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Illinois Country Living

A union divided, a union preserved
Grant home and state’s museums stand as reminders of Civil War

By Kaleigh Friend

The smoke has long been cleared and the battlefields now lie empty, but the events that transpired on the battlefields of the American Civil War still haunt our nation’s history. Throughout Illinois, organizations are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War to sustain the history of this event in which the Union was preserved.

Illinois played a large role in the war. President Abraham Lincoln, who had a law practice and a home in Springfield, was still in his infancy as the 16th president. Lincoln, as Commander in Chief, watched as the civil war unfolded.

The war began as a compilation of issues, including differing economies in the North and South, challenges between state and federal rights, the practice of slavery and Lincoln’s election.

Lincoln faced opposition from all sides. Political cartoonists took jabs at everything from his appearance to his policies. Some abolitionists even felt his actions were not enough to put a true end to slavery. In the end, the president would only live five days after the war ended. His hopes of putting the country back together were demolished and he was never able to see what became of the nation.

Another Illinois resident, Ulysses S. Grant, who lived in Galena, rose to the top of the ranks, eventually becoming the Lieutenant General of the Union Army and the 18th president of the United States. Grant’s military career began with his graduation from the United States Military Academy, after which he was a soldier for 11 years. During this time he was active in the Mexican American War.

According to Galena Public Library Historian Steve Repp, in 1854, Grant resigned from the military after he was unsuccessful at making a sufficient living in St. Louis, Mo., the area home to his wife, Julia. The Grant family then moved to Galena, so that Ulysses could work in his father’s leather store. Here he did much of the traveling for the business in place of his brother Simpson, who had become ill with Tuberculosis. When the Civil War began, Grant again offered his services to the military.

Grant caught President Lincoln’s attention after winning several battles, including those at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and his capture of Fort Donelson in Tennessee. At Fort Donelson, Grant demanded unconditional surrender; this later became one of the General’s monikers as it coincided with his first and middle initials. His experience and grit made him a successful leader during the war.

After battling in the Western Theater, the area east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, General Grant was made Lieutenant General by President Lincoln and went to lead the Union Army in the East. Along with eight other generals from Galena, the state contributed over 200,000 men to the Union Army, along with foodstuffs and livestock.

Grant returned victorious to Galena in August of 1865, still somber from the sights of a grizzly war. He was received by his proud hometown with a generous celebration in his honor, and was presented with a fully outfitted post-war home on Bouthillier Street. The Grant children donated this home to Galena in 1904 to be kept in memory of General Grant, and the home was later deeded to the State of Illinois due to cost issues.

Today, both homes can be toured five days a week, and are home to reproductions of paintings showing scenes of Grant during the war as well as reproductions of pieces he owned during his lifetime. Each year, the home gets about 60,000-80,000 visitors.

During the time of the Civil War, Galena was at its peak with a lively population of about 14,000 people. Nancy Breed, Executive Director for the Galena – Jo Daviess County Historical Society & Museum, said Galena has some commemorative events planned for the 150th anniversary. It is home to some important pieces of history from this period, including “bookend” Civil War artifacts from both the beginning and end of the war.

The early war bookend artifact is the Blakely Rifle, a cannon from the Confederate artillery used in the first firing on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, which was the first battle of the Civil War. Galena is also home to an artifact from the close of the war, a 9x12 foot oil painting by political cartoonist Thomas Nast called “Peace in Union” which is one of the few paintings depicting Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant in April of 1865. These pieces, along with Grant’s homes, make the town appealing to those who wish to experience pieces of the Civil War within Illinois.

The Illinois Historical Preservation Society has compiled a calendar of Civil War related events happening throughout 2011. At 11 a.m. on February 11, Lincoln’s “Farewell Address” will be read at the Great Western Depot in Springfield, the same day Lincoln gave this speech 150 years prior. This will be a part of the goal to set a world record by getting over 235,000 nationwide people to read this speech at the same time on this day.

Another group has decided to commemorate the Civil War close to home. John Alexander, head of the McCoupin County Civil War Round Table, said this organization is fundraising over the next few years to restore the flag of the McCoupin County volunteer infantry. The McCoupin County Civil War Roundtable is a group of 30-40 members that meet once a month to discuss topics on the Civil War. The flag is currently in the Illinois National Guard Museum, but the group hopes to raise nearly $40,000 to fully restore the flag and have it on display at the Carlinville courthouse.

Civil War roundtables are non-profit independent organizations that meet to discuss topics on the Civil War such as battles, President Lincoln, war strategies and life on the home front during the war. These groups have formed all over the nation, with more than five in the state of Illinois. Chicago’s Civil War Roundtable is the oldest of these organizations, which was organized in December of 1940.

With all of the events taking place to commemorate the beginning of the Civil War, it’s important to look at why we remember this time and how it changed the history of our country. Susan Hardin, retired Humanities teacher at Turner Jr. High in Jacksonville, said she feels it’s important to remember, “This was the only war fought within our country’s borders, by our people, to preserve the Union.” She went on to discuss how clashes on the issue of slavery along with tension between the power of state and federal governments brought compromise in the end.

