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Will County Historical Museum and Research Center It's your heritage.

April, 1861 – “150 Years Ago This Month”

And so it begins, 150 years ago.

It is about to start, the 150th anniversary of the war among brothers, among families, among races and most tragically of all, among the citizens of the United States of America, or rather what had been the “united” States.

In December of 1860, upon hearing of the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by 10 other states. Lincoln took over a fractured country.

It began with a blockade of the Union troops at Fort Sumter. When a supply ship tried to run the blockade rebel forces fired on Fort Sumter and took it. The date was April 12, 1861.

The news was finally put on the telegraph wire on the 14th; the effect was recorded by George Woodruff in his book “Fifteen Years Ago, Will County in the Civil War.”

“What a Sabbath was April 14th, 1861! When we received the startling news that Fort Sumter had surrendered to traitors, and that the hateful Palmetto flag, the emblem of treason and oppression, had displaced the Stars and Stripes, and now floated over its ruins! People on their way to church, hearing the news, forgot their errand and the day, and gathered at the street corners, and discussed the situation.” “Ministers preached to dull ears, and scantily filled pews, except such as had the tact to throw aside their preparations, and seize upon the theme of the hour.”

“One of our citizens, a retired clergyman, on hearing the news, took down his rusty rifle, cleaned it up, molded a lot of bullets, and then went down the river a mile or so, and refreshed his practice in gunnery by shooting at a mark. Having satisfied himself that he had not lost his skill, he marched back in line of battle, with his gun loaded and capped, ready for the combat!”

“The news reached the quiet village of Plainfield about noon. McAllister’s old gun was at once taken to the common, and vigorously fired. The bells were rung, the Congregational Church was thrown open to the people, and the re-organization of the battery on a war basis, was at once commenced, and, as we shall see by and by was soon on its way to Cairo.”

“On Wednesday succeeding (April 17th), on receipt of the call of the President for 75,000 men to “suppress the combinations which had been made against the laws of the United States,” a meeting was held at the court house. The meeting was called for the purpose of expressing public opinion, and for taking preliminary steps toward forming a company to defend the Stars and stripes.’

“The court house was filled to overflowing. A committee was appointed to draft resolutions, and the meeting was addressed in stirring speeches. But it was felt that the crisis called for something more than words. A paper pledging those who signed it to enlistment in defense of the government was drawn up, and an opportunity was given to any who were willing to do so, to sign.

“A young lawyer of the name of Frederick A. Bartleson, sprang to his feet, and after a brief and eloquent speech, walked up to the table, with the remark that he would ask no one to do what he was not willing to do himself, signed his name as the first volunteer in our city and county. This act was received with cheers long and loud. Others followed his example the same night to the number of twenty-seven.”

Unknown to anyone, on the same night M. N. M. Stewart left his home in Wilmington to join the Chicago Dragoons, a cavalry troop. However, it was Bartleson alone that is remembered for being the “first” to volunteer.

But there was still a question as to whether the President had a right to coerce the rebel states back in the Union. The Illinois Supreme Court went into session to consider it. A representative from Will County was sent to Springfield, and a Mr. T. Q. Hildebrand reported back to an awaiting crowd in Joliet.

There were so many people attending that Hildebrand had to be passed over the heads of the crowd to get to the podium like at some kind of rock concert. He announced that the Supreme Court said that the war was legal.

Woodruff tells us what happened then, “The announcement was received with loud demonstrations of satisfaction, and was hailed by all parties as removing all doubts as to the duty of the hour.”

“The usual amount of patriotic speeches was made, and patriotic songs were sung, and a committee of six was appointed to raise funds for the benefit of the families of the volunteers. Also another committee was appointed to procure uniforms and outfit for the new Will County regiment.”