Kane County History: The Harrowing Story of William Lynch, Elgin’s Civil War Brigadier General
- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Kim Bauer, media coordinator for the Elgin History Museum.
After Col. William Lynch’s release from the Confederate prison in October 1862, he received an order to recruit and reorganize his regiment. From January to June 1863, he was in command of Camp Butler, near Springfield, which held Confederate prisoners.
Then his regiment was sent to Cairo, IL, and its companies were scattered for duty in various places for the remainder of the year.
In early 1864, Lynch and his regiment were sent to Mississippi to help Gen. William Sherman with his raid on Meridian. On March 5, 1864, at Canton, MS, while returning from the Meridian raid, Lynch was put in command of the First Brigade. He was thus an acting brigadier general a week before his 25th birthday.
In March 1864, Lynch’s brigade became part of the disastrous Red River Campaign, meant to re‐establish federal authority in Texas.
As they made their way up the Red River in Louisiana, Lynch and his troops were involved in continual conflicts. The Union forces eventually had to retreat, and the final battle of this campaign took place at Yellow Bayou, LA.
There, on May 18, 1864, Lynch was leading a charge of his men against the enemy when his leg was shattered by a musket‐ball, which struck him just below the knee.
Lynch was sent home to Elgin and was not able to leave his house for months. Though credited with participating in two later battles, he would never take the field again, performing mostly recruiting duty until the close of the war.
In December 1870, Lynch was retired from active service with the rank of brigadier general. A law of Congress soon after reduced him and others to the rank of colonel, but in a personal interview with President Ulysses Grant, his former commander, his rank of brigadier general was restored.
Although Lynch did not graduate at Notre Dame, he received the honorary degree of bachelor of arts in 1865. He was admitted to the bar in 1871 and practiced law with his brother‐in‐law, Eugene Clifford. In 1872, he was elected to the Elgin City Council and served two terms.
Before all of this, however, Lynch married Julia Clifford in January of 1863. In the summer of 1863, William and Julia moved into a two‐story brick home at 35 Leonard St.
The two had six children together: Clifford (1863‐91), William (1865‐1942), Eugene (1867‐88), Mary (1870‐1948), Katie (1872‐88) and Margaret (1874‐94). Julia died in May 1879 at age 39, leaving their six young children, ages 4 to 15, as orphans.
In the spring of 1865, W.C. Kimball and his family, according to information provided by his family in the 1870s, moved into the Lynch home and remained there two years.
Lynch died Dec. 29, 1876, in Fort Larned, KS, at age 37. His body was returned to Elgin and buried in Channing Street Cemetery. His remains were re‐interred at Bluff City Cemetery in 1914.
Bluff City Cemetery is the final resting place of a number of Civil War veterans, some of whom have been honored over the years during the Elgin Bluff City Cemetery Walk. During this year’s walk, in fact, there are two Civil War veterans; one a soldier and one a Civil War reporter.
This year’s Elgin Bluff City Cemetery Walk will take place on Sunday, Sept. 23. On Saturday, Sept. 22, Hanover Township will commemorate both General Lynch as well as General John Shuler Wilcox, another notable Elgin Civil War veteran, by presenting a Heritage Marker for the two veterans to be placed at the cemetery permanently.
In addition to the history on display every September at the Bluff City Cemetery, Civil War historical records on Elgin area Civil War soldiers can be found every day at local historian Ken Gough’s Elgin Area Civil War Soldiers blog, which has been sharing information on soldiers since 2012.
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