War Enthusiasm’ comes to Historical Society

Scott Gordon

In the 1860s, a small town of middle-class abolitionist Christians sent an eighth of its population to fight in the Civil War.

Only 831 people lived in Evanston in 1860, according to census numbers. Three of them led Union troops as generals, 100 of them fought and 13 of them died.

“A Great War Enthusiasm,” an exhibit opening Saturday at the Evanston Historical Society, 225 Greenwood St., shows the eagerness of Evanston residents to raise regiments and go to war through photographs, letters, newspaper stories and relics.

The city was only a few years old then and was still growing up around Northwestern and Garrett Theological Seminary. Leslie Goddard, curator of the exhibit, said Evanston made a name for itself during the war.

“A lot of Evanston residents really thought of themselves, I think with justification … as very moral, very upright,” Goddard said. “The war kind of solidified that identity for Evanston,” fueling a population boom in the 1870s and 1880s.

Civil War veterans and their families gave the Historical Society most of the items in the exhibit. Goddard originally planned to put together a display of 1860s fashions.

“Then we started digging and we realized we had these incredible weapons.” They include a Confederate sword captured at the September 1862 battle of Antietam, which ended General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north.

Fashion remains a small part of the exhibit. One female mannequin wears a lime-green hoop skirt, and on display is a photograph of the wife of NU founder John Evans “looking kind of dumpy,” Goddard said.

Most of the Evanston residents who went to war joined the 8th Illinois Calvary. Residents James Ludlum and John Beveridge set up a recruiting station in Evanston in 1861. When the draft began in 1863, Evanston had already sent more soldiers than the draft required.

Others joined Chicago’s “Irish Brigade,” led by Col. James T. Mulligan, who was buried in Calvary Cemetery in southeast Evanston.

Those who did not enlist raised money, worked as nurses, supported the abolition of slavery and kept morale high by praising Abraham Lincoln. Before the war, Harvey Hurd, one of Northwestern’s founders, sent a new set of clothes to John Brown, who was executed in 1859 for raiding a Virginia armory in an attempt to arm slaves and abolitionists.

“Evanston was such a Methodist town and Methodism was so committed to abolitionism,” and that unified most residents in the war effort, Goddard said.

Bishop Matthew Simpson, who lived in Evanston for most of the war, gave the final oration at Lincoln’s funeral.

Included in the exhibit is a small chair whose seat is about one foot off the ground. Some claim Lincoln, who was 6 feet 3.75 inches tall, sat in the chair when he visited Evanston in 1860. “I have my doubts,” Goddard said. “His knees would be hitting him in the head.”

Military records do not count NU students or staffers among the Evanston residents who volunteered to fight. Goddard said 77 students and employees fought for the Union and two went home to fight for the Confederacy.

The exhibit will be open Thursdays through Sundays, 1-5 p.m. through June 2006.

Reach Scott Gordon at [email protected]