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Sangamon County Illinois Ladies' Soldiers Aid Society

By Mrs. Eva Munson Smith

 "When you heard your country calling, Illinois,

There were none more brave than you, Illinois."


The above couplet which was intended by the author, Charles H. Chamberlin, to refer to the men who took up arms in defense of their country, and who so beautifully glorified them in his famous song, "Illinois" applies also to the women of the State.


Sangamon County was not behind her sister counties, in the display of patriotism and exercise of sacrifice to aid fathers, husbands, sons and sweethearts who responded to their country’s call, and to keep going the business in store and on farm which they felt called to leave for awhile, and perhaps forever, as it indeed proved in many cases.


In nearly or quite all the towns and hamlets, aid societies were organized. Unfortunately the records, in many instances, were not preserved, so that at this late date, including a lapse of fifty years, the historian can say little in regard to some of the societies, save that they did well their part, sending or bringing their generous contributions in to the Springfield Society, to go out with its supplies, so that they were virtually tributary or auxiliary to the Springfield organization as a central point.


The opening of the war found women unskilled in business methods. They had never had occasion to keep books and balance accounts, but they possessed warm, sympathetic mother hearts, and they soon found a way to do substantial deeds, and to keep financial accounts, in a systematic manner.


Monday, August 19, 1861, the following anonymous article was printed in the Illinois Daily State Journal: "Women of Illinois, the cold weather will be advancing after a little time. Let us do all in our power for the comfort of our soldiers. They should be supplied with flannel undergarments and woolen socks, and the sick and suffering with every comfort. I would recommend that committees of ladies be chosen in every city and town, whose duty it shall be to ascertain the number of garments needed, take the responsibility of purchasing materials, seeing that they are properly made up and sent on. Let the elderly ladies knit, and if funds are needed, let the younger ones collect them." In accord with the above call, the pastors of all the churches announced from their pulpits the next Sabbath, August 25, that there would be a mass meeting of the ladies of the city on Wednesday, in the basement of the Baptist Church, then on Seventh and Adams Streets.


In response to this announcement a meeting was held which was opened with prayer by Rev. Francis Springer, who presumably stated the object of the gathering, no chairman's name appearing on any existing record. Mrs. John W. Chenery was chosen temporary secretary.


It was voted that the name of the proposed society should be "The Ladies Soldiers' Aid Society," and the object should be to furnish needed supplies for our soldiers during the winter months.


A nominal membership fee of ten cents was decided upon, and a sufficient number paying the required fee, the society was launched, manned by the following officers, in the election which immediately followed:

President, Mrs. W. W. Watson

Vice-President, Mrs. Henrietta Ulrich

Treasurer, Mrs. W. Miner (wife of the Baptist minister)  

Secretary, Miss Mary E. Springer


A committee of four from each ward was appointed to solicit subscriptions to purchase materials.


There were six thousand troops stationed at Camp Butler, and calls for aid on the society soon showed the necessity of securing a larger membership. At the next meeting one hundred and sixty names were added to the roll of members. The society continued to meet in the Baptist Church, until the last of September, when Mr. W. W. Watson offered gratis the second floor of his confectionery store on the south side of the Square. Meetings for work were held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, which were often supplemented by evening meetings for making bandages and scraping lint.


December 18, 1861, several ladies accepted an invitation extended by Col. John Williams of the Sanitary Commission, to go to Cairo and personally distribute clothing and delicacies to the sick in hospitals at that point and adjacent camps, among them being Mrs. E. B. Zimmerman, Mrs. Isaac Nutt, Mrs. Lotus Niles and Miss Mary Springer.


The enlarged field of work demanding a larger board of directors, the following were added:

Mrs. E. H. Beach

Mrs. John W. Chenery

Mrs. J. D. Chenery

Mrs. John McCreery

Mrs. O. B. Babcock

Mrs. J. C. Conkling

Mrs. P. A. Dorwin

Mrs. J. C. Ives

Mrs. James L. Lamb

Mrs. N. W. Miner

Mrs. Paul Selby

Miss Matilda Babcock

Mrs. M. E. Halbert


A new election of officers to fill vacancies also occurred at this time, resulting in:

Vice-President, Mrs. P. C. Latham  

Treasurer, Miss Catherine P. Tilton  

Secretary, Mrs. Lucien Tilton

Mrs. W. W. Watson still retaining the presidency. The account of one month's work, printed below and taken directly from the treasurer's book, serves to give some idea of what was done by these faithful women:



