Throughout 2011 museums will be observing the anniversary of the Civil War. For some history buffs, that means re-evaluating the politics that triggered the rupture of our young country. Others intently analyze the battles as if the campaigns were real-life chessboards. Still others like to compare our everyday experiences with those of our ancestors 150 years ago to see how things have changed and what has stayed the same.
It’s not so very far back when you think about it. Maudie Hopkins, the woman widely thought of as the last Civil War Widow died in 2008, just three years ago. Of course she didn’t experience the War herself, but she spent several years with a man who did.
Illinois has particularly deep Civil War connections, even though no battles were ever fought on our state’s soil. We are of course the Land of Lincoln, the President forever remembered for his efforts at holding our nation together. The politics of Stephen Douglas fanned the fires of War and Ulysses S. Grant led the Union army into War.
Several prisoner of war camps existed in Illinois including Camp Douglas in Chicago, named after Stephen Douglas and considered the largest mass grave in the western hemisphere. Nearly 6000 Confederate soldiers were buried there at one time. Since then, the remains were moved to Lincoln Park and then on to Oak Woods and Rosehill Cemetery.
An Illinois native also claims to have fired the first shot at Gettysburg. Marcellus Jones of Glen Ellyn and later of Wheaton borrowed a gun from his buddy Levi Shafer, a Naperville native, and is supposed to have fired on advancing Confederate troops. He missed and a couple of other soldiers may have also fired around the same time, but Jones ensured his place in history. He, Shafer and a third friend, Alex Riddler, had a stone marker cut in Naperville commemorating their contribution. Then they dragged it all the way to Pennsylvania, purchased a bit of land from a local farmer, and erected their monument which still stands today.
Whether your interest is in battlefields, photography, recipes or fashion, you’ll no doubt find a Civil War exhibit this year that interests you. Visit one or two. This is your history, too.