160 years ago, Northfield Township responded quickly to start of Civil War

  • These 14 Northfield Township men who died during the Civil War are honored at the Fallen Soldier Memorial near the Northbrook History Museum.

    These 14 Northfield Township men who died during the Civil War are honored at the Fallen Soldier Memorial near the Northbrook History Museum. Courtesy of the Northbrook Historical Society

  • Three Ceperly brothers from Northfield Township enlisted in the Union Army; Cornelius, above, survived the war, but David and Martin did not.

    Three Ceperly brothers from Northfield Township enlisted in the Union Army; Cornelius, above, survived the war, but David and Martin did not. Courtesy of the Northbrook Historical Society

  • This treasured tintype of Fredric Kiest in his Civil War uniform has been handed down through several generations of his family.

    This treasured tintype of Fredric Kiest in his Civil War uniform has been handed down through several generations of his family. Courtesy of the Northbrook Historical Society

 
 
Updated 4/7/2021 8:05 PM

A somber anniversary is approaching for Americans as April 12 will mark 160 years since the beginning of the Civil War. It was on that date in 1861 that Confederate forces bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, S.C., to start the tragic conflict.

For many, 160 years ago seems like ancient history. But different perspectives can bring a different view. With a generation usually considered to be a period of 20 to 30 years, those 160 years amount to only six or seven generations. For someone in their 70s or 80s today, that person's great-grandparents or maybe even their grandparents were born when people who actually had experienced the Civil War were still plentiful.

 

There was no Northbrook or Shermerville in 1861; in fact, the name Shermerville would not become widely used until 1885. But there was a Northfield Township, which had been surveyed in 1839 -- well after Illinois became the 21st state in 1818.

In 1860 the population of Northfield Township was just 1,534 and by 1870 stood at only 1,705. Many of the earliest settlers of European descent came from the eastern United States or from England. Beginning in the 1850s, however, the largest number of immigrants coming to Northfield Township were from Germany.

After the Civil War began, Illinois quickly passed legislation requiring each township to compile a list of men eligible to serve. By 1862, things were not going well for Union forces, and voluntary enlistments were not keeping up with battlefield losses. So a military census was taken in 1862, and it was recorded that there were 231 able-bodied men between 18 and 45 living in Northfield Township. In addition, 52 Northfield Township men already were serving in the Union Army.

After the war, it was determined that 178 men had enrolled from or were credited to Northfield Township -- an impressive amount considering the numbers listed in the military census.

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"Northbrook, Illinois: The Fabric of Our History" describes Northfield Township's involvement in the Civil War and also tells a number of stories about local individuals who served.

According to the book, "A group of first-generation Americans and German immigrants from the northern end of the township enlisted at the beginning of the war and served together in Company G of the 57th Illinois Infantry. From this close-knit unit, Philip Arnold and Henry Meier were among the 186 enlisted men from the 57th killed, wounded or taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh. Both men died from their wounds, Meier on the Tennessee battlefield and Arnold at the military hospital in Quincy, Illinois, a short time later.

"Brothers David, Martin, and Cornelius Ceperly joined with their cousins James and Fred Russell to serve in the 113th infantry. Martin Ceperly was killed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and James Russell died of chronic dysentery at Corinth, Mississippi." David Ceperly also died during the war.

"At the southwest corner of the township, a group of men formed Company F of the 39th infantry. Under the leadership of Amasa Kennicott, the unit was sent to the eastern theater where Thomas Dewey, a farm laborer from The Grove, died at Petersburg, Virginia."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Other Northfield Township men who lost their lives during the Civil War were James Bachelor, Henry O. Clark, Charles Connor, John Gutzler, Fredric H. Kiest, Francis Petit, Christian Shank, and Charles Sherwin. Their names are among the 14 listed on the Fallen Soldier Memorial at the southeast corner of Village Green Park, near the History Museum.

One story that seems to typify the allure of the war for some is told in "The Fabric of Our History" regarding this young Northfield Township resident:

"Fifteen-year-old Caleb Bach left home to enlist in February 1864. He must have been one of the underage boys who wrote '18' on the bottom of their shoe so they could swear they were 'over 18' when taking the enlistment oath. Caleb served until the end of the war and returned safely home before he was of legal age to enlist."

Another story focused on Silas H. Sherman and his friend James Galloway, who both were under 18. "Facing parental opposition because of their age, they ran away from home, enlisted in Deerfield and served throughout the last months of the war on Sherman's March to the Sea."

Also mentioned are Charles Fritz and Daniel York, who both enlisted from Northfield Township and were assigned to the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry. That unit from Illinois was serving in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) when Union General Gordon Granger announced emancipation.

The book summarizes perfectly what those local participants faced when they finally returned to Illinois: "Each of the men had a story to tell about the places they went, the battles they fought, and of their struggles to settle into home upon their return.

"One thing that is certain, for the men and boys of Northfield Township who served their country, life would never be the same."

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