Illinois Civil War History

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Illinois Civil War History

Illinois Civil War History
President Abraham Lincoln.jpg
President Abraham Lincoln


Illinois became the 21st U.S. state on December 3, 1818, and it is known as the "Land of Lincoln."

"Illinois" is the modern spelling for the early French missionaries and explorers' name for the Illinois people, the Illiniwek, a name that was spelled different ways according to early records. When European explores arrived in present-day Illinois, the dominant power was the Illiniwek Confederation, a political alliance among several tribes. The Illini suffered in the 17th century as Iroquois expansion (caused by European expansion in the eastern United States) forced them to compete with several tribes for land.

French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. As a result of their exploration, the Illinois Country was part of the French empire until 1763, when it passed to the British. The area was ceded to the new United States in 1783 and became part of the Northwest Territory. The Illinois-Wabash Company was an early claimant to much of Illinois.

Created in 1809, the Illinois Territory witnessed the construction of numerous civilian forts during the War of 1812. On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st U.S. state. Early U.S. settlement began in the south part of the state and quickly spread northward, forcing the Native Americans to vacate the region. The state is known as the “Land of Lincoln,” because the 16th President spent his formative years in Illinois.

The State capitol remained at Kaskaskia, headquartered in a small building rented by the state. In 1819, Vandalia became the capital, and over the next 18 years, three separate buildings were built to serve successively as the capitol building. In 1837, the state legislators representing Sangamon County, under the leadership of state representative Abraham Lincoln, succeeded in having the capital relocated to Springfield, where a fifth capitol building was constructed. A sixth capitol building was erected in 1867, which continues to serve as the Illinois capitol today.

Besides President Abraham Lincoln, a number of fellow Illinois men became prominent in the U.S. Army or in national politics, including John M. Schofield and John A. Logan. Ulysses S. Grant, Galena, Illinois, would serve the nation as both a Union general and subsequently as the 18th President of the United States.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Illinois contributed more than 250,000 soldiers to the Union Army, ranking it fourth in terms of the total manpower in Federal military service. Although no major battles were fought in the state, several river towns became sites for important supply depots and "brownwater" navy yards. Several prisoner-of-war camps and prisons dotted the state, processing thousands of captive Confederate soldiers.


The state has a varied history in relation to slavery and the treatment of African Americans in general. The French had black slaves from 1719 to as late as the 1820s. Slavery was nominally banned by the Northwest Ordnance, but it was not enforced. But when Illinois became a sovereign state in 1818, the Ordnance no longer applied, and there were approximately 900 slaves. As the southern part of the state, known as "Egypt", was largely settled by migrants from the South, the section was hostile to free blacks and allowed settlers to bring slaves with them for labor. Proslavery elements tried to call a convention to legalize slavery, but they were blocked by Governor Edward Coles who mobilized anti-slavery forces, warning that rich slave owners would buy up all the good farm lands.

A referendum in 1823 reflects that 60% of the voters opposed slavery, so efforts to make slavery official failed. Nevertheless, some slaves were brought in seasonally or as house servants as late as the 1840s. The Illinois Constitution of 1848 was written with a provision for exclusionary laws to be passed. In 1853, state senator John A. Logan helped pass a law to prohibit all African Americans, including freedmen, from settling in the state. After 1865 Logan reversed positions and became a leading advocate of civil rights for blacks.

On February 1, 1865, Illinois officially proclaimed its conviction to outlaw slavery by being the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Illinois Civil War Map
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Illinois Slavery Map

(Map) Illinois in the Civil War
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Territory of Illinois (1809-1818)


During the 1860 Presidential Election, two men from Illinois were among the four major candidates. Illinois voted in favor of Springfield resident Abraham Lincoln (172,171 votes or 50.7% of the ballots cast) over Chicagoan Stephen Douglas (160,215; 47.2%). Of minor consequence in the state-wide results were Southern candidates John C. Breckinridge (2,331; 0.7%), and John Bell (4,914; 1.5%).

Throughout the conflict, Illinois politics were dominated by Republicans under the energetic leadership of Governor Richard Yates and Senators Lyman Trumbull and Orville H. Browning. Democrats scored major gains in the 1862 election by attacking Lincoln's emancipation plan as danger to the state since it would bring in thousands of freed slaves. As a result the Democrats had a majority in the legislature and in 1863, Browning's Senate seat, formerly held by Douglas prior to the war, was filled by the Democrats with the election of William Alexander Richardson.

Opposition views of the Peace Democrats (or "Copperheads") filled the columns of The Chicago Times, the mouthpiece of the rival Democratic Party. It was the nation's loudest and most persistent critic of Lincoln and emancipation. At one point early in the Gettysburg Campaign in June 1863, Union troops forcibly closed the newspaper at bayonet point. It was only reopened when Democratic mobs threatened to destroy the rival Republican paper and President Lincoln intervened.

