TBT: Illinois answers the call

*Generals Grant and McClernand (center of group) in front
of the Cairo post office early in the war.
On the day after the Stars and Stripes were hauled down from Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln confronted a serious problem. The country was now at war with itself, and the small and widely-scattered regular United States Army lacked the forces necessary to fight even the three-month war which practically everyone expected. Looking for help, Lincoln turned to the governors of the northern states for troops. His home state of Illinois would be among the most enthusiastic in answering his call.

In 1861, the regular Army numbered about 16,000 soldiers. State militias, which had been the backbone of the American military since the Revolution, would be called into action again. Lincoln issued a call to the governors for 75,000 volunteers. In that first year of the Civil War, Illinois would meet and then exceed its quota, and some Illinois soldiers would get their first taste of battle.

“I appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured,” Lincoln wrote in his proclamation calling for troops.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron followed up with more specific instructions to the governors, including what was expected of each state. Cameron directed the state of Illinois to provide six regiments, each consisting of 1780 officers and enlisted personnel. Cameron’s initial proclamation also stated that the 75,000 volunteers would be needed for three months “or sooner, if discharged.”

*Richard Yates, Civil War Governor of Illinois
In Illinois, Governor Richard Yates received the presidential proclamation and immediately went into action. Just three months into the job, Yates called on the services of U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, former Congressman Orville Browning and former state legislator and lieutenant governor Gustave Koerner to help navigate the treacherous waters that lay ahead. He named his immediate predecessor, former Governor John Wood, as state quartermaster general in charge of supplying the state’s soldiers.

Yates called the legislature into special session to appropriate money for the equipping of the Illinois regiments. The legislature adopted a resolution stating that “the faith, credit and resources of the state of Illinois, both in men and money are pledged, to any amount, and to every extent which the federal government may demand.” They also passed legislation known as the “ten regiment bill” which called for the creation of ten more Illinois regiments: one from each of the state’s nine congressional districts and another at-large.

The actions of the Illinois governor and legislature in raising more troops than initially requested proved to be prescient as early hopes for a short, limited war quickly faded. After the Union Army’s disastrous showing at Bull Run in July, Congress authorized a much larger expansion of the Army. When it was all over, more than a quarter of a million Illinoisans had served in the Union Army and Navy, and the state had organized 150 regiments of infantry, 17 of cavalry and two of artillery. Over 34,000 Illinoisans gave their lives over the course of the war.

Just days after Lincoln’s call, Illinois soldiers began mustering with their militia companies. Among the first was the Chicago Dragoons, a cavalry troop which had been organized a few years earlier. Within a few weeks, they were deployed to Cairo, the southernmost point in Illinois at the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. Many more companies made their way to Camp Yates in Springfield to be organized into regiments. Because Illinois had sent six regiments to the war in Mexico fifteen years earlier, the numbering of the new Illinois regiments in 1861 started with the 7th Illinois Infantry.

*Company A of the Chicago Light Artillery at Camp Smith, June 1861

The 7th Illinois was an amalgamation of militia companies from around the state: Elgin, Mattoon, Aurora, Litchfield, Atlanta, Bunker Hill, Springfield, Lincoln and Carlinville. The companies in some other regiments all came from the same area: the 9th Illinois, for example, was made up of soldiers from Madison, Montgomery and St. Clair Counties. These early, three-month regiments mustered at Camp Yates and then headed south, mostly to Cairo. As the Union Army got organized, and the disaster at Bull Run changed perceptions of the war, the three-month regiments soon were re-mustered for three years’ service.

With the militia called up and its companies organized into regiments now on their way south, the regiments authorized by the Ten Regiment Bill began reporting for duty. The 13th Illinois mustered at Camp Dement in Dixon and was, “composed of as good citizens as Northern Illinois contained,” according to its regimental history. Similar regiments were quickly organized, drilled and sent south and west. In some cases, men who had not worn the uniform at the start of the year; in units which had not existed then; would be combat veterans by the end of 1861.

