois, Douglas had been commissioned as an officer in the 9th Louisiana Infantry of African Descent. He served as an officer in other black units until July 1865, ending his military life as captain commanding a battery of artillery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Interested in learning more?
Aspects of Douglas's life have been studied in scholarly articles. A study of Douglas's full life is Robert L. Harris Jr., "H. Ford Douglas: Afro-American Antislavery Emigrationist," Journal of Negro History 62:3 (July 1977): 217-34. A discussion that covers Douglas's activities and differences with Lincoln during the late 1850s is Matthew Norman, "The Other Lincoln-Douglas Debate: The Race Issue in a Comparative Contrast," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 31:1 (Winter 2010): 1-21, which can be found at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/p/pod/dod-idx/other-lincoln-douglas-debate-the-race-issue-in-a-comparative.pdf?c=jala;idno=2629860.0031.103 .
Illinois agriculture during the war
In the first paragraph of each of his annual messages to Congress (today known as the State of the Union address), Abraham Lincoln noted with thanks that the nation had been blessed with health and "abundant harvests." During the Civil War years, as today, Illinois played a major role
in American agriculture.
Before the war
The years before the 1861 firing on Fort Sumter saw unusually bountiful crops in Illinois. Agricultural statistics were not gathered as they are today, but we know that the years 1859 to 1861 saw huge harvests of the state’s main crops—corn, wheat, and oats. Large amounts were shipped to Europe, portions of which suffered poor harvests. Even with the foreign demand, successful harvests resulted in low prices. It was reported in 1861 that in some places farmers used their corn as fuel rather than trying to sell it in the flooded market.
Low grain prices, made worse by high shipping costs, led many farmers to purchase livestock and use their low-value crop as feed. Livestock raising grew quickly. It was estimated that in 1860 Chicago packing houses handled 80% more animals than they had the previous year.
Change brought by war
The closing of the Mississippi River by Confederate forces forced southern Illinoisans to shift their market. Grains and animals that for years had flowed downriver to feed the lower Mississippi Valley or be shipped from New Orleans now joined the estimated 75% of Illinois farm products that moved east via the Great Lakes through Chicago or, more frequently, by railroad.
The beginning of the war also began a shift in crop growing across the state, due in part to the political events and to the already problematic low crop prices. Southern Illinois began to grow less corn and more cotton, tobacco, and fruit. Cotton, which had been raised in small amounts, grew in profitability as supplies from the South were cut off. In 1862 the Illinois Central Railroad moved 1,200 pounds of cotton from southern Illinois. By 1865 the amount had reached 1.65 million pounds. As the southern counties grew less corn and more wheat, many central and northern Illinois farmers did the opposite, raising more corn to be used in fattening livestock for shipment to the packinghouses of Chicago.
At the same time the raising of sheep was said to have expanded "more than any other major agricultural activity." Demand for wool had grown in part to replace the loss of southern cotton used in manufacturing cloth. The uniforms, blankets, stockings, and many other clothing items worn by Union soldiers and sailors were largely made with wool, another reason for increased demand. Illinois responded to rising wool prices by raising more sheep, the number growing from 731,000 in 1861 to 2,100,000 in 1865. That production of wool resulted in some acreage being returned to pasture from cultivation.
The nature of farm labor also changed between 1861 and 1865. The relatively small number of men called to the military in the early days of the war seems to have had little effect on Illinois farming. But the seemingly unending calls for new troops that began in 1862, bringing tens of thousands of men into the armed forces, began to seriously disrupt farm activity. Some of the slack was taken up by hiring newly-arrived immigrants or African Americans who had come to Illinois seeking escape from war and slavery.
The labor shortage also brought large numbers of women into farm management and field work, filling the places of husbands, fathers, and brothers in the service. In many cultural groups women traditionally had not worked in the fields. The enlistment of tens of thousands of farm men into the armed services led more and more women into new kinds of work. The Galena Weekly Northwestern reported that in 1862 "where the men volunteering for the war left a scarcity of outdoor assistance on the farms, women who are women, turned out and assisted in gathering the crops." Women in a neighborhood sometimes came together to harvest the whole crop of friends whose husbands were in the service. In 1863 some women left their "in-door employments" to work in fields for pay of one dollar per day.
