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December, 1862 – Winter Closes In

As the winter of 1862/63 approached, the Will County regiments headed for winter camp. The 20th, Will County’s first regiment to enter the War, found themselves in Mississippi. They marched from Holly Springs, crossed the Tallahatchie, marched to Oxford, then on Christmas Eve returned to the Tallahatchie.

The 39th remained in Virginia, taking in part in several small skirmishes, but in general spending their time guarding railroad cars, although on one occasion it aided in the capture of two pieces of artillery.

The 64th, arriving in Glendale, Mississippi, was engaged in hunting guerillas and scouting, and would remain there for nearly one year. We have little record of what they did, but one remarkable thing did happen. Capt. James Cameron, of Ottawa, organized a regiment of cavalry from the loyal Union men living in the area. They became known as the 1st Alabama Cavalry, southern fighters for the Union cause. Capt. Cameron commanded the unit until his death in April of 1863. Phillip Steinberg, from Wilmington also joined the 1st Alabama, was promoted to Captain, serving with them until his death in October of 1863.

But the 100th, the latest Will County regiment to enter the fray, did not find rest. They were stationed in Tennessee. A few days before Christmas, the orders to march came through. Sickness and desertion had whittled it down to 600 men fit for duty.

On Christmas Eve two days of rations were issued, the wagons repacked and sent to Nashville for storage, and the tents pitched, with orders to be ready to move at daylight on Christmas Day. Lying on the cold ground, thinking of a warm home and Christmases they have known, they wondered if they would ever make it back. Their mood was lightened as if by Christmas miracle, thirteen boxes for the regiment arrived with things sent from home. Each had a taste of Christmas and a reminder that they were not forgotten.

Orders on Christmas Day were rescinded and the day was spent quietly in camp. At 9 p.m. on the 26th the army was finally underway. The 100th camped on the night of the 27th in a wood, in the rain, without any tents. The next morning the men were called up at 5 o’clock and allowed to build fires and cook breakfast. By 9 a.m. they were on the move again.

Approaching the town of LaVergne one shot from an artillery piece evoked no response. But when they came within musket range the rebels came out from their concealment in the houses and opened fire. The 100th moved half a mile over an open field, under a heavy fire without a waver. When within eighty yards, charged on the double quick with a Union yell, and quickly drove the enemy out of town. Gen. Haskell complimented the 100th, who were made up of mostly new recruits, by saying, “We are all one now, old soldiers and new.”

During the following march, the going was rough. They had to fight their way through cedar thickets. But while doing so, they encountered a great number of rabbits. The boys couldn’t resist taking pot shots at them, putting them into their haversacks for future meals. Gen. Haskell chided them saying they would be caught by the rebels with their muskets empty, but didn’t say much more and the practice continued.

About noon it began to rain and the march was halted. While there a squad of rebel cavalry came charging down the lane, a volley of shots brought them to a halt and they held their hands up to surrender. One poor man who could not stop his horse in time came charging on and was shot in the abdomen and dragged through the Union camp. His horse was eventually shot and he was helped into an old shed, and taken care of very tenderly until his death 36 hours later. There was regret in the whole camp that his intention to surrender was not understood until it was too late.

The 100th continued on until they found themselves on the banks of the Stone’s River on the fateful day of December 31, 1862 where they were to encounter the most horrific battle they had yet to see. But that story is one that will be told when we tell of the start of 1863.

At home George Woodruff, in his book Fifteen Years Ago, Will County in the Civil War, describes the scene. “And so peacefully, though anxiously, died out the closing hours of 1862 in Will County. In Washington – in the White House – alone in his office, sits a man on whom a nation’s eyes are fixed, reverently invoking the gracious favor of Almighty God upon the words which he has written – words which are destined to make the admiration of the world, and to strike the manacles from the limbs of four million slaves” Lincoln would announce the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day, 1863.