Southern Illinois during the Civil War

Battle of Fort Donelson
Illustration of the Battle of Fort Donelson, February 16, 1862, in Tennessee, from the Missouri Historical Society

While Southern Illinoisans emigrated largely from southern states, few joined the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many were poor, did not own slaves, and had not left behind any assets in the South.

During the first sixteen months of the Civil War, forty percent of eligible men from Southern Illinois volunteered for the Union, compared with only twenty-eight percent from the rest of the state. The largest number to volunteer for the Confederacy were thirty-four men from Marion, most of whom had been born or raised in the South.

By the time the secessionists left Marion to join the 15th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, Union troops controlled the Illinois Central Railroad, the East St. Louis waterfront and rail lines, the city of Cairo, regional bridges, and parts of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Ulysses S. Grant had already mustered a Union Army regiment of Southern Illinoisans at Anna by the time John A. Logan made his famous August 19, 1861 recruitment speech at the Marion square to raise the 31st Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

Logan may have been slow to respond to the crisis because members of his own family opposed his support for the Union. Although Logan is often credited with countering rebel sentiments, defeated Democratic presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas was more proactive, speaking in Springfield and Chicago just after the war began on April 12, 1861. Carbondale’s founder Daniel H. Brush also spoke in April, 1861, encouraging Union loyalty.