In April of 1861, two political leaders issued calls for help from citizens: First, President Lincoln issued his call: “WHEREAS, The laws of the United States have been and are opposed in several states by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in the ordinary way, I therefore call for the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of 75,000, to suppress said combination and execute the laws. I appeal to all loyal citizens . . . .” Second, Illinois Governor Yates issued a proclamation to convene the Legislature of Illinois on April 23, to organize and equip the militia of the State to respond to Lincoln’s request.
The process for the state was simple: First, the quota was enumerated for each county, then for each township. The message was sent out to the county seats. Effingham County received the plea via the telegraph. S.A. Newcomb, Illinois Central agent, was the telegrapher who received the message then posted it in the new county seat, the tiny hamlet of Effingham.
Nearly every aspect of life changed as the result of the war. The county experienced a lot of economic change; and, of course, there were red-hot discussions focusing on political matters. Of far greater importance, however, was what happened socially as such related to the economic and political issues.
In economic matters, for example, Effingham County’s transportation system — so vital to prosperity — was put on hold as the chartering of the Vandalia and Terre Haute Railroad was deferred to a post-Civil War time. The main concern for the state was the development of north/south rail routes so that both soldiers and supplies could get to the locations related to the war effort. On the surface, that seemed to slow down economic growth locally.
There was general farm prosperity in this county, however. Looking at prices paid for farm produce, farmers saw the following dramatic changes: The price of wheat went from 85 cents per bushel to $1.75 while corn went from 25 cents to $1.05. Similar increases in livestock prices were evident as cattle went from $2.25 to $8 and hogs from $4 to $12. Those changes were evidence of economic boom.
There was a great loss of manpower through near depopulation of the males of the county as the young and able-bodied went to war. That was quite significant in numerous ways. Some agricultural matters simply came to an end, while other matters adjusted to the times. There was the cessation of the Effingham County Agricultural Society after the annual fair in 1861 because the Secretary, Sam Moffitt, went to war. Many county women experienced a changing role as their work expanded to include much more direct involvement in the farm fields. Some women even volunteered to be nurses on the battlefields so they could tend to their loved ones and make sure they returned after the war was over. One was Martha Abraham from Watson, a woman who went to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to care for her son after he was wounded at Stones River. Unfortunately, while there, she took sick and died.
Because the war did not end, the military draft came into existence. Just as had been the case in the call for volunteers at the start of the war, there were quotas for the county which in turn caused there to be quotas for each township. For the most part, Effingham County had a limited need for a draft due to large numbers of volunteers.
All males in the county were placed in one of two classes: First class — composed of all men liable to military service between the ages 20 and 35. Second class — all unmarried men fit for duty above the age of 35 but below 45.
Bounties were used to encourage volunteers. Effingham County paid a total of $27,650 to those who willingly served without being drafted. The County Board of Supervisors made donations from the county treasury to support the system.
The Draft led to some new issues involving county residents. Because draftees could hire replacements, a new business enterprise developed organized by men who were dealers in substitutes. Sometimes Democrats complained that there seemed to be a lot of politics involved in determining who was selected for conscription. Once chosen, there was limited local training for the draftees. The most prominent location for introducing the men to the nature of military life was the open field in front of the Broom Trading Post on the Shelbyville-Salem Road.
It was not just the potential soldiers whose daily lives were affected by the war. Change was in the air for all citizens. Nearly everyone’s lives were different as a result of the battles taking place on American soil. Descriptions dating to the era indicate that children’s games frequently consisted of forming play battalions, of making breast-works and clay forts and of having triumphal marches when news of a Union victory arrived in town.
Public discussions focused on matters such as troop movements, Presidential orders, and Horace Greeley’s editorials. There was a hunger for knowing about what was taking place.
Effingham County also experienced rapid population growth. Many refugees from Civil War battle areas moved to this area during the Rebellion. This brought various concerns. One was the fear that these new residents from the South would sabotage the war effort; another was that schools could not keep up with the influx of students. Watson School in 1864, for example, had 101 students taught by Mary T. Hillis, a young first-year teacher.
Another woman who was writing in the same time frame, Mrs. Iola Gilbert, whose family came to Effingham in 1860, gave this description:
“At that time (June 1860) this town was merely a prairie village and the business centre was west of the Illinois Central Railroad, the post office being located in what is now Mr. Hough’s bicycle store, and the postmaster being D.B. Alexander. As near as I can remember, my father’s store building was the first one to go up on Jefferson Street. ... It was ready for occupancy in the autumn of 1860 and was soon followed by the frame building put up by Robert Moore... on the corner of Jefferson and 4th streets. From my father’s store, one could see a long way off. Especially, do I recollect the view south, an unbroken prairie. ... There were no churches save St. Anthony’s, which held its services in what is now used by the church as a school building. Protestant services were sometimes held in the Robert Moore building, boards being stretched between boxes for seats, and after the first Court House came ... for a time of that building became the sidewalks, there were none. In the winter (there was) mud. ... While the ground was frozen, one might start out in the early morning with a reasonably safe footing, but if he tarried too long, the return was not so easily accomplished. .. The timber pressed close upon the town, especially at the east ... opportunities for blackberrying and for hunting of game wore unlimited. Venison was not a rare food. Once a deer with hunters in full chase dashed through Jefferson Street.”
