Knox County Early History
Part VIII: At War
by Terry Hogan
It is hard to imagine how anyone could overestimate the importance of the Civil War. Its influence was felt in every fiber and bone of the citizen, the state and the federal government. The loss in lives is unimaginable in terms of percentage of the American population at the time of the war. Many of those who were not killed by disease or by the enemy, returned with horrifying wounds and deformations, resulting from the combined effects of the nature of the battles and the level of medical treatment. Even if they came home without physical harm, they were generally changed men. Many had seen too much horror to forget. Some had spent time in awful conditions in prisoner of war camps. Such camps were breeding grounds for disease and death, no matter which side of the line they were on.
The role of American women in WWII was personified by "Rosie the Riveter". In the Civil War, a few of the women gained recognition for their efforts, like Galesburg's "Mother Bickerdyke". But thousands of other women were left at home to care for families, farms, and livestock with only young children - too young to fight, or old folks, for the same reason. It was true both in the North and the South; although I believe the southern women had the worse of it as the war progressed. But no matter the location, the Civil War was a turning point in American history.
Knox County certainly wasn't unique in its support of the war, but in many ways, it may be representative of those counties that were strongly supportive of their men and boys who marched off to war. Those who went to war were many; and I suspect their reasons were also many. Some were patriotic. Some simply answered the call of their president. Others sought excitement off the farm, a chance to see parts of the country they had never seen. Some probably went out of the fear of how they'd be viewed if they didn't. Whatever the reason, early in the war, it seemed that most thought it would be a great glory and short lived.
Numbers and statistics vary and are, at best, estimates, I suppose, but they do provide a rough measurement of the enormity of impact on our ancestors. Calkins (1937) wrote that Illinois produced 244,496 soldiers for the cause, of which 34,834 died. Of those dead, 2/3 were death by disease and not by the enemy. For Knox County, Calkins reports that it "exceeded her quota of 3,842 men". Knox County also raised $66,000 for bounties to pay soldiers and to help support the families left behind. The Galesburg city council voted a $12/month payment to soldiersŐ families. However, the mayor refused to sign the ordinance as there was not sufficient money for the patriotic action. The mayor was forced to resign. Such was the early patriotism in Knox County.
Long (1964), in the Forward to Hickens' (1991) Illinois in the Civil War placed Illinois' numbers slightly higher. Illinois put 259,092 men in uniform and of that total, approximately 35,000 died of wounds or disease. Clearly, disease was the larger reaper of soldiers. Despite the slight disparity in numbers, they show that about 13.5 to 14% of the northern soldiers who marched off to war never came home alive. Hickens (1991), citing Fox, put the percentage of Illinois deaths at about 16%, with 34,834 Illinois soldiers dying. Most of the soldiers who went to war were young. The majority were between the ages of 18 and 25. A few were over the age of 50, and 5 were only 13 years old (Long, 1964).
It is not my intent to try to describe the horrors of the battle; the wasting away by disease; or the boredom and pain of endless marches and what appeared to be inane decisions often made in war. For a remarkable telling of these details, an interested reader can do far worse than reading "Jottings from Dixie" (1999) edited by Philip Reyburn and Terry Wilson. The book covers the writing of Sergeant Major Stephen Fleharty of the 102nd Illinois Infantry. Although Fleharty is not from Knox County, the 102nd Illinois Infantry had many Knox County men. Thus both by his literate treatment of the war, and the applicability of his experiences to many of those from Knox County, it is an excellent book.
Most of us know of Mother Bickerdyke to some degree or other. Perhaps we have seen the statue by the courthouse and read the caption. We probably know that she collected money, food, clothing, and connived ways of getting the supplies to the troops and hospitals where it was so badly needed. Of course, she was not alone. There were many other "Mother Bickerdykes" who had their own names of endearment who performed similar acts of mercy where mercy was so rare. But, I worry that folks no longer understand the importance of her actions and the sacrifices she made. Disease was the big killer in the war, not guns. Fleharty summarized the rampant presence of disease, "Death rides on every passing breeze, and lurks in every flower" (Reyburn and Wilson, 1999). Sanitary conditions were underestimated in their importance. Hospitals and camps were breeding grounds of death. Mother Bickerdyke and others set up field laundries; provided clean and replacement clothing for the injured. They made vats upon vats of soup and other nursing foods for the sick, wounded and dying. In one of my readings, I recall the narrative of a soldier seeing a dark silhouette, walking the battleground at night, a day or two after the fight was over. It went from body to body, all frozen to the ground. The guard went to investigate, to see if it was a looter. It was Mother Bickerdyke, searching for any soldier who might have been overlooked who might still be clinging to life.
One of the terrible things about the Civil War was the way that military units were formed. Companies, and even whole regiments, were recruited for a relatively small geographic area. While this probably aided in promoting morale and support of the unit, it also made for terrible news back home when an entire unit fell victim to the enemy. Either a small skirmish in a nearly forgotten location or a bloody point of attack in a major battle often resulted in a great number of mortalities in a single county. For example, I mentioned the 102nd Infantry above. The 102nd was organized in Knoxville in August 1862, by Colonel William McMurty. It was mustered into service on September 1 and 2. In this single regiment, there were 414 men from Knox County, spread across nine of its companies. Thus, this single unit's fate had a pronounced effect on the families back home. By the end of the war, the 102nd had lost 37 soldiers from Knox County from wounds and disease, representing about a 9% mortality rate, below the state average.
