The Eighty-sixth Regiment of Illinois Volunteer Infantry was organized at Peoria in the latter part of August, 1862. David D. Irons was made Colonel; David W. Magee, Lieutenant Colonel; J. S. Bean, Major, and J. E. Prescott, Adjutant.
     On the 26th of August the captains of the several companies drew lots for the letters of their companies, and on the next day the regiment was mustered into the United States service for the period of three years or during the war. On the 29th of the same month it received, one month's pay, amounting to thirteen dollars. Nothing more of importance occurred until the 6th of September, when the regiment drew its guns and its first suit of army blue. While at Peoria the Eighty-sixth was rendezvoused at Camp Lyon, a name given it by Colonel Irons. Time passed slowly, for all were anxious to move to the seat of war, and were not at rest till they did. Finally, orders came, and on the 7th of September the regiment boarded the cars for Louisville.
     Every member of the Eighty-sixth left Peoria with mingled feelings of pleasure and pain--‑pleasure, that they were about to participate in the great struggle for Union and Liberty--‑pain, that they were called upon to part with their nearest and dearest friends. It was on Sunday morning; beautiful and bright the sun shone upon its bristling armor as the regiment marched through the city with measured tread, bound for the "land of Dixie". The streets and balconies were filled with anxious friends, and fair hands waved us an affectionate adieu--‑hands which were not only true to us in our pride and strength, but also in the darkest hour of our trials and suffering. In long days after this, when men turned copperheads by scores, these same fair ones proved true. “God bless the fair!” The regiment arrived in Jeffersonville, opposite Louisville, on the morning of the 9th, going into camp at Jo. Holt, on the Ohio river, across from the city of Louisville. At this camp the regiment first began to soldier, taking its first lessons in lying out in the open air. While at Jo. Holt it was drill, drill, almost constantly‑--the boys were not able to do enough drilling; but for all that, this camp became dear to us; especially in after times when water was scarce, memory would revert to the cool crystal waters of Jo. Holt.
     After getting a partial outfit for campaigning, the regiment quit the Indiana side of the river, and crossed over to Louisville on the 14th. It again took up camp two miles south of the city in a very unpleasant situation, now remaining about Louisville until the 1st of October.
     At one time, our brigade, which was formed on the 15th of September, and afterwards known as the 36th brigade of General Sheridan's division of Gilbert's corps, was marched through Louisville on grand review. This march was a severe one. The day was intensely hot and the roads dusty then, the narrow streets made it doubly suffocating. Many fell powerless. and died, and others received injuries for life. That day will long be remembered by those who were participators in its toils. The 85th and 125th Illinois, together with the 52nd Ohio regiment, were in the same brigade with the Eighty-sixth, and remained with it until all were discharged from the service at Washington City. The history of the Eighty-sixth Illinois is their history, and they were to each other as a band of brothers. Colonel Dan. McCook, of the 52nd Ohio, was placed in command of this newly formed brigade.
     Soon after the formation of our brigade it made two other marches over the dusty roads in the direction of Bardstown, nearly as severe as the first one. They were doubtless unnecessary, and for that reason harder to perform, amounting to nothing, only out in the country ten or twelve miles and back again---training, no doubt. After these marches, the command was put in the rifle‑pits that encircled the City of Louisville, for the Confederate army under General Bragg was near at hand menacing it, There was great excitement about this time, as we were unaccustomed to the work, and it went odd. While remaining at Louisville, the Eighty-sixth went on picket for the first time. Its acts and thoughts on this occasion were certainly novel, and furnished a fund of great amusement in its after career. The regiment was just beginning to experience many of the roughs and cuffs incidental to the opening scenes of soldier life. Diarrhea became a plague to many, and a change of diet a source of discomfort to others, which, upon the whole, caused us to lead a rather gloomy life at first; then we were ignorant of the many advantages an old soldier has acquired by long experience, which advantages greatly modify the hardships and discomforts of outdoor life.
     While the regiment lay at Louisville, a large array was being brought together in order to oppose encroachments of the enemy under Bragg, which had advanced as far as Bardstown. The forces on our part were commanded by Major‑General Buell, a man of questionable loyalty, as future events determined.
     Finding that the enemy were not going to attack him, Gen. Buell issued orders for the advance of his whole command on the 1st day of October. Accordingly, the line of march was taken up at the time specified in the order, the 36th brigade being among the troops that went. As Buell's army advanced, the enemy retreated, taking with him large supplies from the country. Our forces followed rapidly for seven days, when Gen. McCook's command overtook a portion of Bragg's army at Chaplin Hills or Perryville. Here, on the next day, the 8th of October, was fought the desperate battle of Perryville.
