The organization of this Regiment was commenced as soon as the news of the firing on Fort Sumter reached Chicago.
General T. O. Osborn was one of its contemplated field officers, and labored zealously to get it accepted under the first call for troops, but did not accomplish his object. The State having filled its quota without this Regiment, efforts were made to get it accepted into the State service of Missouri, but without success. The Regiment had already assumed the name of His Excellency, the Governor of Illinois, and was known as the "Yates Phalanx". Governor Yates manifested an earnest desire to see it brought into the service, and sent General O. L. Mann (then known as Captain) to Washington, with strong commendatory letters to the President and Secretary of War, urging the acceptance of the Regiment, which at this time had over 800 men on the roles.
The Regiment was accepted on the day succeeding the first Bull Run disaster, and Austin Light, of Chicago, was appointed Colonel; and under his direction the organization was completed, and left Camp Mather, Chicago, on the morning of October 13, 1861. The day previous to the departure, a beautiful stand of colors was presented to the Regiment by Miss Helen Arion, daughter of Colonel Arion. It had also won a handsome flag at a prize drill, under the auspices of the Illinois Agricultural Society, then in session at Chicago.
On leaving Chicago, the Regiment reported to Brigadier General Curtis, at Camp Benton, St. Louis, Missouri.
October 29, the Regiment received orders to proceed to Williamsport, Maryland, where it was fully armed and equipped. December 11, it pressed on to Hancock, Maryland, at which point it crossed the Potomac River, and was distributed in detachments along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to assist in guarding that important line of transit.
January 3, 1862, the advance of a rebel force 15,000 strong, under command of "Stonewall" Jackson, attacked Companies D, I and K, in the command of Major Mann, near Bath, Virginia, and, after a brisk little fight, were repulsed; then, with two pieces of artillery, and a liberal display of strategy and courage, the enemy was held in check for nearly twenty-four hours. Company G, under command of Captain Slaughter, was also attacked at Great Cacapon Bridge, but repulsed the enemy with considerable loss. A heavy force was approaching, and this Company, not being able to ford the Potomac, retreated up the railroad to Cumberland, Maryland. Colonel Osborn, with the remaining portion of the Regiment, was simultaneously attacked at Alpine Station. Companies C and F, in command of Captain Munn, drew into ambush about five hundred (500) of Ashby's Cavalry, and, after killing and wounding 30, routed them. The Regiment finally forded the Potomac, sustaining no serious loss, except in the matter of camp and garrison equipage, and took up a new position on the Maryland shore.
Cumberland was at this period, threatened, and the Thirty-ninth was ordered to make a forced march of forty (40) miles, over terrible roads, which was accomplished in the short space of eighteen hours. From Cumberland the Regiment was ordered to New Creek, Virginia, to guard a bridge, and was here assigned to the First Brigade of General Lander's Division, and was soon ordered to Patterson's Creek, below Cumberland. At this period the Regiment suffered seriously from sickness, occasioned by constant exposure and excessive duty. The weather was intensely cold, and cattle cars were the only quarters to be had for the command. But the men endured these hardships for over two months with scarcely a murmur, notwithstanding their comrades were almost daily dying around them. These days and weeks will ever be remembered as being more terrible than were those in which the enemy was confronted on the battle-field. From Patterson's Creek the Thirty-ninth to the advance, protecting the workmen in repairing the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Martinsburg. The Regiment, from Martinsburg, participated in a reconnoissance to Strasburg, and, on its return, took part in the brilliant fight at Winchester, March 23, 1862, that resulted in the utter defeat of "Stonewall" Jackson's forces. The Regiment suffered but little during the engagement, owing to its position, which was the extreme left. The ensuing day it took the advance in pursing the enemy down the Shenandoah Valley, as far as New Market, where it was detached and sent into the Luray Valley, to protect bridges over the South Branch of the Shenandoah River.
Major S. W. Munn, in command of four companies, met a small cavalry force at Columbia Bridge, and, after a brisk skirmish, dislodged the enemy, putting out the fire which they had applied to the structure, and capturing thirty (30) prisoners.
The Thirty-ninth left the Valley the 1st of May 1862, with Shield's Division, and making a continued march of one hundred and fifty (150) miles, reported to General McDowell at Fredericksburg. After one day's rest, the news of General Bank's defeat in the Valley arrived, and the Regiment was ordered back to the Valley, making forced marches over a distance of one hundred and eighty miles. After a few days' rest, the Regiment was ordered to Alexandria, Virginia, and immediately embarked on transports for the James River, and reached Harrison's Landing in time to take part in the closing scenes of General McClellan's seven days' fight and seven nights retreat. While at Harrison's Landing, the Regiment was kept at the front, on picket duty, and had a series of unimportant skirmishes, until about the middle of August, when it participated in the second Malvern Hill fight, but without material injury. From this point a number of officers and men were sent away sick.
