Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Lee County Soldiers in the Civil War

It would not be just, I think, to claim that our own Lee county held more patriotic people and sent more soldiers and supplies during the Civil war than others, but that our county did stand in the fore front in all patriotic labors, we do claim and none will dispute. The fact that two great railway lines crossed each other m the county, giving an outlet in four directions, was of much more importance then, as transportation facilities were very meager, m comparison with those of today. So, a certain town, not in the center of Lee County, but well up in the northwestern corner, called Dixon, became a rallying point for quite a large section of country. Companies of soldiers, formed in other counties, were sent here to join others; some to wait days and weeks before orders came as to their location in the great struggle just commencing. The rolling stock of the railways was taxed to the utmost, and it was sad to see the brave boys often sent away in freight cars. Lee County had shared with others the uncertain and unsatisfactory, state of feeling for two or three years, and it only needed the shot fired upon Fort Sumter that April day to fan to a flame the smoldering fire of patriotism. Everyone from the old people to the children could think and talk of little else. Even the children, faithful little copies of the men of their families, arrayed them-selves in no uncertain manner on the side where their sympathies led. The words abolitionist and secessionist were well under-stood, and when the word copperhead was mentioned, it meant to the child mind something very fearful. It was a marvel to my childish mind, and is to this day, the courage it must have taken for a man to avow those sentiments in this northland, which parted him from relatives, friends and neighbors, sometimes bringing him financial losses and bodily injury; and the bitter feeling never ended, but lasted as long as life itself. The 17th of April found our people, irrespective of party, in council with great enthusiasm. The action of the administration heartily approved, a company was being formed. On the 22d the first company of volunteers met at their armory, hoisted a flag opposite the mayor's office. They elected A. B. Gorgas, captain; Henry T. Noble, first and Henry Dement, second lieutenants. Two other companies, the Dixon Cadets and the Dixon Blues, were organized, but they were not needed then, the regiments under the first call being full. Nearly all enlisted again, later, and went to the war. On the 25th the ladies of Dixon presented a handsome banner to Captain Gorgas' company. The banner was made by the ladies, and they spent days in the old Methodist church, in its making. The presentation took place in front of the old courthouse, and Miss Mary Williams delivered the presentation address. Miss Williams, later, became the wife of Henry Dement. The regiment of 970 men, of the Second Congressional district, went into camp on the old fair grounds just east of the cemetery. The drawing for position by companies gave the Dixon Company. Company A. June 1, the ladies presented Company A uniforms made by their own hands. Sunday, June 16, the Thirteenth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers took the cars for Caseyville, twelve miles from St. Louis. September 2d, the Thirty-fourth Illinois Volunteers left Dixon. October 1st, a camp for recruiting and organizing troops was established on the river bank west of the railroad, somewhere near where the shoe factory now stands. Col. John Dement commander of the encampment, December 5th, Dement Phalanx go into winter quarters, in the stone building, erected for plow works, near the depots. Jan. 14, 1862, an artillery company, just raised, elected John Cheney captain. February 2d, the Forty-sixth Regiment, encamped in Dements barracks through the winter; take the cars for Springfield, John Stevens, captain, father of our bright newspaper man, Mr. Frank Stevens. June 10, a new company was formed, James W. Reardon, captain. September 4th, the Seventy-fifth Illinois Volunteers in Camp Dixon, on the bank of the river, was mustered into service, five companies from Lee County, five from Whiteside. The regiment left for Louisville, Kentucky, September 27th.

And so they marched away, that beautiful army of boys, with flags flying, and the inspiring strains of the fife and drum; sad hearts, gay hearts; with experiences awaiting them to turn the strongest heart cold; weariness, loneliness, sickness, exposure, poor food, wounds, starvation in prisons, and death for thousands of them. The total quotas for Lee County were 2,454 men, and the enlistments credited to the county were eight short of that number. Just how the number was made up, whether by draft or later enlistment, there seems to have been no record. Two thou-sand four hundred and fifty-four men seems like a large number to take from one county, but there were many left at home. Those who were too old, others who would have gone gladly, but physical infirmities prevented. There was something for all of them to do. The business world, farms, stores and manufactories must be cared for. The supervisors of the county were a busy band of men in those days. Our great State of Illinois, from the outset, was determined that the quotas called for should be filled by enlisted men, and not by drafting. It became necessary after a time, for our county to offer a bounty. At the November term in 1863, a bounty of $100 was offered to every accepted volunteer. The treasury being low, it was necessary to issue $15,000 in bonds for that purpose. At the February term of the supervisors court, it was reported that $4,061.50 had been distributed, as a relief fund to families of volunteers. On July 18, 1864, the President called for 500,000 more men, and on September 14th the board appropriated $900 for each and every man enlisting to fill said call. The clerk was also authorized to issue orders not to exceed $150,000. He was also ordered to draw notes on the county treasury for a sum not to exceed $2,000 for the relief of families of voltmeters, not to exceed $100 each. June 20, 1861, the Volunteer Aid Association secured subscriptions to the amount of $2,625, as a fund for the benefit of families of absent volunteers. Much individual work was done; loads of wood hauled, sawed and split, provisions sent where needed, clothing as well. One item along this line I found touched my heart deeply. Nov. 2, 1864, a number of young men in the public schools formed a patriotic club for the purpose of aiding soldiers widows and families in need of help that they could render Carlos Burr, president; LaFayette Davis, vice president; Goodwin Patrick, secretary; Sherwood Dixon, assistant secretary; Charles Giles, treasurer.

