In July 1862, President Lincoln called for 300,000 more volunteers to put down the rebellion and restore the Union. Twenty-year-old George Green answered President’s call and enlisted in a local company. Soon companies from Adams and neighboring counties arrived in Quincy, where they organized into regiments and mustered into Federal service. George’s unit was made up of men from Adams, Hancock, McDonough, and Schuyler Counties. On September 1st, the ten companies came together as the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
George’s father, Amos, arrived in Quincy in 1836. And, it was here that George was born on January 20, 1842. Educated in Quincy’s public schools, George went to work as a clerk in his father’s lumber yard. George’s work experience made him a perfect fit as the 78th’s adjutant. A Civil War adjutant was the colonel’s right hand man. He issued the colonel’s orders and handled part of the regiment’s paperwork and correspondence. In the field, adjutants, who were first lieutenant, acted as orderlies.
On September 20, 1862, the 78th was ordered to Kentucky where it guarded railroad bridges along a section of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The line was the Union army’s link with the North. This important but seemingly thankless task was not without peril as two of the 78th’s companies were captured by Morgan’s cavalry. To save the 78th from further embarrassment, the regiment was ordered to Tennessee and made part of the Army of the Cumberland’s Reserve Corps.
In June 1863, the Union army set out to drive the Rebels from Tennessee, and by September 9th the Confederates had abandoned Chattanooga for northern Georgia. But on September 19th, at Chickamauga Creek, the retreating Rebels saw an opportunity to turn the tide and gave battle. The day ended with neither side gaining any advantage.
The next day, September 20th, began with Confederates throwing heavy blows at the Union line. The Federals were holding until a spurious order opened a gap and allowed a column of Rebels to pour through, rolling up and sweeping half the Union army from the field, including its commander.
Of the senior Union officers only Gen. George H. Thomas remained. To cover the fleeing Federals, he gathered what he could in troops and established a line on Snodgrass Hill and Horseshoe Ridge. Here he would make a stand. Part of this mishmash of regiments was the less than imposing 78th Illinois.
In his official report Lt. Col. Carter Van Vleck of Macomb wrote that we “received orders to move in haste to the support of Gen. Thomas. . . .” Part “of this march was made over an open plain under continuous fire of artillery and musketry.” The 78th along with three Ohio regiments entered a piece of timber and soon found the enemy in a strong position on the crest of a ridge. A charge was ordered, and the Rebels were driven off and the crest occupied.
Coincidently, it was a year to the day since the 78th had left Quincy, and the regiment was now in a fight not only for its very survival but also for that of the Army of the Cumberland. This regiment with a less than stellar record now faced the ultimate test—could it and would it fight?
Lt. Col. Van Vleck explained: “From about one o’clock until after 4,” the enemy “time and again” charged our line and often got “as near as 20 or 30 yards, but he was hurled back into the ravine from which he vainly struggled to ascend.”
Later, Van Vleck’s horse was shot and killed instantly. He wrote: “Adjt. [Green} offered me his horse, & while trying to mount it I received a musket shot in the left forearm. . . .” Now forced to leave the fight, Van Vleck turned over “command of the regiment to Adjutant Geo. Green, which was done with the consent of all his superior officers.”
“The regiment could not have been committed to better hands,” Van Vleck added. “During the entire engagement, he exhibited the most undaunted courage. . . . He took command with the composure of a veteran hero, and kept the regiment at its deadly work until darkness put an end to the strife, when he withdrew it in perfect order. . . .”
These Western Illinois men showed they could and would fight. The 78th took 353 men into battle and lost 156 in killed, wounded, and missing.
For having the presence of mind to make a stand and giving the fleeing Union soldiers’ time to escape, Gen. Thomas would be forever known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise George Green, who was promoted for keeping his regiment together, became known as “Illinois’ Fighting Major.”
The war continued on for another year-and-a-half, and the 78th saw action at Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, and Sherman’s March to the Sea and on through the Carolinas.
At the Battle of Jonesboro on September 1, 1864, Major Green “received a severe wound in the left arm.” He recovered and returned to duty, but the wound still bothered him and he resigned from the service on January 15, 1865.
His fellow soldiers noted: “Major Green was known as an intrepid soldier, conspicuous for his bravery and fearlessness. Numerous incidents . . . bear witness of his quick decision and good judgement, where fear was unknown and realization of personal danger wholly absent.”
Major Green returned to Quincy, but moved to Chicago where he became prominent in the lumber business. He died there on August 31, 1912 and is buried in Quincy’s Woodland Cemetery.
Chicago Lumberman, Vol. 23, 1912. (Available: Online via Hathitrust Digital Library)
Collins, William H. and Perry, Cicero F. Past and Present of the City of Quincy and Adams County, Illinois. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1905. (Available: Online via Library of Congress)
Eddy, Thomas M. The Patriotism of Illinois: A Record of the Civil War and Military History of the State. Chicago: Clarke, 1866. (Available: Online via Hathitrust Digital Library)
Hotchkiss, George W. Industrial Chicago: The Lumber Interests, Vol. 6. Chicago: The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1894. (Available: Online via Hathitrust Digital Library)
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, memorials of Deceased Companions of the Commandery of the State of Illinois, From January 1, 1912 to December 31, 1922. Chicago, 1923. (Available: Online [v. 1 & v. 2] via the Family History Library)
Raymond, Steve, In the Very Thickest of the Fight: The Civil War Service of the 78 Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 2012. (Available at: Quincy Public Library, Quincy University)
The Quincy Daily Whig, October 24, 1863; October 21, 1886; October 26, 1901; and October 21, 1915.
The Quincy Daily Herald, September 2 & 4, 1912 and October 26, 1901.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880 – 1901,
Van Vleck, Carter (Trans. and edited by Teresa K. Lehr and Philip L. Gerber), Emerging Leader: The Letters to His Wife, Patty, 1862 – 1864. Bloomington, Illinois: iUniverse, Inc., 2012.