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Pioneer Struggles: Israel Green Heaps’ story as an Annawan Civil War Soldier

I presented a Civil War presentation to the Annawan Kiwanis group, Monday April 4th. Annawan contributed 48 men to the 27th Illinois Infantry, Co I in President Lincoln’s first Call to Arms, 1861. A year later, 78 Annawan men joined the 112th Illinois Infantry, Co A. My presentation focused on one man from each unit. This was the first soldier.

Israel Green Heaps, was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on November 13, 1839: to William and Hester Ann Heaps. His parents were former Mennonites and had cast their fortune with the early pioneers of our area. In the autumn of 1848, they settled a 160-acre tract of government land in Annawan township, Section 32.

The land was in a natural condition, not a furrow having been turned and there was no shelter for the family. A cabin was immediately erected from the huge Barren Grove timber directly to the South. In fact, it was the 2nd cabin built in the township.

At the tender age of twelve, Israel would drive five yoke of oxen ahead of a breaking plow and in winter, haul rails from the timber to fence the farm. If he could get a day off, he would drive a breaking team for some of the neighbors, for which he would receive the magnificent sum of twenty-five cents a day.

Also in the winters, he would attend the country schools and found that education was his calling. In 1858 he entered the preparatory department of Lombard University, at Galesburg, Illinois, and for several years he taught school and was a tutor. He heard Abraham Lincoln speak in Kewanee, October 27, 1858, and was becoming passionate about politics, especial slavery. Israel G. Heaps was 20! Two years later, he was accepted in the law program and was preparing to change the world as a lawyer.

On April 12th, 1861, that all changed! Shots were fired upon Fort Sumter that caused a patriotic wrath of the northern people. Three days later our government responded with a call to arms.

“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution, and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress the rebellion and maintain law and order- April 15, 1861.″

On April 22nd, a war meeting was held in the Annawan Baptist church and 3 Elders made their speeches. A national request had been made for troops and at the close of the meeting, it was decided to raise a company for the war. Mr. Heaps was the first man to put his name on the list of enrolled volunteers.

He was quickly followed by fifty-three others and when the election for officers of the company was held, he was unanimously chosen as Captain. When the Annawan company offered its services to the government, it was rejected as the six Henry Co. Regiments were full. Nearby Neponset in Bureau County, was recruiting for 27th Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company I.

They had a full complement of officers, but not enough enlisted men. Captain Heaps enlisted as a private with the other Annawan boys. Records from Private Heaps August 1861 Date of Muster: Height-6′2, Hair-Brown, Eyes-Gray, Complexion-Light, Occupation-Teacher, Marital Status-unmarried, Residence-Annawan, Henry County, IL

Three months later with little training and old muskets, the 27th IL. Inf. Regiment received its baptism of fire at Belmont, Missouri. A little-known officer was called from civilian life to command the Western Army. It was Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s first test also and his first victory. There was to be 8 more major engagements for the 27th during the next four years.

At the battle of Stone River, Tennessee, Private Heaps was severely wounded in the right arm near the shoulder, the bone being shattered. The surgeons wanted to amputate the arm, but he refused to let them and as he was young and healthy.

His wound did heal nicely, and he was ordered to join the Invalid Corps. He refused, slipped away and on March 16, 1863, to re-join his company at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Now a lieutenant, his luck ran out again.

At Chickamauga, when General Sheridan charged Longstreet’s Corps, he was shot in the chest and left for dead. But when the dead were gathered up, it was found he was still alive and sent to a Chattanooga hospital and recovered again.

In March 1864, he was granted a veteran’s furlough for thirty days and for the first time since entering the service returned to his home to see his mother, finance, and the other loved ones he had left 3 years earlier. At the expiration of his furlough, now Captain Heaps re- joined his unit hoping for a quick end to the war. It was not to be.

November 30th, 1864, at a huge battle near Franklin, Tennessee Captain Heaps I Company was at the tip of the spear, armed with new Henry lever action, repeating rifles. The Neponset / Annawan Co I was at the head of the 27th IL Inf. Regiment, head of the 3rd Brigade, head of General George Wagner’s 3rd Division, head of the General Stanley’s 4th Corps, and head of Major General Schofield Army of Ohio.

They were the 1st line of defense for the entire Union army. Repeating rifles or not, 20,000 Confederate troops crashed head-on into our boys. I think Captain Heaps was heard saying, ‘Sergeant, I think we are in deep horse manure’. Captain Heaps did not retreat his post, was captured, and sent to Andersonville Prison of War Camp in Georgia. He joined 45,000 union soldiers held there. 13,000 never returned home.

After the Confederate surrender on April 9, 1865, the Civil War was finally over for our country and Israel G. Heaps. He was discharged from the Army on May 16, 1865 and married Miss Rhoda A. Petteys to whom he had long been engaged.

They settled on a farm belonging to his father-in law and engaged in teaching school in the winter months, but soon devoted his entire time to farming and stock raising. For many years he was a traveling correspondent for the Drover’s Journal, of Chicago, and in that capacity visited all the states and territories in the west and Mexico.

His letters describing the resources and wonders of that great west and the habits and lore of the ancient inhabitants of that vast district attracted wide attention and comment, not only in this country but in Europe as well. He wrote extensively about the unit history of the 27th. He was an elected supervisor of Annawan township for ten years and served as accessor.

In 1898, when the battleship Maine was blown up in the harbor of Havana, Mr. Heaps knew that war with Spain was inevitable. He wrote a letter to the Illinois governor tendering his services in any capacity in which they could be used in the event of war. His offer was refused much to his regret. His died peacefully on September 8th, 1919 at age 80. Always a soldier, he lived to see the end of the Civil War, the Spanish-America War and WWI.

A Neponset veteran’s memorial was dedicated on last year’s Memorial Day. The polished marble, 5 flags and lights were a result of a community vision, hard work and dedication. There are 150 engraved bricks carefully laid before the memorial.

Beginning with a War of 1812 veteran, each veteran’s brick tells a special story. Their stories come alive because they lived ordinary lives as settlers, farmers, teachers, and blacksmiths. They accepted their civil responsibility and did their duty.

Dick Wells LtCol (retired), a 5th generation farm boy from Annawan Township, was the keynote speaker and featured the story of Heaps in his remarks. Israel G. Heaps was an earlier Annawan farm boy who did his part to change the world.

Lt Col Dick Wells (retired) has an economics degree & Master’s degree in military history and is a property owner on the Great Sauk Trail. His great-great-great grand parents came to Annawan Township in the 1840′s. He has always been interested in pre-civil war pioneer history and has been reading several first-person accounts. This is #11 article in the series- Pioneer Struggles.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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