Searching for a source

Nov 12, 2018
There is a quote from a Union unit that refused to fight after the Emancipation Proclamation. I believe it was an Illinois unit. "We would rather lie down in the woods until moss grows on our backs than lift one finger to help a n****r." Can anyone help me find the source for this quote showing the feelings of this Union Army unit?

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Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Retired Moderator
Aug 17, 2011
Birmingham, Alabama
There is a quote from a Union unit that refused to fight after the Emancipation Proclamation. I believe it was an Illinois unit. "We would rather lie down in the woods until moss grows on our backs than lift one finger to help a n****r." Can anyone help me find the source for this quote showing the feelings of this Union Army unit?
A quick google search comes up empty. Good luck.

Cavalry Charger

Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jan 24, 2017
Welcome from the Ulysses S. Grant forum :grant:

I know there is some commentary in Bell Irving Wiley's book, The Life of Billy Yank, that references soldiers opinions via letters and such, but as to a specific company stating they would do this, I'm not sure.
The 109th Illinois Infantry that came from Union County in the most Southern part of the state and whose family roots originated in Virginia and the Carolinas, had to be disbanded when they refused to fight against Van Dorn in Holly Springs following the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which they openly denounced.

Special Orders, No. 58 >
Hdqrs. 13th A. 0., Dept, of the Tenn.,
Holly Springs, Miss., December 31, 1862.

IV. 1st. It having been alleged that the One hundred and ninth Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers has shown indications of disloyalty, and many members of the regiment having voluntarily hunted up citizens in the neighborhood of their camp to surrender and obtain paroles from, is hereby placed in arrest.
2d. The regiment will be disarmed by the commander of the brigade to which the regiment is temporarily attached, and the arms and ammunition of the regiment turned over to the ordnance officer, Lieutenant Carter, to be disposed of as may hereafter be ordered.
3d. Officers and men will be confined within camp limits until otherwise ordered.
The conduct of Company K of said regiment being in honorable contrast to the balance of the regiment, is exempt from the effect of the above order; and will be placed on duty with the brigade to which said regiment is attached.

By order of Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant:
[JOHN A. RAWLINS,] Assistant Adjutant-General.
O.R. Series I, Vol. XVII, Pt. 2, pg. 511


General Orders, No. 12 )
Hdqrs. Dept, of the Tennessee,
Young’s Point, La.y February 1,1863.

The proceedings of the court of inquiry convened at Holly Springs, Miss., by Special Orders, No. 2, of date January 2, 1863, from these headquarters, and of which Lieut. Col. De Witt C. Loudon, of the Seventieth Ohio Volunteers Infantry, was president, to inquire into and investigate the allegations and charges of disloyalty against the One hundred and ninth Illinois Infantry Volunteers, exonerates said regiment, as a regiment, from all suspicion of disloyalty, satisfactorily vindicates its innocence, and places it where the general commanding hoped to find it—among the pure and patriotic in their country’s defense. That whatever cause for suspicion or charges of disloyalty there were arose from the conduct and declarations of the following-named officers, who are hereby dismissed the service of the United States, with forfeiture of pay and allowances, to take effect from this date, for the offenses of which they are severally shown to be guilty:
Lieut. Col. Elijah A. Willard, for disobedience of orders, and deserting his command in the face of an enemy, that he might be taken prisoner.
Capt. John M. Rich, for disobedience of orders, encouraging his men to desert, and discouraging his men from fighting in the face of the enemy.
Capt. Thomas Boswell, for encouraging his men to desert, that they might be captured and paroled, and advising them to apply for discharges for slight causes; also for trying to impress upon the minds of the officers and men of his regiment that they were embraced in the surrender of Holly Springs by Colonel Murphy, on the 20th day of December, 1862, well knowing the same to be false.
Capt. John J. McIntosh, for declaring in the hearing of his men and in the presence of the enemy that he would not fight if attacked near Holly Springs, Miss., on the 20th day of December, 1862.
Captain Penninger, of Company G, for proposing a plan by which the regiment could be surrendered to the enemy, and attempting to induce others of the regiment to aid in carrying it into execution during the raid of the enemy’s cavalry on Holly Springs, on the 20th day of December, 1862.
Second Lieut. John Stokes, for straggling from his command and procuring for himself and a number of his men fraudulent paroles from a rebel citizen.
Second Lieut. Daniel Kimmel, for advising the colonel of his regiment if attacked by the enemy to surrender, and on feigned sickness procuring a surgeon’s certificate to go to the hospital at Holly Springs, Miss., by reason of which he was captured and paroled by the enemy during the raid on that place.
First Lieut, and Adjt. James Evans, for inciting dissatisfaction among the men of his regiment, and speaking in an improper manner of the war and the President, in violation of the fifth article of war.
Commissary Sergt. Joshua Misenheimer is reduced to the ranks for declaring that he would never fire a gun upon the enemy, and on hearing a camp rumor that Major-General Burnside was defeated with a loss of 20,000 men, wishing it was so.
By order of Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant:
JNO. A. RAWLINS, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Ibid., pp. 586-587

