Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2012, 3:40 pm
'Hundred-days' men left checkered Civil War legacy
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By Tom Emery
There are many unusual stories of the Civil War in Illinois, and the tale of the "hundred-days" men is among them. These troops left a checkered legacy in their brief service to the Union.
The "hundred-days" movement arose from a need for more manpower in early 1864. Thousands of men were tied up in the campaigns on Richmond and Atlanta, and the recruiting pool was drying up after several calls by the president for more troops.
As a result, Ohio Gov. John Brough concocted an idea to enlist men for short terms of service. These soldiers would handle everyday tasks, such as guard and garrison duty, freeing other, experienced men to join larger theaters. Brough contacted Illinois Gov. Richard Yates, as well as the governors of Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, and a consensus was reached. The plan was presented to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln quickly approved the idea.
The men were to be enlisted for 100 days, with a reported goal of helping to defeat the South in that time. Illinois pledged 20,000 men but fell short, contributing 11,328 additional troops that composed 13 regiments.
The "hundred-days" men were certainly a hodgepodge. Some barely were 18 and had been too young to answer earlier calls to service, while others were older men. The colonel of the 137th Illinois was former Illinois Gov. John Wood of Quincy, who was 65.
A portion had previously served and been discharged for various reasons, including injury. Others had been unable, or unwilling, to enlist earlier and wanted to experience soldiering before the war was over. But since the best men already were in service, the "hundred-days" men were largely the leftovers. The press snidely referred to them as "hundred-dazers," a moniker that often was well-deserved.
Some units were busier than others. Wood and the 137th performed guard duty around Memphis, while the 134th garrisoned the stronghold at Columbus, Ky. The 136th also was at Columbus before receiving orders to "intercept" Nathan Bedford Forrest on his raid on Paducah. As they were on trains to Chicago for muster-out, they were quickly ordered to St. Louis to support the pursuit of Sterling Price's Missouri raid. When the 136th finally was mustered out, members had served nearly six months.
Two other units, the 138th and 139th, were assigned to prevent bushwhacking before also helping out on the Price pursuit, also stretching past their 100 days. The 138th immodestly claimed that its "many veterans" of "previous honorable service" gave the regiment "character and experience."
The 133rd Illinois, though, could make no such claims. Assigned to guard the Rock Island Prison Barracks, this central Illinois unit set the tone on its train trip north. The first official act of the unit's colonel was to write "letters of apology to the towns they had passed through."
In his fine 2000 study of the Rock Island prison, the late Benton McAdams wrote: "The men of the 133rd ... concluded that a soldier's duty consisted of shooting," and "shoot they did." On June 25, 1864, 17 men were admitted to the barracks hospital, "all with gunshot wounds." Sometimes, the Illinoisans shot each other. One man of the 133rd shot off two of his own fingers, while another died in "a bit of horseplay."
They also had little regard for equipment. There were a remarkably high number of "pay stoppages for lost haversacks, gun tools, [and] canteens." Some turned to thievery, "raiding the hospital for whatever they needed." Others moved some of the female laundresses into the men's quarters.
The 133rd was mustered out on Sept. 24, not a moment too soon for the people of Rock Island. They epitomized the "hundred-dazers" that, for better or worse, wrote their own chapter in Illinois' Civil War history.
Tom Emery, of Carlinville, Ill., is developing a project on Illinois generals in the Civil War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 710-8392.