History of the 97th Illinois Infantry during the Civil War
From the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois
97th Illinois Infantry
This Regiment was organized at Camp Butler in August and September 1862. During its day there the men as they came in were put to an almost constant drill, and the Regiment was mustered in on the 16th of September. On or about the 1st of October it ordered to the field, and proceeded to Covington, Ky., where it was incorporated in the army that marched from that place southward to the relief of a federal column at Cumberland Gap. It went as far as Nicholasville, when it was learned that the object of the march was accomplished. Then went to Louisville, where it was embarked on the way to Memphis, Tenn. At this place it became part of the Army of the Tennessee, as left wing, under command of General W. T. Sherman. On the 20th of December 1862, it was again put on board of steamers with the rest of the army down the Mississippi, with Vicksburg as the objective point.
On the 27th of December the army landed on the left bank of the Yazoo River, and at once moved for the enemy at Chickasaw Bluffs. Right here the men of the Ninety-seventh were put to the first severe test, but they stood the ordeal without flinching, promising much for the future. The Ninety-seventh formed the extreme right of the army, with pivot on the Mississippi River. During the nights of December 31, 1862, and January 1, 1863, the army retreated from its position and retired upon the Yazoo, the Ninety-seventh Illinois bringing up the rear. About daylight the men were all on board and a few hours afterward were landed at Young's Point. Insidious diseases began to show themselves right away, the result of the miasmic atmosphere of the Yazoo country. From the Point the Ninety-seventh, with the rest of the command, was taken to Milliken's Bend, where Major General John A. McClernand assumed command.
A sharp battle was needed to retrieve the moral of the army. McClernand saw this at once, and "sniffing" Churchill, the rebel, from afar, he at once moved his command to Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River, where it arrived on the evening of January 10, 1863. In contrast with our position at Chickasaw Bluffs, the Ninety-seventh occupied the extreme left, with pivot on the Arkansas River. The next day the rebel works were stormed, and Churchill, with 5,000 prisoners, captured. To the honor of the Ninety-seventh be it said that they were the first organization in the works, their duty being to enter the casemated Fort Hindman.
Two days afterwards the men returned to their boats, re-embarked and steamed down for Young's Point, where they arrived on the 22d. Diseases of all kinds prevailed here; small-pox especially playing sad havoc with the men. While there, the Regiment done its share of the work on the "cut off" of the Mississippi.
March the 6th the camp at the Point had become untenable; it was more of a graveyard than anything else, and the main part of the army was taken by boats to Milliken's Bend. General Grant had by this time assumed command. Picket duty every day and night in the cane brakes of Louisiana, with now and then a drill, was the way the army improved its opportunity at the Bend until April 15, when as fine an army as ever faced a foe moved upon Hard Times Landing, opposite Grand Gulf. The name of this place was prophetic of what was to follow for the next three months. During the night of April 30 the Ninety-seventh crossed the Mississippi at Bruinsburg, and with the balance of the Thirteenth Army Corps, of which it was a part, it at once set out on the march to Vicksburg.
By nine in the morning of the 1st of May we had marched 18 miles, and our advance met the rebel outposts. The battle of Port Gibson had commenced. The Regiment bore its full share of that spirited engagement, which lasted for the remainder of the day. At night the men slept under the guns of a Federal battery, and slept soundly too,, while the cannons kept up a desultory fight in front. It was expected that the engagement would be renewed in the morning, but the rebels had fled. Port Gibson had been fought and won. Then marched continued, the Federal camps often occupying the very places occupied by the Rebel camps the night before.
On the 8th of May the Regiment was detached from the army and sent to the Black River, all by itself, at Baldwin's Ferry, fully fifteen miles away from the army. The object was to prevent the Rebel General Tilghman's brigade from crossing the ford at that place. He did not cross. But a few of the men of the Ninety-seventh were picked up the enemy. On the 10th it was ordered to fall back upon the main column, which it did, and at once moved with the army on to
Strange as it may seem, here again the Regiment was on the extreme left. This was a fierce battle in which the Regiment had the not very pleasant duty, among other duties, of being the target of Rebel artillery for at least two hours, at a distance of not over eight hundred yards. This was on the 15th of May. The next morning, with the rest of the army, we moved on to the
and took part in the fight at this place. The same night we crossed the river on pontoons and bivouacked on the Rebel side in the hearing of the Rebel bugles and drums, in full retreat upon their stronghold.
The 19th, 20th and 22d of May the Regiment took part in the charges, and never failed to go as far as any other organization, and as a rule much farther. On the 22d some of the men even went into the ditch of the fort right east of the railway from Vicksburg to Jackson, and one of the men went right into Vicksburg, where of course he was captured. In short from the 19th of May to the 4th of July, with the rest of the army, the Ninety-seventh accomplished its full share of the great work, and for forty-five consecutive days remained by day and night exposed to the most destructive fire.