For those who are looking to find ancestors who fought in the Civil War from Knox County, Chapman's (1878) history of Knox County is a good place to start, especially if you get the reprinted version which has the benefit of a name index (courtesy of the Knox County Genealogical Society). This will help you find the unit the soldier was in as Chapman provides a listing of soldiers from Knox County by unit served. For some units, a brief unit history is provided in Chapman. But the units' histories are easily obtained on the Internet by searching the name of the unit and the Adjutant GeneralŐs Report. The State of Illinois also makes this information available on the Internet.
Perhaps too often we hear of vague stories of father against son, or brother against brother occurring in the Civil War. But, unfortunately it is true. There are even a few cases, such as one from southern Illinois, where a confederate unit ended up facing a northern unit in combat. Both units were raised in the same locality in southern Illinois where allegiances were divided. Even within my own Hogan line, my great grandfather, Jasper Newton Hogan, fought in the 91st Illinois Infantry from 1862-1865 and survived to come home. Unknown to him, his father (my great great grandfather), Banister (various spellings) W. Hogan fought in the 44th Regiment of the North Carolina Infantry (a Confederate unit), enlisting in 1862 and dying in early 1863. Many of Banister's immediate family also fought in North Carolina units, especially the 34th Regiment with many of them failing to make it home, as well.
Perhaps a more dramatic story is told of Captain William Parker of Dixon, Illinois (75th Illinois Infantry), who was with his unit, trying to capture the Kennesaw Mountain. During a break in the fierce fighting between the two forces, a fire began and threatened to consume the injured of both sides who lay between the two lines of troops. A "soldier's truce" was called to allow men to fight the fire and to recover their own dead and wounded. During the truce, Captain Parker encountered his brother who was serving with a Confederate unit (Hicken, 1991).
Although there were Knox County troops widely spread among units during the Civil War, the following units had fairly large numbers of troops from the county:
Unit Troops From # Killed # Died # Prisoner
7th Illinois Infantry 131 4 8 1
33rd Illinois Infantry 106 2 13 4
42nd Illinois Infantry 98 15 12 4
43rd Illinois Infantry 83 1 14 0
45th Illinois Infantry 79 5 9 1
55th Illinois Infantry 81 3 7 1
59th Illinois Infantry 104 3 14 0
(formerly 9th Inf. .Missouri)
72nd Illinois Infantry 80 6 7 5
77th Illinois Infantry 154 3 17 5
83rd Illinois Infantry 416 6 30 0
86th Illinois Infantry 93 5 8 3
89th Illinois Infantry 171 17 unspecified 15
102nd Illinois Infantry 414 12 37 3
138th Illinois Infantry 122 0 0 0
(100 day enlistment in 1864)
7th Illinois Cavalry 212 2 28 8
11th Illinois Cavalry 108 2 8 0
Total 2,452 86 212 50
Percent of Total N/A 3.5% 8.6% 2.0%
From this tabular summary of the units that contained a large representation of Knox County soldiers, about 3.5% were killed; about 8.6% died of disease/infection/accident and about 2% were captured. This represents about 12% dying while in service, compared to the estimated 13.5% to 16% state average, depending on source. The Knox County numbers were probably brought down by the presence of the 138th Infantry that was a 100 day enlistment unit in 1864 and probably didn't see battle or war-time conditions that promoted the outbreak of disease. The unit showed no mortality whatsoever.
It is not possible to discuss all the significant battles that Knox County troops played their role in, but the 59th Illinois Infantry probably is a good choice for a few brief comments. As noted in the table above, it had 104 troops from Knox County, including the regimental commander, Col. Sidney Post, of Galesburg. The 59th Illinois Infantry was involved in the major battle of Pea Ridge on March 7, 1862. The near defeat, turned victory was an early success for the North that was badly needed. It was a hard fought battle, in which Col. Post was severely wounded.
But the war was not entirely about death by weapon and disease. As supply lines lengthened, and the nobility of the conflict wore off, northern troops were known to forage for food from local southern farms. Often this was strictly against orders and stealth and cleverness were in order. The 36th Illinois Infantry was composed of troops from Warren, Kendall, Knox and McHenry counties. There were about 35 soldiers from Knox County (Chapman, 1878). They were marching through Tennessee and decided that some foraging was appropriate. Not wishing to be identified and blamed for the act, members of the 36th Illinois "borrowed" uniforms of the 24th Wisconsin and wore those uniforms during the foraging raid. The Wisconsin unit got the blame. Finding a system that appeared to work, the 36th Illinois Infantry next stole 30 sheep from a Tennessee farmer and threw the left-over pelts into the tents of the 73rd Illinois Infantry which was known as the "Preacher's Regiment" (Hickins, 1991). Chapman (1878) doesn't show any Knox County troops in the Preacher's Regiment.
Bateman, Newton, et al. 1899. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County. Munsell Publishing Company. Chicago. 968 pages.
Calkins, Earnest. 1937. They Broke the Prairie. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York. 451 pages.
Chapman, Chas. 1878. History of Knox County, Illinois. Chicago. 718 pages (reprinted version by Knox County Genealogical Society, Galesburg, IL).
Hickens, V. 1991. Illinois in the Civil War. University of Illinois Press (2nd Edition). Urbana and Chicago. 417 pages.
Long, E. B. 1964. Forward to Illinois in the Civil War (Victor Hickens, 1991)
Reyburn, P. and T. Wilson. (eds.). 1999. "Jottings from Dixie", The Civil War Dispatches of Sergeant Major Stephen F. Fleharty, U.S.A. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge. 262 pages.