This was life right at the edge of the Civil War. It was simple, uncomplicated life primarily with an agricultural base. The two biggest towns in the county were Ewington and Mason. In 1860, Ewington had 200 citizens (97 males, 103 females) while Mason had 197 citizens (102 males, 95 females)
The population of the whole county was around 7,800 and it was a grand mix of people. Racially, the area was nearly all white with only 11 people of color having residence in the county. Gender-wise, there were 575 more males than females. The citizenry came from a variety of countries and from a variety of states. This was very significant for the Civil War because it called into question what role would each group have in this time period which so deeply divided the United States.
Of the 982 foreign-born residents, there were 900 foreign-born county residents whose native tongue was not standard English: Over 700 of them spoke German: over 100 were Irish; 16 spoke French; 15 were Scottish and 10 spoke Danish. Added to the mix were small numbers of Norwegians, Swedes, Austrians and Swiss, along with at least one each from Wales, Mexico, Italy, Holland and Finland.
Union loyalists wanted to know what loyalty these immigrants had to the country and to keeping the country together. Could they be counted on to help with the war effort?
More troubling was the great number of Effingham Country residents who had been born in slave-holding states. There were about 100 fewer in this category than that found listed among the foreign-born. They came from Tennessee (288), Kentucky (276), Virginia (167), North Carolina (91), Missouri (23), Alabama (18), South Carolina (8), Arkansas (5), Texas (5), Mississippi (3), Georgia (2), and Louisiana (2). For these citizens, the basic question was: “What side would they be on?” Many people in this part of the State of Illinois and southward had a strong secessionist viewpoint.
Of great significance was the political party loyalty of the residents. Throughout Illinois in the election of 1860, only 51 percent of the voters had supported the Republican Abraham Lincoln. There was fear that Democrats would not be loyal to the Union. That fear was really strong regarding Effingham County. All townships except Lucas were Democratic. In fact, Lucas township, the only Republican township in 1863 had only one Democratic vote. In the 1860 Presidential election, the Effingham County results were 65-70 percent of votes went to Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas, while 75 percent of vote for Democratic Congressman James Allen. That situation remained true after the war as well when in 1868 there were 3,201 votes for Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour, but only 209 votes for Ulysses S. Grant. Many wondered if a Democratic county would provide soldiers for the national cause. The final results were astonishing.
The 1860 Census showed Effingham County had approximately 2,000 males between the ages of 15 and 46. When looking at the total number of soldiers who served from the county, the number is nearly the same. The support for the Union was widespread. Effingham County showed its loyalty. Virtually every major battlefield had people from Effingham County fighting and dying to hold the Union together.
Patriotism was as extremely strong. In the city of Effingham, there was a meeting on the courthouse lawn to organize a local unit of volunteers and to gather money to send them on their way to Springfield to be formally enrolled in military service.
German patriotism was very anti-slavery in nature. Upon presentation of quotas in Teutopolis area, there was a tremendously positive response. As was the case in many other parts of the United States, Effingham County witnessed the intense participation of the German population in the war effort. Life, both at home and on the battlefield, was to change radically.
Many soldiers from the area went into battle and sent back letters or were the subjects of newspaper correspondents’ reports. One early engagement, Fort Donelson, showed the brutality which the area citizens faced. Local residents learned about war and battle from one soldier who wrote:
“The battle was fought in dense timber, on very high hills and deep ravines, and nearly the whole of the fighting was done by the enemy outside of their entrenchments. The lines of the battle extended over a space of three or four miles, and the whole distance is thickly strewn with the pits of the dead. I noticed one trench containing 61 bodies of the Eleventh Illinois, and alongside of it a trench of rebel dead of about the same length, but I had no means of ascertaining how many were in it. Each company generally buried its own dead together, and marked the name of each one on a shingle stuck down at his head.”
Another soldier, Henry Uptmor, described seeing his first dead soldier — a fellow Teutopolis citizen:
“The very first corpse I came upon was that of my sleeping companion, George Gerhard Weis, the stouthearted God-fearing youth. He was lying with his face turned upward, looking toward Heaven, with his arms outstretched as if he wished to say, “Dear Father in Heaven, take me up to you in your Kingdom, for I am tired of this life on Earth.” May the Lord grant him eternal rest! The bullet had pierced his lower lip, and came out through the nape of the neck to carry on and on its speed. Soon I found another comrade, another good young fellow named Karl Zerrusen. He was well covered and I found his body still warm, a sign that he had died only a short time before I came upon him. He had been wounded in the abdomen and must have suffered much pain before he passed away. May the Lord grant him eternal rest! Then I walked around the battlefield to meditate upon it, and I found many other wounded...”
One soldier said the bullets were like a heavy snowstorm. Many from Effingham died at Fort Donelson. Others were wounded.
A newspaper reporter wrote:
“Among the wounded on that glorious field day was Capt. L.M. Rose, Company G, Eleventh Illinois, whose name has not before been reported. He was formerly the editor of the Effingham (Ill.) Gazette. He received four wounds by bullets; one in each hip, in the left shoulder, and left hand . ...Capt. Rose and Major Chipman, of the 2nd Iowa ...laid two days in the woods before they were discovered, and the first night upon the ground in a drenching rain storm, suffering inconceivable pain.”
Anyone who visits the many cemeteries which dot the countryside in Effingham County will find a huge number of gravestones bearing the names of Civil War veterans. There is more than simply a stone, however. For each life there represented also has with it a story of pain and grief and great sacrifice which should cause the observer to pause and give thanks for the courage which the soldier had to demonstrate when seeing the terror of the War Between the States, 1861-1865.