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

May, 1861 – “150 Years Ago This Month”

The first steps toward the war, Will County responds.

Today we are continuing our look at the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. Will County was in an uproar as the war effort started to take shape. Hop aboard the way back machine, our destination – May 1861.

As soon as war was declared, Illinois Governor Yates realized that just across the river was “the south” and that Cairo, at the hub of river shipping, would be a prime target for the rebels. Although Illinois did not have any formal troops of its own, there were some small towns that had amateur companies that drilled and practiced regularly.

Two towns in Will County filled that bill, Plainfield and Lockport. Captain Hawley’s company in Lockport responded instantly. It was their artillery piece that was the first to be put in place at Cairo in defense of their state. These men never mustered into the regular army, but for the first three months they were a critical part of the Union defense.

McAllister’s Battery from Plainfield were mustered in as Company K and part of Company I of the 10th regiment of the Illinois Infantry for a three month’s duration. At the time it was thought that the rebellion could certainly be crushed in three months.

Meanwhile men from all over the county were flocking to Joliet to enlist. Frederick Bartleson and William Erwin went from town to town to recruit a company. George Woodruff, in his book Fifteen Years ago gives us a look at what it was like.

“It was almost impossible to resist the impulse to enlist. One young man from the town (ship)of Reed, happening to be in the city, was so carried away with the enthusiasm that, without waiting to consult with his widowed mother, he enrolled his name among the defenders of the country. Instead of meeting the rebuke which he feared, he received from her the following God-speed :

” MY DEAR SON : I have been informed that you have enlisted in defense of our country. It does seem as though I could not let you go without seeing you again. But I feel that you are in a good cause. Do honor to yourself and your country, and do not turn your back upon the bullets, and may God bless and keep you.”

On April 30th the Will County Board of Supervisors allocated $3,000 to go to the families of those who volunteered to help defray the expenses they would have.

By May the fairground west of Joliet was chosen as the site of the training grounds. Buildings were already in place for offices, there was a spring on the grounds for water, and a beautiful oak grove for shade. It became known as Camp Godell.

On May 18, 1861 the Joliet True Democrat reported, “Camp Godell – Affairs appear to be moving along quite smoothly at camp Goodell. The soldiers are all comfortably quartered and in good spirits.

The election for Regimental officers came off on last Tuesday. C. C. Marsh, of Chicago, was chosen Colonel; Wm. Erwin, of Joliet, Lt. Col., and J. W. Goodwin, of Wilmington, Major. Of Col Marsh we know but little, but he is said to be an efficient soldier, and a young gentleman of fair reputation and acquirements. He is now in a position to make for himself, an honorable name.

Lt. Co. Erwin is known to all our citizens, having been for some years a resident among us. He will adorn the position to which he has been promoted, possessing, as he does, all the elements of the gentleman and soldier.

Major Goodwin, as Lt. In the Union Greys, proved himself an excellent officer, and his promotion is a deserved compliment to his superior military acquirements.”

The women of the county were not idle. They immediately formed societies that started collecting and rolling bandages, gathering food supplies, knitting sweaters and socks, and quilting blankets.

They started holding “sociables” at each other’s houses. Couples would come to play cards, talk, play music and dance or other such entertainment. They were expected to donate money toward the cause as the admission fee.

By the end of May 1861 companies arrived from other counties and the 20th Illinois Voluntary Infantry regiment was born. Will County was represented by 24 officers and 314 enlisted men.