Every Thursday night during the summer, Books on the Square, 427 E. Washington St., presents “Illinois and the Civil War.” A host of authors, scholars and historians conduct seminars analyzing Illinoisans who shaped the outcome of the war. Additionally, Illinois places and events impacted by the conflict will also be highlighted.
“The program was an idea suggested to me by Chuck Murphy, president of the Springfield Civil War Roundtable,” said John Alexander, the store’s owner. “He recommended that in the summer with all the visitors here in town, there isn’t often much to do in the evenings, so we came up with the idea of doing a series of programs on Illinois and the Civil War every Thursday night through this summer.”
One of the seminars was the story of the 29th Regiment United States Colored Infantry (USCI) based in Quincy. Prior to its establishment in 1864, the idea of using black troops was rarely entertained by the Union, despite the fact that the war was waged over the freedom of the slaves. Reenactors of General Ulysses S. Grant and Sgt. Andrew Lewis of the 29th USCI presented a first-person interplay of the government and military’s position on the use of black troops, as well as the views of black troops on the battlefield.
“I thought the presentation on the black troops was well done, especially since there were a lot of facts and figures that I’ve never heard before,” Alexander said. “I was curious in hindsight because while Illinois produced that one black regiment, it appeared to me that maybe we should’ve produced more than one, given the amount of soldiers that volunteered in this state before and afterwards.”
Alexander hopes the seminars will provide guests more perspective about the state’s involvement in the war. “I hope people realize how much Illinois did to help win the Civil War,” he said. “Not only did we produce the commander-in-chief in Abraham Lincoln, and the general-in-chief in Grant, but we also produced over 250,000 volunteers, which is an amazing number of troops from a state that was only one seventh of the size that it is today.”
This week’s program, for Thursday, July 5 at 6:30 p.m. is “Grant Goes To War: The March From Springfield.” Historian John Alexander follows the footsteps of Colonel Ulysses S. Grant and his 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry as they marched toward Missouri in July of 1861. Leaving Camp Yates at the current site of Dubois school in Springfield, Grant’s men headed west on the state road toward Riddle Hill, Berlin, Exeter and Naples, where their orders were changed. The program provides an overview of the march. An optional auto caravan then will follow along the route to their first camp site near Riddle Hill.
“Illinois and the Civil War” runs through Aug. 23. For more information, visit booksonthesquare.com.
Alex Camp is a master’s degree graduate in Public Affairs Reporting from University of Illinois Springfield. He is currently a freelance journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.