by Sean Tedrick
edited for the Web by
(based upon the original essay, “Battery G During the Civil War and Today” by Sean Tedrick, copyright 1996. Edited for the Web and reproduced here with permission.)
In 1861, when Abraham Lincoln first called for troops, Governor Yates of Illinois authorized Swedish-born Charles J. Stolbrand to recruit a battery of light artillery. Stolbrand originally tried to recruit in Chicago, but the quota was already full, so he came to north-central Illinois where he began his recruiting efforts. Most of the men came from Chicago, Sycamore, Belvidere, DeKalb, Joliet and Rockford. The unit totaled around 100 to 125 soldiers when recruited to full strength.
Its first camp was at the old fairgrounds in DeKalb. After initial organization, the battery was ordered to Camp Butler, an instructional camp in Springfield, Illinois, where they were mustered into service on October 5, 1861. Also present at Camp Butler were Batteries H, I and K; each battery took turns firing the morning and evening guns in camp.(1) Shortly after the mustering-in of the battery at Springfield, Stolbrand was quickly promoted to Major. Taking his place as captain of the battery was Frederick Sparrestrom, also a Swede.
In December of 1861, Battery G was ordered to Cairo, Illinois to join General Pain’s division at Fort Holt. The fort was on the Kentucky side of the river, opposite of Cairo. Here they were equipped with two twelve-pounder Napoleon cannons, and four Rodman guns. Meanwhile, some of the men were detailed to operate “howitzers” in the attacks on Forts Henry and Donelson. Then they were off to Columbus, Kentucky and were among the first Union troops to land in the vicinity of the campaign against Island No. 10.(2)
Toward the end of March in 1862, Battery G went on an expedition under General Buford to Hickman, Kentucky, and then moved on to Union City, Tennessee, where they had their first taste of battle. The Union forces surprised the Confederates and captured their artillery, small arms, and other supplies. Though a small fight, the rout of the Rebel forces did much to boost morale among Buford’s troops.
For much of 1862, Battery G was stationed at Trenton, Tennessee, where they participated in the campaigns against Corinth and Iuka, Mississippi, although they did not fight in the battles at these locations. After November 1862, they were assigned to General Grant’s forces, and marched to Coffeyville, Mississippi, where they participated in a small engagement on December 5.
They then joined the northern Mississippi campaign at La Grange, Tennessee, where they were attached to a cavalry column, and temporarily designated as “flying artillery.” They proceeded with this column as far as Water Valley, Mississippi, where they were the first battery under General Logan to cross the Tallahatchie River. They were involved in the “Holly Springs disaster” on December 20, but escaped relatively unscathed. They returned to Memphis, and remained there until February 1, 1863.
In April, under the command of Captain Frederick Sparrestrom, the battery headed south along the west bank of the Mississippi River as part of Grant’s Vickburg campaign. As General Logan’s troops began to cross the river near Bruinsburg, the battery embarked aboard the steamer Horizon. In the early morning hours of May 1, the Horizon collided with another transport, the Moderator, resulting in the drowning of two men (Francis Lindebeck and Nicholas Carlson), the loss of all horses, and all cannons.
The battery went to Memphis to be re-outfitted, and returned to Vicksburg on July 2, just two days before the surrender of the city. Positioned in the line on Jackson Road near General Logan’s headquarters, they stayed in the area of Vicksburg after the surrender.
They took part in the expeditions to Goodrich’s Landing and Monroe, and engaged in a skirmish on October 14, 1863 at Brownsville, Mississippi. Here the battery suffered its only combat casualty when John Weir, age 20, was killed in action.
After taking part in the Meridian campaign under General Sherman, the battery once again returned to Memphis, and then moved on to Union City, Tennessee, where they took part in the campaign against Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
In the early spring of 1864, Battery G was sent to Columbus, Kentucky to be reorganized, where the men were encouraged to re-enlist. During the summer of 1864, the battery was assigned to A.J. Smith’s command and again moved south into Mississippi. The battery was heavily engaged in the battle of Tupelo on July 14 and was also involved in a fight at Hurricane Creek on August 14.
On August 22, Capt. Sparrestrom resigned, and First Lieutenant John W. Lowell was promoted to fill the vacancy.
After several expeditions in Tennessee and Mississippi, they were ordered north to defend Missouri from Confederates under General Sterling Price. This was one of their most grueling campaigns, involving forced marches across the entire breadth of Missouri in the cold early months of winter. Though they saw almost no battle during this time, they experienced much physical hardship.
After their return to St. Louis, they were immediately ordered to Nashville to defend the city against a threat by General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee. Here, after several shifts in positions along the Federal works that ringed the city, the battery finally settled into position near the center of the line. On December 5, they began to fire on the lines of the Confederates for four days, keeping the Rebel troops quiet. Soon after this, an ice storm struck, immobilizing troops of both sides until December 14, when the slick ice turned to slippery mud.
Early in the day on December 15, Captain John Lowell was placed in command of all 2nd Division artillery, leaving First Lieutenant Perry Wilch in charge of the battery. At 10:00 A.M., the battery opened fire and continued firing until dark. Their fire silenced the Confederates’ guns, enabling the Union infantry to pierce the Rebel lines. The overall attack was so successful, Battery G slept 1,000 yards behind the Confederate works that night.(3)
In the midst of the fight that day, one man of the battery stood out above the others; his name was Corporal Samuel J. Churchill. That afternoon, the battery had been receiving some fierce fire from two Confederate batteries. The officers allowed the men of Battery G to seek shelter, but Churchill refused to leave his gun. The powder runner also remained, and ran charges from the ammunition box or limber in the rear, forward to the gun. Churchill singlehandedly did the work of the four men who usually service the piece. He fired eleven shots on one Rebel battery, forcing it to withdraw. Later, advancing Union troops discovered three Confederate guns had been abandoned due to the severe fire. Because of his actions that day, Churchill was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on January 15, 1897.(4)
In January 1865, Battery G was involved in the pursuit of the defeated Confederate army. They went to Eastport, Mississippi, and then embarked for New Orleans in February. They then participated in the Mobile campaign and the seige of Fort Blakely, where they fired over 200 rounds in one day on April 8. Soon after the fall of Blakely, the battery marched to Montgomery, Alabama, where they served until they were ordered north to be mustered out. Their service officially ended on September 4, 1865 at Springfield, Illinois.
(1) Brown, Thaddeus C., Samuel J. Murphy and William G. Putney. Behind the Guns: The History of Battery I 2nd Regiment, Illinois Light Artillery. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965, p. 52.
(2) Illinois at Vicksburg. Illinois-Vicksburg Military Park Commission. 1907 p.350.
(3) Barnickel, Linda. “Victory at Nashville.” Battery Rag (newsletter of Battery G, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, reactivated), November 1995.
(4) Lovett, Jeffrey A. The Bravest of the Brave: A Biography on the Life and Times of Cpl. Samuel J. Churchill. Dixon, IL: self-published, 1991.
Created: March 8, 1998