The following is taken from the 1910 “History of Effingham County” material written by Civil War-era Mason resident Dr. J.N. Matthews:
“When Mason entered upon her second decade, the country was convulsed with prospects of the impending war. A few days after the fall of Fort Sumter, a gigantic flag was ran up near Goddard’s Hotel bearing the belligerent and patriotic inscription, ‘Death to Traitors!’ The citizens were wild with excitement and soon the streets began to exhibit palpable evidence of a determination to act In accordance with the sentiment expressed upon the flag. Men, feeble and old, rose up in the marketplace and denounced secession in the most violent language, and admonished the youth to prepare for the inevitable struggle. Soon the fife and drum began to send forth their martial diapasons, and Mason, for the first, and it is to be hoped for the last time, was resonant with the tumult of approaching war. Old and young, rich and poor alike caught up the patriotic fire and resolved to aid in the common cause of liberty and Union. Nightly meetings were held, and men unskilled in the art of oratory, but inspired by the occasion, delivered speeches with great force and eloquence.
At one of these assemblies held in the Baptist Church, an enlistment paper was presented and many of our fellow citizens put their names upon it with John Hancock boldness. Mr. Vincent Wright, then a young man hardly out of his teens, was the first to enlist. Many others followed his example, and in a few days a company of the Eleventh Illinois Infantry, three months’ volunteers, left Mason for the tented field. And still the excitement waxed higher. Every train that thundered southward was loaded down with boys in blue and huge engines of war. Companies of home guards and minute men were formed, and paraded the streets almost daily in their battle robes, awaiting anxiously their marching orders.
“Such were the scenes that Mason presented In the terrible spring and summer of 1861. The cry was ‘Liberty and Union,’ and he was but a traitor or a craven who refused to raise his hand in defense of his falling country at that time. When the spring of 1862 dawned, there were only one or two young men left in the town above the age of 16. The rest had wandered off to the war — some to fall in battle, others to perish in Southern prisons. It was a time never to be forgotten. Even the children formed themselves into mimic battalions, threw up breast-works, built clay forts and understood the evolutions of a company drill. When the news of a great victory arrived, the town reverberated with their childish exultations and triumphal marches. Truly the children of those story times deserve to be remembered in connection with the history of Mason.
“When the town had at last been depleted of all who were willing and able to bear arms, and when the war clouds were every day gathering more ominously in the southern sky, then It was that the so-called ‘Copper-beads! began to wriggle forth from their hiding places and empty their venom in the tracks of our departed townsmen. They formed themselves into ‘Knights of the Golden Circle,’ and held treasonable orgies almost nightly. They denounced the President, the soldiers and the war, and talked violently in places where no danger could be apprehended. When the soldiers were away, they wore ‘Butternut badges’ and flour-obed and trumpeted their traitorous principles with surprising boldness. They even resolved at one time to lay the town in ashes, and made one or two futile attempts in that direction.
“Rank disorder and treason flaunted their black pennons with impunity. The few loyal people left in the town were subjected to all sorts of insults and indecencies at the hands of these renegades, and nearly every man trembled for his personal safety. A ‘Union League’ was organized, but its numbers were so scanty that It proved of little advantage in checking the rancor of the Butternut Brotherhood. Finally a mass meeting of all parties was called in the old Methodist church for the purpose, if possible, of effecting some reconciliation between them. Resolutions were presented and passed to the effect that all bitterness and political differences might be made subservient to the more peaceable and social relations as neighbors and friends. The result of the convention was beneficial. And from that night onward to the close of the rebellion, there was less hostility between the home factions, and more courtesy, toleration and goodwill.
“In the month of April, 1863, the first number of the ‘Loyalist,’ edited and published by Mr. George Brewster, made its appearance. It was a neatly printed, seven-column folio, and a red-hot exponent of abolitionism. Its motto was ‘Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.’ This was the first paper ever published in Mason. The printing office occupied the lower story of Stephen Hardin’s store building on the corner of Main and Washington Streets. It was the scene of many an exciting caucus and political jamboree during the few fierce months of its life, and was a constant eyesore to anti-war Democrats and rebel sympathizers. The paper was made up chiefly of war news, soldiers’ letters and scorching editorials.