A growing number of farm machines helped to dull the impact of men leaving for the battlefield. Sales were reported to have tripled between 1861 and 1864. In 1864 U.S. manufacturers produced about 70,000 machines—about 20% of them by Illinois firms. Planters and tilling equipment also saw greater and greater use. Leaders of Illinois state and county agricultural societies urged their fellows to greater use of machines in order to maintain production using less human labor. The state agricultural society held field trials of all kinds of machines at Dixon and Decatur. A trial scheduled for Peoria in 1862 had to be cancelled when the military took over the local fairgrounds to establish a training camp.
Even the growing use of machinery had its limits. It was recalled that in Whiteside County in 1864 "it was with difficulty that the crops were gathered." The amount of cultivated land in Illinois actually fell from 7.863 million acres in 1861 to 7.483 million in 1864. A correspondent from Christian County wrote that the reduction by 9,000 acres in his county "exhibits the drain of the great war upon the labor of the county... many acres, formerly in cultivation, must have been turned to meadow and pasture."
Inflation was a fact of life in wartime Illinois. Prices rose in real terms, even as the value of paper money rose and fell with the fortunes of the nation’s military effort. Inflation seriously devalued the earning power of many citizens, especially the families of soldiers earning $16 per month. Rising prices, however, did work to the benefit of at least some farmers, who used devalued paper dollars to pay back old debts due on land or machinery. One unhappy creditor in Illinois reported that farmers in his neighborhood were using the opportunity to pay debts "without mercy."
Change brought by peace
By all appearances Illinois farms on the whole did well during the war years, in spite of bumps along the way. The coming of peace would see some troubles as well. Crop prices—especially those for wheat—fell due to expanded planting in newly opened land west of the Mississippi and the reintegration of the South into markets. Feeding of livestock remained strong, but sheep growing declined quickly when wool prices fell due to a decrease in demand and an increase in worldwide wool supplies. Inflation fell, trapping some producers who had purchased land or machinery when the value of the paper dollar was low.
Interested in learning more?
Illinois newspapers often reported on local agricultural conditions. Important (and interesting) information about Illinois, including county-by-county reports, can be found in John P. Reynolds, ed., Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society vol. 5 (1861-64) and vol. 6 (1865-66), online at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015073297049 and http://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015073297031 .
An important look at U.S. agriculture—North and South—during the period is Paul W. Gates, Agriculture and the Civil War (1965). A large—though not complete—war-years file of the Chicago-based Prairie Farmer can be found at the Google Books website.
Illinois at the 'burgs
In early July 1863 Illinoisans joined others in the loyal North in celebrating major military victories at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and Vicksburg, Mississippi. A small number of Illinois units saw important service at Gettysburg, while troops from the Sucker State made up as much as one-third of the army with which Ulysses S. Grant captured the crucial Confederate bastion on the Mississippi River.
Hot work in Pennsylvania
Three Illinois regiments took part in the battle at Gettysburg-the Eighty-Second Infantry, and the Eighth and Twelfth Cavalries. In spite of this relatively small representation, Illinoisans are thought to have fired some of the first and last shots of the battle.
On the morning of July 1, 1863, the two Illinois cavalry regiments performed picket duty outside of Gettysburg, watching for movement by Confederate troops known to be in the area. Shortly after returning from the line, Lieut. Marcellus Jones of the Eighth was called back to the post. On arrival he could see dust in the distance, raised by marching Confederates. Jones later recalled asking a trooper for the use of his carbine saying: "Give me the honor of opening the ball." He then aimed and fired at a mounted officer-the first shot, so Jones claimed, of the battle of Gettysburg.
