Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a presentation on the Civil War given to Annawan Kiwanis members on April 4 by local history researcher Dick Wells. Annawan provided 48 men to the 27th Illinois Infantry, Co. 1, during President Lincoln’s first call to arms, 1861. A year later, 78 men from Annawan joined the 112th Illinois Infantry, Co. A. Wells focused presentation on one man from each unit and the excerpt features the first soldier, Israel Green Heaps.
Heaps was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on November 13, 1839, to William and Hester Ann Heaps. His parents were former Mennonites and had made their fortune with the early pioneers in our area. In the fall of 1848 they settled on a government parcel of 160 acres in Annawan Township, Section 32. The land was in a natural state, no furrows having been turned and there was no shelter for the family. A cabin was immediately erected from the enormous woods of Barren Grove directly to the south. In fact, it was the second cabin built in the township.
At the tender age of 12, Israel drove five yoke of oxen past a breaking plow and, in winter, pulled rails of wood to fence off the farm. If he could get a day off, he would lead a wrecking crew for some of the neighbors, for which he would receive the magnificent sum of 25 cents a day. During the winters, too, he attended country schools and discovered that education was his calling. In 1858 he entered the preparatory department of the Lombard University of Galesburg, and for several years he taught and was a tutor.
At age 20, Heaps heard Abraham Lincoln speak in Kewanee on October 27, 1858, and became passionate about politics, particularly slavery. Two years later, he was accepted into the law program and was preparing to change the world as a lawyer.
But on April 12, 1861, everything changed. Shots were fired at Fort Sumter, causing patriotic anger among northerners. Three days later, our government responded with a call to arms.
“Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power vested in me by the Constitution and the laws, have seen fit to call, and do hereby call, the Militia of several States of the Union, numbering seventy-five thousand in all, in order to suppress rebellion and maintain law and order – April 15, 1861”
On April 22, a war meeting was held in the Annawan Baptist Church and three elders gave their talks. A national request had been made for troops and at the end 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 registered volunteers. He was soon followed by 53 others and during the election of the officers of the company, he was unanimously chosen as captain.
When Annawan’s company offered its services to the government, it was rejected as the six regiments of the Henry Co. Regiment were complete. Nearby Neponset in Bureau County was recruiting for the 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. Private Heap Records August 1861 Date Gathered: Height-6’2, Hair-Brown, Eyes-Grey, Fair Skin, Occupation-Teacher, Marital Status-Single, Residence-Annawan, Henry County, IL
Three months later, with little training and old muskets, the 27th IL. Inf. The regiment received its baptism of fire in Belmont, Missouri. A little-known officer has been called up from civilian life to command the Army of the West. It was also Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s first test and his first victory. There would be eight other major engagements for the 27 over the next four years.
During the Battle of Stone River, Tennessee, Private Heaps was seriously wounded in the right arm near the shoulder, the bone being broken. Surgeons wanted to amputate his arm, but he refused to let them and as he was young and healthy. His wound healed well and he was ordered to join the Corps of Invalids. He refused, slipped away, and on March 16, 1863, he joined his company in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Now a lieutenant, his luck has changed again. At Chickamauga, when General Sheridan charged Longstreet’s body, he was shot in the chest and left for dead. But when the dead were rounded up, he was found to be still alive and sent to a hospital in Chattanooga and recovered again. In March 1864, he was granted thirty days’ veteran’s leave and, for the first time since entering the service, returned home to see his mother, finances and other loved ones he had left 3 years earlier. . When his leave expired, Captain Heaps rejoined his unit in hopes of a quick end to the war. It was not to be.
On November 30, 1864, in a huge battle near Franklin, Tennessee, Captain Heaps I Company was at spear point, armed with a new Henry lever mechanism, repeating rifles. The Neponset/Annawan Co I was in command of the 27th IL Inf. Regiment, commander of the 3rd Brigade, commander of General George Wagner’s 3rd Division, commander of General Stanley’s 4th Corps, and commander of Major General Schofield of the Ohio Army. They were the 1st line of defense for the entire Union Army. Repeating rifles or not, 20,000 Confederate soldiers crashed headlong into our boys. I think Captain Heaps was heard saying, “Sergeant, I think we’re in horse manure.” Captain Heaps did not retire from his post, was captured and sent to the Andersonville War Prison Camp in Georgia. He joined 45,000 union soldiers who were standing 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 been engaged for a long time. They settled on a farm owned by his father-in-law and engaged in teaching school during the winter months, but soon devoted all his time to farming and ranching. For many years he was traveling correspondent for Drover’s Journal in Chicago, and in that capacity visited all the western states and territories and Mexico. His letters describing the resources and wonders of this great west and the customs and traditions of the ancient inhabitants of this vast district have attracted wide attention and comment, not only in this country but also in Europe. He has written extensively on the history of the 27th’s unit. He was the elected supervisor of Annawan Township for ten years and served as an accessor.
In 1898, when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor, Mr. Heaps knew war with Spain was inevitable. He wrote a letter to the Governor of Illinois offering his services in whatever capacity they might be used in the event of war. His offer was refused to his great regret. He died peacefully on September 8, 1919 at the age of 80. Still a soldier, he lived through the end of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I.
A Neponset veteran’s memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day last year. The polished marble, 5 flags and lights are the result of community vision, hard work and dedication. There are 150 carved bricks carefully laid in front of the memorial. Starting with a veteran of the War of 1812, each veteran brick tells a special story. Their stories come to life because they lived ordinary lives as settlers, farmers, teachers and blacksmiths. They accepted their civil responsibility and did their duty. Lt. Col. Dick Wells (Retired), a 5th generation farm boy from Annawan Township, was the keynote speaker and introduced Heaps’ story in his remarks. Israel G. Heaps was a former farm boy from Annawan who did his part to change the world.
Lt. Col. Dick Wells (retired) has a degree in economics and a master’s degree in military history and is a landowner on the Great Sauk Trail. His great-great-great-grandparents arrived in Annawan Township in the 1840s. He was always interested in pre-Civil War pioneer history and read many first-person accounts . This is article #11 in the series, Pioneer Struggles.