Many people may not know that Montgomery played a key role in the Civil War. It was here that the 36th Regiment set up camp and began mustering in the new recruits.
The camp was located on the west side of Montgomery, on Route 31, on property belonging to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. It was named after Col. James Hammond, a superintendent of the Railroad Company. The close proximity of the railroad tracks and the presence of a fine spring of clear, cold water made it the ideal spot to set up camp and train the new recruits.
Hundreds of young men arrived by farm wagon and train, from small villages all up and down the Fox River Valley. They poured in from Lisbon to the South, to Elgin to the north to receive their first uniforms and learn to drill.
The first company, The Young America Guards, arrived on Saturday, August 18, 1861. They quickly arranged their tents and settled in. By Monday they were ready to greet the next batch of arrivals, The Bristol Company, recruits from Bristol and Little Rock who arrived on August 20.
This company was made up almost exclusively of farmers’ sons. The citizens of Bristol and surrounding neighborhoods turned out to escort their boys to camp. Periodically throughout the day more companies arrived.
The “Wayne Rifles,” Captain Pierce’s company from Lisbon, the “Oswego Rifles,” and the “Elgin Guards” drifted in to the accompaniment of fifes, drums, and the shouting and hurrah of proud but anxious parents, family and tearful sweethearts.
On the 22nd of August, three more companies arrived. That afternoon a mustering officer administered the appropriate oath to all the companies then in camp. That afternoon, another company from Newark arrived and their oath was administered as they lined up on the railway platform before they proceeded to the camp.
By week’s end ten infantry companies and two cavalry companies were hard at work, drilling and “preserving rations.” In time, the hastily pitched tents were taken down and rearranged in an orderly fashion. The tents (more than one hundred and fifty) were square wall constructs, large and airy. The finished arrangement resembled a small village.
The constant drilling, standing guard, washing dishes, campfire cooking and unfamiliar food took their toll, and it wasn’t long before the glamour of camp life began to tarnish. As the weeks progressed, visitors from Montgomery and Bristol would come to picnic with the men.
They all marched from the camp on the west side of the river, through the village to a beautiful grove on the east side of the river. Groups of ladies waited on the soldiers, catering to them and filling and refilling the tables with delicious food. The area farmers were generous in sharing fresh meat and produce by the wagonload. It was a welcome break in their grueling routine.
The Ladies Aid Society of the Montgomery Methodist Church made a flag and presented it to the soldiers at Camp Hammond, where it flew over the camp on a flagpole donated by Colonel Hammond.
The regiment was called to battle in 1861. They would cover over ten thousand miles while serving under ten different commanders. The men took part in ten major battles as well as countless minor engagements and skirmishes. Nine hundred and sixty five men were taken into the field, and an additional 221 were recruited.
The toll of dead, wounded and otherwise lost to the unit came to around 700 men.
After the war the commanding officer turned the handmade flag over to the Methodist Church. Mary Livsey was custodian of the flag for many years, and later she presented the flag to Montgomery VFW Post 7452. It resides there in a dust proof cabinet today.
This account of the first weeks at camp is based on Bennett & Haigh’s "History of the 36th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers During the War of the Rebellion,” a portion of which is reproduced in "The History of Montgomery, Illinois," published in 1990.