Belleville troops quickly became part of the Civil War

News-DemocratApril 3, 2014 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of occasional columns on Belleville's history that will appear in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

It was a turbulent time in April 1861 as seven Southern states had seceded from the Union and South Carolina fired shots on Fort Sumter to bring on the Civil War.

War fever was raging as both sides imagined that the fight would be brief and each believed it would easily be victorious.

The April 26 issue of the Weekly Democrat of Belleville captured the spirit of the Union men in Belleville with a story about the first Army volunteers.

The article appears to have been written by editor G.A. Harvey as he writes from a personal viewpoint and mentions men addressing him as "Harvey."

He begins with the revelry occurring on the night before the men were to leave for Camp Yates in Springfield, but he also talks about the concerns of sons and husbands, brothers, mothers and fathers because after all, it was war, and despite the glory many would seek, he surmised that some would die.

"How many wives and children, whose bosoms laden with a rich cargo of affection, heaved, and swelled with unrestrained emotion, stimulated thereto by the thought that tomorrow's light would separate them from a husband or a father, perhaps for all time," he wrote.

Harvey wrote that he was awakened the next morning by crowds starting to gather at 4 a.m. in the streets headed to the train depot.

He hustled to the station and mingled with people on the train as he listened, observed and then wrote:

"And good-byes were said in all imaginable tones, from the soft whisper of the gentler sex, to the more boisterous ejaculations of the less refined. Officers of Captain Hawes Company shouted the stentorian voice of Lieut. Cox, 'see that your men are all on the cars.' His order was obeyed, with alacrity, so soon all were in readiness for the train to start.

"A parting salute was fired by Russell Hinckley; the signal was given and that accomplished and reliable engineer, Mr. Ross, put on steam and the train moved slowly out amid the cheers of an immense multitude of men, and the waving of handkerchiefs by the ladies; which were enthusiastically replied to by the volunteers waving their caps, or the charming bouquets, which in many instances had been presented to them by their fair friends.

"The train went on with its load of living freight, and yearning hearts and eyes strained to their utmost visual tension, followed it, until it had passed West Belleville, when the vast crowd began slowly to disperse."

In a patriotic fever, the men had enlisted for 90 days. In a more realistic assessment later, their enlistments were lengthened to three years.

Some would return, others would not.

Some would fight all the way through Georgia to the sea, then turn northward to punish South and North Carolina until the war's end, when they would participate in the victory march of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's western armies in Washington, D.C.

And Belleville was a part of it.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email:

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