The Illinois Confederates

By: Daniel Nardini

As part of the 150th anniversary of the start of the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), I remember visiting the Savanna Museum and Cultural Center for a special exhibit on 100 mannequins wearing uniforms of the many regiments of both the Union and Confederate armies. The exhibit, courtesy of Gene Wright, showed the different regimental uniforms from all the states from whichever side their state was on. There was even a mannequin of an Illinois Union soldier and an Illinois Confederate rebel. Wait a minute! An Illinois Confederate rebel?! You mean there were native Illinois residents—from the land of Lincoln—fighting for the Confederacy? Weirdly enough the answer is “Yes.” A state that was solidly for the Union did have some parts that actually sympathized with the Confederacy.

In 1861, one-third of the State of Illinois actually sympathized with the Confederacy. This area, known as “Little Egypt” (today’s southern Illinois), was settled primarily by people from other southern states. Some of them even held slaves in southern Illinois, and these settlers definitely had family and relatives in the southern states. In fact, during the presidential election of 1860, the area of Little Egypt was the one part of Illinois that voted solidly against Abraham Lincoln. This area was not only solidly Democrat but wished to secede from the Union just like South Carolina did. This of course did not happen. Because Lincoln managed to keep the slave holding states of Kentucky and Missouri in the Union, the people of Little Egypt did not secede either. Of course, while many of the people in Little Egypt were sympathetic to the Confederacy, this was not the same thing as taking action in support of it.

But 34 Illinois residents did take action in support of the Confederacy. These were the men who volunteered to become Confederate soldiers. The Confederate government put them into Confederate G Company of the 15th Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Infantry. This company was made up of soldiers mostly from other states, and they proved to be capable fighters. Ironically, G Company fought against many of the Union Illinois regiments at the Battle of Shiloh (in Tennesee) that lasted from April 6-7, 1862. The war became a fight between Illinoisian and Illinoisian as the Illinois Confederates defended Tennessee against Union Illinois armies. At the end of the war those Illinois Confederate soldiers who survived returned to Illinois. For those who have an interest in knowing more about the Illinois Confederates, I recommend the book Illinois Rebels: A Civil War History of G Company Tennessee Regiment Volunteer Infantry by Ed Gleeson. For all those soldiers who had served in the Civil War regardless of what side they were on, I commend them for their bravery and valor. May they rest in peace.

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