Local Troops in the Civil War Series
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil war, the Wabash County Museum is researching and publishing information about the local troops who fought in that war. It is the intention to take the published information about local units of Civil War soldiers and bring it to the average reader and make the civil war and its battles 150 years ago more understandable. Most of us know the major campaigns and the most famous generals, but how did our local troops fit into this War Between the States? As I have learned from my research in local newspapers, archives and unit histories, there were many sides to the issues. There are local heroes and many young men who did their duty to country, as they saw it. Many didn’t return home and of those who did return, many suffered with long term injuries.
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861 it had been brewing for many years as state’s rights advocates clashed with federalists. Political compromises were made to keep the union together as long as possible before the differences became too great and war broke out when state after state seceded from the union. Northerners and Southerners alike thought it would be a short war. Young men strutted and bragged about showing those “Yankees” or those “Rebels” just how quickly they would be defeated. Lincoln first called for 60,000 troops for 90 days service and most folks thought the war would be over in 90 days. Few suspected just how long it would drag on, how much devastation would occur, how many men would be lost and how strongly committed their enemy was.
After the first battle of Bull Run, in which the union troops were defeated on July 21, 1861, Lincoln called for more troops. The South named the battles after the nearest town while the North named them after terrain features such as rivers or streams. Confederates referred to this as the battle of Manassas. Manassas, Virginia was a village with a vital railroad junction located south of Washington, D.C. Union troops moved toward that railroad junction and Confederate troops met them near a stream called Bull Run. The union soldiers crossed the Bull Run creek near a country chapel called Sudley Church. The little church became a hospital for union soldiers as the battle grew fierce and soon there were over 300 wounded Union troops around the church who were captured. The date and place of the battle was announced in advance and a crowd of spectators; men accompanied by women in fine hats with parasols, including several senators, had gathered to observe the battle, taking picnic lunches. When the fighting grew heavy, the buggies and carriages of civilian observers scurried back to Washington, D.C. for their safety. By 6 p.m. Lincoln received a telegram that the battle was lost. The Union was humiliated and the Confederates were jubilant.
Men all over the country began to campaign for units to be raised from their home counties. One of these men was Theodore S. Bowers of Mt. Carmel, IL. Bowers was born in Pennsylvania and by the age of 20 had come to Wabash County and learned the printer’s trade, becoming the editor of the Mt. Carmel Register. He had a great standing in the community because of his position at the newspaper and this made it possible to raise a company for the 48th Illinois Infantry Regiment very quickly. Bowers was asked to be the captain of the company, but refused and joined as a private. In September 1861, Company G, made up of men from Wabash County and Company H with men from Wabash and White counties joined the rest of the 48th Illinois Infantry Regiment at Camp Butler, Illinois. Men in the 48th Illinois came from Pope, Clay, Hardin, Washington, Marion, Wabash, White, Wayne and Clay counties and one company was from Kentucky. On November 11 the 900 men moved out to Cairo, Illinois and constructed barracks for their winter quarters.
In January the regiment was assigned reconnaissance near Columbus, KY on the Mississippi River. The battle of Belmont at Columbus was a raid by Union troops on the Confederate stronghold and was designed to test Confederate strength. It was the opening of the Union’s western campaign. (The Columbus-Belmont State Park is a great place to visit a battlefield within a days’ drive, where the fortifications built by Confederates and later occupied by Union forces are still visible and reconstructed buildings give the history of the site. A great chain was constructed across the Mississippi to keep union ships from passing and gaining control of the great river.)
In January of 1862 T. S. Bowers had been appointed as clerical assistant at Brig. General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters.
In March 1862 the regiment was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee where the regiment participated in the campaign against Ft. Henry on the Tennessee River and Ft. Donelson on the Cumberland River.
More to come. Claudia Dant, Wabash County Museum