Thirty-Seventh Illinois Infantry
The Thirty-Seventh Illinois Infantry Regiment saw extensive service in Arkansas during the Civil War. The unit saw action at the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, as well as other engagements.
The companies in the regiment were recruited in the summer of 1861 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops after the defeat of Federal forces at the First Battle of Bull Run. The companies making up the regiment were recruited in northern Illinois, with two from Chicago, two from Rock Island, and two from Lake County, directly north of Chicago. The remaining companies were from Stark, Henry, Boone, LaSalle, and Vermilion counties. The companies individually moved to Chicago, where the regiment organized in September 1861 under the command of Colonel Julius White. The regiment arrived by rail in St. Louis on September 21. At this point in their service, the companies were issued either muskets or Colt revolving rifles.
The regiment campaigned in Missouri in the fall of 1861, earning the nickname Illinois Greyhounds in honor of their quick march to support comrades near Springfield. Spending several months of the winter in camp, the regiment began actively embarking on campaigns in late January 1862. A push against Springfield in February led to the first engagement of the regiment as Union units forced the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard to evacuate the city.
The Federal Army of the Southwest, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Ryan Curtis, followed the Confederates into Arkansas. The Thirty-Seventh camped near Big Sugar Creek in Benton County. Colonel White commanded a brigade consisting of his regiment along with the Fifty-Ninth Illinois and Battery A, Second Illinois Light Artillery. At the Battle of Pea Ridge, the regiment suffered heavy losses: twenty killed, 121 wounded, and three missing.
In the immediate aftermath of the Federal victory, the Union army pulled back a few miles closer to Missouri. The regiment spent the next several months on duty in southern Missouri, where they patrolled and engaged small groups of Confederates and guerrillas. In October 1862, the regiment returned to Arkansas, passing through Bentonville (Benton County), Cross Hollows (Benton County), and Fayetteville (Washington County), as well as other communities. The regiment participated in the Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862, fighting their way into the apple orchard near the Borden House and also capturing a Confederate artillery battery. Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Black commanded the regiment during the battle, leading the men despite having one arm in a sling due to a wound suffered at Pea Ridge. He was wounded in the other arm during the battle and later received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the engagement, as did his brother, William Perkins Black, who single-handedly checked the enemy’s advance against his company’s position. The regiment lost eight killed, fifty-eight wounded, and eight missing at Prairie Grove.
In late December, the regiment participated in an expedition that culminated in the capture of Van Buren (Crawford County). Returning to Missouri, the regiment continued to patrol and man forts to guard against attack. The regiment participated in the Skirmish at Chalk Bluff in May 1863. In June, the regiment boarded transports and moved down the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the men went into the line on June 14. The men remained in the field during the siege until July 3, when the Confederates began to discuss surrender. The regiment marched into the city the following day, when the surrender became official.
Once again loaded onto transports, the regiment disembarked at Yazoo City, Mississippi, and engaged at Confederate forces in the town. Reembarking, the regiment continued down the river to Port Hudson, Louisiana. The unit remained in Louisiana for several months, losing multiple men to outbreaks of disease. The Thirty-Seventh participated in one operation while in Louisiana, opposing Confederate forces near the Atchafalaya River. Transferred to southern Texas in October 1863, the regiment landed near Brazos. Remaining in Texas until February 1864, the regiment participated in one expedition to seize supplies from the enemy.
On February 11, 1864, most of the men in the regiment reenlisted and began the return trip to Louisiana the next day. After participating in the reestablishment festivities for the new government of Louisiana, the men received a furlough to Illinois due to their reenlistments.
Returning to duty in April, the regiment saw service in Tennessee and Mississippi before joining the Federal forces of Major General Nathaniel Banks on the Red River; the troops were retreating down the Red River after their failure to capture Shreveport. This expedition was part of an effort joined by another Union force in Arkansas in what became known as the Camden Expedition.
On June 12, 1864, the regiment returned to Arkansas. The men moved up the White River on river transports to St. Charles (Arkansas County), where they constructed fortifications to guard against Confederate attack. On September 20, the nonveterans in the regiment were transferred out of the unit, and on October 7, the unit went into winter camp near DeValls Bluff (Prairie County). The men remained in camp until January 7, 1865, when they began moving to southern Louisiana. Boarding other transports, the regiment moved to Florida, where they operated against Confederate forces near Pensacola.
Marching overland, the regiment participated in operations against Mobile, Alabama. During the fighting, the regiment lost one man killed and seven wounded, with the final battle fought hours after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.
Even with the conclusion of hostilities, the Thirty-Seventh continued to serve. Transported to Galveston, Texas, the regiment arrived on July 1, 1865. The regiment also spent time in Beaumont and Houston. The men worked to supply cavalry units under the command of Major General George Custer. By July, the regiment was dispersed along a rail line in south Texas and had by that point relieved at least five other regiments. These units returned to their respective homes while the Thirty-Seventh continued to serve.
The regiment finally mustered out of Federal service on May 15, 1866, in Houston. Boarding transports, the men moved up the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois, before traveling to Springfield, Illinois, where they received their final pay on May 31.
The varied service of the Thirty-Seventh Illinois took it from southern Texas to Florida, but its most important actions were during the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. The service of the unit in Arkansas helped shape the conflict in the state and helped lead to Federal control for much of the war.
For additional information:
Civil War Diary of Henry Carl Ketzle. https://ketzle.com/diary/fullcwdiary.htm (accessed April 13, 2023).
Hennessey, James J. “The Photograph Album of Commissary Sergeant Oscar Sowles 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry ‘Fremont Rifles.’” Military Images 31, no. 4 (2012): 4–15.
Henry Heitahrends Civil War Letters, MSS.16.69. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. https://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/9975 (accessed April 13, 2023).
Hinze, David C. “Double Honor: The Story of John and William Black and the Medal of Honor.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 104, nos. 1–2 (2011): 56–72.
Mullins, Michael A. “The Fremont Rifles: The 37th Illinois Infantry at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove.” Civil War Regiments 1 (1991): 42–68.
———. The Fremont Rifles: A History of the 37th Illinois Infantry. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing, 1990.
Thomas R. Brown Civil War Letter, MSS.15.31. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. https://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/9840 (accessed April 13, 2023).
Wilder, Jeremy H. “The Thirty-Seventh Illinois at Prairie Grove.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 49 (Spring 1990): 3–19.
William D. McCord Civil War Letter, MSS 11-49. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. https://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/findingaids/id/2924/rec/1 (accessed April 13, 2023).
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