|Detail from patriotic stationary,|
New York Historical Society
Between 1861 and 1863, pro-Union Illinoisans formed dozens of “home guard” companies to protect their state from invasion and insurrection. The letters of home guard petitioners to Governor Richard Yates provide insight into the complex negotiation of the citizen/state relationship in wartime, and reveal a vision of republican citizenship that harkened back to the Revolution. As local companies of home guards evolved into Union Leagues in the latter half of the war, they retained the language of home protection and their republican vision of civilian home service. This runs contrary to the scholarly portrayal of the Union Leagues as overtly Republican political organizations and elite-dominated partisan cabals. Reexamining the local home guard and Union League experience urges a reorientation of scholarship on the Union home front away from the ideals of selfless voluntarism and elite-driven nationalism, and towards a more complex view of the motivations of Northern civilians and soldiers.