According to The Union Army, vol. 2, p. 234: "At Springfield on June 17, 1863, in pursuance of a call issued by the Democratic state central committee, a mass convention of those opposed to the Republican administration, which in numbers — estimated at 40,000 — respectability, enthusiasm, and unanimity of views and purpose, was perhaps the most remarkable gathering of its kind ever held in the state. The resolutions adopted declared in favor of the supremacy of the Constitution of the United States in times of war as well as in peace; arraigned the administration for violating the Bill of Rights; condemned the arrest and banishment of outspoken critic of the war (former Congressman) C. L. Vallandigham, demanding his restoration; denounced the arrest of Judge Constable and W. H. Carlin; condemned the suppression of the Chicago Times; favored the freedom of elections; affirmed the doctrine of state sovereignty; opposed martial law; and stigmatized the late proroguing of the legislature by Gov. Yates as an act of usurpation." See also Illinois and the Civil War (1861-1865).

In the 1864 presidential election, Illinois residents supported Lincoln's reelection, giving the president 189,512 votes (54.4% of the total) to General George McClellan's 158,724 votes (45.6%). Within one year, Lincoln was dead and his remains had been returned to Springfield for burial.

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Illinois, a free state, had a population of 1,711,951. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), according to statisticians Phisterer (1883), Fox (1889) and Dyer (1908), 259,092 Illinois men served in the Union Army and as a result the state suffered 34,834 killed and several thousands more wounded. During hostilities, the State of Illinois ranked 4th (behind New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio) in total soldiers serving in the Union military. According to The Union Army (1908), "the losses among the Illinois troops, the computation being made on the basis of the whole number of men furnished by the state, one in 20 was killed in battle or died of wounds; one in 11.2 died of disease."

During the War of the Rebellion, Illinois was a major source for troops (particularly for those armies serving in the Western Theater of the Civil War), military supplies, food and clothing for the Union Army. Situated near major rivers and railroads, Illinois was a vital region early in the war for Ulysses S. Grant's efforts to seize control of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers. Illinoisans in various factories and mills, as well as the port and stockyards, helped provide a steady source of materiel, food, and clothing to the Union war effort. Mound City foundry workers converted river steamboats into armored gunboats for Federal service. With traditional Southern markets cut off by the war, the port of Chicago rose in prominence as Illinois expanded trade with the Great Lakes region.

Beginning with Illinois resident President Lincoln's initial call for troops, the state mustered 150 infantry regiments, which were numbered from the 7th Illinois to the 156th Illinois. Seventeen cavalry regiments were also mustered, as well as two light artillery regiments. Although there was a high response to the voluntary calls to arms, the military draft was a factor in supplying manpower to Illinois regiments late in the war. Illinois troops fought predominantly in the Western Theater, although a few regiments played important roles in the East, particularly in the Army of the Potomac. Several thousand Illinoisans were killed or died of their wounds during the war, and a number of national cemeteries were established in Illinois to bury their remains.

Illinois in the Civil War
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(Map) Illinois, Sectionalism, and a divided Union

Illinois Civil War Military Contributions
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Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States (1883)

There were no Civil War battles fought in Illinois, but Cairo, at the juncture of the Ohio River with the Mississippi River, became an important Union supply base, protected by Camp Defiance. Other major supply depots were located at Mound City and across the Ohio River at Fort Anderson in Paducah, Kentucky, along with sprawling facilities for the United States Navy gunboats and associated river fleets. One of which would take part in the nearby Battle of Lucas Bend.

Leading major generals with Illinois ties included Ulysses S. Grant, John Buford, John Pope, John M. Schofield, John A. Logan, John A. McClernand, Benjamin Prentiss and Stephen Hurlbut. Brigadier General Elon J. Farnsworth, who began his career in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, died at the Battle of Gettysburg. President Lincoln maintained his home in Springfield, Illinois, where he is buried. More than 100 soldiers from Illinois units would be awarded the Medal of Honor during the conflict.

The Union Army states," The splendid record made by the volunteers from Illinois could not have been accomplished, however, but for their gallant and able leadership. The state gave to the nation and the world not only the illustrious Lincoln, but the great commander-in-chief, Gen. Grant, who led her armed hosts to final victory. Eleven other major-generals of volunteers were credited to Illinois, namely: John Pope, John A. McClernand, Stephen A. Hurlbut, Benjamin M. Prentiss, John M. Palmer, Richard J. Oglesby, John A. Logan, John M. Schofield, Napoleon B. Buford, Wesley Merritt, Benjamin H. Grierson and Giles A. Smith. Twenty of those who started out as commanders of regiments were promoted to brevet major-generalship; 53 — excluding those named above — rose to be brigadier-generals, and 120 attained the rank of brevet brigadier-generals. The state was equally well served by the staff officers and aides-de-camp appointed therefrom, headed by the brave and efficient Gen. John A. Rawlins."

