The History of Joliet – Chapter 13

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

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“The boys of the regiment are proud of that lad, and he will not fail of making a great man for want of friends to assist him.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

The first news to arrive home from a Civil War battlefield was good news. Joliet had a young hero. But he was just the first of many hometown heroes.

In the fighting at Charleston, Mo., during August 1861, 15-year-old Harley WIXOM of Joliet had shot a rebel soldier out of the saddle with a Navy Colt revolver.

WIXOM, who was serving as an aide to the colonel of the 11th Regiment, captured three Confederate horses in that battle. And it was all witnessed by a Chicago Tribune correspondent, who reported:

“The boys of the regiment are proud of that lad, and he will not fail of making a great man for want of friends to assist him.”

While new regiments were being filled with recruits in Joliet, there were a variety of public meetings about the war. Women were busy raising money to take care of soldiers’ families and to buy uniforms.

“Union sociables now became a feature of the times when men and women, old and young, of all religions and political creeds, got together, worked and talked, and sung, and contributed for the good of the cause,” wrote George H. WOODRUFF, the local historian.

Patriotism was running so high that a London Times correspondent found out he wasn’t very popular in these parts. W.H. RUSSELL, whom WOODRUFF described as “the persistent slanderer of the north and the apologist for the rebels,” came here to visit and bird hunt. But the English writer was caught hunting on the Sabbath, arrested and fined $3.

“This gave him a wholesome respect for Illinois law,” WOODRUFF wrote.

The news of the city’s first hero was quickly overshadowed by the news of spilled blood at Fort Donaldson during the winter of 1861-62. Lt. Col. William ERWIN of the 20th Regiment was killed. His body was escorted to Joliet for services by Maj. Frederick BARTLESON.

ERWIN, a veteran of the Mexican-American War and one of this city’s first volunteers, was a personal friend of Gen. Ulysses S. GRANT. After a funeral service in Joliet’s Methodist Church, ERWIN‘s coffin was escorted to Ottawa for burial. The escort included the city council.

Before returning to the war, BARTLESON gave “a thrilling speech” in the courthouse and described the battle at Fort Donaldson. That same week, a train full of Confederate POWs captured at Fort Donaldson stopped in Joliet on its way to Chicago.

“Crowds of our citizens were attracted to the depot to take a look at these conquered rebs,” WOODRUFF wrote. “They were, however, treated courteously and kindly.”

At Shiloh in the spring of 1862, the 20th Regiment, which had two companies of Joliet soldiers, lost several men. A group of community leaders, including two Joliet doctors, rushed to the battlefield to help care for the wounded and bring bodies home for burial.

The reality of the war was coming home in coffins. BARTLESON came home from Shiloh with his left uniform sleeve empty.

That summer, President Abraham LINCOLN called for 300,000 more volunteers to save the union. There were rumors about a draft. The Will County Board of Supervisors appropriated $60,000 in order to pay a $60 bounty to new recruits.

At least 12 new companies of volunteers for infantry, cavalry and artillery units were being formed in Joliet. Patriotism was running so strong in Joliet that Sarah BUSH presented her fourth son to the Army. She said she wished she had four more sons to put in uniforms.

At this time, there was talk of forming the 100th Regiment, which would be totally composed of Joliet and Will County men. As it was organized, there was only one officer considered as the new regimental commander.

He was BARTLESON, who became the 100th Regiment’s one-armed colonel.

As the new regiment was being trained, the body of one of the city’s leading families was returned home. Maj. Fred MATTESON, son of Joliet’s Joel MATTESON, who had been governor, had died from typhoid fever.

Trains were passing through Joliet almost daily, hauling troops to distant battlefields. On Sept. 2, 1862, the 100th Regiment left for the war. WOODRUFF wrote that its 1,000 men were “the flower of the city and the county.”

“Its departure was a scene of the most intense interest and excitement,” the historian wrote. BARTLESON and his men would proudly write the regiment’s name in local history and the Civil War.

Published June 23, 2001