History of Southern Illinois

The Civil War and Late 19th Century

Lincoln and Douglas debateIn 1858, Abraham Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas. A debate was held in seven towns in Illinois, one being near Jonesboro in Southern Illinois. The Lincoln-Douglas debates garnered national attention as telegraph stories were printed in newspapers throughout the East. Although Douglas won the election, these debates made Lincoln famous beyond the borders of the state that helped lead to his election as President in 1860.

Since many of the people living in Southern Illinois were first or second-generation Southerners and since the region was loyal to the Democratic Party (which opposed the War), the Civil War caused mixed loyalties in this region. Most young men from the region joined the Union army, but a small contingent joined Confederate Regiments in the South. Many people took pride in the fact that the Union was led by an adopted native son, Abraham Lincoln, and the state provided over 250,000 soldiers to the Union army. It also was the weapons manufacturer, supplier of iron products, and major grain and meat supplier for the North.

Cairo, Illinois, at the southern tip where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi, was of strategic importance. On either side of the rivers were states that were sympathetic and supplied troops to the Confederate army. Cairo also served as a staging area for Union Army expeditions into the Confederate states of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

John A. Logan photoThe first garrison to occupy Cairo were from the 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th Regiments of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, many of whom were volunteers from Southern Illinois. A few months later, local Congressman John A. Logan, D-Illinois, received the commission of Colonel in the Union Army and recruited the 31st Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry that was made up almost entirely of recruits from the southern counties of Illinois.

The 31st Regiment fought in the campaign to rid Missouri and Kentucky of Confederate soldiers but was involved in only a few skirmishes. However, this action gave new recruits the training they sorely needed for future campaigns. Col. Logan and the 31st Regiment fought with General U.S. Grant in Tennessee at Fort Donaldson and in Mississippi at Corinth and Vicksburg. Promoted to the rank of General, Logan lead the 31st Regiment into eight major battles and campaigns, including General Sherman's advance on Atlanta, march to the sea through Georgia, and battles in the Carolinas.

Many of the river gun boats and support craft used in the Civil War against the Confederacy on the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers were built or refitted at the docks in Mound City on the Ohio River in Southern Illinois. A National Cemetery is located in Mound City and 4,800 veterans of the Civil War are buried there.

Not everyone in Illinois backed the Unions war effort. Called Copperheads because they struck without warning like the deadly snake, violent gangs committed all manner of outrages. One gang, called the Clingman gang, was finally chased out of Southern Illinois by angry residents.

After the Civil War, in April 1866, citizens brought flowers to decorate the graves of the Civil War soldiers buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Carbondale, Illinois. A clergyman and several other dignitaries, including General Logan, participated in the ceremonies. This was one of the first organized observances of what we now call Memorial Day. Later, General Logan became the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, the largest and most influential organization of Civil War veterans. In 1868, General Logan ordered all GAR posts to observe May 30th as a day of remembrance, which eventually became a national holiday.

Cairo became the staging area for blacks arriving from the South after the Civil War, but many did not find what they expected. There was little work for blacks and they did not have enough money to buy farms. Many returned to the South and became sharecroppers.

Concerned about public education after the war, the Illinois General Assembly authorized and funded advanced training and education of public school teachers by authorizing among others, the Southern Illinois Normal University at Carbondale in 1869. After achieving full university status including degrees of higher education in many fields and being nationally known as an institution of research, it changed its name to Southern Illinois University in 1947.

Southern Illinois clay supplied the raw materials for brick manufacturers, used to construct buildings as the wood supply dwindled. By the 1870s, Illinois was exporting large quantities of bricks. Bricks made in Murphysboro were used in the construction of the Panama Canal.

Fluorspar, a beautiful crystallized mineral used in the making of glass and steel in the early days and in fiberglass and welding rods later, was mined in Southern Illinois in Hardin County since before the Civil War. The federal government stockpiled Fluorspar for use in uranium enrichment. The mine is now closed.

A feud between families in Williamson County, called the Bloody Vendetta, lasted nearly ten years and was responsible for many deaths. In all, there were 495 assaults with a deadly weapon and 285 murders in Williamson County between 1839 and 1876. This was very unusual as crime was virtually non-existent in Illinois during its frontier years prior to this period of lawlessness.

picture of coal minersThe existence of coal was known since 1673, but commercial coal mining did not begin until 1810 near Murphysboro. By the mid 1800s, coal miners were at work throughout Southern Illinois. The early years of mining coal were hard, dangerous, and did not pay the miners well. Attempts to organize miners were often met with resistance that caused bloody confrontations with mine owners in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Next, Bloody Williamson and Southern IL in the 20th Century

Return to the Early Years

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