O' Be Joyful

Sergeant Major
Mar 6, 2015
There was also the case of the 128th Illinois which I believe is the source of this "throwing down their rifles" myth. Original post from when I researched this the last time it came up. Now bookmarked, yeah!

@Saphroneth your reply stirred me to search for more info about this mysterious Illinois regiment. Please do not take this as a reproof towards you, I genuinely became curious.

It seems that in fact this was the 128th Illinois, raised for the most part from the southern county of Williamson, county seat of which is Marion. From its understandably brief Regimental history:

Regimental History
One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Infantry. — Col., Robert M. Hundley; Lieut. -Col., James D. Pulley; Maj., James D. McCown. This regiment was organized in the fall of 1862 and was mustered into the U. S. service at Camp Butler in November. It was sent to Cairo, where it was stationed during the greater part of the following winter. A great deal of dissatisfaction and lack of regimental discipline was manifested there and many desertions occurred. By April 1, 1863, although the regiment had been in the service for a period of less than five months, its number had been reduced from an aggregate of 860 to 161 — principally by desertions — and there having been an utter want of discipline in the regiment, the officers were discharged and the few remaining men were transferred to other Illinois regiments.​
Now as we know the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued in late Sept. 1862. But, the 128th apparently traveled approx. 200 miles from Marion to Camp Butler, north of Springfield, to be mustered into service in early November of 1862. My question is, if these men were so adamantly opposed to the EP why bother to enlist at all? Surely they had already been informed of the EP. There must have been something more to the story. I believe I have found a source that points more closely to the truth of the matter.

“After the regiment was raised, they went into quarters for a few days at the Fair Grounds; from here they went to Springfield, where they organized, with R. M. Hundley as Colonel, and James D. Pully as Lieutenant Colonel. They remained there about a month before they drew clothing, and it was very cold, and they half naked.​
The Republican press abused them without mercy, and the officers were looked upon with suspicion and contempt, and given no chance to exhibit their loyalty. They were called the “Whang Doodle Regiment.” The men became dissatisfied, and soon began to desert; but after they drew clothes, half of them were furloughed home.
The remainder escorted General McClelland to Cairo. Those who had been furloughed home never reported back. A few of the remaining privates were transferred to other regiments, and the others discharged.​
So, it appears that this regiment from a southern and overwhelmingly Democratic party oriented county, was not trusted and abused from the date of their mustering in and began to desert soon after. This ongoing desertion appears to have been an problem over the active life of the regiment for 5 months with the bulk of the men (half the regiment) not returning from furlough. BTW, their home county of Williamson was less than 60 miles from their posting at Cairo, Ill. If you called me a Whang Doodle I wouldn't come back either. :mad:

This appears to be an instance of using this one regiment and its large number of documented desertions as an example of widespread dissatisfaction with the EP when there was no actual evidence to connect it as such.

But, what a great myth to concoct with an associated mental picture of 700 men throwing down their rifles in unison and in disgust at the very idea of fighting to free Black men. It has the added benefit that if one even bothers to look in the official records, and no further, there it is by Gawd 700 of em deserted outta 860!!! Musta been the EP, what else could it have been? Only problem is the dates and apparent facts do not line up.

Note: Now that I have been reminded of the definition of Whang Doodle I intend to put it to more use. :whistling:

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