The History of Joliet – Chapter 12

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“Nothing was talked of or thought of but war …”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

When the Confederate cannons fired at Fort Sumter, Joliet quickly became a city filled with a patriotic fever. Filled with speeches, flags and bands. Filled with volunteers ready to fight and save the Union.

The news of the war reached Joliet on a Sunday — April 14, 1861. From the pulpit to street corners, everyone talked about the war. That following Wednesday, President Abraham LINCOLN sent out a call for 75,000 volunteers.

That night, the courthouse was filled and overflowed outside. After several speeches, someone said something more than words were needed. Young Frederick BARTLESON, a lawyer, spoke briefly and said he wouldn’t ask anyone to do what he wasn’t willing to do.

To the cheering crowd, he was the first of 27 volunteers to sign enlistment papers. Two days later, there was another public meeting with an agreement to raise money for uniforms, equipment and care of the families of volunteers.

BARTLESON was made captain of a company that quickly filled with volunteers. T.Q. HILDEBRANT, a lawyer, and William ERWIN, a Mexican-American War veteran, formed a second Joliet company that filled with enlistments in three days.

“Public meetings were now held almost every evening, our city and county doing its full share in the great uprising,” wrote George H. WOODRUFF, the local historian. “Nothing was talked of or thought of but war …”

Meanwhile, the state Legislature met and appropriated $300,000 for 10 new regiments.

The two companies of Joliet soldiers became part of the 20th Infantry Regiment training at Camp Goodell, which was the old fairgrounds on the East Side of Joliet. The regiment of 1,000 men was filled by May 11 by companies of volunteers from eight nearby counties. Of them, Companies B and F were composed of 24 officers and 314 enlisted men from Joliet.

“It was almost impossible to resist the impulse to enlist,” WOODRUFF wrote.

He said the city took on a warlike appearance. Flags were flying. The fife and drum were sounding all through the day and night as men marched and drilled. Old men cleaned their guns. Women put together medical supplies and sewed uniforms.

On May 1, Stephen A. DOUGLAS, who had been LINCOLN‘s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, spoke from the back of a train car in Joliet. The man, who was called the “Little Giant” because of his speaking abilities, was a well-known face in Joliet.

“I am for my country and against all assailants,” DOUGLAS told a crowd of thousands here. He asked them to put aside party politics and uphold the government.

ERWIN, the Joliet lawyer, was made a lieutenant colonel, the second in command of the 20th Regiment. BARTLESON was made captain of a company as was HILDEBRANT.

On May 22, LINCOLN sent out a request for 42,000 more volunteers. WOODRUFF wrote Illinois needed to furnish six regiments, but had enough volunteers for 20 regiments. Recruits from all around were pouring into Joliet to enlist.

On June 3, the city draped itself in mourning over the death of DOUGLAS. All business was suspended, with a special memorial service at Camp Goodell.

But the mood at the new Army camp changed a few days later with a wedding. Maj. John GOODWIN, No. 3 in the new regiment’s command staff, married Jennie DALTON, who was described as one of the most beautiful maidens in Joliet.

Their wedding ceremony took place in front of the regimental headquarters, with the full regiment and guests attending. The bride, who was wearing a blue silk riding habit, and the groom, in full dress uniform and red sash, were married in a ceremony full of salutes, crossed sabers and formal cheering by soldiers.

“One could almost fancy it a chapter taken out of Ivanhoe,” WOODRUFF described.

On June 20, the regiment marched off to war with bands playing, flags flying and women crying. WOODRUFF said it was a scene mixed with joy and sorrow.

Up to this time, the glory of the Civil War was upon every lip, and all hearts were filled with patriotism. The daily newspapers in Joliet were filled with news of new Army regiments being moved to potential battlefield regions.

But those glory feelings about the war would end when the first death lists started reaching Joliet from distant battlefields. Battlefields like Bloody Shiloh in the spring of 1862.

Among the thousands of soldiers who died at Shiloh were men from the 20th Regiment. BARTLESON, by then promoted to major, came home to Joliet after Shiloh. The left sleeve of his uniform was empty.

Published June 16, 2001