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

May, 1863 – To Fight or Flee

When May of 1863 dawned, fresh with the breath of spring that reminds us how good it is to live on this earth, some from Will County were facing death, while others were in fear that they might have to do just that. The Conscription Act finally showed its teeth in Will County.

George Woodruff wrote about it in his Fifteen Years Ago, Will County in the Civil War. He wrote, “In May, Captain Abel Longworth, of Morris, was appointed Provost Marshal under the conscription act, S. Simmons of this county being commissioner, and Dr. McArthur of Ottawa, examining surgeon.”

“A draft was evidently being preparing for us. The towns were being enrolled, and the number subject to military duty ascertained. That looked like business. And then, many suddenly remembered that they have friends in Canada, and think it will be a good time to make them a visit. Many were suddenly afflicted with various difficulties and disabilities.”

“The demand for hair dye suddenly fell off, as old fogies no longer wished to be thought young, and stopped dyeing their hair and whiskers. It was something wonderful, the transformations that took place.”

“Then, too, a new business was devised by the sharp and knowing ones, and substitute brokerage became the road to wealth for many.” Here we should explain that while there was never anyone actually drafted in Will County, many became rich by becoming a substitute. There were agencies set up, much like job agencies now, that catered to those who needed money and those who thought they would be drafted and had enough money to pay someone else to enlist for them. The agencies took a percentage of the money paid to the enlistee.

This practice was not illegal and many a rich young man paid a high price to stay home in ease in comfort. But that was only money. There were others who paid a high price to fight for their country.

Both McAllister’s Battery and the 20th were heavily engaged in battle in May. McAllister’s Battery was in Mississippi engaged in small battles here and there during the first few days in May. Their importance in the upcoming battle to take Vicksburg was exemplified by the visit from General Sherman himself on May 9th. Again from Woodruff’s book we read, “Gen. Sherman then complimented the men for their services at Shiloh, when the battery went to his assistance. He told the boys that “if he could ever do anything for them he would do it that if any man in McAllister’s Battery ever wanted a blanket to let him know it, and if he had but one he would give him half.” When he had got through, the boys gave him three hearty cheers.”

On the 12th the Battery was engaged in the Battle of Raymond. Although they did not know it, other Will County boys in the 20th were also fighting the same battle. Both of these units went on to fight the true Battle of Vicksburg.

In Woodruff’s book the battle is described as it was viewed by the 20th. “It would be impossible to convey an adequate idea of the harassing, exhausting nature of the service which was rendered by the 20th, in common with all parts of the investing army. To lie day and night in the trenches, in the heat of a southern summer, under the fire of the rebel forts, and with two 10-inch guns (84-pounders), four 24- pounders (McAllister’s battery), and eight 10-pound guns, all the while being fired within twenty rods, was, to say the least, disagreeable. This was the kind of berth the boys of the 20th had got into.”

“One day the rebels opened on the 20th, with a new battery of 10-pound guns, with which they kept things lively for a while, until McAllister’s 24-pound guns got the range of it and soon silenced it. An officer, with his field glass, saw the rebels carry back fifteen dead men from the battery.”

“It was while this mortar was doing its work that R. W. Waterman, of Wilmington, made the boys a visit, and wanting to see as much as he could, went to the front to see the big guns. While going around with Lieut. Branch, one of the shells came over and buried itself in the ground within about 20 feet of them.”

“Branch, being used to the thing, dropped to the ground at once, and told Waterman to do so; but he was so paralyzed with surprise that he forgot to drop. Happily, the shell had buried itself deep in the ground before it exploded, which gave an upward direction to fragments, and they were not hit. On being asked why he did not drop, Waterman said he was so busy praying that he forgot it.”

R. W. Waterman was apparently destined for greater things – he would eventually become Governor of California.