Throughout August, we’re celebrating Illinois Civil War soldiers in honor of the bicentennial. As the Land of Lincoln, Illinois has a rich Civil War legacy. Follow along here on our blog and on our social media to learn more about Illinois’s impact on the Civil War.
In 1980 and 1988, James Russell Vaky donated the Wingard-Forney-Vaky Family Papers to the Library. This collection offers two unique perspectives on the Civil War. Records and letters document Benjamin Franklin Wingard’s life as a Union soldier, while Mary Forney’s teenage diary illustrates the home front experience in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The two married on October 13, 1870 and resided in Champaign, Illinois after the war.
The Wingard Family
In 1858, David and Elizabeth Wingard moved to West Urbana, Illinois (later known as Champaign). Their son, Benjamin Franklin served in Company H of the 125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 125th Regiment was organized in Danville, Illinois. Benjamin mustered in on September 3, 1862. He was 21 years old.
Just over a month into his service, Benjamin wrote to his sister, Margaret. On November 20, 1862 from Nashville Tennessee, Benjamin documented his restlessness while at camp:
Since we arrived here we have done nothing but drill twice
a day and go on picket twice since we arrived. It is now four o’clock and our regt is getting ready to out on Brigade Drill, they go out about one mile from the camp… I am getting tired of this way if one have to fight I wish we would be put to it for I am getting tired laying around in camp…I wish U.S. would do something soon and settle things up for if fight we must let us do it at once if we fall we fall in a good cause.
In this same letter, Benjamin discussed the future of the war. At the time, reports were coming in that the war could come to a close in three months. Little did Benjamin know that the war would carry on for another two and half years. Benjamin did correctly predict his promotion within Company H. He wrote, “I think the way things look now I stand a good chance for first or Ordley [sic] Sergeant before long.”
On March 28, 1863, Benjamin was promoted to Sergeant of Company H. Benjamin would continue to serve in the Union regiment until the end of the war. Benjamin returned to Champaign, Illinois after the war. He joined the family’s jewelry business. In the early 1870s, Benjamin opened his own jewelry company, B. F. Wingard & Co.
The Forney Family
Mary Forney was born on October 10, 1846 in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Her personal diary documents civilian life during the war. Waynesboro was closely surrounded by military action; Mary wrote about the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the battle of Antietam, general looting of battlefields, and Copperhead meetings in Pennsylvania. Mary’s diary features multiple entries discussing close encounters with Rebel soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg.
July 3, 1863: Today there is a report that three is very hard fighting between Gettysburg and Emmittsburg [sic].
July 5, 1863: There was some rebels just now passed, one of them noticed my colors, he looked up at me and said there is a Union lady. I replied yes I am, then he said he gloried in my spunk, this evening there was cannonading heard in the direction of Smithstown, the report came the rebs had to surrender.
July 7, 1863: This morning the rebs have cannon planted on all hills around town, they have been riding to and fro all morning, today our house was searched three times… We had eight rebs for breakfast this morning they were the guards, about twelve o’clock the last rebel let town, and then about two o’clock our soldiers came after them.
Mary’s diary also details Lincoln’s re-election and his assassination. Mary continued writing after the war, describing her attendance at the cornerstone ceremonies for the Gettysburg and Antietam cemeteries as well as local dinners for returning soldiers. In June 1868, Mary began her correspondence with Benjamin Franklin Wingard. The two married on October 13, 1970. The couple lived at 407 N. State Street in Champaign where they raised their family.
To learn more about the Wingard and Forney families, explore IHLC’s Wingard-Forney-Vaky Family Papers, 1834-2012 (MS 991).
Rogers, Robert M. The 125th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry: Attention Batallion!. Champaign, Ill.: Gazette Steam Print, 1882.
Illinois State Archives. “Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Detail Report”. http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/archives/databases/datcivil.html. Accessed 15 June 2018.