The Eighth and the Twelfth acquitted themselves well in the sharp fighting that followed, as the cavalry led by Major General John Buford of Rock Island sought to prevent large concentrations of Confederates from capturing the important crossroads town until Federal infantry could arrive. The Illinois regiments and their comrades withdrew following a hard day's fight, during which Union troops were driven through Gettysburg and into defensive positions south of town.
The Eighty-second Illinois Infantry, composed almost completely of Germans and Scandinavians, was part of the force that hurried to Gettysburg to relieve Buford's hard-pressed cavalry. Marching north through town, the Eighty-second and their comrades were soon attempting to defend a poorly chosen position against a force about twice their size. At about 3:30 P.M. the arrival of new rebel troops led to the collapse of the Federal line and the retreat of the Eleventh Corps, including the Eighty-second, to new positions at Cemetery Hill. There they remained through the rest of the battle.
On the afternoon of July 3, following the repulse of the famed "Pickett's Charge," Federal cavalry led by newly-appointed Brigadier General Elon J. Farnsworth of Illinois charged Confederate positions. The assault ordered by Farnsworth's superior, Major General Judson Kilpatrick, was almost certainly doomed to failure. The Confederate position could be reached only by crossing ground crisscrossed by stone fences and spotted by timber. Farnsworth led the charge under protest, believing it a futile move. He was right. He soon lay dead, to be celebrated by Chicago newspapers as a martyr to the Union cause.
A long campaign on the Mississippi
The same days that fighting took place in southern Pennsylvania saw the culmination of Federal efforts to capture Vicksburg, the Confederate strongpoint on the Mississippi River. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, a resident of Galena, Illinois, opened operations to capture Vicksburg in December 1862. Grant's command included dozens of Illinois regiments, as well as several commanders at the corps and division level.
The six-month campaign delays and some actual reverses, but Grant and his army persevered. Of special concern were the assaults mounted on city's defenses on May 19 and May 22, 1863. The attack on May 22 alone resulted in the loss of over 900 Illinois men killed, wounded, or missing. Ten days later the steamer City of Alton, chartered by Illinois Governor Richard Yates, left St. Louis for Vicksburg carrying a cargo of donated food and hospital goods, and a group of about twenty-five volunteer nurses from Chicago, Springfield, Bloomington, Peoria, Rock Island, Jacksonville, Quincy, and other towns.
On July 4, about twenty-four hours after the bloody repulse of Robert E. Lee's final attack at Gettysburg, Grant received the surrender of the Mississippi River citadel. As President Lincoln happily remarked to an old Springfield friend in August, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."
Celebrating the victories
News of the fighting at Gettysburg reached Illinois even as the battle continued, thanks to established telegraph lines linking Chicago with Philadelphia and other population centers near the scene. On July 3 the Chicago Tribune published dispatches outlining the two previous days' fighting, and the morning edition on July 4 contained a report issued just hours before Pickett's charge was launched. Tidings of Vicksburg's July 4 surrender took longer to reach Illinois, not appearing until July 8.
The news of victory was like a tonic for Unionists after months of stalemate and defeat. Some Illinoisans were at first skeptical, remembering occasions when early reports of Union success turned out to be exaggerated if not absolutely wrong. Springfield's Democratic Illinois State Register commented that the public "had been so repeatedly gulled with the like reports, frequently sent out under the sanction of official authority... that they were indisposed to credit the fact... We like to rejoice with those that rejoice, but it does not help the Union cause to go into spasms of ecstacy over reports of victories that were never achieved."
Even the dual victories could not calm the often bitter differences between the political parties, and it looked as if Democrats and Republicans would hold separate gatherings to laud the armies and their commanders. In the end, however, a single celebration was called to meet at the courthouse in Springfield.
"Right gloriously have our armies celebrated the eighty-eighth anniversary of our country's independence." The Register described the "grand Union demonstration":
"The whole of Capitol Square was illuminated by bon fires; the stars and stripes were displayed from public buildings and residences, lights gleamed from hundreds of windows, and variegated lanterns and transparencies... present[ed] a fairy like scene..."
