The Victors at Vicksburg Civil War Soldiers from Kane, McHenry Had a Reputation for Tough, Fierce Fighting
Pelland, Maryan, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Maryan Pelland Daily Herald Correspondent
The men of Kane and McHenry counties claimed to have killed and wounded more rebels than any other regiment at Champion Hill, the opening assault of the Civil War Battle of Vicksburg on May 16, 1863.
They took more Confederate prisoners from the 43rd Georgia than their divisions numbered - they were fighters.
John Y. Simon, professor of history at Southern Illinois University, working on editing the papers of Ulysses S. Grant, said, "In view of that description, I'm very glad they were on our side."
Simon notes that soldiers of these two counties who fought during the siege of Vicksburg from beginning to its surrender July 4, 1863 were important to the outcome.
One of the most brutal assaults came on June 25 - 140 years ago today - with a charge up Fort Hill.
"We recognize and honor all of our soldiers in the Civil War, of course," said Simon, "but these fellows were fighting men and proud of it."
In April 1863, Grant's forces converged on Vicksburg, the heavily fortified Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi side of the Mississippi River. Two months later, Grant and tens of thousands of Union soldiers, including Kane and McHenry County regiments, victoriously cut the Confederacy in half. They secured the outcome of the war and the future of America.
The Confederate defeat was decisive but the cost was high. The national cemetery in Vicksburg tells the tale, deafening in its silence. More than 19,000 Americans dead, 10,142 from the North's Union Army, 9,091 fighting for the Confederate Army.
Men from all over Kane and McHenry counties were there, from small towns like Dundee, Elburn, Wayne, Huntley, Hampshire, Batavia and Woodstock to the larger towns and cities, such as Elgin and St. Charles.
Simon said, five companies of the 52nd Illinois, along with eight of the 141st and three of the 124th played the most dramatic role.
The Mississippi River was the aorta of America's strength and key to military strategy, commercial shipping, even passenger travel.
"The economy and the war were pinned to a degree on the liberation of the river," Simon said.
From the beginning, Confederate forces closed the river, nearly choking northern interests. President Abraham Lincoln and Grant knew early on that Vicksburg was important.
Simon points out that its unusually high bluffs was about the only place on the river high enough to be successfully fortified.
So there were no options - Grant had to take Vicksburg to reopen Union shipping rights of way of the industrial North. And it was the only way, Simon points out, to literally bisect the Confederacy, even interrupting a train line that reached all the way to the Confederate east.
Simon said the campaign of Vicksburg was developing for months. The elections of 1862 had gone against the war. Voluntary enlistment came to a standstill, and the draft was resisted. A defeat or backward movement would have made its execution impossible, it needed forward movement to a decisive victory by cutting off the Confederates from supplies and resources.
Kane County's 16th Cavalry unit - including soldiers from Aurora, Huntley, Belvidere and Woodstock - helped enable that action. New to the army and war, they were young, patriotic, courageous. The Seventh Illinois Infantry also formed in June, mentored by the experienced 13th Illinois (known as hometown regiment of Kane County). B. F. Parks of Aurora was lieutenant colonel. They distinguished themselves raiding Young's Point across from Vicksburg, forcing rebels out, and burning corn intended for Confederates at Vicksburg.
Then they crossed the Mississippi to Vicksburg and joined with other regiments from the two counties, all of which fought with the Union Army. …