31st Illinois Regiment: Significance

The 31st Illinois, under John Logan, was one of the most decorated regiments in the war. They served in several of the major battles, and played a key role in Sherman’s historic march to the sea. The men who formed the regiment came mostly from Southern Illinois counties such as Williamson, Perry, Franklin, Jackson, Johnson, Saline, and Union. Most importantly they were associated with Little Egypt, a region that before the war was identified as having rebellious tendencies. Yet, more men from Little Egypt volunteered than in the Northern part of the state. Moreover, those from Egypt that participated demonstrated devotion to the Union, in a manner that was contagious to the rest of Little Egypt. In 1864, upon returning to Little Egypt on furlough, the residents of Southern Illinois showed extreme devotion to the Union cause, and respect for the returning troops, “The veterans on furlough were welcome everywhere they went, and whether at church, the public meeting, or the gathering of the young folk at the evening party, every mark of appreciation was shown to them.” (Morris p.109)

William_Tecumseh_Sherman_and_staff_-_Brady-Handy

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In their memoirs and letters men from southern Illinois showed an extreme sense of national pride that Northern newspapers said was nonexistent in the region. Reflecting at the monuments on the east coast the veterans of the 31st exclaimed, “Standing on the steps of the capitol, and looking at the bronze statuary placed there in past bellum times, and that had been the pride of the old Union, a thousand memories rushed upon the mind. Yonder stands the heroic figure of Patrick Henry, a scroll in hand, on which was printed his famous words, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ and close by him the bronze Andrew Jackson that recalled his immortal declaration ‘By the eternal, the Union must and shall be persevered,’ so that the looker on the reverently rejoiced that the historic oath of the old heroes had been kept, and that out of the chaos of disturbed relation the nation was now moving toward a more durable nation and broader freedom.” (Morris p.162-163)

1864 Oct 5 7 Ill Inf  ALPLBy the war’s end, any anti-union sentiments that had been true of Little Egyptians were alive no more. Regiments from Southern Illinois, such as the 31st Illinois, had caused people to become invested in the preservation of the Union, and paved the way for a new nation. Perhaps the Cairo Democrat sums up the feeling of the region best when writing about the assassination of Lincoln. “Illinois claims Abraham Lincoln as her gift to the nation; and receives back his lifeless body, marred by traitors, weeping, like Niobe, and refusing to be comforted. Many of us have been active opponents of his administration-have warred against him with the determination of earnest enemies…..In the past, we believed him to be pursuing the wrong path of policy, and we told the world so, using language and strength of which was prompted by the passions of the passing moment; but when the end drew nigh,….we saw this man whom we have condemned rise above party, and disregarding his private anger, if he had any, become the great conciliator.” (Cole p.391) Due to men, like the volunteers of the 31st Illinois who had answered Lincoln’s call, Little Egypt had gone from a place of alleged rebellion, to heroes of the Union.