In my past two columns, I have written about local events surrounding the upcoming 150th anniversary observance of the start of the Civil War on Feb. 11 and 12.
From what I have read in history books and personal memoirs, Vandalia was an armed camp during the years of the Civil War. All that was left on the home front were the old men and young boys. It was at this dangerous time that the Clingman Gang began to raid farms near Vandalia, including that of Joseph Bowles.
This outfit spread terror over five counties, and it was not until Josiah Wood, alias Clingman, was run out of the area and into Missouri that people began to breathe a little easier.
At the outbreak of the hostilities and call for soldiers, “Fayette County was the first in the field with recruits,” said the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Fayette County, published in 1910.
“Some of the men who went from Vandalia attained a national reputation. Col. Thomas E.G. Ransom, who was the Illinois Central agent at Farina when hostilities began, enlisted in the 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, soon became colonel and then major general.
“Others distinguished in the Union cause were: Col. Sturgess of the Eighth; Major Thomas K. Jenkins of the 14th Cavalry and Major A.P. Koehler of the Seventh Cavalry, all of Vandalia.
“Many of those who went out never returned, dying on battle fields or in the terrible Southern prisons. Others did live to get home, but died soon thereafter from injuries inflicted, or fatal diseases contracted.
“There were still others who dragged out a painful existence for many years, harassed constantly by the ills that were the result of their unflinching bravery and willingness to sacrifice themselves for their country.”
Seventeen volunteer companies were raised in Fayette County, with most of the men signing up for three-year enlistments.
Major John McIlwain, a member of the field staff, 35th Illinois Infantry, who died on June 22, 1864, was the first Fayette County man to die in battle. The local Grand Army of the Republic, Post No. 173, organized on June 11, 1883, with 45 charter members.
Col. Robert H. Sturgess was the first post commander. Through the local post, the sick were cared for; those who died were buried with military honors; and memorial services were held each Decoration Day.
The photograph accompanying this column was taken about 1903 at a G.A.R. convention held on the grounds of the Old Capitol, then owned by the county and used as the Fayette County Courthouse.
Adam Goodheart, a professor and author from Chestertown, Md., said that up to one-third of all Americans are descendants of Civil War soldiers. It would be interesting to know what percentage of these people have found their Civil War heritage.
A list of all known soldiers buried in Fayette County, known as the “Honor Roll,” was compiled by the veteran’s administration. Arranged in alphabetical order by cemetery name, the “Honor Roll of Fayette County” contains the names of more than 1,000 veterans of the Civil War among its pages.
We have the names of two Fayette County women who served as nurses, Mary Wren Sharp and Mary Dull. Confederate veterans buried in the county number 17 to date.
The adjutant general’s multi-volume report of Illinois units in the Civil War is also a good source of information. Another source for this information is through the secretary of state’s website www.cyberdriveillinois.com.
Was your grandfather a veteran of the Civil War? With the many records available, it has become easier to prove.