Membership fees and contributions $ 64.40

General contributions 378.04

Government work 157.83

Two concerts 304.40

Tableaux exhibition 201.00

Loami Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society 5.00

Sale of rags 5.40

Sale of miscellaneous 8.00

Total    $1,214.07



To material for hospital bedding and clothing $939.99

To materials for slippers 19.50

To articles for hospital 90.61

Clothing for female nurses 58.70

Spinning and washing yarn 39.84

Miscellaneous goods 9.99

Postage and stationery 4.16

Expressage and cartage 14.20

Total               1,176.99


Balance on hand , $37.08


It was while the "boys in blue" were encamped in the malarious region of Cairo that much severe illness was endured, from which a large number never recovered. Besides the everywhere present "chills and fever," there were many cases of measles and mumps which left some of those who survived, in debilitated condition for life. A few had to be honorably discharged and sent home, after weeks and months in hospital, with the parting message from the medical staff, "Nothing but mother's nursing can ever fully restore you. We have done the best we could, with what we had to do."


It was during this period that Mother Bickerdyke came down from the northern part of the State, with her chickens and cows, and doubtless did more than any other one person to bring comfort to the sick soldier boy. Our own Central Illinois women bless her name, and were proud of her. Perhaps no name among women of our State is today spoken with more loving reverence, than that of Mother Bickerdyke. Sangamon County women did not confine their ministrations to Alton, but as the war went on, and the soldiers were advanced to other points, they were personally followed, when appeals for relief came, with food, delicacies, bandages and lint.


The long weary hours of watching, the patient, persistent endeavor, the furnishing of money when it was scarce, for it was, in those war days, all this and much more, can never be estimated. It is told only in the blessed words, "She hath done what she could."


After the battle of Fort Donelson, February 14, 1862, ten thousand prisoners of war were divided between Camp Douglas at Chicago, and Camp Butler. A government contract secured in the summer of 1862 for furnishing prisoners' hospitals at Camp Butler with needed supplies greatly increased the work and the demand upon the funds of the society. Liberal donations of money and material were given by patriotic citizens, and substantial aid poured into the society's rooms from neighboring towns of Mechanicsburg, Wolf Creek, Loami, and Chatham. Many public entertainments were given, and the proceeds turned over to the Springfield society's treasury. The first annual report showed, in addition to the work done in the hospitals of Camps Yates and Butler that twenty-nine boxes of supplies were forwarded to the hospitals of Cairo, Birds Point, Mound City, Paducah, Cape Girardeau, Shawncetown, Keokuk, the Mississippi Harbor Fleet, and the wounded upon the field after the battles of Fort Donelson and Shiloh.


August, 1863, Mrs. W. W. Watson resigned, and at the next annual meeting the following officers were elected:

President, Mrs. P. C. Latham

Vice-Presidents, Mrs. P. A. Dorwin and Mrs. R. B. Zimmerman

Treasurer, Miss Katie V. Tilton  

Secretary, Mrs. Lucien Tilton


Miss Mary Beach and Miss Lucy A. Starne were added to the directors.


On Thanksgiving Day, the regular routine was changed by giving a sumptuous dinner to the soldiers at Camp Yates. A committee consisting of Mesdames Mendell, J. D. B. Salter, John W. Chenery, J. E. Brown, Joel Johnson, W. W. Watson, C. A. Higgins, Dr. Brown, O. H. Miner and Robert Officer met with great success in obtaining supplies.


More than seven hundred soldiers sat dawn to that dinner, and after doing full justice to the bountiful repast, there were upwards of thirty turkeys and chickens remaining untouched.


Soon after the first invasion of the Northern troops in the Southland, the North began to be overburdened with destitute contrabands and white refugees, as ignorant as they were needy. Possibly a few knew that Jackson was not still President of the United States. Very many firmly believed that Abraham Lincoln was a Negro; but all were quite sure that the North was overflowing with milk and honey, and if they could only reach that Canaan land, their happiness and comfort would be assured.


In order to properly care for Springfield and Sangamon County's share of these unfortunate and undesirable people the society appointed a committee to solicit aid, consisting of Mrs. O. M. Brinkerhoff, Miss Mary Springer, Mrs. Mary E. Nutt, Mrs. A. W. French, Mrs. Paul Selby, and Mrs. J. P. Reynolds.