The Regiment was here assigned to the First Brigade, Peck's Division, Keyes' Corps, and retreated with the army to Fort Monroe. September 1, it was sent to Suffolk, Virginia, where it remained for the space of three months, fortifying the place, and making frequent expeditions to the Blackwater, where heavy skirmishes frequently occurred. On one occasion it participated in the capture of two pieces of artillery and forty prisoners.
At Suffolk, about the 1st of December, Major S. W. Munn resigned, on account of ill health, and returned home.
On the 23d of January 1863, the Regiment broke camp, and marched a distance of seventy-five miles, to the Chowan River, where it took transports, and reported to General Foster, at Newbern, North Carolina. Colonel T. O. Osborn was her placed in command of the First Brigade, O. S. Ferry's Division of Foster's Corps. A beautiful flag was here presented to the Regiment, from His Excellency, Governor Yates, being his portrait, and which was carried through all the subsequent battles of the Thirty-ninth.
January 20, 1863, the Regiment again embarked, accompanying General Foster's expedition to Hilton Head, South Carolina. It remained in camp on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for several weeks, where a most favorable opportunity for drill and discipline was diligently improved. An experienced inspecting officer here paid the Thirty-ninth a flattering compliment, by pronouncing it the best drilled and the best equipped Regiment in the Division.
The 1st of April, the Regiment took part in General Hunter's expedition against Charleston, and, after landing on Folly Island, took a prominent part in the erection of batteries with which Morris Island was taken.
The Regiment was next ordered on to Morris Island, where it was assigned to General Alfred H. Terry's Division, and again worked zealously and long in the trenches, parallels and forts which resulted in the final capture of Fort Wagner. A day or two previous to the fall of this fort, Colonel Osborn was temporarily disabled by the premature discharge of a heavy piece of ordnance. The Regiment formed the advance of their Brigade, temporarily commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mann, and occupied the trenches on the night that it was discovered the fort was being evacuated. As soon as this fact was known, Thirty-ninth entered the fort, captured the enemy's rear-guard, cut several fuses were laid with the design to blow up the structure on the approach of Union troops, and planted the Regimental colors on the parapet some two hours before the time appointed for the general charge.
At this time the fort was taken possession of, the following telegram was sent to headquarters:
To Major General Q. A. Gilmore:
The Field Officer of the Trenches sends his compliments and congratulations to the Major
General commanding, from the bomb-proofs of fallen Fort Wagner, and wishes to assure him
that this confidence in God and General Gilmore is yet unshaken.
A portion of the Thirty-ninth temporarily garrisoned this work, and the balance occupied Fort Gregg, which fell simultaneously with Fort Wagner. Captain J. Woodruff, a very gallant officer, was killed about this time in Fort Gregg, by a shell thrown from the enemy's batteries on Sullivan's Island. The loss in killed and wounded during these four months of siege duty was not very heavy, compared to the constant bombardment to which the Regiment was subjected; yet it was far more trying to the nerve and courage of the command than a hotly contested battle would have been.
After assisting in strengthening and remodeling the defenses on Morris Island, the Thirty-ninth returned to Folly Island, and soon embarked for Hilton Head, where the Regiment remained for several weeks, and then re-enlisted, being the first organization in the entire Department to accept Veteran honors and responsibilities. It left Hilton Head on veteran furlough, for Chicago, Illinois, via New York, on the 1st of January 1864, amid great enthusiasm. An entire Brigade, with several Generals and their Staffs, turned out to escort it to the place of embarkation. The Regiment reached Chicago the middle of January, 450 strong, and was tendered a fine ovation by the citizens, in Bryan Hall.
After the Regiment had been recruited to seven hundred and fifty (750) strong, it left, early in March 1864, for Washington, D.C., and from thence sailed to Georgetown, Virginia, where in was assigned to the First Brigade, First Division, Tenth Army Corps. It then embarked, the 5th day of May 1864, with General Butler's expedition up the James River. On reaching Bermuda Hundred, the Regiment took the advance on the march into the interior for several miles, when the entire command was halted, and entrenchment's thrown up. After remaining for a day or two, the whole column was moved forward to Drury's Bluff. The Thirty-ninth was located on the extreme left of General Butler's command on the 16th of May 1864, when the entire force under Butler was attacked and driven back. The Regiment was at one time completely surrounded by the enemy, but succeeding in cutting their way out, after great loss. To use General Butler's own words, "the Thirty-ninth fought most gallantly, and have suffered most severely". Colonel Osborn, Major Linton, Captain Phillips, Captain Wheeler, Lieutenant Kidder and Lieutenant Kingsbury were all wounded - the latter losing an arm. Captain James Wightman and Adjutant J. D. Walker were killed while gallantly cheering on the men. The entire loss in this engagement, including killed, wounded and missing, reached nearly 200 hundred (200). The Regiment was again ordered out on the 20th of May, to dislodge the enemy from some temporary works near Wier Bottom Church, which was accomplished in a most gallant manner, with the loss of forty (40) in killed and wounded. The Thirty-ninth captured in this charge a large number of prisoners, including General Walker, who was seriously wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Mann was also seriously wounded in this engagement, thus leaving the command without a field officer. Colonel Munn was incapacitated for field duty the rest of the winter. General Mann read his farewell order to the remnant of his old command.
