The One hundred and twenty-fourth Illinois Infantry was a representative, self-raised Regiment, recruited from Henry, Kane, McDonough, Sangamon, Jersey, Adams, Wayne, Cook, Putnam, Pike, Mercer and Christian Counties. August 27, 1862, the first company went into camp at Camp butler, near Springfield. Six days later all were in camp, and the field officers chosen. September 10th it was mustered into the United States service for three years, by Lieutenant F. E. DeCourcey.
October 6th, left for the front which was found at Jackson, Tennessee, at 3 A.M. The 9th. Was assigned to the First Brigade, Third Division, Seventeenth Army Corps, consisting of the Twentieth, Thirty-first, Forty-fifth and One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Illinois and the Twenty-third Indiana, commanded by Colonel C. c. Marsh, of the Twentieth Illinois, General John A. Logan commanding the Division and General J. B. McPherson the Corp. With this organization the Regiment remained till April 5, 1864. In the crisp autumn air and lovely camp at Jackson the foundations largely laid for all the distinction it afterwards achieved.
Left Jackson November 2nd, to participate in the movement under General Grant, via Bolivar and Lagrange, Tennessee, and Holly Springs, Abbeville and Oxford, Mississippi , to the rear of Vicksburg. Returned from the Yacoma upon the burning of the depot of supplies at Holly Springs, and after some time spent in guarding the Memphis and Charleston railroad, reached Memphis January 21, 1863.
A month later was a part of the command which moved down the Mississippi to Lake Providence, Louisiana, General I. N. Haynie being then in command of the Brigade.. After two months of inactivity was a part of the force moving from Milliken's Bend, April 25th, upon what proved to be the final Vicksburg campaign, General John E. Smith having succeeded General Haynie, who had gone home sick. April 30th, crossed the Mississippi from DeSchroo's plantation in Louisiana, to Bruinsburg in Mississippi, on the gunboat Mount City.
May 1st, after a rapid and hot march of about twelve miles, the Regiment received its first baptism of fire in bearing a part in the battle of Thompson's Hills, or Port Gibson . May 12th it bore an important part in the battle of Raymond, May 14th it was at the capture of Jackson and May 16th it did noble service at the battle of Champion Hills, capturing more men from the forth-third Georgia, after killing its Colonel and Major, than its own ranks numbered. It also killed most of the men and horses of a battery, really capturing the guns. The loss of the Regiment in this action was sixty-three killed and wounded.
The morning of May 19th crossed the Big Black and moved on Vicksburg. Was in the fearful charge of May 22nd, and occupied the extreme advance position gained that day, during the whole of the siege. It was just to the right of the Jackson road, upon which and the covered way subsequently dug, the left of the regiment rested, and is said to have been the nearest camp to the enemy's works. It was immediately in front of the fort which was mined-in large part by men of the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth--and blown up June 15th and July 1st. At the first explosion the Regiment lost forty-nine men in killed and wounded in what was called the "Slaughter Pen," being ordered into the crater formed by the explosion, two companies at a time for half an hour, all day of the 26th.
General Smith having been assigned to the command of a Division, General M. D. Leggett, formerly Colonel of the Seventy-eighth Ohio, assumed command of the First Brigade, June 2nd.
On the 4th of July, the Regiment shared with the First Brigade in the honor of first entering the captured city and helping to swell the shout that arose as the Forty-fifth Illinois ran out its colors from the cupola of the court house.
From August 21 to September 2, was absent on an expedition to Monroe, La. under General J. D. Stevenson, General Logan being in command of the Post Vicksburg.
From October 14 to 20, was absent on an expedition in force against Loring, Wirt Adams and others to Brownsville and the Bogue Chitto Creek. Skirmished considerable but the enemy retreated.
November 7 the Brigade broke camp in Vicksburg, where its camp had been since the surrender, and removed to Big Black, 11 miles east. The 13th, General Logan took his farewell of his old fighting Third Division, to the regret of all, and was subsequently succeeded by General Leggett, the First Brigade being commanded by General M. F. Force. In December Colonel Sloan was dismissed the service, and Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Howe subsequently commanded the Regiment.
January, 1864, was rendered memorable in the history of the Regiment by its winning an "Excelsior" prize banner, which General Leggett Signalized his assuming command by tendering to the best drilled and finest Regiment in the Division. The three Brigades drilled separately, on the 29th of January the First Brigade, the One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth winning; on the 21st the Second Brigade, the Seventy-eighth Ohio winning; on the 22nd the Third Brigade, the Seventeenth Illinois winning. On the 23rd the three victorious regiments drilled, and the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth won handsomely, the award being unanimous by the committee. General McPherson presented the banner. The Regiment bore the banner in triumph till the 5th of April following, including the famous Meridian raid under General Sherman from February 3 to March 4, or upwards of 300 miles marching in the face of the enemy, and much of the time under fire, proving by its good behaviour and bravery in the field, as well as by its bearing upon drill and parade, its right to the proud distinction of being the "Excelsior" Regiment of the noble Third Division. April 5, through a reorganization effected in veteranizing, the Regiment found itself outside of the Third Division, to which the banner was to belong, according to the terms understood in drilling for it, and so surrendered the proud trophy to Colonel Scott, temporarily commanding the Division. But the banner was never afterwards borne by any command. The One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Illinois was the only "Excelsior" Regiment of that famous old Division.
