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

September, 1861 – When Will We See the Elephant?

“Seeing the elephant” it’s what every soldier and soldier “wanna-be” wanted to do. It means seeing real meaningful battle. For those already mustered in the 20th Illinois Voluntary Infantry it had not yet happened. Yes, there were a few skirmishes around Cape Giradeau, but for the most part there were no real out and out battles.

On September 12th, the 20th was sent to Bird’s Point, Missouri. All were in hopes that this would mean real fighting. It did not; it just meant small raids here and there, more drilling, more marching but the elephant was nowhere in sight.

Back home T. O. Osborn, later to become General Osborn, a Chicago lawyer, was actively recruiting a regiment in the Will County area. He had started this task as soon as war was declared and was successful in putting together a full regiment. However, the Federal government refused to accept it as an “official” regiment from Illinois. The belief was that the war would be over in a few months anyway, so there was no need for more troops.

Osborn even tried to get the regiment mustered in as a Missouri regiment, as that state was low on recruits. It was a no go. Governor Yates of Illinois, with all his political pull was unsuccessful as well, though for his efforts the regiment was later called Yates Phalanx. It wasn’t until the Union was soundly defeated at the first Battle of Bull Run, called Manassas by the Confederates, did the Federal government realize that the war was not to be won that easily and allowed more units to be officially mustered in.

Of the recruitment George Woodruff writes, “Recruiting for this regiment was early commenced in this county, principally in the city of Wilmington, and the towns of Florence, Wesley, Channahon, and Homer.”

“Co. A was raised in Wilmington, largely through the efforts of S. W. Munn, Esq., who became its captain, and was afterwards promoted major of the regiment. He was assisted by Lt. L. A. Baker, afterwards Captain, and Lt. Richardson, and others.”

“Co. E was also raised mostly in Wilmington, Wesley, and Florence, and was originally known as the “Florence Rifles,” Jas. H. Hooker, of the last named town, being its first captain.”

“Hon. Amos Savage, of Homer, one of the oldest and best known residents of that town, was also actively engaged in raising Co. G, in his town and vicinity, and he became its 2nd lieutenant, and subsequently its captain. The first captain of this company was the Rev. Wm. B. Slaughter, well known to many of our citizens as once pastor in charge of the Methodist Episcopal church of Joliet.”

The regiment would be mustered inofficially in Chicago in December of 1861 and named the 39th Illinois Voluntary Infantry.

Also during September Adam Sachs and Adolph Schuele of Monee were active in recruiting a company of horsemen from that area later to become Company C of the 13th Illinois Voluntary Cavalry. The same month Dr. Danforth, of Joliet, recruited a company of cavalry from Will County first known as the Fremont Hussars, but later became Co. F of the 13th.

The Will County Board of Supervisors was busy during September paying the bills incurred by the war. Unlike today, when the Federal Government funds all war activities, the regiments in each State were funded by the States and Counties where the men mustered in.

In September $950 was paid out by the County Board for uniforms for Company E, the Will County Company, of the 20th for their uniforms.

The Board also authorized payments to families who had lost their sole support when the man of the house enlisted. Wives and later widows were given $1.25 per week; about $30 in today’s money, and another 50 cents (about $12 today) was allotted for each child under twelve. Children over twelve were considered old enough to go out and find a job for themselves. Sixty families, which included 120 children in Will County, qualified for payments at that time.

President Lincoln called for a day of prayer and fasting on September 26th. Services were held at the Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Joliet History Museum, as well as other churches across the County. The prayers were for an early end to the war and of course a Union victory. Neither would be happening any time soon.