As New Year 1863 dawned the world was changing. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln had freed the slaves. While some rejoiced, others in Tennessee were facing possibly the most brutal battle of the war. The 100th Illinois Voluntary Infantry was there, and with them the valiant men of Will County.
On December 31st, 1862 the 100th was ordered to fall in at 9 a.m. in a cedar brake where they watched regiment after regiment move forward to the front, and soon saw the wounded going by in the other direction, leaning upon their fellow soldiers or being carried on a stretcher.
It wasn’t long before they were ordered forward, and then to lie down in a corn field. Soon the rebel batteries found them, and while changing positions they came upon the 110th Illinois. The men exchanged cheers, Illinois would hold the line.
George Woodruff, in his book The Civil War Years in Will County describes the moment this way, “After a little, a regiment in the rear is withdrawn, and the two, 100th and 110th, are left alone. They move forward to the edge of a cotton field. The enemy try hard to dislodge them, but here they lie, hugging the earth, while they are treated to a brisk cannonade, and our own batteries are replying over them. What terrific music! The shrieking of shells, the thunder of artillery, the crash in the tree tops overhead; and here they lie, unable to do aught but hold on the most trying position in which men can be placed.”
“The order to fall in comes again, but while doing so they expose themselves and 5 are killed, 30 wounded. They retreated and formed along a railroad. Woodruff writes, “But soon the boys saw the “butternut,” and gave them a volley. They went over the fence, and down the hill, like a lot of sheep. Lieut. Mitchell, of Wilmington, here receives the wound which proved mortal three days after.”
They came on, a brigade eight rows deep, with fixed bayonets in splendid style. But our boys stood their ground, and gave them such a reception as made them falter. Their officers tried to rally and lead them on again, but our grape and canister mowed them down, and a few well-directed volleys of musketry finished their repulse. They turned and fled, our men pursuing them until getting into range of their artillery, they fell back to allow ours to reply, and thus was now kept up an artillery duel until darkness closed the scene.”
“January 1st, 1863, dawned upon the field of Stones River, as well as upon the rest of the world. But what a strange New Year to the men of the 100th regiment! To those who had survived the carnage of yesterday, how different from any other New Year, whose light they had ever hailed!”
“At 3 o’clock in the morning, the regiment was relieved by another, and moved back a little. It had held an advanced and exposed position all night, without fire or blankets, and the relief was welcome. The men anticipated a breakfast, but no rations were issued. Here they lay in the mud all day, but were permitted to build fires.”
“There was no fighting of any amount done, both sides seemed willing to rest. At night the regiment was ordered into a beautiful cedar grove, and anticipated a good night’s rest; but the men had scarcely got into a doze, when the order came to “fall in,” and although so tired and sleepy that they could hardly keep their eyes open, or move, yet the boys obeyed the unwelcome order, and relieved another regiment, on the other side of the railroad, and were once more drawn up in line of battle.” They can see the rebel picket fires burning brightly, but are allowed none themselves. They were in a cornfield where the mud was so deep that they could not lie down, and they could only rest by leaning upon their muskets. Some, however, became so fatigued, that towards morning, they lay down in the mud, and the weather growing colder, they could hardly tear their blankets from the frozen mud in the morning.”
“But the enemy got the range of the 100th, and solid shot came ricocheting past them. Geo. H. Atkins, of Co. K is killed, his right arm being torn from his body. The battle seems to be renewed.”
“From the woods on the right, and in the rear, cheering is now heard, and soon a magnificent spectacle is seen. A division bursts from the timber, and sweeps into the open space behind the 100th; with colors flying, horses proudly prancing, the lines move steadily and firmly forward. A battery comes dashing along with them.”
“An officer with hat off urges on his men. This is Rosseau the game cock of Kentucky, as Prentiss calls him. But it is not long before the enemy is silenced. But here in the mud, for by this time the ground has thawed, the 100th regiment is obliged to remain, while the forenoon passes away, and part of the afternoon, with little fighting except by the sharpshooters
on either side.”
“From the point occupied by the 100th, every movement could be seen, both of our troops and of the enemy, and alternating feelings of joy and fear filled their minds, as the one side or the other, seemed to be getting the advantage. But soon a man comes riding furiously along the ranks in the rear, hat off, and coat tails flying behind him. He shouts a few words which the 100th cannot hear, but they know that it is good news, for the boys throw up their caps, and give volley on volley of cheers.”
“Soon the word reaches our boys, ‘ the enemy is being driven,’ and they are to follow them. Up they jump to their feet, and are moved over to the left. But the fighting has ceased; and they pass on crossing the ford, which they were guarding the other day, and here they stumble upon the dead, and hear the groans of the wounded and dying, but they are mostly rebels.”
“After various maneuvers they are anchored at last in a hollow, and allowed to rest, and build fires for the night. And, despite the groans of the suffering, despite the rain now pouring down, the tired men tank down to a sound sleep, until the next morning, when they awoke to find themselves in a grave yard, the corpses still unburied. The slaughter here must have been terrible. The wounded have been removed during the night. How ghastly the dead men look, their faces washed by the rain!”
For the most part, the battle of Stones’ River was over for the 100th. The losses were: from Joliet 2 killed, 6 wounded; from Wilmington 2 killed, 5 wounded; from Jackson 1 killed, 2 wounded; from Homer 1 killed, 2 wounded; from Mokena 1 killed, 1 wounded; from Plainfield 1 killed, 4 wounded; from Manhattan 1 killed; from Lockport 1 killed, 2 wounded, from Channahon 1 killed; from Wesley 1 killed, 3 wounded; from Florence 1 wounded; from Reed 2 wounded; from Du Page 1 wounded; from New Lenox 1 wounded; from Peotone 1 wounded; from Green Garden 3 wounded; from Wilton 1 wounded.