The reports of the adjutant general show that Lee County paid $405,214.75 bounties; to soldiers' families, $15,465.75; besides $218,707.55 paid as interest on county warrants or bonds, making a total of $639,388.05. This was more than was expended by any other county in the state, Cook and Bureau counties alone excepted.

And the women! What did they do! Do! What didn't they do! After the partings were over, and who can measure the silent agony they endured! Wives who saw the husbands go, leaving them to be father and mother to the children and often the bread winner too; mothers who saw the school book drop from the son's hand or the hoe in the field it might be, with the faraway look in the eyes, hearing the distant call; and when they said, ''Mother, we must go!'' said never a word to keep them back. Sweet girls saw their lovers march away, taking the sunlight of happiness out of their lives. The story of the Spartan mother has always inspired admiration for her noble courage and patriotism; but in 1861 there were Spartan mothers at every cross road and in every hamlet of this great country. When the reaction came after these dreadful partings, there was work in plenty for these women to do and then, as always, it was a source of relief. Indeed for a time, there was a perfect fury of work; no doubt much was wasted at that time from lack of organization. As has been mentioned, the Dixon ladies made the uniforms for Company A, Thirteenth Regiment, under the efficient superintendence of Mr. W. J. Carpenter, and assistants, Messrs. Decamp and Cheeseman, did great service cutting and fitting the many garments. Sewing machines were rather a new thing here, and not very numerous, and were taken to Union Hall, known now as Maccabee Hall, and many women's hands made quick work, assisted by several of the boys, who were always ready to help by running the machines for the tired ladies. A few of those dear women are still with us; many have passed on.

Union Hall was used all that long summer for meetings for work, packing supplies, and entertainments of all kinds, fairs, dinners, suppers, dances and concerts, anything that would bring in money to help the soldiers. When the cold weather came on, meetings for work were held at the different homes, as it was too expensive to heat the hall. In March, 1862, the ladies of Dixon formed a Soldiers' Aid Society, under the leadership of Mrs. Enoch Wood, a natural born organizer and most efficient in every way. Among-the many interesting things they did, I would like to mention one; and that was the making of a silk album quilt. In the center of each block was a white silk piece, on which names were written by Mrs. Alice McComsey Burton; each name of course bringing in a small sum of money. The quilt was bought and given back, sold over and over again. It finally found its way to Chicago, was displayed at a fair given by the Sanitary Commission. A Mr. Howard who had lived in Dixon years before, saw it, learned that it was made in Dixon, bought it, and it was used and prized by the Howard family until it was ragged and worn out. The Dixon women were called upon to do a great deal of cooking the first year.

Word would be circulated that a company would be here at a certain time, totally unprovided for, and the men must be cared for until arrangements for government rations could be made. So, on would go the coffee pots, and the lard kettles for frying doughnuts, and bread baked as soon as possible. At other times train loads of soldiers passing through the town would stop for a meal. Then there were the companies encamped here, for different lengths of time, always welcomed any home cooking, vegetables especially, to vary their very monotonous menu of hard dry biscuits and poor salt meat. Many were the pails of cooked tomatoes, beans and vegetables of all kinds that those devoted women carried to the barracks in the west end. So our active women had plenty of this work, lacking any other. The old ladies knitted socks, and made night shirts for the wounded in hospitals; the young ladies sang war songs at concerts, the most pathetic songs ever composed, unspeakably dear to the hearts of every true man and woman; school girls wrote letters to boy schoolmates who had gone to the front. Who can tell how much good those cheery letters did those homesick boys. The little girls scraped lint, made little comfort bags, made other little articles, held little fairs and brought their money to be used by the Sanitary Commission, for the poor soldiers. Then after all the work and strain, came the waiting time for those faithful women; who can tell the agonies of hope deferred, through one, two, three and four long years. Sometimes good news came, sometimes the saddest, but worst than all were those to whom no news ever came, whose loved ones lie in unknown graves.