Every man in the neighborhood who could swing a goose quill gave vent to his party feelings, through its columns, with unbridled boldness. The editor was a man of considerable learning and talent as a writer, but of a phlegmatic temperament, which vacillated from one extreme to another. His leaders were pithy and pointed. His numerous tirades against deserters and other local insurgents frequently brought him face to face with dangers from which a man less courageous would have cowered. His office was constantly threatened with destruction, yet he continued to write with unflinching force and fidelity.
Each compositor and, even the ‘devil’ himself — who, by the way, was your correspondent — was supplied with a gun and with orders to use it in case of attack, but fortunately no such occasion was presented. After a vigorous career of seven months, the ‘Loyalist’ failed financially and was moved to Salem, Marion County, where it breathed its last shortly afterward.
“When the war was ended, the last fight done, the battle-flag furled and the final roll was called, the following young men who had left their quiet homes with happy hearts and jubilant voices in the opening of the conflict, were not present to answer to their names: David Hughes, Frederic Hollis, Ezra Hollis, William Tyner, Washington Tyner, Nathaniel Bailie, John Bailie, George McElroy, James McElroy, William Rankin, William Leith, Morgan Wright, John Ginter, Martin Bright, John Kimborts, John Hardin, James Parks, William Woods, Henry Brewster, Frank Carpenter, Daniel Hill, George Amspacher, Wyatt Baley, Patrick Bran-nom, Jonathan Blunt, James McCastlin, Miner Rogers, Joseph Willis, Jacob Willis, Christopher Gillmore. Our list is made up from memory and is possibly incomplete, but in our heart of hearts is a list, and a perfect one, which can never be forgotten, so long as we have the ‘stars and stripes,’ the emblem of freedom, to remind us of their heroic deeds.
“Of these, only five or six were married. The rest were school boys in years and in appearance; but in soldier life, they showed themselves to be brave and active men, capable of enduring all manner of hardships and dangers for the cause of their country, truth and humanity. How dull and insipid sounds the single voice of praise when we remember the hallowed tributes that fell, like benedictions, from the lips of a weeping nation upon the graves of our glorious dead! With what tearful anxiety did we watch the papers through the dark years of the war; and with what pangs of fear and grief did we scan the never-ending columns of the killed and wounded, and shudder to draw black lines around the names of those we loved — our tried friends and brothers! Aye! words are but prison-pens to the pure, patriotic pride that thrills our bosoms when we consider the Spartan-like manner in which these noble fellows, the flower of our community, sacrificed their young lives with all their hopes and aspirations, upon their country’s altar.
Looking far down the dew vale of the past, the war appears like some monstrous vision that hides everything behind it, and presents a horrid front of death and desolation. Weeping widows and fatherless children stand out in melancholy relief to this, the most sorrowful picture in the book of time. Every nation has its honored dead, and towering monuments transmit the story of their deaths to generations unborn; but where in all the civilized universe can a grander and prouder record be seen upon a soldier’s sepulcher than that which embellishes the tomb of Columbia’s martyrs, who laid down their lives in defense of the lowly and oppressed.
. . . . Truly did they die, but like the stars which go down in darkness they will arise with greater brilliance, and men will love and reverence them and be guided by their holy light to similar deeds of righteous warfare.
“Considering the population of Mason at the time of the rebellion, there are probably few places which can show a greater mortality among their volunteers, and especially of the youth. But strange as it may appear, there were scarcely any of them who died from natural diseases. They lost their lives either in battle or prison. Several of them reported as missing have never been heard of, and all the long cherished hopes of their ultimate return have been given up. When the final trumpet shall send its awakening blasts across the fields of Shiloh, Chattanooga, Franklin, Andersonville, and the thousand and other historic acres presided over by the God of Battles, then, and not till then, shall the last resting-places of Ezra Hollis, Nathaniel Bailie, and numerous others of our dear soldier friends, be revealed. When we look abroad upon our free and beautiful prairies and marvel at the richness of the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, and as we watch the golden splendors of the peaceful and progressive future breaking over us, let us not forget the six hundred thousand silent hearts that sleep beneath our soil.”