At this place, Surgeon Charles M. Clark, who had previously been detached from the Regiment as Operating Surgeon, was placed in charge of the Tenth Army Corps' Flying Hospital - a position which he filled with acknowledged skill and ability. After the merging of the Tenth and Eighteenth Corps into the Twenty-fourth Army Corps, Surgeon Clark was appointed Chief Operating Surgeon of the Corps, which position he retained until the surrender of the rebel army. Subsequently, he was placed in charge of the Military Hospital at Richmond, where he remained until its final abandonment in September 1865, being then ordered to Norfolk, Virginia, as chief medical officer of the district, and in charge of the Post Hospital.
On the 2d of June, the Regiment was again called into action, on nearly the same ground as on the 20th of May, in which engagement it lost, in killed, wounded and missing some forty (40) men. Lieutenant Albert W. Fellows was killed soon after the action commenced, and Lieutenant Al. C. Sweetzer was severely wounded in both legs, losing one by amputation above the knee. On the 16th, 17th and 18th days of June, the Regiment came in contact with General Longstreet's Corps, near the Petersburg and Richmond pike, and fought him night and day. Captain O. F. Rudd, a most accomplished officer, was mortally wounded in this affair, and the Regiment lost about thirty-five (35) men in killed and wounded.
On the 14th day of August, the Regiment crossed to the north side of the James River, and operated with the Army of the James, in conjunction with the Second Corps, under the direction of General Grant, in a reconnoissance toward the works near Richmond. On the 16th, the Brigade to which the Thirty-ninth was attached was ordered to charge the works of the enemy at Deep Run. The enemy offered a most stubborn resistance, not giving back even when our men mounted their works, and fought them hand to hand; by Western valor proved to be more than a match for them. Our boys broke their lines, capturing a large number of prisoners.
During the action, and just after gaining the earth-works, Henry M. Hardenburg, a private in Company G, encountered the Color Sergeant of an Alabama Regiment, carrying it regimental colors. A desperate conflict at once took place between the two - one to capture and the other to defend that stand of colors. After several minutes hard fighting, in which both received wounds, Hardenburg, dispatched his enemy, and captured the colors, which he presented in person to Major General Birney, commanding Tenth Corps. General Butler, learning of the affair, promoted Private Hardenburg to a First Lieutenant in a colored regiment; but the brave boy was shot dead while in the trenches before Petersburg, September 28, 1864, two days before his commission arrived.
In this battle of 16th of August, the Thirty-ninth lost one hundred and four (104) men, in killed, wounded and missing. Captain L. A. Baker, commanding Regiment, was shot through the leg, causing amputation; Captain Chauncey Williams and Lieutenant John Frane were killed, Lieutenant James Lemons mortally wounded, Lieutenant N. C. Warner seriously wounded and leg amputated, and Lieutenant C. F. Knapp and Lieutenant M. L. Butterfield were slightly wounded.
In the latter part of August, the Regiment was ordered to the trenches in front of Petersburg, where it was almost constantly on duty, and under fire both night and day. In the latter part of September, the Tenth and Eighteenth Corps moved over to the north side of the James River again, and on the 7th of October, the Thirty-ninth met the enemy, near Chaplin's farm, who made three desperate charges upon the hastily constructed works behind which our boys were stationed. But they were driven back each time, with fearful loss to the Union troops. On the 13th of October, the Thirty-ninth took part in a charge, under command of Major General A. H. Terry, upon the enemy's works near Darlington road, seven miles from Richmond. Out of about two hundred and fifty (250) men when went into that charge, sixty fell, struck by the enemy. Captain George Heritage, commanding the Regiment, was severely wounded in two places, Lieutenant C. J. Wilder was killed, and Lieutenant N. E. Davis mortally wounded. The Regiment now fell under command of First Lieutenant James Hannum, Company C, there being but two other officers besides himself left - one the Adjutant, the other a Second Lieutenant - the balance killed, or absent, wounded. Several, however, had previously been mustered out, by reason of expiration of service.
