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August, 1861 – The Home Front Gets Involved

August of 1861 saw little action on the front lines. The 20th saw a few small skirmishes, but nothing to write back home about. But back on the home front, the citizens were full of action.

Down At Cairo Capt. Ed McAllister’s Plainfield Battery was mustering out. They were the first called to the front, for a three month’s enlistment only. McAllister immediate reorganized most of that group, and along with other men mustering out created Battery D of the 1st Illinois Artillery.

Captain John Felter from Lockport helped recruit a company of Will County men for the 4th Illinois Cavalry. They immediately went into camp at Ottawa.

With these additional companies sent from Will, the citizens became avid war fans. George Woodruff describes it like this, “Having by this time sent a good many men to the war, we all felt not only a general interest as citizens in every day’s report from the various points occupied by our armies, but a special and personal interest.”

“The daily papers were eagerly devoured morning and evening. How impatient we got at the delay in army movements! How we railed against the red tape! How clearly we all saw just what ought to be done! What accomplished military strategists we became all of a sudden! How easily we could break the “back bone of the rebellion,” if we only had the ordering of affairs, civil and military! It seemed as easy as managing your neighbor’s business, or bringing up his children!”

War, for the most part, is a young man’s occupation. But many men over the age of 45 wished they could also find glory in the fight. During August, 1861 four prominent men from Will County decided to get closer to the action. They took a trip to visit the 20th on the front lines near Cape Girardeau.

Just to see some fighting was their goal. Woodruff puts it like this: “They wanted to see how the boys got along, and also to get a glimpse -just a glimpse of the elephant. The boys, you may well believe, were glad to see them. They had their pockets full of currency, and were liberal in dispensing it for the comfort of the boys.”

“While they were there they expressed the wish that Jeff Thompson would make his appearance, so they could see a little fun. Well, one day scouts came in who reported that Jeff was approaching the Cape in full force. Here was just what they had been longing for. But it not infrequently happens that we are greatly disappointed when our prayers are answered.”

“They took a sober second thought. A siege would be tedious. They might get short of rations; and our distinguished civilians liked their rations full and regular, as any one may see by taking a look at some who still survive. And then, if Jeff should have artillery their stay might be disagreeable. Those shells and cannon balls had a disagreeable way with them, and might not respect the persons of civilians, however distinguished.”

“And then they were some of them large men and might be in the way, and the military might feel embarrassed at their presence! The more they thought about it, the plainer it appeared that however anxious they might be to see the elephant, it was their duty to sacrifice their curiosity, and to get to some place where they would not be in the way. So they suggested to Col. Marsh the propriety of chartering one of the boats which lay in the river, and setting them across beyond the jurisdiction of Jeff Thompson.”

“To this proposition Col. Marsh assented, and the distinguished civilians were accordingly landed upon the Illinois side of the river, and having put the broad Mississippi .between them and Jeff, they shook off the dust of their feet as a testimony that they held him and his rebel hordes in utter contempt, and then made their way to the nearest railroad station.”

Late in the month the Chicago Tribune printed an article about a young Will County lad who showed his mettle despite his youth.

“A young boy named Hartley Wixom, of Joliet, a body servant of Col. Wallace, of the 11th Illinois US infantry, made a hero of himself, and deserves the most honorable mention. The lad is but fifteen years old, active and intelligent. During the fight he noticed one of the rebel troopers retreating toward him ; quickly lifting his revolver (the young chap, by the way, was armed with a navy pistol given him by Col. Wallace,) he fired and brought the rebel to the ground.”

“Running up, he stripped the fellow of his haversack and canteen, and, seizing the horse, led him off to a place of safety as a prize. The young soldier afterwards captured two more horses, and brought them safely off the field. He was very active in his attentions to the wounded, bandaging their cuts, and providing for their comfort in various ways. The boys of the 22d are proud of that lad, and he will not fail of making a great man for want of friends to assist him.”

The citizens of Will County wanted some public way to show their support of the war; so they started holding war meetings. Woodruff tells us, “War meetings are again the order of the day. Saturday, Aug. 31st, a rousing one was held at the court house, Hon. S. W. Bowen in the chair, A. N. Waterman, secretary. Speeches were made by Bowen, Osgood, Randall, Elder Crews, Norton, Breckenridge, Snapp, &c. The meeting was harmonious, although criticism was freely indulged; democrats and republicans cordially sympathizing with the government in its efforts to put down the rebellion, and strong resolutions in support of the government were passed.”