Col. Ulysses S. Grant passed up a chance to have his soldiers ride in train cars. Instead, he thought it best that they march to war.
So, on July 3, 1861, Grant mounted a horse and led his first Civil War command out of Camp Yates in Springfield, en route to Quincy. The 39-year-old Grant had molded his somewhat unruly troops — members of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment — into a disciplined fighting force.
“There was direct railroad communication between Springfield and Quincy, but I thought it would be good preparation for the troops to march,” Grant wrote in his “Memoirs.”
The approximately 1,000 men of the 21st Illinois marched about 8 miles the first day before setting up camp just west of present-day Riddle Hill near what is known today as the Old Jacksonville Road in Sangamon County.
On the Fourth of July, Grant led his men to Island Grove in western Sangamon County, where they stopped for a while at the home of Capt. James N. Brown, a wealthy farmer and Shorthorn cattle raiser.
“My father, Capt. Brown, sent (my brother), William Brown, out to meet Col. Grant and tell him the people wished him to stop and the troops could rest and enjoy the day with them,” wrote Benjamin Warfield Brown in 1927. “The exercises soon began and Col. Grant and a great many of the soldiers listened very intently to the exercises. Hon. David A. Brown read the Declaration of Independence and the Rev. Peter Cartwright delivered the main address.”
The march on the Fourth covered about 17 miles and ended on the Corrington farm, 9 miles east of Jacksonville.
Years later, William Corrington recalled the soldiers’ encampment on his father’s farm.
“I well remember that 4th of July as I watched Grant and his regiment go in camp just across the road from my father’s home … on the head of the Mauvaisterre (Creek),” Corrington wrote.
“Another reason that I remember it so distinctly was I had my pockets full of firecrackers; had been celebrating the 4th, when by some means, the crackers got on fire, and before I could get them out, they had burned a hole in my new cotton trousers; and as I was standing in front of Grant’s tent that evening, he said, ‘Son, what’s the matter with your pants?’ My answer was: ‘I had firecrackers in my pocket, and they got on fire,’ He laughed and said: ‘I bet you are a Union man,’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ I was all through the camp, and the soldiers gave me several little keepsakes I prized very highly. They were a tired, footsore lot.”
On July 5, the 21st Illinois broke camp and headed west to Jacksonville.
The regiment passed through Jacksonville on State Street late on the morning of July 5. As the soldiers passed the Joshua Moore family home on West State Street, 15-year-old Ensley Moore asked what regiment it was.
“The reply was ‘the 21st Illinois.’ And to the question who is your colonel, the reply was ‘Grant.’ Grant! I had never heard of him, and probably no other citizen of Jacksonville had,” Moore said years later. “But there he was, riding along up the street, his horse moving at a slow walk, an officer on each side of the colonel.”
The 21st Illinois made its way to the Morgan County Fairgrounds just west of Jacksonville and rested. During the Civil War, the fairgrounds was called Camp Duncan and was used for drilling soldiers.
In 1910, A.Y. Hart of Mattoon, who served in the 21st Illinois, remembered the regiment’s brief stay at the fairgrounds.
“Col. Grant stationed himself at the gate at the fairgrounds and examined our canteens for whiskey,” Hart said. “One man of my company bought a coffee boiler, stopped the passage between the boiler and spout with wax, filled the boiler with whiskey and the spout with milk, and Col. Grant passed him in.”
After resting at the fairgrounds, the 21st Illinois marched southwest to Allinson’s Grove, about 7 miles from Jacksonville. The soldiers camped there the night of July 5.
The next day, Grant and his command covered about 15 miles, marching from Allinson’s Grove, through Exeter in Scott County and camping that night on the northern edge of Naples, near the east bank of the Illinois River.
On July 8, the regiment was ferried across the river and then marched west on the Perry and Naples Road. Grant later received orders to return to the west bank of the Illinois River and wait for a steamboat that would carry them to St. Louis. From there the regiment was to board a train for Ironton, Mo.
Grant and the regiment waited for the steamboat, but it never arrived because it got hung up on a sandbar downstream. On July 10, the 21st Illinois crossed the Illinois River and caught a train for Quincy. Grant’s men then went to Missouri to reinforce Union troops who were under attack from secessionist guerrillas.
Grant left the 21st Illinois in August 1861, when he was promoted to brigadier general. He would later lead all Union forces in the war.
Members of the 21st regiment, most of whom were from eastern Illinois, later participated in the battles of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Chickamauga, Ga., where they suffered many casualties.
Greg Olson of the Jacksonville Journal-Courier can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.
–BICENTENNIAL 2018: Grant’s first march to war was from Springfield to Quincy–