The 5th of April, 1864, the Regiment moved to Vicksburg again, where its camp remained till February 26, 1865. Much of that time was passed on provost duty, from which a little relief was found in an expedition of eighteen days in May, under General McArthur, to Benton and Yazoo City, and one of nine days in July, under General Slocum, to Jackson, in both of which some considerable service was seen and loss sustained.
October 13 it went up the river, ultimately as far as Memphis. But nothing noteworthy occurred, and the 26th found it back in camp and on provost duty again.
February 25, 1865, after a stay in Vicksburg and vicinity of nearly two years, found the Regiment on the steamer Grey Eagle, bound for New Orleans with orders to report to General Canby. This was done the 27th, and followed by other orders to report to General A. J. Smith, below the city, for duty in the field.
March 11 embarked on the steamship Guiding Star, and March 16 debarked at Fort Gaines, on Dauphine Island, Ala.
Were assigned with the Eighty-first and one Hundred and Eighth Illinois and the Eighth Iowa, to the Third Brigade, Colonel J. L. Geddes, of the Eighth Iowa commanding, of the Third Division, commanded by General E.A. Carr, of the Sixteenth Army Corps, under General A. J. Smith; moving with the Thirteenth Army Corp, command by General Gordon Granger and a force under General F. Steele, against the defenses of Mobile, all under command of General E. R. S. Canby.
March 21 crossed the bay, and on the 22nd debarked on Fish River and moved on Spanish Fort. Shared actively in the investment on the 27th and the siege which followed, the Third Brigade constituting the extreme right of the investing line, and being exposed not only tot he direct fire from the enemy's works in front, but to an enfilading fire from batteries Huger and Tracy, and gunboats in the river above. Bore a conspicuous part in the brilliant attack on the enemy's extreme left on the night of April 8, which terminated the siege, was among the first to enter the works, captured several guns and many prisoners, swept up to the Old Fort in the darkness, reaching it before midnight, and was shelled by the Union Fleet before the change of occupation was known.
Started for Montgomery, Ala., April 12, reaching it on the 25th, and going immediately upon provost duty, Colonel Geddes commanding Post, and Colonel Howe the Brigade.
The 16th of July left for home via the Alabama River and railroad to Vicksburg, passing through Meridian, Jackson, the battle ground of Champion Hills, and the old camps on the Big Black. On the 28th of July left Vicksburg on the good steamer Ida Handy, and on the 3rd of August reached Chicago in company with the Seventy-sixth Illinois, Colonel Busey commanding. On the 16th of August, eleven days less than three years since the first company went into camp at Springfield, the Regiment was mustered out at Camp Douglas.
Colonel Howe's history of the battle flag of the Regiment, stated that it had been borne 4,100 miles, in the 14 skirmishes, 10 battles and 2 sieges of 47 days and nights, and 13 days and nights respectively, and so had been under fire eighty-two days and sixty nights; the distance not including that from Montgomery to Chicago.
The Regiment was one of the most fortunate in the service. It always obeyed orders, taking and holding every position to which it was assigned unflinchingly. Regiments by its side sustained fearful losses in officers and men while its numbers wee comparatively intact. One officer alone was killed in the service, and he was sitting in his tent off duty when struck, at the siege of Vicksburg. Two others resigned from wounds, five were captured when detailed on a scout, four of whom did not live to return, and one hundred and thirty-seven men died of disease. Very many others, officers and men, were wounded and some seriously, but they were not lost to the Regiment. The Regiment never was repulsed, never retreated a step in the face of a foe and never lost a prisoner in action.
The following from the pen of General M. D. Leggett, was written in January, 1886, and is thought worthy of a place in the closing of this history.
"As to the Excelsior Banner, it is due to the members of the Third Division that I should tell them all I know about it. When we went into the Atlanta campaign we sent all our surplus and unnecessary baggage back to Nashville for storage, in order to lighten our transportation. With such baggage the Excelsior Banner went. At the time of the siege of Nashville, in December, 1861, this baggage had its location changed and was lost, but was not captured by the enemy. I caused an exhaustive search to be made for it in the spring of 1865, but without success. If I could have found this Excelsior Banner, I should have sent it to Colonel John H. Howe, of the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Illinois. This was a splendid Regiment and splendidly officered, and deservedly earned the banner after a severe struggle. To be the best drilled and best disciplined Regiment in the old Third Division of the Seventeenth Corps, was honor enough. This was Logan's Division and McPherson's Corps up to the fall of Vicksburg, and no troops did more hard marching and hard fighting. It may be truthfully said of them, they were never driven from a position, and never attempted to take a position and failed."Signed M.D. Leggett