One of the most gallant regiments of a gallant state was the one known as the 84th infantry. It was organized at Quincy, Illinois, in August, 1862, by Colonel Lewis H. Waters, who had served a few months as the lieutenant-colonel of the 28th infantry, and who had resigned to come home and raise a new regiment. On the 1st of September, 1862, the regiment was mustered into the service of the United States with 951 men, rank and file. It was on September 23, ordered to report at Louisville, Kentucky, and on arrival at that place was assigned to the 10th brigade of the 4th division, and one the 29th of the same year marched with the balance of the troops in pursuit of General Bragg. After a long and weary march through Bardstown, Danville, Perryville, Crab Orchard, Wild Cat, Somerset, Columbia, Gallatin and Silver Springs, the command reached Nashville, Tennessee. The first battle of any importance in which the regiment participated was that known as Stone River, or the battle of Murfreesboro, which occurred on the 31st of December 1862, and on the 2d and 3d of January 1863. General Rosecrans had assumed the command of the army lately under General Buell and had concentrated his forces at Nashville. From thence he marched to meet General Braxton Bragg, the rebel commander, who, with a heavy column was moving north on a second grand expedition, and had already reached Murfreesboro. Both Generals had formed the same plan for the approaching contest. As the union left was crossing Stone river to attack the rebel right, the strong rebel left fell heavily on the weak union right. At first the onset was irresistable. But General Sheridan was there and his generalship held the ground until Rosecrans could recall the left, replant his batteries and establish a new line of battle. Upon this new front the rebels charged four times, but were driven back with heavy losses. This was upon the 31st of December. On the 2d of January following General Bragg renewed the contest, but being again unsuccessful, retreated. This is claimed to have been one of the bloodiest conflicts during the war, and the gallant 84th played the part of heroes, losing 228 men, killed and wounded. This battle was the last attempt of the rebels to wrest Kentucky from our grasp, and placed General Bragg upon the defensive. At Woodbury, on the 17th of January, while in pursuit, the 84th had another brush with the enemy, but no general engagement took place until during the summer months. General Rosecrans, feeling his inferiority in cavalry, made no formal movement until June, when with 60,000 men, among whom was the 84th, he marched in search of General Bragg. The latter day at Chattanooga, and when Rosecrans threatened his communications, he was too able a strategist to allow himself to be cooped up in a fortified place, and evacuated the place. Rosecrans, thinking that Bragg was in full retreat pushed on rapidly in his rear, but the rebel general, having received some powerful re-inforcements, turned on him so suddenly that he well nigh caught him unprepared and scattered over 40 miles of line. But the union forces rapidly concentrated, and the two armies met upon the Chickamanga, the "river of death," as the Indian name implies. On the 19th of September the armies engaged but the contest was indecisive and on the 20th was resumed. About noon the federal line became broken from the movement of troops to help the left wing, then hardly pressed. Longstreet seized the opportunity and pushed a brigade into the gap, and following it up, swept the union right and center from the field. The crowd of fugitives bore Rosecrans, himself away. In this crisis of the battle all depended upon the left under General Thomas, who alone stood between the rebels and disaster and rout. Through the long afternoon these veterans stood whilst around them surged the whole rebel force, but in vain, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota's bravest men stood there and bore the brunt of many a hard pressed charge and earned for General Thomas his name of "Rock of Chickamauga." When night had come, General Thomas deliberately withdrew to Chattanooga. All through this bloody day, the 84th fought nobly and when rallied around their colors and the roll called, 172 men failed to respond, being either killed or wounded. They now with the balance of the union army were shut up in the entrenchments of that place, while Bragg occupied the hills and threatened the city. The garrison was threatened with starvation.
Grant was now appointed to supercede General Rosecrans, and hastened to Chattanooga, but being afraid that Thomas, who had command after Rosecrans left, would surrender before re-inforcements could reach him, telegraphed him to hold fast. The old Roman's reply was "I will stay till I starve." On Grant's arrival things began to wear a different aspect. A corps from the army of the Potomac, 23,000 strong under General Joseph Hooker came, and General W. T. Sherman hastened by forced marches from Iuka, 200 miles away, and communications were again restored. On the 24th of November, the 84th was ordered on duty and helped fight the ever memorable battle of Lookout Mountain. Hooker was ordered to charge the enemy but to stop on the high ground, but the men, carried away by the ardor of the attack, swept on, over the crest, driving the enemy before them. The next morning Hooker advanced on the south of Missionary Ridge. Sherman had been the whole time pounding away on the northern flank, and Grant perceiving that the rebel line in front of him was being weakened to repel these attacks on the flank, saw that the critical moment had arrived and launched Thomas' corps on its center.
"The signals for the attack had been arranged," says B. F. Taylor, in his account of the battle, "six cannon shots fired at intervals of two seconds. The moment arrived. Strong and steady the order rang out: Number one, fire! number two, fire! number three, fire! It seemed to me like the tolling of the clock of destiny. And when at number six, fire! the roar throbbed out with the flash, you should have seen the dead line, that had been lying behind the works all day, come to resurrection in the twinkling of an eye, and leap like a blade from its scabbard."
The orders were to take the rifle-pits at the foot of Missionary Ridge, then halt and re-form; but the men forgot them all, and carrying the works at the base, swept up the ascent. Grant caught the grand inspiration, and ordered a grand charge along the whole front. Up they went, without firing a shot, over rocks, trees, and stumps, surmounted the crest, captured the guns and turned them upon the enemy, now fully routed, and in disorderly retreat. Although the 84th held its accustomed place, in these battles it was fortunate enough to lose only nine men.
Early in the spring General Sherman started upon the ever memorable Atlanta campaign. He had with him about 100,000 men of all arms, among whom was the 84th Illinois. General Joseph E. Johnston, the rebel commander, barred the way and the heroic regiment participated in the battle of Dalton, on the 13th of May, 1864, Resaca, May 14, Burnt Hickory, May 26 to 31, and Dallas, June 1, 2, and 3. At the battle of Kenesaw mountain and during the siege of Atlanta it bore a prominent part. When Sherman drew out of Atlanta, Thomas' corps was left to defend Nashville, and during the sanguinary conflicts that occurred at Franklin and Nashville, December 15, and 16, the 84th bore off the usual palm of victory. The total casualities, in the different battles, in this regiment reached the number of 558 men. On the 8th of June, 1865, at Nashville, Tennessee, the 84th was mustered out of service and returned home. There were 205 men from McDonough county in this favorite regiment, in five different companies, A, B, C, D and F, and of these 11 were killed; 39 died; 39 were wounded, and one was captured and died in Andersonville prison-pen.
Source: The History of McDonough County, together with sketches of the towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent individuals, and biographies of the representative citizens, 1885, pages 180-182. Transcribed by Robin Petersen
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