One busybody I have not mentioned; he of the tiny bow and arrows, our little god of love. He was here, there and everywhere. Mason and Dixon line meant nothing at all to him, and if he shot one of his arrows and found impaled upon it a bluecoat, or ''Yank,'' and a bitter little southern rebel, or a greycoat and a serious-eyed northern nurse, he only laughed at the confusion he had made. He put it into the minds of many of the soldier boys; that Instead of ''The girl he left behind him," it should be the wife, and many a going away morning saw a quiet wedding. In my own family a dear young uncle of barely twenty-one was married the morning he left for the war. He was sent home soon, on account of illness, spent a short three weeks with his bride, then back again, to die shortly, a victim of poor food and insanitary surroundings. He has been sleeping away the years in the Southland, with thousands of others, within sound of the mighty Mississippi waters, with the stately magnolia trees above him swinging their snowy censers, and the mocking birds trilling a tireless requiem.

Truly Lee County did a great work during those troublous years. All honor we render, where we feel much honor is due. But one criticism we must make and it lies very near the hearts of many of her good citizens.

Fifty years have passed since those gallant men marched away, and Lee County has reared no memorial for those 2,454 men who gave up everything, some of them, even life itself, that this country be made peaceful and prosperous.

Lee County is rich and prosperous. Our supervisors have seen to it that we have a fine courthouse and other county buildings, but nothing to him of the musket who made these prosperous conditions. Our neighboring counties are not so remiss. Winnebago has a fine memorial hall in Rockford, with beautiful assembly room, museum, amusement rooms, dining room and kitchen; and all about the walls, bronze tablets with the name of every soldier who went from the county. I am very proud that my soldier husband's name is among the number. Stephenson County has a monument just in front of the courthouse in Freeport. Ogle County has provided a memorial hall in the courthouse in Oregon, with marble tablets with the soldiers' names upon them upon the walls. It would seem if the matter is not taken up, during the life of the present generation, it is probable it never would be. Some may say, why not let some individual or organization rear a memorial of some kind? I have no doubt there are those who would be willing to do so, but it should not be an individual gift. It should be a tribute from everyone in the county.

Is it not true, that we are more interested, and prize more highly, something in which we have a share?

While motoring in Wisconsin the past summer we spent a day in Janesville, and there in front of the courthouse was a massive granite monument, simply in memory of the soldiers of Rock County. Then in Baraboo, we spent two days, and almost the first thing I saw when I looked out of the hotel window, which faced the courthouse square, was a soldiers' monument, Sauk County's tribute to her soldiers. What do the children think, when we try to teach them patriotism, when we have no memorial to point to with pride, as a token of our love and appreciation? How much it would mean to the families of those who gave their loved ones, to see in our beautiful courthouse park, a fitting tribute, in which they would have a vital interest? And what a lesson in patriotism to the community at large, every time they passed that way, to look upon that memorial of courage and bravery.

It would seem as though our present honorable board of supervisors could not do a more fitting or beautiful thing, than to make a suitable appropriation for this object of love and duty.

Very soon the veterans will all have passed to the better land. When our Great Commander shall call all His brave boys, for a final review, there will be no neglected or disappointed ones. He will credit every one for every noble deed, and in His smile of approval, they will find perfect satisfaction.

When we stand before Him, and He asks if we did all we could in love, gratitude and appreciation, for this great army of men, not for what they were themselves, for their sacrifice entailed on many of them, broken health, shattered bodies, minds and morals, but for the great things they did for each and every one of us, what shall our answer be!

In running through the Adjutant General's reports to find the names of the soldiers who enlisted from Lee County, a perfect roster cannot be claimed. I found other Wyomings, Sugar Groves, Hamiltons, Marions, Franklins, Brooklyns, and Palmyras. In such cases, if no other Lee County names were found, no attention was paid to them. I feel, however, that a reasonably accurate list has been completed. One or two desertions have been noted. Others may have deserted, but I doubt it. The boys from Lee were a loyal body of men.

In many cases where recruiting was progressing just over the line in neighboring towns, if recruits got their mail there, the recruiting station was credited with the recruit and not Lee County, so that I lost the name.

Lee County History


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