The History of Joliet – Chapter 15
By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)
Submitted by Nancy Vargo
The rebellion, in its death throes, has dealt one terrible last thrust.
By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News
In the summer of 1863, bands played, cannons fired and church bells rang when the news reached Joliet about the Union victory at Gettysburg. Residents believed the backbone of the rebellion had been broken.
But there was more of the Civil War to come before the end. There were more volunteers for new regiments and finally the national draft. With that dreaded draft came the bounty jumpers and the substitutes.
The bounty jumpers would enlist to receive the bonus payments that increased in Joliet from $60 to $100 and then $200. But after being paid, they would desert. When the dreaded draft started in 1864, some were paying $600 to $1,500 for substitutes to take the place of a drafted soldier.
“Anything in human shape, black, white or mixed, was in demand,” wrote George H. WOODRUFF, the local historian, about the substitute soldiers.
Meanwhile, the telegraph quickly brought the latest war news to Joliet. The names of the dead arrived sometimes daily after battles. But there was an equal amount of soldiers who were dying from disease and illness.
On Dec. 1, 1863, a train hauling several thousand Confederate prisoners of war stopped in Joliet. The prisoners, who were on their way to a prison camp in Chicago, hadn’t eaten for a couple of days. When word of that hunger spread though the city, men and women carried baskets of food to the enemy soldiers.
Even though their sons, husbands and other loved ones were fighting and being killed by that same enemy, the people here refused to allow those men to starve. When the train left Joliet, the rebel prisoners of war gave three rousing cheers for Joliet.
Richmond, Va., fell to Union troops in the spring of 1865, and Joliet celebrated. That victory was followed by the surrender of Gen. Robert E. LEE and another city celebration.
But the news of the end of the war was quickly followed by the assassination of Abraham LINCOLN on April 15, 1865.
“The rebellion, in its death throes, has dealt one terrible last thrust,” WOODRUFF wrote.
The city was draped in mourning. On May 2, a crowd of 5,000 waited for the funeral train that was bringing LINCOLN home to Springfield. The railroad tracks were arched with flags, flowers and banners that said, “Reverently the prairie state receives the ashes of her noblest son.”
“Just as the train was approaching, a brilliant meteor shot across the heavens, apparently falling over the funeral car,” WOODRUFF wrote.
Most of the spectators only saw the train’s funeral car. A few were allowed to see the casket inside that car.
With the end of the war, the troops began to come home. Joliet streets were filled with returning men in uniform.
“But oh, with what thinned ranks they do come,” WOODRUFF wrote. “And while we rejoice at their return, and at the success which has crowned their toils and suffering, we mourn for those who have been left behind on so many bloody battlefields.”
He said the Fourth of July celebration that summer was something extra special in a park south of the city. A free meal was provided for any soldier there.
WOODRUFF wrote that more than 5,000 men from Joliet and Will County had fought in the Civil War. Of them, more than 500 had died. Many more had wounds they suffered for the rest of their lives.
Some of the most horrible deaths had been starvation in the Confederate prison at Andersonville. The county had lost 28 men in the prison.
In 1876, WOODRUFF published his book about the Civil War, titled Fifteen Years Ago Or The Patriotism of Will County. The book tells the history of each of the main regiments made up of local men as well as what was happening in Joliet.
The author wrote that he only knew of one Confederate man who had come from Joliet. The man’s name was John ROBERTS, who had worked in a local store selling horse collars, coffee and tobacco.
ROBERTS served with a rebel cavalry troop that had fought the 20th Regiment at Britton’s Lane, Tenn. Near the end of the war, some Joliet soldiers had met ROBERTS, who was a guard at a southern hospital that had been captured.
He told the men who knew him that he had joined the Southern cavalry as soon as the war started. ROBERTS bragged about being one of the rebel soldiers who had killed a cavalry colonel from Bloomington in a battle at Coffeeville, Miss., in 1862.
ROBERTS asked about some of his friends in Joliet, but said he would never return to the city. He swore that he wouldn’t stop fighting Yankees.
“This so far as I know was the only Joliet rebel that took up arms,” WOODRUFF wrote.
Published July 7, 2001