Chicago To Appomattox
When Chicago lawyer Thomas Osborn set out to form a Union regiment in the days following the attack on Fort Sumter, he could not have known it was the beginning of a 6000-mile journey that would end at Appomattox Courthouse four years later. With assistance from Governor Richard Yates, the 39th Illinois Infantry—“The Yates Phalanx”—enlisted young men from Chicago, its modern-day suburbs, and small towns of northern and central Illinois.
While most Illinois regiments fought in the west, the 39th marched through the Shenandoah Valley to fight Stonewall Jackson, to Charleston Harbor for the Second Battle of Fort Sumter and to Richmond for the year-long siege at Petersburg. This book chronicles day-to-day life in the regiment, the myriad factors that determined its path, and the battles fought by the Chicagoans—including two Medal of Honor recipients—who fired some of the last shots before the Confederate surrender.
The book is the story of how an Illinois Civil War regiment journeyed from Chicago to Appomattox, with service in the Shenandoah Valley, Charleston Harbor, and the siege lines near Richmond and Petersburg along the way. While fighting in small skirmishes, and missing out on major action early in the war, the 39th suffered mightily in 1864 into 1865, with two members receiving the Medal of Honor for valor. Part of the Army of the James late in the war, the 39th served along side the Army of the Potomac, and were part of General Grant's efforts to break the Petersburg line in early April 1865. They were then part of the chase of Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, and witness to the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
Originally interested in the regiment due to having two ancestors who served in it, Jason came across a copy of a unit history written by the regimental surgeon in 1889. With this as his foundation and outline, he found published letters and journals from a few members of the regiment, and sought out reputable academic works detailing the operations and battles the 39th was a part of. The result is an engaging narrative backed up by a plethora of sources, that tells the story of the regiment and puts their actions into the context of the greater war.
Chicago to Appomattox is not a military blow by blow, but rather a story of the journey the 39th took during the war. To tell that story, Baker weaves in the strategic, political, social, and military factors and issues that dictated the path the 39th was set on.
Jason believes he has written a story Illinois readers, or ancestors of regiment members, can be proud of as they learn about local contributions to the Civil War. If you are just learning about the Civil War, you'll find a an overview of its start to finish. If you already know plenty, you'll have the chance to see how the war's path dictated the journey for an individual regiment from start to finish.
Jason is donating book royalties to the American Battlefield--to preserve and protect hallowed ground--and to local historical organizations of the cities and towns that made up the 39th Illinois.