History of DuPage County : DuPage Roots

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CHAPTER 3 The Uprooting

                     THE CIVIL WAR ERA


The Civil War period in DuPage County, as for the whole nation, was a time of uprooting. The extent of that upheaval is reflected in the fact that 10 percent of the population, some 1,500 young men, served in the War Between the States. The percentage of farmers to leave the land for battle was even higher.

 The character of the turmoil was reflected, too, in the closing of the Warrenville Aca­demy and the Bloomingdale Academy and the near-demise of the newly established Wheaton College, as their enrollments were depleted. Even the Naperville Brass Band, founded in 1859 and forerunner of that community's Municipal Band, suffered a loss of members.

 Nevertheless, the same forces that caused disruption created new patterns of economic, political, and social life which transformed post-Civil War DuPage and America. While 10,000 field hands in Illinois were caught up in the conflict, the McCormick reaper more than offset that loss during the 1860s. Increasing productivity, in fact, made Illinois the center of the nation's agricultural activity. The coming of the railroads not only bound the northern states together, but also provided the economic framework for the county's development.

 Prior to considering the war's local impact, it is necessary to recognize the social ferment that had preceded the decade of the 1860s.


  The Abolitionist movement was particularly strong in DuPage because virtually every church contributed to its strength. Among the Congregationalists, Israel and Avis Dodge Blodgett stand out as early promoters of the cause of Emancipation Their blacksmith shop and home on Maple Avenue in Downers Grove, once established, became one of the early stops on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was the system of hid­ing runaway slaves in the North and helping transport them to the Canadian border, where they could make a permanent escape.

 Blodgett had once served as a military blacksmith at Harper's Ferry and had, in that position, surreptitiously counseled blacks on how to escape by following the North Star and traveling only at night. Later in Illinois, when an owner who had captured two fugitives stopped and requested water for himself at the Blodgetts', Avis responded by holding the cup to the mouths of the slaves instead.

 Likewise, Lucius Matlack, principal of the Illinois Institute, which had been founded in 1853, showed his Abolitionist conviction when he made his home available for run­aways. The institute became Wheaton College in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, a friend of the Beechers-Lyman, Edward, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Previous connections with this prominent, activist fami­ly at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati and Knox College in Galesburg had prepared Blanchard for strong anti-slavery leadership in DuPage.

 Blanchard also assumed the pastorate of the Wesleyan Methodist congregation. He com­bined it with local Congregationalists to form the First Church of Christ. Within seventy years that body divided three times. In 1862 the Wesleyans separated. In 1878 the First Church split into the First Congregational Church and the College Church of Christ over the issue of Freemasonry and secret societies. Because of its change in membership composi­tion, the Congregational church became First Presbyterian Church in 1909. While College Church continues to the present, in 1929 a group from it formed the Wheaton College Interdenominational church, the Wheaton Bible Church of today. Each of these then could trace its origin to that antebellum Wesleyan church.


Sympathy for runaway slaves. Avis Blodgett was a DuPage settler whose Abolitionist convictions led her to assist those who were caught by a bounty hunter.

Art by Lester Schrader

Courtesy Naperville Heritage Society


Francis A. (Franz) Hoffman.


  The Germans who had come to this country to escape the limitation of freedom contri­buted much to Abolitionism. The Churchville congregation was pastored from 1842 to 1847 by Francis Arnold (Franz) Hoffmann who, by the time of the Civil War, had become an attorney, helped organize the Republican par­ty, and begun service as lieutenant governor of Illinois.

  The turning point in sentiment toward this support of liberation occurred in 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. This law stringently enforced penalties of $1,000 fines or six months in prison for harboring run­aways. The legislation came as such a moral challenge to the people of DuPage that the means of hiding slaves became even more developed than before.

  Most of the fugitives came into Illinois from Missouri and followed the rivers north. Along the West Branch of the DuPage River in the West Chicago area, a hideaway site was discovered in 1981 in the basement of what had been the John Fairbank's home. This dis­covery was confirmed by a group of research­ers from Northern Illinois University. Farther north, the home of the Guilds in Wayne Center was a well-known place of concealment.

  Overland routes from west to east included stops at the William Strong's, located on Aurora Road just east of Eola Road, at Blodgett's home and blacksmith shop in Downers Grove, and also at Pierce Downer's home just off today's Ogden Avenue. The Graue Mill, north of Ogden on York Road, contains an exhibit illustrating its participation in the fugi­tive operation. Along St. Charles Road Thomas Filer's home served as an ideal hiding place, as it lay adjacent to the East Branch of the DuPage River. A tunnel ran between the house and barn on this property, which was purchased in 1872 by Frederic Barnard. Far­ther east, where St. Charles crosses Grace Street, Sheldon Peck his as many as eleven runaways at a time in his home. His son Frank recalled conversations with the slaves from whom he learned a number of southern songs. This experience he reported to his daughter Alyce Mertz, who still lives at that location.