     The 36th brigade was on the left of the division and had moved forward early in the morning, accompanied by Barnett's 2nd Illinois battery, and occupied its position. The 85th Illinois, Colonel Moore, was deployed upon the right, and the 52nd Ohio on the left. The 125th Illinois, Colonel Harmon, was held as a reserve, and the 86th Illinois was on the picket line. At an early hour the rebel skirmishers opened a sharp fire on the 86th, and although this was the first fight in which it was ever engaged, it advanced steadily upon them and drove them back in confusion with severe loss. Irritated at the loss of their position, the rebels massed upon the right and left and commenced a furious fire from their batteries upon the brigade.
     The firing continued for an hour, but the brigade resolutely held its ground. About this time Barnett’s battery took position and silenced their guns. In the meantime, the 125th Illinois came to the support of the battery, and did its work splendidly, and the rebels retired, leaving the brigade in possession of the ground it had won.
     A cavalry force now advanced in the direction the rebels were retreating, and were soon furiously attacked. The situation became critical. The cavalry was hard pressed, but with the assistance of the 2nd Missouri regiment, together with the 2nd Michigan and 15th Missouri, the enemy was completely routed at this point, making no other effort until 3 o'clock P. M., when General Bragg, in person, led his host against this position. After the most desperate fighting this last effort proved abortive.
     From the commencement of this battle it grew fiercer and fiercer as the day advanced, and the sun of that day went down in blood. This was the first contest in which the 36th brigade was called upon to take a part, and thought it was not as active as many others, it did promptly all that was required. Colonel McCook paid it high compliment for the soldierly manner in which it did its duty. The loss of the Eighty-sixth in this engagement was one killed and thirteen wounded. The battle of Perryville was evenly contested by the opposing forces, neither side having gained material advantage, though if there was a balance due either party, it was in favor of the Federals.
     On the morning after the battle our brigade moved forward to the main portion of the battlefield, the enemy having retreated under cover of night, leaving his dead and wounded on the field. The brigade remained in its last position three days, when on the morning of the 12th the army took up the line of pursuit, passing through Danville and Lancaster, and arriving at Crab Orchard on the 16th. The pursuit was now no longer continued, the enemy being allowed to make good his escape with all his forage and plunder.
     Nashville now became Gen. Bragg's objective point, making it a race to see which army could reach it first. Accordingly, on the 20th of October the line of march was taken up for Nashville, the 36th brigade passing back through Lancaster and Danville, thence following the main road leading to Bowling Green. It remained a few days near Mammoth Cave, in order to recruit its strength, being sorely fatigued. Many of the Eighty-sixth took this opportunity to see that great natural wonder. On the 31st of the month we arrived in Bowling Green, where the brigade remained a few days to recruit and draw clothing, preparatory to its further march. Leaving this place, it followed the main road to Nashville, where it arrived on the 7th of November.
     The timely arrival of our army in Nashville relieved the anxious little garrison from further apprehensions of danger, and after so long a time the city was once more opened to communication. Here ended the arduous campaign against the forces of Gen. Bragg, the army being permitted to go into winter quarters in and about Nashville.
     The campaign just ended was one that tried the bone and muscle of the new levy of troops that had just entered the field. Water was very scarce, it being impossible to procure a sufficient quantity for our real good, and even that was of the most inferior kind; it was, in fact, unfit for a beast, and enough to sicken and kill a human. Our mode of cooking and eating then seems now to be ridiculous indeed; it was every man for himself, boiling his coffee in a pint tin and roasting his meat on a stick. Being barbarously ignorant of the profession of a soldier, we would carry unnecessary loads which we were afterwards taught to discard; and undergoing toilsome marches over a rough and desolate country, under the scorching rays of a Southern sun, with not enough water to wash down the dust we were compelled to breathe. The men would readily push away the thick green scum from every stagnant pool and drink with a relish. Lazy swine were forced to leave their muddy beds to give place to the cup of the thirsty soldier. The Eighty-sixth Regiment in after times was wont to look back on this campaign---its first lesson in soldiering---with more commiseration and regret than any period of its subsequent career. It consumed thirty-eight days of the severest toils and privations, than which no other has surpassed, making a distance of over three hundred miles in pursuit of an exultant and defiant enemy.