Illinoisans were especially proud of their sons and brothers at Vicksburg, and of their leader. At the Springfield celebration the adjutant general's office displayed a four-sided transparency that celebrated Grant, who had been an employee during the war's earliest days. The mottoes proudly outlined his wartime career: "Capt. U. S. Grant, Drill-master, Camp Yates;" "Col. U. S. Grant, 21st Regiment Illinois Volunteers"; "Brig,. Gen. U. S. Grant, Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson"; "Major General U. S. Grant, Shiloh, Corinth, Hatchie, Iuka, and Vicksburg."
Interested in learning more?
The story of Jones's first-shot claim and its detractors is found in David Petruzzi, "Battle of Gettysburg: Who Really Fired the First Shot?" America’s Civil War (2006), online at http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-gettysburg-who-really-fired-the-first-shot.htm . For more on the 82nd Illinois Infantry in the battle see Eric Benjaminson, "A Regiment of Immigrants: The 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and the Letters of Captain Rudolph Mueller," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94:2 (Summer 2001). The life and military career of Elon J. Farnsworth are outlined online at: http://petruzzi.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/faded-hoofbeats-elon-j-farnsworth/
For an overall view of the involvement of Illinois troops in the extended Vicksburg campaign see Victor Hicken, Illinois in the Civil War, Chapter 6. The Illinois-Vicksburg Military Park Commission report, Illinois at Vicksburg (digital format:
http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/isl7/id/3842 ) contains unit-by-unit information as well as a roster of Illinois troops who participated in the campaign.
Dealing with "disloyal" newspapers in Illinois
Some early black troops from Illinois
On June 1, 1863, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Department of the Ohio which included Illinois, ordered the Chicago Times to be "suppressed" for the "repeated expression of disloyal and incendiary sentiments." In part because of the personal intervention of President Lincoln in revoking the suspension, the Times incident is perhaps the most famous of many actions taken by the government and by private citizens against Illinois newspapers deemed to be "disloyal" during the Civil War. It was far from the only one, however.
Government action against newspapers
The closing of the Chicago Times was not the first move to quiet newspapers thought by some to be pro-Confederate in their sympathies and therefore dangerous to the Union cause. Many Democratic editors stood with Senator Stephen A. Douglas in declaring support for the Lincoln administration in its effort to preserve the Union. Some of these editors became less enthusiastic as the war ground on and emancipation and civil liberties became hot issues. Some newspapers criticized the Republican administration and its policies from the first news of Fort Sumter.
Perhaps the first Illinois paper to feel a backlash against an antiwar editorial policy was the German-language Peoria Demokrat, described by its Republican rival, the Transcript, as "an acknowledged enemy to the Government, and an open sympathizer with the secessionists." In October 1861 the Demokrat was banned by the postmaster general from the U.S. mail, crippling its circulation.
The Peoria paper was one of a dozen northern newspapers kept out of the mail because of their alleged anti-Union sentiments. Called by a Congressional committee to explain his action in such cases, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair responded that freedom of the press did not include license "to thwart the efforts made to preserve the integrity of the Union." While his department did not claim power to suppress disloyal publications outright, "it could not be called upon to give them circulation."
Military officers sometimes followed the postmaster general's logic. While not actually closing a newspaper an officer could prevent a paper's circulation by banning it from his jurisdiction. Such was the case with the Quincy Herald, which in July 1862 was forbidden circulation in northeastern Missouri. The action was approved enthusiastically by over 40 "loyal residents" of Hannibal who condemned the Herald for its "disloyal teachings."
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Newbold, commanding in Jonesboro, Illinois, apparently did not share the distinction between banning a newspaper from circulation and suspending publication completely. On May 15, 1863, he closed the office of the Jonesboro Gazette, considering it "wholly unfit for circulation in this already disaffected portion of the state." The paper did not publish again until March 1864.