While there were no battles fought in the state of Illinois, there were several places, including Camp Butler just outside of Springfield, and Camp Douglas outside Chicago, which served as places to train and organize troops into companies and regiments. These sites also served as prisoner-of-war camps for captured Confederate soldiers. Today, Camp Butler is a United States National Cemetery for over 1,600 Civil War soldiers.

On the home front, because men had left their farms and businesses to fight in the war, women were put in the position to fill these roles. David Kuhn, Illinois Civil War re-enactor, pointed out that this was a sort of “Rosie the Riveter” time for women, in which they assumed the roles of men who were gone over the four years of the war. This was also the time of nurse Clara Barton, who was present at some of the most devastating battles of the war, along with many other women who served as nurses during this time.

Over 400 women were reported to have served as soldiers in the Civil War. Kuhn shared the story of Jennie Hodgers, who disguised herself as a man and served as a cavalryman in the Illinois 95th for three years under the name Albert Cashier. Her gender was only discovered after she was injured in a trolley car accident and sent to a doctor. Throughout this time period, women were empowered to take on new roles that were typically only for men.

At the end of the war, over 620,000 lives were lost. Countless towns were in shambles; homes were destroyed. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theater just five days after General Lee’s surrender, marking the end of the Civil War. The nation was left wounded.

During this revolutionary time in the nation’s history, many things were changing. Countless events will commemorate this time and will unfold over the next four years in Illinois and nationwide as the 150th anniversary of different battles and events arrive. This momentous war is one to be remembered as a time when our nation proved strong enough to stay unified during some of our darkest days.

Civil War Museums in Illinois

Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War

503 South Walnut
Springfield, IL 62704
(217) 544-0616

This museum in Springfield, Ill. is home to genealogy records of Civil War veterans, as well as artifacts from the Civil War period including currency, uniforms and medals. This location serves as the national headquarters for this organization and is free to the public.

Vermillion County Museum

307 N. Vermillion Street
Danville, IL 61832

The Vermillion County War Museum has a history of military conflict from the Revolutionary War to present day, spanning over 200 years. The museum’s Civil War collection includes photos, swords, a Union soldier’s hat, artillery shells, and other items from this time period.

Illinois State Military Museum

1301 N. MacArthur
Springfield, IL 62702

Housing military history over the decades, this museum has a considerable sized collection, including a wooden target on which President Lincoln test fired a Spencer rifle in 1863, when its inventor brought it to Washington for approval. The collection also includes Civil War flags and a tree from a Civil War battlefield scarred with bullet holes.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

212 N Sixth Street
Springfield, IL 62701 
(217) 558-8858

This extensive museum details President Lincoln’s life. In the “Journey Two: The White House Years” section of the museum, Lincoln’s life as the President of the United States is on display during the time of slavery and later the Civil War. There are multiple galleries and exhibits on the war. In the Union Theater, one may feel immersed in a civil war battle through special effects that engage the senses and bring the battlefield to life.

*Other exhibits may also exist. This is only a partial listing.

150th Anniversary of the American Civil War Events

“Lincoln’s Farewell” Reading

February 11, 2011
11 a.m.
Great Western Depot, Springfield, IL

Lincoln’s Farewell speech will be read on the same day he gave this speech 150 years prior. This event coincides with the goal to set a world record to get over 235,000 people around the nation to read this at the same time.

“Sacred Oaths and Shallow Graves: The Civil War in Illinois Part I.”

31st Annual Illinois History Symposium
April 14-16, 2011
Morris Library
Southern Illinois University – Carbondale

Held on the anniversary of the civil war’s commencement and will have papers, presentations, panels, vendors, students, and scholars from all over the state to speak on Illinois’ role in the Civil War.

U.S. Grant Birthday Celebration

April 15 – 17, 2011
Various times and locations

Various events commemorating the birthday of Galena’s favorite son: living history, speakers, pie auction, period church service, free museum admission.

U.S. Grant Home Lamplight Tour

April 15, 2011
5-7 p.m.
Grant Memorial Home, Bouthillier Street, Galena, IL

Lamplight lends a period glow as the Grants welcome you to their home. Adjacent log cabin open; refreshments.

Dinner with the Grants and Their Collector

April 16, 2011
6 p.m.
DeSoto House Hotel
230 S. Main Street, Galena, IL

The Grants and Grant collector, journalist/personality Bill Margeson, celebrate the opening of a new Museum exhibit.  Cash bar.  Period dinner. 

U.S. Grant Association Annual Meeting

May 6-8, 2011
Various times and locations
DeSoto House Hotel
230 S. Main Street, Galena, IL

$200 members; $300 non-members; individual event tickets may be purchased separately

U.S. Grant aficionados from around the country gather for tours, nationally-known speakers/authors, book signings, period concert.  Meals included; cash bars.



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