What was then known as the War Between The States began 150 years ago this year. By the fall of 1861, battles were in full swing and many thousands of soldiers were dying from either battle or disease.
Modern generations know the Civil War from the many photographs that survive from that critical period in the nation’s history. Thursday, local historian Delaine Donaldson shared the stories behind the pictures during the first local history presentation of the season at the Effingham High School administrative meeting room.
Donaldson said Effingham County had about 2,000 men of military age (16-45) when the war began in 1861. Many of those men served in the Union Army. Some didn’t return, but many who did wrote about their military days.
“We want to talk about the soldiers’ experiences as we go through the period,” Donaldson said.
Perhaps the most enduring local memories of the war didn’t come from a soldier, but from the mother and wife of a soldier — Mary Newcomb. “Mother” Newcomb schlepped down south to be near her husband in the battle zone and serve as a nurse. Donaldson credited Newcomb with saving many limbs during the conflict in a day where doctors didn’t hesitate to saw off an arm or leg to prevent the spread of disease in those pre-antiseptic days.
“A lot of men were afraid doctors would flag them for an amputation if they had a wounded limb,” Donaldson said. “But Mother Newcomb was an advocate for making sure wounds stayed clean.”
Mother Mary wasn’t the only Newcomb from Effingham County involved in the war effort. Son Sidney, who ran the Illinois Central railroad station in Effingham when war broke out, might have been the first Effingham County resident to learn the news that war had broken out as the railroad telegrapher.
“Word went out that President Lincoln was looking for 75,000 men to save the Union,” Donaldson said. “The assumption was the war would be over in three months.
“Four years later, the war was finally coming to an end.”
At that time, military units were organized by state, such as the 11th Illinois. That particular unit was organized by a Mexican War veteran named J.W. Filler, who had moved to Effingham County in the late 1850s.
Filler, Donaldson said, went so far as to ask for a collection on the steps of the old Effingham County Courthouse so that the men could be sent off.
The 11th Illinois was first sent to Camp Hardin on the Ohio River before moving to nearby Bird’s Point, Mo., at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Other area soldiers recognized Thursday included H.H. Wright, 26th Illinois; Bob Gibson, 38th Illinois; Lucius Rose, 11th Illinois; T.H. Dobbs, 35th and 154th Illinois; and Fidelis B. Schooley, 54th Illinois.
Gibson survived the infamous Andersonville prison camp after being captured by the Confederates.
“When he came home (after the war), he was unrecognizable because he was so emaciated,” Donaldson said.
One area soldier who didn’t make it home was Col. T.E.G. Ransom, who lived near Farina before the war. Ransom was repeatedly wounded in battle as his 11th Illinois fought its way across the South. He ultimately died of disease in 1864.
While Col. Ransom didn’t make it home, brother Frederick did. Frederick, who like his brother was a railroad employee before the war, not only made it home but also created a number of sketches depicting his wartime experience.
Some of those sketches, drawn on a lined tablet, survive at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
“He left quite a record,” Donaldson said.
A number of soldiers of German descent also left Effingham County to fight in the war. They included Henry “Soldier” Uptmor of Teutopolis and three men who are buried in Bethlehem Cemetery near Altamont — Ferdinand Kruger, Frank Durheim and George Duckwitz.
Uptmor wrote about his experiences at the siege of Vicksburg, while the three Bethlehem men all made it home despite various travails.
The next presentation is set for Dec. 8, though Donaldson said it is unclear what the program will be.