To still further extend the work, the local society joined hands with the Ladies' Loyal League, to" which many of the members already belonged. Acting with a Citizens' Committee of gentlemen, the city was canvassed by wards to ascertain the number of needy ones and supply their wants. Even this added strenuous work did not tax to the utmost the endurance of this band of earnest, patriotic women, for in response to invitations far and wide they extended aid to other cities in conducting fairs to help the National Sanitary Commission. Mrs. George N. Black, together with Mrs. and Miss Tilton, were elected delegates from the joint organizations to represent Springfield at the North-western Sanitary Fair held at Chicago during a large part of October, 1863. They went to the Fair taking with them liberal donations.


As a matter of interest, to present day housewives who complain of the now existing high prices, the following is quoted from the advertising columns of the Illinois Daily State Journal, by the purchasers of the mentioned articles. Mrs. J. D. B. Salter quotes choice Rio coffee, 2½ pounds for $1; white sugar, 5 pounds for $1; yellow C. sugar, 5½ pounds, $1; young Hyson tea, $1.50 per pound. Another mentions good butter at 90 cents a pound.


In June, 1864, so many wounded in recent battles were arriving at Camp Butler, sixty poor fellows from Red River coming in one day, and more to follow, that preparations were made to build four more hospitals. Governor Yates called for donations of vegetables, fruits and wines, stating that two-thirds of our losses were from disease and exposure, and that our veteran soldier saved and nursed back to health and strength, was worth two raw recruits. Springfield and Sangamon County generously responded with necessary supplies, and in addition on July 4, 1863, gave a dinner to the inmates of the hospitals, some one or more members almost daily thereafter visiting the sick and wounded carrying with them jellies, fresh eggs, etc., and writing letters home for them, and speaking the welcome word of cheer and sympathy, and this in more than one instance reached the immortal soul of the recipient, often pointing them to Christ as the Great Physician and healer. This was the sweetest work of all, and was appreciated by the poor boys so far from home and loved ones.


During the week ending July 27, 1864, the record shows that there were given to the general hospital, twenty-four rocking chairs, one barrel of vegetables, thirty-three cans tomatoes, much fruit, and a dozen fat hens for broth and stew, which with the cheerful assistance rendered from the outlying towns, supplied much comfort, and doubtless was the means of saving many lives. Among the contributions were many gallons of blackberry cordial, so useful in certain ills incident to life in camp.


The Ladies' Loyal League of Mechanicsburg, held a fair September 1, 1864, which netted $200, which was at once turned over for hospital supplies. The Sanitary Fair at Loami was a grand success, netting $1,100 dollars, which was also used for hospital supplies.


Thus was the government nobly and ably assisted by the women all over the land, and although there were numerous so called Copperheads among both men and women, their refusal to aid, though a few did give reluctantly, did not stay the wheels of bounty and beneficence which revolved with unabated power until the cruel but just war was over.


About a year before the sounds of "Victory" were wafted on the happy breeze, a soldiers' home was built where the post-office is now located. The Ladies' Aid Society, with its broad, generous mother heart, believing that a hen can scratch as successfully for a brood of a dozen chicks as for one, took the home under her maternal wing, and returning soldiers were given a hospitable welcome, whether coming singly or by regiments. Mr. T. C. Schreeve, superintendent of the home made the following statement, still on record: "Largest number of meals served at the Soldiers' Home in one day, was during October, 1864, to 605 men ; smallest number, 188; total number of meals served during October, 10,564.


When sweet peace was proclaimed, but which alas! found scarcely a home without some one or more loved one's vacant chair, the society discontinued its meetings for some twenty-five years. It was then decided to reorganize, this time not for war, but to perpetuate old memories, and for social intercourse which could not be indulged in while every effort was bent toward furnishing relief to suffering soldiers.


In August, 1887, the reorganization was effected, with the following officers:

President, Mrs. P. C. Latham  

Vice-President, Mrs. Josephine Stonebarger

Treasurer, Miss Mary E. Springer

Secretary, Mrs. M. E. Halbert


Mrs. Latham was continued as president until her death a number of years later, when Mrs. P. A. Dorwin was elected to fill the vacancy. A few years later, Mrs. Dorwin, too, was called to the reward beyond, and Mrs. Lotus Niles was chosen to preside, which she did most acceptably until her "going away" some years later, since which time the indefatigable Miss Anna Clinton has occupied the position to the eminent satisfaction of all. The secretary, Mrs. Halbert, was succeeded by Mrs. Lida A. Oldroyd, a daughter of Mrs. Stonebarger, deceased. Mrs. Olyroyd made an ideal secretary, but removing to Washington, D. C, some thirteen or more years ago. Miss Mary E. Springer has since filled the office. Mrs. J. M. Garland is the present treasurer.