After the surrender the Ninety-seventh, with the rest of the Thirteenth Army Corps, at once moved on to Jackson. Here again it took part in the contest and distinguished itself sufficiently to be praised by Major General W. T. Sherman commanding the expeditionary army. After the fall of this place the Regiment was ordered to Vicksburg, and on August 25 it was sent with the Corps to New Orleans. We landed at Carrollton on the 27th, and for the first time in nearly one year the men of the Ninety-seventh were going to have a moment's rest and pleasure.
RESTING ON THEIR LAURELS
The place of honor for camp was contested at this place between the Thirteenth and the Nineteenth Corps, the latter all eastern men, the former all western men. The best drilled Regiment was to win the price for the Corps, and the Ninety-seventh Illinois Volunteers won the prize. There is no need to speak of New Orleans to the men of the Ninety-seventh; they will never forget it; it is the one reminiscence of their war experience in which they were in no immediate danger of being shot for the conquests they made. War has its vicissitudes; but at Carrollton the Ninety-seventh enjoyed blissful peace.
But men will weary even of the "Delights of Capua" and the Regiment rejoiced when on the 3d of October they embarked on board of steamers to be carried across the river to Algiers on the way to
on the bay by that name. A large number of pretty girls were at the landing a sweet farewell to the hateful Yankees. The very best of soldiers will make ravages, even into the hearts of rebel maidens. When the boat left the landing, and band recalled the men to duty, to home and country, by playing "the girl I left behind me" and the boat glided away and along in front of the Crescent City, swiftly but gently, as if proud of carrying her cargo. And in the distance handkerchiefs were still seen waving on the levee at Carrollton.
The next day the army was at Berwick City and it at once crossed the bay, proceeding on its march in the beautiful Valley of the Teche to take part in the
WESTERN LOUISIANA CAMPAIGN
The Regiment proceeded with the army as far as New Iberia, when on November 1, or thereabouts, it was ordered back to New Orleans for provost guard duty. None but the very best and most trusty regiments were ever used for such a purpose, especially in a city like New Orleans where the spirit of rebellion was incarnate.
A TERRIBLE HOLOCAUST
On November the 3d while the Regiment was on the cars on its way to New Orleans, a collision took place, within forty miles of Algiers. It was a terrible disaster, the equal of a bloody battle in casualties, the Regiment losing eighteen (18) killed and sixty-seven (67) wounded. It was thought at the time that it was a conspiracy. An investigation was held on the subject, but without results.
On the 9th of November the Regiment took up quarters in a cotton pen on Tchapitoulas street. By this time the Regiment was only the skeleton of a Regiment, the Vicksburg campaign and the railroad disaster leaving it barely with four hundred men for duty. Officers were sent north on recruiting service and it was not long before the Ninety-seventh again approximated a full muster. The officers and men performed their garrison duty to the great satisfaction of the military authorities.
On the 4th of March 1864, the Regiment took part in the inauguration of Gov. Michael Hahm, the first Governor of Louisiana as a free State; and on the 23d of the same month, it was passed in review by Gov. Richard Yates, then on a visit to the Illinois soldiery in the Division of the Gulf.
In May 1864, the Regiment being its own self once again in point of numbers, was sent to join the troops at Morganzia Bend. It camped along the levee, and the time here as at Milliken's Bend was devoted to picket duty and drill of the most elaborate kind. Sometime during the month we marched to
ATCHAFALAYA RIVER some twenty miles distant. It was good and dark when we approached the river, and as we descended the slight declivity leading to the river all of a sudden rebel artillery opened fire upon us from the other side of the river. No damage was done, however, as the levee protected us. We bivouacked along the levee, lying on our guns, prepared for any emergency. The next morning a most spirited fusillade took place between the two sides of the river at very close range. We had no artillery, while the rebels had a couple of pieces with which they done poor execution, although creating trouble by breaking tree-tops over the heads of our men. At two o'clock in the afternoon the trouble had ended, the rebels having withdrawn. The next day we returned to Morganzia Bend, and in September following we were taken by boats to Dauphine Island by way of New Orleans, and thence to Pascagoula. The
MOBILE CAMPAIGN had begun. Soon after our landing we marched toward Mobile, with great difficulty proceeding along, because of the swampy condition of the country and the almost incessant rains. When within twenty miles of Mobile rebel outposts were met, and such a resistance made against our further advance that the general commanding did not see fit to push the matter to a finish. We fell back to Honey Hill, some ten miles of Pascagoula, where we fortified our position. Some time afterwards we retired to Pascagoula, where we remained until the 1st of February 1865, when we again went on board of steamers and were taken to
At this place we remained until March the 20th, when, under command of General Steele, the portion of the Thirteenth Army Corps at this place started on the march northward across the swamps of Florida and Alabama, with a view of falling upon Mobile from the north. This march was full of hardships and dangers, and on the 25th the Regiment was ordered forward on double quick to assist in a cavalry fight that took place not far from Escambia. The engagement was over before we reached the place.