  Glennette Turner, author of The Under­ground Railroad in DuPage County, Illinois, reports that once the slaves reached the Tremont Hotel in Chicago, the black barbers acted as conductors on the last leg of the trip to Detroit. After crossing into Canada at Wind­sor, they found certain areas provided for the establishment of black households.

 An additional manifestation of fermenting sentiment was the establishment of the Plow Boys in Downers Grove. Prior to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, this group of forty-five young men, riding on a massive wagon to neighboring towns with a great flag flying from a forty-foot pole, organized sup­port for the new Republican party. They were to offer themselves as early recruits in the Civil War, once it began.


  There were forty regiments served by men from DuPage, and $180,000 in bounties was raised. Four companies from the county, along with six from DeKalb, made up the 105th Infantry Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. The S. F. Daniel Company of Volunteers, the so-called Bryan's Blues, had been funded largely by Thomas B. Bryan of Chicago and Elmhurst. He was also active in the war effort as the builder of Bryan Hall in Chicago, where mass meetings would be held.

  Also directly involved in the conflict were those serving in the 7th Illinois Infantry, including Alan Bates of Wayne, a casualty at Shiloh, who had bought his own guns for $50 on a $13-a month pay. Captain Walter Blanchard of Downers Grove served in Company K, 13th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, having left his position as a probate judge. He was killed in action at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Marcellus Jones, a resident first of Danby (Glen Ellyn) and later of Wheaton, was purportedly the first to fire at Gettysburg.

An offspring of one of the original German settlers in Addison Township, Frederick Fischer, enlisted as a nineteen-year-old in 1861 and participated in all the battles of Company B. 33rd Regiment, including the Siege of Vicksburg. His parents sent him a folding chair made by an Addison Township cabinetmaker; he carried it, strapped to his blanket roll wherever his company marched.

Describing the conditions and actions of these young men was Benjamin Franklin Taylor from DuPage County; he became an internationally known war correspondent. His stories were distributed to both national and overseas newspapers. He had taught briefly at  the Warrenville Academy prior to the Civil War; then he became a correspondent for the Chicago Evening Journal, writing letters from Union camps, including the names of the young men whom he had visited at their campfires. After the war he dedicated a book of his collected correspondence entitled In Camp and Field to his friend Thomas B. Bryan, with whom he commuted into the city on the Chica­go & North Western Railroad. The London Times called Taylor "the Oliver Goldsmith of America." His house at 203 East Seminary in Wheaton is still referred to today as "Poet's Corner," a fitting tribute to this man whom latter-day commentators have referred to as "the Ernie Pyle of the Civil War,"


The Sheldon Peck Home.
Courtesy Lombard Historical Society

 Glenette Turner, authority on the Underground Railroad - at the Graue Mill.

 Roselle Hough, a resident of Bloomingdale Township and a founder of Union Stock Yards in Chicago, also served in the Union army. When the body of the assassinated president was brought to Chicago, Hough served as grand marshal of the funeral parade.

 Another to distinguish himself in the war was William Plum, Born in 1845 in Ohio, he excelled as a telegrapher and was one of only three to hold the secret cipher that coordinated the Union campaigns. Later, after finishing a law degree at Yale, he moved to Babcock's Grove (Lombard) in 1867, whence he com­muted into his city office. He and his wife Helen traveled extensively; they brought to Lombard over 200 species of lilac bushes and thus began what is today Lilacia Park.

 The final person to be noted in this sequence of Civil War participants was one whose life stretched across that era into the next, one who was prototypical of nineteenth-century forces. T. S. Rogers, the son of pioneer Joseph Ives Rogers, came as a teenager from St. Lawrence County, New York in 1844. At nineteen he was teaching school in present-day Glen Ellyn for $13 a month. In 1851 he began farming in Downers Grove and in 1856 became involved in Republican politics. He was captain of the Plow Boys and an original Lincoln supporter in 1860. He enlisted in Company B, 105th Illi­nois Volunteer Infantry in 1862, having or­ganized the first company of one hundred men in DuPage for service in the war. Before it ended he had participated in Sherman's March to the Sea. Upon his return home, he served as the county sheriff until 1866, then as the president of the board of trustees of Downers Grove. That same year he went into the meat business in Chicago, subsequently suffering the loss of his property in the Great Fire. He quickly reestablished his enterprise and con­tinued in it for another thirty-eight years. By 1890 he was involved in a lawsuit with E. H. Prince, the land developer of the century's last decade, which led to the condemnation of Roger's Downers Grove property in opening up Main Street north of the Burlington tracks. This railroad and land development were the harbingers of a new age, which had followed the signing of the Treaty at Appomattox.



105th Illinois Volunteers on Lookout Mountain DuPage soldiers include Willard Scott of Naperville far left; Theodore S Rogers of Downers Grove, far right.