On the 27th of October, the Regiment took part in a reconnoissance near the place last mentioned, and had a brisk engagement with the enemy. In November, Colonel Osborn returned to the Regiment, but not fully recovered from his wounds. He was soon placed in command of the First Brigade, First Division, Twenty-fourth Corps, to which the Thirty-ninth was attached. In December, First Lieutenant H. A. Plimpton, having received a Captain's commission, and being mustered on the same, took command of the Regiment. During the winter, the Thirty-ninth remained behind the works on the north side of the James, where it was thoroughly equipped anew, and attained great proficiency in drill, for which it had excellent advantages, that were well improved.
During the winter it had frequent skirmishes with the enemy, but no regular engagements. In March, it received about one hundred recruits, an don the 27th of the same month took part in the military movements which finally resulted in wresting the strongholds of Petersburg and Richmond from the grasp of the enemy. It crossed to the left of the Army of the Potomac, and on the 2d day of April took part in the charge upon Fort Gregg, the key to the works about Petersburg and Richmond. It was an enclosed work, situated upon an eminence, the country surrounding which was open, and commanded by five other forts and redoubts. Immediately surrounding it was a ditch six feet deep and twelve feet wide. It fell to the lot of the First Brigade to charge and take the fort; and the Thirty-ninth was the first Regiment to gain the ditch, and the first to plant her flag upon the structure. Out of nine of her color-guard, seven were shot down. After gaining the ditch the conflict became most desperate. On account of the abruptness and slippery nature of the side of the ditch, it was only by digging foot-holds in the earth, with swords and bayonets, that the boys were enabled to gain the parapet, where the struggle was hand-to-hand, and lasted for the period of half an hour where success crowned the effort, which was the capture of the fort and the entire garrison. Out of one hundred and fifty (150) members of the Thirty-ninth who went into that fight, (the balance of the Regiment being on picket duty) sixteen (16) were shot dead, and now lie buried where they fell, and forty-five (45) more severely wounded, many of whom had since died.
For the gallantry displayed by the Thirty-ninth in this charge, a magnificent brazen eagle, cast for the purpose, was presented and placed upon the regimental color staff by the hand of Major General John Gibbons, at the time of the grand review of the Corps. The eagle bore the following inscription: "Presented to the Thirty-ninth Illinois Veteran Volunteers, by Major General John Gibbon, commanding Twenty-fourth Army Corps, for gallantry in the assault upon Fort Gregg, Petersburg, Virginia, April 2, 1865". The Color Sergeant, Henry M. Day, who was severely wounded while planting the colors upon the fort, was rewarded by a medal of honor from the War Department. Col. Thomas O. Osborn was appointed a Brigadier General by brevet, and Captain H. A. Plimpton, a Major by brevet, for gallantry on the occasion. After this affair, the Regiment took the advance of the Army of the James in the pursuit after General Lee, and succeeded in heading his army off after forced marches (forty miles in one day) and frequent skirmishes at Appomattox Court House, and where, after a brisk engagement on the 9th day of April, 1865, in which the Thirty-ninth had several men wounded, it had the proud satisfaction of witnessing the final surrender of General Robert E. Lee, with his great Army of Northern Virginia.
The Regiment was retained at Appomattox Court House, for several days, as guard over the baggage and camps of the conquered army. It was then ordered to Richmond where it remained until August. On the 11th of May 1865, Brevet Brigadier General Osborn was made full Brigadier General, and Brevet Major Plimpton, full Major.
From Richmond, the Regiment was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, reporting to Brevet Brigadier General O. L. Mann, Colonel of the Regiment, who, after recovering partially from his wounds received on the 20th day of May 1864, had been appointed in January 1865, Provost Marshal for the District of Eastern Virginia, and soon after breveted Brigadier General and placed in command of said district.
The Thirty-ninth remained on duty at Norfolk until the 5th of December 1865, at which time General Order No. 131 was issued from Headquarters, Department of Virginia, ordering its muster-out of service, which was accomplished on the 6th of December, and on the afternoon of the 7th, the Regiment started for Springfield, Illinois, for its final muster-out and payment, via Chicago, where it arrived on the afternoon of the 10th of December. The following morning it continued its way to Springfield, arriving at Camp Butler on the morning of the 12th inst.
On the morning of December 16th, the Regiment, prior to its final payment, was assembled in the chapel, where the ceremony of surrendering the flags of the Regiment to the State authorities transpired. The Adjutant General, thanking them for their gallantry, and congratulating them on the happy termination of their services, received the old battle-worn relics, making a brief but appropriate speech. General Mann read his farewell order to the remnant of his old command.
The Regiment was then paid off by companies, and 'ere the day closed, the gallant old Thirty-ninth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, ceased to exist as an organization.