On the 26th, the next day, the Regiment was sent across the Escambia River to Pollard, some six or seven miles away. The bridges had all been destroyed and the Regiment performed the unparalleled feat of crossing a river at least two hundred feet wide, and full to overflow, on a solitary trestle that remained dangling in the air some fifty feet above the water. The trestle was all that remained of a beautiful and expensive railroad bridge. And all this, too, with the expectation of being fired upon at any moment by the enemy. As soon as we got across, we formed as skirmishers and proceeded to Pollard. The enemy had just left and we retired after the main column south of the Escambia. It was a hard day's work for the men. The next day we continued our tramp, and on April 2 we struck the rebel outposts at
We at once invested the place and began siege works. They were pushed forward rapidly, and within a week we had our three parallels finished and were within one thousand yards of the rebel works. On the 9th of April, at 4 o'clock, the general commanding had decided to storm the rebel works and the Ninety-seventh was selected to lead the assault. Promptly the men were in the rifle pits with rifles instead of the pick and shovel. It was a quarter to five when the commanding officer of the Ninety-seventh gave the command.
FORWARD NINETY-SEVENTH ! CHARGE !
and the whole Regiment, as one man, with a deafening hurrah, rose over the works, and with a gallantry seldom equaled in the annals of war, started on their dangerous mission. Twenty minutes afterwards they were in Blakely and five thousand rebels and thirty-five pieces of heavy artillery, still hot of their deathly work, were captured. Eighty (80) killed and wounded in the Ninety-seventh were the human prize of the victory, besides the losses of other regiments that followed the Ninety-seventh. The same night the Regiment slept in the main fort and General E. R. S. Canby, commanding the military Division of the Gulf, sent the following note to the commander of the Regiment: "Thank you! May God bless you and your brave boys". And Mobile was virtually ours. On the 15th our forces entered the place. The Thirteenth Army Corps was at once sent up to Selma, Ala., in boats. On May 1, at one in the morning, the Regiment was ordered to move at once on board a steamer; two hours afterwards they were on board. The instructions to the commanding officer were to proceed to Cahawba, some distance down the river, to effect a landing by surprise, and to proceed with all speed to Marion Junction to intercept a train on which was supposed to be Jefferson Davis, and also to bring in all the cattle and horses that could be found.
We landed at
Before daylight, and before a soul knew of our arrival, we had possession of the place and captured the horses of several rebel cavalry. Men of the Ninety-seventh were mounted on these, and with a handful of men the commanding officer at once set out for Marion Junction, which was to be reached before half-past nine in the morning, and as it was fifteen miles away, there was not time to lose. The Major was left in command of the remainder of the Regiment for foraging purposes. Within two miles of Marion we were fired upon by a rebel ambuscade, and at once gave chase. They retreated into Marion giving the alarm. We burned the depot at the Junction, tore up the track and fell back to Cahawba. The next day we returned to Selma with a large number of horses and cattle. This was, no doubt, the last shooting done during the war; at least it is certain that the men of the Ninety-seventh were never more fired upon.
On the 12th of May we returned to Mobile; thence we were sent to Galveston, where, on the 29th of July 1865, the Ninety-seventh was mustered out and proceeded homeward by the way of New Orleans and the Mississippi River to East St. Louis, which place was reached on the morning of the 19th of August; thence it took the cars for Springfield, Ill., and reached the capital the same night, after an absence of three years, less a few days.
The hardest thing of all to the men was their farewell to the battle flag, for the honor and in defense of which so many had given up their lives, whilst every man would have willingly died for it. No rebel hand ever touched it, even though rebel lead and shot and fire have left but little of its glorious folds; it, too, with the bloom and life of the Regiment, paid its tribute to the sacred cause which both symbolized. Other Illinois regiments may have been the equals of the Ninety-seventh, none have been its superiors.
May its memory, may the memory of all, grow green with the lapse of ages, and may generations to come never forget the deeds of their fathers.
Read the Address to the 97th ILL Volunteers by Colonel Victor Fivquain on August, 1865, Springfield, Ill. (link to Coles County website)
Back to the Military Page