Throughout the Civil War the Republicans were in control, under the firm leadership of Governor Richard Yates. The Democrats, however, had a strong Copperhead element that opposed the war and tried in local areas to disrupt the draft. In Chicago, Wilbur F. Storey made his Democratic newspaper the Chicago Times into Lincoln's most vituperative enemy.

Camp Douglas, located near Chicago, was one of the largest training camps for troops raised in Illinois, as well as Camp Butler near Springfield. Both served as leading prisoner-of-war camps for captive Confederates. Another significant POW camp was located at Rock Island. During the course of the conflict, several thousand Confederates died while in custody in Illinois prison camps and are buried in a series of nearby cemeteries. See also Illinois and the Civil War (1861-1865).

Alton Prison

The former state penitentiary at Alton, Illinois, was used during the war to detain as many as 12,000 Confederate prisoners of war. Alton is located adjacent the Mississippi and approximately 15 miles north of St. Louis, Missouri.

The Union Prison at Alton began life as the Illinois State Penitentiary, which opened in 1833 with 33 cells. After a series of expansions, the prison contained 256 cells, a hospital, and other support facilities. It closed in July 1860, but less than two years later, after the Union victory at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in December 1862, there was a need for a prison to hold the captured Confederates. The first transfer of prisoners included 1,640 soldiers, who arrived at the Illinois State Penitentiary the following February.

Shortly after the prisoners’ arrival, there were reports of smallpox. The response was to move the patients to two small islands in the Mississippi River, one of which contained a separate hospital to treat the disease. Those who died of smallpox, including an estimated 240 Confederate prisoners and an unknown number of Union guards, were buried on Tow Island. Hundreds of other prisoners, who died in the camp from battlefield injuries, exposure to the harsh elements, or other diseases were interred in a burial ground north of the city—the same cemetery where prisoners of the state penitentiary were buried in the past. A total of 1,354 Confederate soldiers died while detained at Alton prison.

North Alton Confederate Cemetery, also in Alton, Illinois, is the final resting place for hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in captivity at the Union prison at Alton. However, the dead buried there have no individually marked graves. Instead, an imposing 58-foot tall granite obelisk dedicated to the Confederate dead towers over the burial ground.

The Confederate prisoners were buried individually with wooden stakes to mark their graves. Over time, the cemetery fell into disrepair and the grave identifications were lost. The Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead undertook a project to re-identify each grave in the early 1900s, but was unsuccessful. In 1908, it was proposed that a single monument be erected to honor the Confederate dead; the obelisk was dedicated the following year. The rusticated granite obelisk stands atop a stepped base and a concrete plinth. Tablets fixed to each side of the plinth list the names of 1,354 Confederate soldiers who died in the Alton prison, including those buried onsite and at the smallpox cemetery.

The Soldiers Monument is located on top of a hill at the northeast corner of the cemetery, near the entrance. From the monument, the grounds slope down to a ravine that crosses the center of the cemetery, and rises once more at the south end of the site. The cemetery is roughly rectangular in shape and is enclosed by a wrought-iron fence.

Illinois during the Civil War Map
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Secession of Southern states and readmission to the Union dates

Camp Butler

Camp Butler, aka Camp Butler Prison, located at Springfield, Illinois, was the second largest military training camp in Illinois, second only to Camp Douglas in Chicago. Originally the camp was designed to train and "muster-in" Illinois troops for the Civil War, but was quickly pressed into service to house the approximately 2,000 Confederate soldiers who had been taken prisoner at the surrender of Fort Donelson, in Tennessee on February 16, 1862. By the war's end, more than 200,000 Union troops would pass through Camp Butler.

As the POWs arrived–from all 11 southern states except Florida—they were put to work constructing a stockade and hospital. The hastily constructed barracks were inadequate and poorly constructed. Sanitation facilities were primitive and the daily ration of food often consisted of little more than hard biscuits and a cup of thin coffee. Almost immediately, the POWs began to die at a rapid rate. The heat of the summer combined with the severe winter cold, as well as diseases such as smallpox, typhus and pneumonia, decimated the prisoner population. Roughly 700 POWs died in the smallpox epidemic of summer 1862.

An area was set aside for the burial of Confederate prisoners-of-war who died at the camp. and they were interred in the cemetery in their own Confederate section. A total of 866 Confederate prisoner graves can be found today in the National Cemetery. The Confederate graves are easily distinguishable by the pointed headstones, which were instituted under the superstition that it was a means of preventing the devil from sitting on their graves. They are buried side by side with 776 graves of Union soldiers and enlistees, making a total of 1,642 Civil War graves.

