The 114th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, made up of men from Sangamon Cass and Menard counties, was known as the “Sangamo,” “Sangamon” or even “Lincoln’s Home” regiment during its Civil War service.
The 114th was formed in the summer of 1862, the second full year of the war. Its members had seen the casualty lists in newspapers — in fact, the regiment was mustered into service on Sept. 18. 1862, the day after the bloodiest day in American history, the battle of Antietam — but they enlisted anyway.
Almost 300 of the regiment’s 1,000 volunteers were from Springfield, and some of them knew President Lincoln personally. In fact, one member of the regiment, 1st Sgt. John C. Sprigg, was born and grew up in a house across the street from the Lincoln family home. To the soldiers of the 114th, there was a whole new meaning behind the phrase “Lincoln’s war.”
Following brief training at Camp Butler east of Springfield, including two demonstration marches through the city, the 114th was sent by rail and steamboat to Memphis.
There, many of the soldiers received their first exposure to slavery. Capt. William Mallory, a 39-year-old physician from Clear Lake, described the regiment’s movements and conditions in letters home.
Mallory’s reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued on Jan. 1, 1863, was part of a letter that was published in the Illinois State Journal on Jan. 27, 1863.
The President’s proclamation was received in camp this evening, in the Memphis Bulletin. It is commented upon according to the various tastes and prejudices of the men, but the general expression is “Bully for Old Abe!” … I would that Northern Christian sympathizers with slaver could see with their own eyes what I have seen in the last month. The silent sight would be a sufficient rebuke. …
At Jude Clayton’s near Cold Water there are three families of slaves numbering ten or twelve children ages from two to ten years who have blue eyes, auburn hair, as perfect European features as the most accomplished nabob in the land. At Mass Krus’s even more of the same sort. At Moody’s a little girl ten years old as fair and clear complexion of any child in Illinois, and these children held as slaves — treated as such — and raised for the market by their own fathers and grandfathers. This is the character of your chivalry, who are seeking to destroy the government and these specimens the fruit of the system which has so long been a curse to humanity.
Other members of the 114th felt differently, however. Capt. William Gibson of Springfield was dismissed from service after publicly disparaging Abraham Lincoln and writing, “I hope to sink in hell if I ever draw my sword to the fight for the negros.”
Overall, the 114th was involved only in a few of the major battles of the Western theater of the war, but when the regiment did go into battle, it did very well. At Brice’s Crossroads in June of 1864, an expedition of Union soldiers was badly beaten by one of the Confederacy’s best generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest. The 114th was in the thick of the fighting in the Union center; other regiments around them broke and ran, but only when the rest of the army began to retreat did the 114th fall back.
The regiment lost most of its killed in action at that battle. Of 397 soldiers on the unit’s rolls by then , between 205 and 287 were listed as killed, wounded, captured or missing after the battle.
First Sgt. Achilles Purvines of Pleasant Plains, who had been shot in the ankle, was among a number of 114th soldiers who had to struggle through swamps for days, living on blackberries and tree bark, to evade Confederates tracking them with dogs and return to Union lines. Most of those who were captured, including Capt. Mallory, were sent to the infamous Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Ga.
Following Brice’s Crossroads, the 114th moved on to Nashville, where the regiment became part of Gen. George Thomas’s campaign against Confederate forces led by Gen. John Bell Hood, including the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. The 114th was commended in Thomas’s after-action report for capturing a Confederate battery and turning its guns on the retreating rebels.
One of the final places the unit visited was New Orleans, where the soldiers apparently played tourist. One letter home describes a soldier and his buddy going to see the monument on the New Orleans battlefield where Gen. Andrew Jackson had defeated the British at the end of the War of 1812.
The 114th ended its service in August of 1865 (the war itself had ended in April). Of the 1,000 soldiers in the unit when it left Camp Butler in 1862, only about 350 men returned to central Illinois with the regiment. Some of the rest had trickled back to the area earlier, after leaving the service with severe illness or combat injuries — quite a few lost arms or legs, and many suffered from their wartime wounds for decades after the war. Other members of the regiment, of course, had died, in battle or otherwise, leaving widows and fatherless children in central Illinois.
Note: The reactivated 114th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, a reenactor unit, gives demonstrations regularly at central Illinois historic sites and elsewhere.
Contributor: David Wachtveitl. Wachtveitl, a second lieutenant and platoon commander in the Illinois National Guard, has researched the 114th Volunteer Infantry as part of his study toward a master’s degree in history at the University of Illinois Springfield. He also is a member of the reactivated 114th.
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