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The Lead Mine Regiment

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

On January 13th, 1862, the 45th Illinois Infantry from Galena marched into battle with General Ulysses S. Grant as his army headed for the Tennessee River. The young lead miners must have felt out of place among all the other Illinois regiments with stirring names: the Chicago Highland Guards, the Scotch Regiment, the Fremont Rifles. The 45th called themselves "The Lead Mine Regiment." The title was guaranteed to evoke a snicker or a smart remark—until Grant's siege of Vicksburg in May and June of 1863, where the General discovered that getting the lead out and getting the Confederates out had something in common.

The 45th Infantry had already distinguished itself in several battles prior to Vicksburg. At the Battle of Shiloh, the Galena men fought on the front lines through the whole engagement, sleeping on their rifles to keep them dry in a driving all-night rain, rather than retreat to camp. Twenty-six men of the 45th died at Shiloh, 199 were wounded or missing—nearly a third of the regiment.

At the Siege of Vicksburg, the 45th Infantry from Galena was once more in the front lines. Grant discovered that the Confederates were well entrenched at Vicksburg, especially at a place called Confederate Fort Hill—the key to the entire Southern defense. From here, the confederates were able to repel Grant and command the Mississippi River. The 45th Infantry was stationed at Jackson Road, directly in front of the Confederate stronghold. Three separate charges led by the 45th—on May 19th, 22nd, and on June 25th had failed to dislodge the enemy.

The Lead Mine Regiment had a plan. They tunneled far into Fort Hill, laid explosives, and lit a match. In the confusion following the explosion, the Galena boys stormed into the breach in the Confederate stronghold. At a cost of 83 officers and men killed and wounded, the 45th Infantry won the day and Vicksburg soon fell.

For their bloody bravery, General Grant gave the 45th the honor of entering the city first. Subsequently, they were detailed as provost guards there, before going on to other battles, throughout the East.

The Lead Mine Regiment was mustered out of service at Louisville, Kentucky, on July 8th, 1865, no doubt amid smart remarks from those who hadn't heard about Vicksburg.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.