“Rebellion” in Little Egypt

Confederate involvement in Southern Illinois is a topic often mentioned by Illinois Civil War historians, and was a subject that originally sparked my interest in Little Egypt. The idea of Little Egypt siding with the Confederacy is certainly not far-fetched. Many of the residents from Southern Illinois came from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, and still had relatives living in the South. Furthermore, many Southern Illinois men continued to work as farmers, planters, or traders operating near the Mississippi River, and maintained close contact with the Southern states. Newspapers from the time, especially those in the North, would frequently write articles about Little Egypt having southern sympathies. For example, after the war the Chicago Times called John Logan a traitor for his alleged involvement with the South before the war. (Cole p. 400) Northerners referred to the people of Southern Illinois as being, “ignorant, disloyal, intemperate, and generally heathenish.” (Morris. p.xv) Before the war Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was quoted saying he was, “agreeably disappointed in the people of Egypt.” (Morris p. xv-xvii) Illinois Governor Yates was certainly afraid of rebellion, sending troops to Cairo immediately following the firing at Ft. Sumter.

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A look at historic sources written at the start of the 20th century will tell the same story of Egyptian resistance. In A History of the 31st Regiment Illinois Volunteers, a book written in 1902 by a committee of three 31st regiment veterans, they discussed the rebellion in the region. They cited town meetings in Marion, Williamson County, where Logan was said to have spoken, and where the County pledged itself to the Confederacy. Historian Arthur Cole’s contribution to the Centennial History of Illinois Vol.3, also mentioned the rebellion in the South Illinois, again noting the meeting in Marion, and claiming that Logan was present. Cole’s work goes on to say that Pope County also pledged itself to the Confederacy. Thus, the story of Little Egypt siding with the South is one that has been repeated countless times. However, the truth of the situation may be far from what has been repeated by historians and newspapers.

Many of the sources were simply quoted from newspapers, or memoirs written years after the events in Egypt had taken place. More importantly political competition brought out many of these “charges” against Little Egyptians being traders, after they left the region, or switched parties at the war’s end. Moreover, most historians simply cite County histories, which say that meetings debating rebellion took place in 1861. While this is certainly true, most historians, such as Cole in his work on the Centennial History, take it simply at face value and report that rebel meetings took place in a county. This is where the truth seems to have gotten lost over the years. By stating that meetings took place in a town or county, an assumption is then often drawn that the whole of that said town or county supported those meetings, and sided with the South. Reports on the content of those meetings has been hard to come by, and until recently almost nothing has been known by the leaders who conducted them. Upon a closer examination of the “leaders” of the rebellion in Southern Illinois, and an examination of their memoirs, the truth of the resistance in 1861 surfaces. That is to say, the rebellion in Little Egypt was not region wide, but rather was the work of a handful of men.