Camp Douglas

Camp Douglas, aka Camp Douglas Prison, in Chicago, Illinois, was a Union Army prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. The Union Army first used the camp in 1861 as an organizational and training camp for volunteer regiments. It became a prisoner-of-war camp in early 1862. Later in 1862 the Union Army again used Camp Douglas as a training camp. In the fall of 1862, the Union Army used the facility as a detention camp for paroled Union Army prisoners pending their formal exchange for Confederate prisoners. Camp Douglas became a permanent prisoner-of-war camp from January 1863 to the end of the war in May 1865. In the summer and fall of 1865, the camp served as a mustering out point for Union Army volunteer regiments.

By the end of the Civil War, approximately 26,060 Confederate soldiers had been confined at Camp Douglas prison. The official death toll at Camp Douglas has been put at 4,454. Others have estimated that from 1862 through 1865, more than 6,000 Confederate prisoners died from disease, starvation, and the bitter cold winters (although as many as 1,500 more were reported as "unaccounted" for), based in part on an 1880's memorial in Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery which states that 6,000 Confederate dead (4,275 known dead) are buried there in a mass grave.

In the aftermath of the war, Camp Douglas was described as the North's "Andersonville" for its poor conditions and death rate of between seventeen and twenty-three per cent. After the war, Camp Douglas was decommissioned and the infamous barracks and other buildings were demolished. The camp was gone by the end of November 1865 and the property was sold off or returned to its owners during late 1865 and early 1866.

Map of Illinois Civil War Battles and Battlefields
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High Resolution Map of Illinois

Rock Island

The Rock Island Arsenal, also known as Rock Island Prison Camp, was located on Arsenal Island on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. It lies within the state of Illinois.

During the Civil War, Arsenal Island was home to a large Union army prison camp for captured Confederate soldiers (the Rock Island Prison Barracks). The island facilities were converted and built in 1863 and were not completed in December of that year when the first Confederate prisoners were incarcerated. The prison camp was operational from December 1863 until July 1865 when the last prisoners were freed. During its twenty months in operation, the prison camp detained more than 12,400 Confederates, and, as a result, a total of 1,960 Confederate prisoners and 171 Union guards died. After the war the prison facility was completely destroyed.

Illinois and the American Civil War Map
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Sectionalism and Illinois Map

Illinois was among the big economic winners during the Civil War and Reconstruction, as Americans moved west. Chicago had built itself into a major industrial and economic center and a railroad hub, attracting tens of thousands of settlers to the state, and growth and investment continued rapidly. Illinois farm values rose 125% in a decade, and the state's manufactured output -- including the meat, brushes, glue, and other products of Philip Armour's pork-packing operation -- skyrocketed 257% in value.

Illinois’ native son won reelection as president in 1864 and saw the war brought to a close. However, he was assassinated shortly thereafter. Lincoln’s return by train to Illinois is one of the more moving events in American history. Illinois gave its most courageous sons and daughters to this war that split the nation.

After Lincoln's death, Ulysses S. Grant called him "incontestably the greatest man I ever knew." Southern-born Elizabeth Blair said that, "Those of Southern born sympathies know now they have lost a friend willing and more powerful to protect and serve them than they can now ever hope to find again."

Vice President Andrew Johnson became President upon Lincoln's death. Johnson, of Tennessee, was to become one of the least popular presidents in American history. He was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868, but the Senate failed to convict him by one vote. Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. His assassination had a long-lasting impact upon the United States, and he was mourned throughout the country in both the North and South. Abraham Lincoln’s legacy and accomplishments still resonate throughout the nation, with Lincoln often stated as America’s greatest president.

See also

Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; US Census Bureau; The Union Army (1908); Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and Died of Wounds in the Union Army during the Civil War (1915) Wright-Eley Co.; Burton, William L., Descriptive bibliography of Civil War manuscripts in Illinois. Civil War Centennial Commission of Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1966; Cole, Arthur Charles, The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870, (Sesquicentennial History of Illinois, Vol 3) (ISBN 0-252-01339-5) (1919, reprinted 1987); Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 volumes. Thomas Yoseloff, 1959; Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States (1883); Hicken, Victor, Illinois in the Civil War, University of Illinois Press, 1991; Levy, George, To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas 1862–1865. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, revised edition 1999, original edition 1994. ISBN 978-1-56554-331-7; Office of the Adjutant General, Roster of Officers and Enlisted Men. 9 volumes, State Printing Office, 1900; Pucci, Kelly. Camp Douglas: Chicago's Civil War Prison. Arcadia Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0-7385-5175-9; Speer, Lonnie, R. Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, PA: Pelican Publishing Company Stackpole Books, 1997. ISBN 0-8117-0334-7; U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 volumes in 4 series. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.


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