Friday, April 15, 2011
Lake County's Entry into the Civil War
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.
The first military action of the war was the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina on April 12-13, 1861. The fort dominated the entrance to Charleston Harbor and was thought to be one of the strongest fortresses in the world.
Throughout March 1861 the Confederates sought to drive out the Union occupants peacefully. Once it became clear that the fort would not surrender, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, took action. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, and 34 hours later the fort surrendered.
The news of the fort's fall reached Lake County, Illinois on April 15, and the next day a war meeting was held at the courthouse in Waukegan. Hundreds gathered, and men signed up to fight amid pro-Union cheers, and the sounds of a fife and drum band.
On the day of the pro-Union rally, the steps of the courthouse (shown above at right) were crowded with men eager to enlist.
From 1861 to 1865, over 1,900 Lake County men (from a total population of approximately 18,000) joined the cause voluntarily, mustering into 75 different infantry and cavalry regiments throughout the State of Illinois. Many mustered into the Thirty-Seventh Illinois Infantry known as the “Fremont Rifles,” which organized at Chicago in September 1861.
Andrew Bensinger, (above) a Bavarian immigrant who settled in Avon Township, mustered into the 37th Illinois on August 19, 1861. He died of dysentery at Booneville, Missouri less than two months later. Disease killed twice as many men as bullet wounds during the war. The poor hygiene of camp life and lack of adequate sanitation facilities killed Bensinger. LCDM 2007.7
During the summer of 1861, Illinois' Governor Yates ordered all companies be disbanded and return home because there were more companies organized than could be accepted and supplied. The order caused men to find other regiments in which to enlist, although the 37th Illinois continued to train and was soon sent to Missouri.
When recruiting began in earnest again in Lake County, during the summer of 1862, enough men enlisted to organize four companies. With six additional companies from Jo Daviess County, the two counties united into a single regiment known as the Ninety-Sixth Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
Soldiers of the 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry mustering at Waukegan, circa 1865.
Union forces tried for nearly four years to take Fort Sumter back. Finally, on April 14, 1865, the flag that the garrison commander, Major General Robert Anderson, had taken with him was raised over the fort once again.
That night, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, went to see a play at Ford’s Theater.