Celebrating the return of the 100th, but where?

Our Rural Heritage Graphic

S.W. Harris, who gave the speech in Wilmington

By Sandy Vasko

Celebrating the Fourth these days means family picnics and relaxing with a couple of cold ones. But at least one Fourth of July celebration in Wilmington and Joliet had other goals in mind. Those goals were to honor the returning Civil War veterans.

In early June of 1865, the editor of the Wilmington Independent called for the special celebration with these words: “Our great natal day is close at hand, and it will not only be a greater pleasure to the American people than ever before, to celebrate it in a becoming manner, but a binding duty. The remembrance of the deeds of the mighty heroes of the American Revolution as well as the glorious deed of the past five years are fresh and strong in our hearts. This year, more than ever before, should the day be celebrated in a glorious manner.”

It had been proposed by a group from Joliet that one central celebration take place for all of Will County in that town. But the citizens of Wilmington decided that because so many returning veterans were actually from the southern part of Will County, it was up to Wilmington to honor them.

On July 1, 1865, the officers and enlisted men of the 100th Illinois Voluntary Infantry were mustered out and paid off in Chicago. They left Chicago at 5 p.m. and arrived in Joliet around 7 p.m. We read in the Signal: “The brave boys, on their arrival at the depot, were greeted with the firing of cannon and music and the welcoming shouts of assembled thousands.

G. D. A. Parks, orator at the Joliet ceremony

“The reception speech was made in front of the court house, by Hon. G. D. A. Parks. It was able and appropriate and elicited much applause. Col. Waterman, formerly of the 100th, eloquently replied on behalf of the regiment. After which the noble veterans were conducted to Young’s Hall where they partook of a bountiful and superb supper, provided for the occasion by the citizens of the city.

“When this noble regiment left Joliet, it required twenty passenger cars to convey them. They returned in four cars, having been reduced from nearly one thousand to less than 250. The brave boys, on their arrival at the depot, were greeted with the firing of cannon and music and the welcoming shoats of assembled thousands.

“For some unexplained cause no Democrats or Democratic ladies were invited by those having charge of the affair, though the supper had been contributed by our citizens, without distinction of party. Democrats were, perhaps excluded for the sake of manufacturing political capital, but it will prove a failure. The soldiers expressed themselves disgusted at such a petty exhibition of political intolerance.

But this was nothing to compare to what Wilmington had in store for them: “Before dawn, on Tuesday, July 4th all the bells in Wilmington started to ring and cannons to roar. This continued until 10 a.m., when a procession formed on the public square, where Booth School stands now. Col. Hammond as Marshal, with his deputies Capt. M. N. M. Stewart and Lieut. F. Keeley heading it. Then came the honorary president, Peter Stewart, the orator Hon. Judge Harris and Chaplain Parks.

“Then a wagon drawn by four horses carrying 34 beautiful young ladies representing the states of the Union with the motto ‘Union Forever’ blazoned on the side.” This was greeted by the crowd, numbering an estimated 6,000 people, with constant cheering. A second wagon containing a number of young boys, was decorated with a banner stating “Wait until we grow up!” The Good Templars came next on horseback and then the parade of town delegations from Florence, Wesley, Reid, Channahon, etc.”

“After marching through the town, they repaired to Alden’s Island where the crowd was called to order. After a prayer, the Declaration of Independence was read and then the Hon. S. W. Harris addressed the people. Most of his speech has been lost to history, but one paragraph remains, written down by Editor Steele. He reminded his listeners ‘of the days that tried men’s souls, of the dear rights of liberty our fathers purchased with their blood, of the internal struggle that now shakes our beloved country from center to circumference.’

“He so moved the crowd with his oratory, that S.D. Willard proposed three cheers for the judge. The people quickly agreed. In response the judge proposed three more for the good old flag, and the people gave them, in tones that reverberated like thunder across the waters of the Kankakee.

“The procession was reformed and they marched to the tables where ample provision had been made for the accommodation of 1,500 people. Veterans and their families were seated and waited upon. Thirteen toasts were read and responded to. The first was to our country, the second to the President; the third to the day; the fourth to the orator; the fifth to the chaplain; the sixth to the patriots of ’76; the seventh to the men who were still doing their duty in the military; the eighth to the loyal men of the South; the ninth to ‘the Chivalry- harpies of the south who have to laugh on the other side of their mouths’; the tenth to the late Hon. Steven. A. Douglas; the eleventh to Governor of Illinois, Yates; the twelfth to the Press; and the thirteenth to the ladies.

“At three o’clock the crowd dispersed to the river bank to witness the launch of the newly built steam tug ‘Pioneer’ which was to work the Kankakee Feeder Canal as well as the I & M for many years to come. The Wilmington band played all afternoon and many couples danced for hours. Finally, the evening was capped off with a fireworks display.”

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