Although, of the twenty-one original members still living in this and other towns and states, only about nine active members remaining, the organization still keeps up its regular monthly meetings, always having an elaborate luncheon and excellent program, in which one or more old war incidents, which are of intense interest, especially, perhaps, to the invited guests who are generally descendents of the deceased original members or those who did a similar labor of love elsewhere during the war.


One never tires hearing the story of how Mrs. Charles G. Averill, when she was little Julia Ordway, had one of her curls clipped off by a zealous and admiring soldier boy, to take as a sort of mascot to the wars.


Oh, many a tale stranger than fiction might here be told. In this article no further reference will be made to these incidents, save to retell the well known story of how seven-year old Jessie Loose, afterwards the wife of Dr. Jacob F. Price, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Loose, went to the proper authorities to enlist, giving as her qualifications that although she could not fight, she could nurse sick soldiers, make bandages and scrape lint, and she wanted to help put down the war." Col. John Williams "swore her in," and she was the happiest little girl in all the land.


At these regular meetings someone always has something to relate or read which is new to the others. While there is yet an inexpressible sadness connected with these gatherings, there is also ever present the sweet satisfaction of having done something that really counted for good during those dark days of internecine warfare, which helped to bring about the liberation of more than four million slaves, and preserved Old Glory to wave on high victorious, the most beautiful banner in all the world.


Your flag and my flag!

And oh how it flies today

Your land and my land

And half a world away

Rose red and blood red

Its stripes forever gleam

Sky blue and true blue

With stars to gleam aright

A gloried guidon in the day

A shelter through the night.


Your flag and my flag!

And oh how much it holds

Your land and my lands

Secure within its folds.

Your heart and my heart

Beat quicker at the sight,

Sun kissed and wind tossed,

The red and blue and white.

The one flag, the great flag.

The flag for me and you

Glorified all else binds

The Red and White and Blue.


Although only a small remnant of the original two hundred remain, they still faithfully keep filled the vases or urns around the soldiers' monument, remembering Memorial Day by decorating the graves of deceased members, and contributing flowers for the graves of veterans. Miss Susan P. Enos is always a liberal contributor of flowers, and the florists of the city are commendably generous with the most beautiful of fragrant blossoms, whenever occasion comes. They also donate to charitable and benevolent institutions.


As W. D. Nesbit sings:


The names of those known to be living at this time October 14, 1912, of the two hundred members of the Springfield Ladies Soldiers' Aid Society, are the following:


Misses Anna Clinton

Jennie Chapin

M. Lou Moran

Elizabeth Harris

Mary E. Springer

M. Fannie Chenery, (or Frances, if you prefer)

Lucy Salter

Mesdames O. H. Miner

M. A. Ordway

Nellie Harris-Tresize

A. W. French

Sarah S. Chatterton

Elizabeth J. Matheny

Mrs. J. M. Palmer

E. M. Nafew

A. S. Edwards

Martha E. Lord

J. M. Garland

Sarah Dickerman

Eleanor M. Chenery

Jennie Salter-Wolcott


The years will come and the years will go. Much will be forgotten; but the memory of the noble work done by the soldiers' aid societies all over the land will stand on historic record as long as time endures.


"Not without their worthy story

Can be writ the nation's glory, Illinois, Illinois."


Eva Munson-Smith (Mrs. George Clinton Smith), Member of Springfield Chapter D.A.R., and former Historian, four years.


October 14, 1912. I am indebted to the Daily Illinois State Journal, Daily Illinois State Register, Miss Elizabeth Harris, Mrs. Eleanor Chenery, Miss Mary Springer, and Miss Anna Clinton for most of the data in above article. Much that never found its way into print, was in the possession of Miss Tilton, one of the secretaries, now deceased, whose trunk containing the society's records, was burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871, where she was stopping at that time. Mrs. G. C. S.

List of Members 1861 ~ 1865

Illinois AHGP

Source: Publication Number Seventeen Of The Illinois State Historical Library Transactions Of The Illinois State Historical Society, For The Year 1912 May 23 and 24, 1912, 1914

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