Pondering the Past, Tales Lost in Time By Ed Urban A Civil War Diary

Today the holiday that we observe every November 11th is called Veterans Day; it’s a day when we celebrate all of the women and men who served in the armed forces of the United States. The holiday finds its roots in what was originally called Armistice Day; the day that hostilities ceased between the forces fighting in World War I. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson called for the commemoration of the first Armistice Day. This day was to be observed with parades, small ceremonies, and a brief cessation of business at 11:00 a.m.

It wasn’t until 1926 that the Congress of the United States formally recognized the end of World War I, and in a resolution declared that the 11th of November “should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…” In 1938 Armistice Day became a legal national holiday, and in 1954 Congress amended the Act of 1938 by taking the word “Armistice” out of the law and replacing it with the word “Veterans,” making it a day to honor all veterans.

As November 11, 2018, approaches I thought that it would be fitting to write about a local Civil War veteran who left a legacy not only to our community, but to the whole nation in the form of his Civil War diary. This soldier’s name was Lucius Barber, and his home was on a farm in Riley Township on modern-day Hartman Rd. The Barber family settled in the township in 1851 when Lucius was about 12 years old. Little (if anything) is known about Barber’s life from age 12 to the time the Civil War broke out.

At the start of the war, on April 27, 1861, Barber joined a military company that was being organized in Marengo by Harley Wayne of Union. At the time of his enlistment Barber was 23 years old. His state military record listed his occupation as farmer, described him as being 5’10 with hazel eyes, and a light complexion. His place of birth was given as Java, Wyoming County, New York.

After Barber enlisted he kept a diary of the regiments activities and whereabouts, and in 1894 his family published the diary in a book titled Army Memoirs of Lucius W. Barber, Company “D,” 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, May 24, 1861, to September 30, 1865. In actuality, Barber started scribing in his diary on April 27, 1861, the day he enlisted in a military unit that would eventually be designated as the 15th Illinois. Initially the regiment was a state military unit formed in anticipation that President Lincoln would call for additional troops. The April 27th entry reads, “…we held ourselves subject to orders and in readiness to march when called upon.” The recruits didn’t have long to wait, Governor Yates soon sent orders for Wayne’s company to report to Freeport, Illinois, on May 11, 1861, and go into “camp of instruction.”

Barber described the scene of downtown Marengo on the morning of May 11th. He wrote, “… the usually quiet streets of Marengo were thronged with spectators, friends, and relatives of the soldiers who had come to witness their departure.” Before the recruits boarded the train, a short ceremony was held where the ladies of Marengo presented the new unit with a regimental flag, and the soldiers “made a solemn vow never to disgrace it or bring it back until our flag could wave in triumph over all our land.” Soon afterward the Company left for Freeport, and it was the first step of a journey that spanned more than four years and covered 10,897 miles.

As early war events developed the federal government realized that the war probably would not end quickly. Lincoln made another call for troops, and on May 24, 1861, Harley Wayne’s company was sworn into federal service and designated as Company D of the 15th Illinois – thus the date discrepancy in the book’s title.

The 15th Illinois clashed with Rebel troops in places like Shiloh, Vicksburg, Davis Bridge, Atlanta, and Bentonville. But it was on October 4, 1865, that the course of Barber’s life changed from a fighting soldier to a prisoner of war. On that day a portion of the 15th Illinois was captured by soldiers from General William Loring’s Division of Hoods Army outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Barber was incarcerated in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia from October 10, 1864, to November 20, 1864.It was in Andersonville during his captivity that Barber contracted tuberculosis that would eventually take his life. After his release Barber returned to the regiment and served for the remainder of the war and then some. The regiment was finally mustered out in September of 1865.

Barber returned home, but the tuberculosis had taken its toll. Barber died at age 32 on March 12, 1872, and is buried in the Barber family plot located in a field on Hartman Rd.

For readers who are interested in learning more about Barber’s war experience his diary is still available today. An original copy of the book will cost you hundreds of dollars, but a more recent reprint was published by Time-Life Books and can be found for under twenty-dollars. A free electronic version can also be downloaded at https://archive.org/details/ armymemoirsofluc00barb/ page/n5.