The 15th Illinois Infantry was formed within days of the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861. The regiment’s first stop after leaving Illinois was across the Mississippi River in Missouri. At the end of July 1861, the 15th set up camp at Mexico, Missouri, about 110 miles northwest of St. Louis. Among the other regiments in camp was the 21st Illinois Infantry, under the command of Colonel Ulysses S. Grant. There was an immediate conflict between Grant and the 15th’s commanders, Colonel Thomas Turner and Lieutenant Colonel Edward F.W. Ellis, over camp issues. In his memoir published shortly after the war, the 15th Illinois’ enlisted man Lucius Barber recalled how Ellis gained the respect of the men by not letting the future General in Chief and President push him, or his regiment, around.
We found the 21st Illinois Regiment Volunteer Infantry here, commanded by Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, afterward the great hero of the War. There was a sharp strife between Colonel Turner and Grant as to who outranked. Turner claimed superiority on account of the date of commission. Grant claimed it on account of having belonged to the regular army, and with his usual pertinacity and [General John] Pope’s order, gained his point and assumed command of the camp. The first order he issued was for a detail from the 15th to clean up his regiment’s quarters. It was needed bad enough, but the order did not sit well on our stomachs. We had just put our own camp in splendid order and we did not feel like doing the dirty work of his regiment. Luckily for us, Col. Turner was away when the order came and Lieut.-Col. Ellis was in command. He took the order, read it, his face burning with anger, and sent word to Col. Ulysses S. Grant that his regiment did not enlist…to do the dirty work of his or any other regiment. This emphatic protest brought Col. Grant over at once. High words ensued, which resulted in Lieut.-Col. Ellis tendering Col. Grant his sword, but as for obeying that order, he should never do it. I think Grant must have admired his spirit, as he refused to receive his sword and did not enforce the order. As a natural consequence, the 15th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry did not fall in love with Grant then, but we surely did with Lieut.-Col. Ellis. We saw the stuff he was made of and the bold stand he took for his own and our rights and we would have followed him to the death if he had so ordered. It was not until Grant had showed great courage, indomitable perseverance, and lofty patriotism that we could regard him with any degree of favor.
–Lucius W. Barber, Army Memoirs of Lucius W. Barber, Company D 15th Illinois Infantry
Lieutenant Colonel Edward F.W. Ellis was killed in action on April 6th, 1862 while leading the 15th Illinois at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee.