Civil War Soldiers from St. Mary's Parish
from "St. Mary's Golden Jubilee 1851 - 1901"
In Defense of the Flag
As has been stated in a preceding page, it was during the time "that tried men's Souls" when Father Eustace came amongst us. The shrill blast of war had sounded, and St. Mary's parish sent her full quota to the front in defense of the Union. Many of them sleep beneath southern skies. Others returned after four years of war to home and loved ones and to again become useful citizens and active members of St. Mary's parish. Among the members of St. Mary's parish who answered the call to arms was Brig. Gen. Wm. F. Lynch.
The following sketch of the acts and life of Brigadier General William F. Lynch synopsize the brilliant career of an Elgin man, and of a devout member of St. Mary's congregation. General Lynch's career in the civil war reads almost like romance, so daring were its many features, and so thoroughly were they marked by all the characteristics of a patriotic soldier. Back in the year 1855, in the then diminutive city of Elgin, a military company was formed that made its first appearance at a fourth of July celebration in that year, held in what used to be called Colby's grove, a wooded spot a short distance east of the Elgin Academy. This particular company, on the occasion referred to was habited in black trousers, white shirts, and black caps, and was composed of what we may call the elite of the young men of Elgin. The members of the organization were armed with such guns and bayonets as the State then furnished to its military companies, for Illinois had at that time no militia regiments patterned on the present existing model of such organizations. This military company soon after its formation realized that its first need was a genuine military garb; and as its members were intensely patriotic, and as one of its chief organizers, Sergeant Samuel Ward (afterwards killed while leading his company at. the battle of Shiloh), had in his boyhood near Albany, N. Y., been much impressed by the dress of the Albany (New York) Continentals with their quaint old colonial garments and their cocked hats and bottle plumes, he advised the new company, his Elgin comrades, to adopt the continental style of dress, and they did so. Then in the garb of "'76," the boys made their appearance to general admiration on the streets of Elgin. Very soon after this event, they secured a famous drill master in the person of Col. E. E. Ellsworth, a young man then unknown to fame, but soon after to become one of the most picturesque figures in the early events of the great civil war. Under the instruction of this truly talented tactician the Elgin Continentals rapidly advanced in proficiency, until their name became known all over the West. The members were all persons of means. They established their own armory, furnished it, engaged their own instructor, garbed themselves, constantly received and royally entertained visiting brethren of the sword, one such entertainment, that of the National Guards Cadets, the crack military company of Chicago, costing their Elgin entertainers over one thousand dollars. In fact, just before the rebellion the Elgin Continentals were talked of and admired all over the Northwest. Many of its members became distinguished officers from 1861 to 1865 in various regiments during the long fratricidal struggle.
Of this highly honorable and gallant band of young men, William F. Lynch was a member, and in it he got his first glimpse of military life. In a biographical notice of General Lynch, published in the Notre Dame scholastic, the journal of the university at which young Lynch was educated, the writer says: "Young Lynch's father sent him to school to Notre Dame, and one of the motives for this action appears to have been wish to get him away from the glamour of the Elgin uniform. But the love of the garb was too strong for the youth. Hardly had he entered Notre Dame when the military company then existing at the university was changed to a continental company, William F. Lynch being its drill master. In 1860 the subject of our sketch was elected captain of this company, and on April 17,1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 men. Public meetings were held everywhere. One was held at South Bend, near the university Lynch was there. Moderation was counseled by all the speakers. Lynch chafed under the talk, mere talk; at last, as all were going to leave, he got up and said: "I am going to the front, to shed the last drop of my blood if need be for the Union." A company of the First Indiana Regiment was organized on the spot.
Then his own university company got on fire, or as the university paper quoted puts it, "The captain let the blaze out, for the company was on fire already." They must be off for the front. The president of the university declared that he had no authority to let boys under twenty-one enlist, which was true, but about sixty of the elder youth went, and with them went Lynch. However, when they reached the military rendezvous at Indianapolis, they found that the Indiana quota was already full, and, the boys had to return home. But in no way deterred, young Lynch forthwith entered the Twenty-third Illinois Volunteers, the afterwards highly distinguished regiment commanded by Colonel James A. Mulligan. While absent from this regiment on recruiting service, the regiment, being then in Missouri, the subject of our sketch escaped capture at the hands of the confederates, Colonel Mulligan and his entire command being captured by the confederate General Price at Lexington, Missouri, after a memorable resistance by Colonel Mulligan, a resistance that became an inspiration to the Union forces in the Northwest. Hearing of the fate of his regiment, Lynch at once posted off to Governor Yates, and boldly asked that he be permitted to raise a regiment of his own. The Governor asked him to whom he could refer for an assurance that he could command a regiment. Lynch referred him to Hon. Schuyler Colfax and to Governor Morton, both of whom he had met at the University of Notre Dame. To Governor Yates' inquiry, Colfax replied, "Good young man; give him a chance," and Governor Morton answered, "None better." He then and thus got permission to raise the 58th Regiment Illinois Volunteers. Now in command of a regiment of his own, Colonel Lynch was soon at the front and at once saw active service, participating in the assault and capture of Fort Donelson, where his regiment fought first in Thayer's brigade and then on the left of Wallace's troops. On the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, the great battle of Shiloh was fought. In this memorable battle Colonel Lynch's regiment was in the very thickest of the struggle, being at the center of Grant's line, among the troops commanded by General W. H. L. Wallace and General Ben Prentiss. Of the defense of this position by the union army, among whom as stated was Colonel Lynch's