In other cases newspapers were closed due to the arrest (actual or threatened) of their editors. On August 8, 1862, during a crucial period of recruiting new volunteers for military service, editors Michael Mehaffy and Frank O'Dell of the Paris Democratic Standard were arrested by authority of the War Department, charged with discouraging enlistments. The Standard's Republican rival, the Beacon, reported that a crowd of about 200 gathered at the courthouse, leading to "intense excitement." U.S. marshal Phillips warned that he could call "any number of armed men by the click of the telegraph.... This seemed to have a very sedative influence...." The Democratic Standard offices remained closed and the two editors were sent to Washington's Old Capitol Prison.
Citizens and soldiers take part
On August 22, 1862, private citizens played the major role in silencing a "disloyal" press. From the war's first weeks many in Bloomington had complained of editorials in the Times that blamed extremist Republicans for the coming of war, for incompetence in fighting it, and charged the Lincoln Administration with gross violations of the Constitution. The rival newspaper, the Republican Pantagraph, refuted the charges and labeled the editors of the Times as traitors. By September 1861 a public meeting at the courthouse drafted resolutions calling on the Times to close down voluntarily.
The two newspapers continued the war of words well into 1862. The final storm broke on August 20. A squad of soldiers "escorted" the editors of the Times to the courthouse where they were forced to swear an oath of allegiance. When one of the men soon remarked that a forced oath was not binding, "a rush was made upon the Times office, the contents thrown in the street and burned." The Pantagraph, saddened by the violence, expressed hope that "the excitement of the moment has died away, and that no other demonstrations of a violent character will be made." Further violence was not necessary—the Times did not publish again.
On occasion soldiers took a lead in closing newspapers without orders from superior officers. On August 30, 1863, soldiers in search of deserters raided the office of the Olney Herald, scattering its type. It was reported that Brigadier General Jacob Ammen, in command of the troops, put the soldiers under arrest and fined them for their action. Owners of the German-language Belleville Volksblatt found no such justice. On May 14, 1864, the office was attacked and the press and types destroyed by members of the 9th Illinois Infantry. It was the second time the paper had been attacked for its anti-Lincoln Administration views. In March 1863 civilians had raided the shop, smashing windows and scattering the type.
The most spectacular closing of a paper by soldiers took place during the presidential campaign of 1864 when some members (said to be Lincoln supporters) of the 22nd Illinois Infantry destroyed the office of the Chester Picket Guard. The heightened tension caused by the presidential contest led the Alton Democrat to suggest that unless Lincoln supporters in Chester make up one-half of the financial loss involved in the destruction of the Picket Guard, the Republican Randolph County Democrat should be destroyed as revenge. A public meeting was held, restitution money pledged, arrangements made for the Picket Guard to publish, and the protection of the Republican newspaper office guaranteed. According to the nearby Waterloo Advocate, "all parties adjourned, feeling that it is much better to meet and settle difficulties in an amicable manner than to resort to force."
Interested in learning more?
A general discussion of the Lincoln administration's relationship with the press—loyal and less-than-so—is found in Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press (1951). The closure of the Chicago Times has been the subject of much discussion. Articles include Roger Waite, "Civil War Censorship and the Suppression of the Chicago Times," For the People: A Newsletter of the Abraham Lincoln Association 6:4 (Winter 2004): 4-8, online at
www.abrahamlincolnassociation.org/Newsletters/6-4.pdf and Craig D. Tenney, "To Suppress or Not to Suppress: Abraham Lincoln and the Chicago Times." Civil War History 27 (1981): 248-59. Postmaster General Blair's 1863 justification of banning newspapers from the U.S. mail, titled "Postmaster General's Authority over Mailable Matter," can be found online via Google Books. The story of the Paris Democratic Standard is covered in Peter J. Barry, "Amos Green, Paris, Illinois: Civil War Lawyer, Editorialist, and Copperhead." Journal of Illinois History 11 (2008): 39-60.
Peter J. Barry, "Amos Green, Paris, Illinois: Civil War Lawyer, Editorialist, and Copperhead." Journal of Illinois History 11 (2008): 39-60.
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.
Click here to see more.
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.
Click here to see more.
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.