     The regiment now remained in Edgefield from the 7th of November until the 23rd, when it was marched to Mill Creek and took up encampment at a place known as Camp Sheridan. At this camp, on the 4th of December, at 12 o'clock M., the regiment having just returned from drill, was ordered to fall in and advance upon a force of the enemy's cavalry which was maneuvering in the vicinity of the camp.
     Company A and B were immediately thrown out as skirmishers; the remainder of the regiment kept back in reserve. The rebels were soon dispersed, and the regiment returned at night on the double-quick. On the 9th of December the command was marched to Nashville, taking up camp there, and put on duty about the city. About this time was led a sad and disagreeable life, even more so than at any other time. The boys were new in their profession and entirely ignorant as to what conveniences a soldier might have even under circumstances so trying, and in consequence, were compelled to render themselves most unhappy. Some twenty odd men would live in the same tent, cook from a camp kettle swung in the mid­dle of it, make their beds on the damp ground, frequently without even straw or boards under them. Snow fell, and the cold, keen winds of winter whistled without, while the poor soldiers lay cold and damp within.
     Many were taken ill and died from this exposure; more died and were discharged during this winter than in all our previous and after term of service. The hospitals were yet without proper organization, the sick in them improperly cared for, for war was as yet a new thing poorly understood and carried on. The Icelander, in his frigid and icy home of the far north, in his primeval ignorance, could not have lived in greater exposure than did the soldiers at this time. The regiment was called upon to do a great deal of duty, such as picketing about the city---a business that is anything but pleasant where there are a number of generals and other fancy officers to be looked after. While on duty at this place the battles of Stone River were fought. There was an exciting time in Nashville during this eventful period; everything was hurry and bustle. The wounded and skulkers came back in great numbers, each bearing his own report.
     During these battles the troops in and about the city had to be in line of battle at 3 o'clock in the morning; it mattered not what was the condition of the elements, it was all the same thing; and certainly, if anything would provoke a soldier to feelings of wrath, this kind of business would. The first one is to be heard from who ever got used to it.
     On the 25th of March, 1863, the Eighty-sixth was marched to Brentwood, where only a few hours before the garrison there was surprised and captured. On the first alarm the regiment was sent to its assistance, but it reached the fatal spot too late, the rebels having succeeded in their enterprise and made good their escape. After this reconnaissance to Brentwood, the regiment returned to Nashville, settling down again to its old business of picketing and guarding. Nearly two weeks after this, on the 8th of April, the brigade was sent to Brentwood, in supporting distance of Franklin.   Brentwood was a fine situation for a camp, and as spring was at hand it was rendered more pleasant still. Comfortable quarters were readily made, and for the first time we began to live like men. It was here the boys began a happy reform in that respect; for instead of lying on the bare ground in the dirt and grass they put up bunks, thus leading to their comfort. At this place the brigade built a fort called Fort Brentwood. It was triangular in form, having embrazures in the corners of the triangle for guns. Much time and labor was expended on this work only to be completed that it might be demolished---a change in the situation of our army affairs compelling the evacuation of the fort. Details were made, and on the 3rd of June the work of demolition was consummated, and on the evening of the same day the brigade returned to Nashville.
     The Eighty-sixth Regiment now remained in Nashville until the first of July, when it, with the rest of the brigade, was marched to Murfreesboro. At this encampment the command spent much time and labor on its camp grounds, but did not remain to reap the fruits thereof; for in a few days it returned to Nashville, where it remained until the 20th of August, 1863.
     About this time occurred a sad epoch in the history of the Eighty-sixth Regiment---the death of Colonel Irons. After a severe illness he departed this life on the 11th day of August, leaving behind him a band of faithful friends to mourn his loss. Colonel Irons had the qualifications of a good man---a brave and faithful heart. On the day after his death the brigade escorted his last remains to the depot, where they were put on the cars and taken to Peoria for burial.
     Soon after the death of Colonel Irons, Chaplain G. W. Brown offered his resignation, which was accepted on the 13th of October succeeding. Chaplain Brown gave his whole heart to the fulfillment of the duties incumbent on his office, by attending the sick and suffering of his regiment with a spirit and energy scarcely ever surpassed. He was indefatigable in his efforts to promote the happiness and welfare of his boys, and could always give inquiring friends from abroad the exact place and condition of the sick and suffering of the regiment.

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Updated October 4, 2005