regiment, the confederate General W. P. Johnson says, " On the federal left center, W. H. L. Wallace and Hurlbut were massed, with Prentiss' fragment in a position so impregnable and thronged with such fierce defenders that it won from the confederates the title of the "hornet's nest." Lynch, with most of his men, was captured near or at the hornet's nest, but the battle was eventually saved by the resistance made by its "fierce defenders," among whom Lynch and his men fought like heroes. After his capture, Colonel Lynch was first sent to Madison, Georgia, and afterwards to Libby prison, where he was held for a short period. From the latter he was paroled on the 15th of October, 1862, and after an immediate exchange he went to Washington and forthwith commenced to recruit and reorganize his old regiment. In January, 1863, he was placed in command of Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois, which was a camp for the' holding of confederate prisoners, and there he remained until June, 1863, when, with his regiment, he was ordered to Cairo, Illinois, and from thence under Sherman to Meridian, Mississippi. In this expedition he and his regiment participated in the battle of the Big Black, and in many other engagements until Meridian was reached. Returning from this expedition, Colonel Lynch became an acting brigadier general and so continued until he was desperately wounded on May 18, 1864. During this period both in dispatches to the war department and otherwise, he received the highest encomiums from his commander, General A. J. Smith. On March 13, 1864, now Acting Brigadier Lynch was with the Red River expedition under General Banks, on the west bank of the Atchafalaya. On the 14th of the same month, Fort DeRussy, an important confederate work, was captured by the federal army, General Mower of the latter using Lynch's brigade in the important capture. Then the expedition moved on up the river with varying tune until April 8, 1864, then the confederates under General Taylor met the union forces under Generals Mower and Emery in battle array, Lynch's brigade being in Mower's command. As the event is told in the university journal, to which allusion has heretofore been made, and as the war record of General Lynch closes with his wounding about that time, we copy the following from the Notre Dame Scholastic:
"On the afternoon of April the 8th, Taylor attacked the federals near Mansfield and drove them back in utter confusion. A panic spread among the teamsters of the wagon train, but by night the federal General Emery had checked the flight. In the afternoon about five o'clock the confederate General Churchill attacked the left of the federal line. That part of the line was 'the weakest in numbers, and on it was posted Benedict's brigade, supported on the left by Lynch's brigade. When Churchill attacked, the confederate General Walker advanced and turned the right wing of the federal line. The federals rallied on Lynch, and then Lynch charged and broke the confederate right wing. Immediately General A. J. Smith advanced his whole line, in a charge led by Mower, and the confederates were routed.
Lynch chased the fugitives hotly for about three miles, and he then suddenly discovered that he had with him only about four hundred men. These were from various regiments, who had been attracted to the pur-suit by the ardor of the 'young general.' The confederates began to re-form to cut Lynch off and about three thousand of them were falling into line. The timber favored Lynch, for his enemy could not estimate his numbers and they thought that he had a large force, owing to the number of flags that were with him. After a volley he charged, the enemy vanished, and Lynch got back to the army unmolested. Lynch's brigade was engaged in many minor actions' until on the morning of the 18th of May he led his men across Yellow Bayou to engage the enemy under Wharton and Polignac. Batteries were posted, but there was no engagement. He had been expecting a visit from his brother, and as it was most probable that the enemy would not attack, he obtained permission from General Mower to go to Simsport, where he met his brother. The two men were returning toward the brigade when they heard the sound of firing. Lynch left his brother, and rode forward at a gallop to join his command. When he reached the front, his troops were just starting to charge the enemy. He dashed to the head of his brigade and on they went with a rush. In this charge General Lynch's leg was shattered by a musket ball, which struck him just below the knee. He was lifted from his horse and carried back to the boats. Owing to a disagreement as to the necessity or inadvisability of amputating the wounded limb, it was merely dressed, and it was at length decided to avoid amputation, but thereby a life of suffering became the lot of this brave man, and in the end the wound then received caused his death. It necessarily ended his war service.
After the civil war, General Lynch became identified with the Fenian movement for the invasion of Canada. In July, 1866, he was appointed first lieutenant in the 42d regular United States Infantry. In 1867 he became captain. In the same year he received the brevet rank of major for "gallant service in the battle of Pleasant Hill, La." and soon after the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel for gallant service in the battle of Yellow Bayou, La. In December, 1870, he was retired from active service in the United States regulars, with the rank of brigadier general. A law of congress soon after reduced him to the rank of colonel on the retired list; but after a personal interview with the President, General Lynch secured restoration to his rank on the retired list as brigadier general within ten days from the date of his reduction. The last years of his life were spent at home in Elgin among the friends of his youth. He is buried in the old Elgin cemetery where are interred, it is believed, all the other members of his family or relatives save one or two. He was a man of such generous disposition and withal so genial and kindly that his friendship was a genuine pleasure to those who knew him best. Cunning had no place in his breast, and want and suffering never appealed to him in vain. He suffered much in his later years, but he bore the suffering as became a Christian and a man. In early life he had been a great reader and was intimately acquainted with the choicest works, both of the English classics and of general literature. He was a devout Catholic, a generous man to all men of all faiths, a soldier without fear and without reproach, and in the civil offices that he filled in Elgin, after his return from the war, whether as a member of the city council, or as a member of the board of education, he ever did his duty well and honestly, and for the best interests of Elgin and of its people.
153rd Illinois, Company C
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