With the secession of the southern states, the river-bound trade routes from Cairo south were closed down. This left a large number of Illinois-based riverboat crews unemployed in the summer of 1861. But they didn’t lack for work for long. As the Union Army arrived in the area and began planning offensives down the great rivers of the west, these crews soon found themselves in the service of the Union Navy. Before long Mound City, Illinois, would be a principal U.S. Navy facility, and crews based out of Mound City would be supporting the Union Army in battle along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

In the late summer, Union troops began moving into Missouri and Kentucky. These border states had remained loyal to the union, but their territory was still contested. The 1st Illinois Cavalry battled Confederate forces at Lexington, Missouri, as other Illinois troops helped secure territory west of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, on September 5, 1861, the 9th and 12th Illinois crossed the Ohio and took the city of Paducah, Kentucky, to keep it out of Confederate hands and to establish a foothold south of the Ohio for the planned Union advance. As more Illinois regiments began arriving, they would expand Union control of western Kentucky and fight skirmishes with Confederate troops throughout Missouri.

Experienced officers to command these new regiments were hard to find in 1861. In some cases, veterans of the Mexican War would be promoted and placed at the head of a company or regiment. In others, local officials with no combat experience at all were given command. These arrangements, made out of necessity and in haste, produced varied results.

One such Mexico veteran was Ulysses S. Grant. Grant recruited a company of soldiers from his home town of Galena. The West Point graduate brought these troops to Springfield, then took a job as a clerk mustering soldiers into service, but his services were soon required elsewhere. Promoted to Colonel and placed in command of the 21st Illinois in June, Grant led the 21st on patrols into Missouri throughout that summer, without a major engagement. In August he was promoted to Brigadier General and relinquished command of the regiment. After the war, the 21st’s official history would include this notation: “It will ever be a pleasing thought with the men who composed this gallant Regiment to remember that the man who first led them in defense of their country’s flag became the most illustrious soldier and distinguished citizen of the age and generation in which he lived.”

*Left to Right: John A. Logan, John A. McClernand, and Ulysses S. Grant
Congressman John McClernand was made a brigadier general and placed in command of a brigade of Illinois troops moving into Kentucky. Another Congressman, John A. Logan, witnessed the battle of Bull Run as a civilian before taking up arms to try and stem the panicked retreat of the Union Army. By November, he was a colonel commanding the 31st Illinois under McClernand at the battle of Belmont, Missouri. In that same brigade at Belmont was the 30th Illinois, commanded by Congressman-turned-Colonel Philip Fouke.

Yates, meanwhile, took to the speaking circuit alongside other Illinois leaders who rallied the state’s population to support the Union. Lincoln’s recently-defeated foe Stephen Douglas threw himself into the cause, “There can be no neutrals in this war,” Douglas said, “only patriots and traitors.” When some questioned the loyalty of the residents of southernmost Illinois, Logan gave a fiery speech at Marion on August 19 which is widely credited with rallying the region to the cause of saving the Union. “The time has come when a man must be for or against his country,” Logan said. “I for one shall stand or fall for this Union and shall this day enroll for the war. I want as many of you as will come with me.”

In April, the War Department had called for Illinois to send six regiments for service in the war. By the end of 1861, nearly ten times that number were in service or being organized. Many more would follow. Most; but not all; of these regiments would be assigned to the western armies of the Union. As 1861 ended, the Union Army was poised to begin its plunge into Tennessee and Mississippi, carrying it to places whose names would be etched forever on American history; names like Shiloh and Vicksburg.

Much of the fighting in those great battles would be done by Illinoisans who in 1861 had answered the call.
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The histories of every Illinois regiment mustered into service for the Civil War are maintained by the Secretary of State in the Illinois State Archives and can be reviewed here.

*Photos from Illinois and the Civil War Documents Collection, Illinois Digital Archives - A service of the Illinois State Library and the Office of the Secretary of State.