Diary of a Civil War Soldier
Pat Torrance shares excerpts from the diary of Kendall County's first Civil War volunteer.
The Montgomery Historical Commission recently acquired a copy of a portion of Lyman Gibson Bennett’s Civil War diary. Mr. Bennett was the first man to volunteer for military duty from Kendall County, Illinois. The date was 13th of April 1861 – the day Fort Sumter fell.
A mass meeting was held in Oswego that evening, and when there were too many volunteers signed up in Kendall County, the balance were sent to other Illinois units. Young Lyman ended up in the Kane County 36thVolunteer Infantry Regiment.
Since Montgomery will host a Civil War Reenactment at a campsite in Riverside Cemetery during the Montgomery fest Celebration in August; this diary provides some insight into the daily lives of the soldiers at Camp Hammond, and some of their subsequent battles.
It is fitting the reenactment be held at Riverside Cemetery since there are about 40 known Civil War veterans, many from the 36th Regiment, buried there. The cannon in the cemetery along River Street and the surrounding graves are part of a Civil War memorial.
Lyman Bennett’s diary starts out on a very high note. The recruits are filled with excitement, patriotism, enthusiasm, and energy. After the first month, as the days go by waiting for uniforms, waiting for ammunition, and just marking time in camp, you can feel the excitement and energy draining away with each passing week.
To make matters worse, the month of August proved to be hot and dry, with suffocating dust covering everything. Then came September 1, bringing relief from the dust, but the beginning of a string of dark, stormy days and nights that made the parade grounds unusable for drills.
At night the wind would shriek through the tents, toppling many and pounding them into the mud. Daylight revealed the damage and the men were sent to wash the tents and put them back up.
The first few times they were confined to their tents because of storms, the men would read, play cards and write letters home. These activities gave way to more active amusements such as boxing and wrestling. Real boredom was setting in.
On sunny days, there might be visitors. It was surprising to read how often Mr. Bennett left camp and walked to his home in Oswego to take care of farm chores and help his wife prepare for a winter season without him. His wife would often visit him at camp, as well as his parents and sisters. Once he left camp to take his wife to the dentist in Aurora to have an abscessed tooth pulled.
One very warm day the men marched to the old grove on the east side of the river for a picnic lunch prepared by the citizens of Montgomery and neighborhood. By September 6, the boredom had reached its peak. Mr. Bennett’s biggest lament throughout his diary was the heavy use of alcohol by so many of the men. He expressed his wish to make lasting friends of “all deserving boys,” but also frustration that so many of his fellow officers are a "wild set."
"Long after the sober ones had curled down for sleep, the coarse jest and heavy laugh resounded from our tent," he wrote.
The following day, a heavy rainstorm started soon after breakfast. Immediately he wrapped himself in his blanket and headed for home. After spending the next two days with his family, he went back to camp and that evening attended a temperance meeting in Montgomery with a large group of men. That night 76 men were inducted into The Division of Sons of Temperance.
On September 10, another heavy rain kept the men inside their tents all morning. A look around the tent showed one man reading the Bible, a few writing, and one group playing Euchre. The rest were fast asleep in the straw. After the rain ceased at noon, the grounds were too wet for drills, so the men were allowed to leave camp. They took this as a sign that they would be moving out soon, but it would be an event-filled two weeks before they finally departed.
On Sept 13, Bennett wrote: “A severe rain prevented dress parade. I trust we will leave this place soon. I am tired of Camp Hammond.” On Sept. 24, they marched to Aurora and took a train to Galesburg.
This is just a small sample of the diary that chronicles his activities from Camp Hammond, Fort Wyman, Rollo and St. Louis. Camp Hammond had served its purpose and launched a distinguished regiment destined to bring honor to themselves, pride to Montgomery and victory for the Union.