This medal, from the collection of the Western Illinois Museum, was presented to Charles Vilasco Chandler by fellow Civil War veterans on August 3, 1899. On the same day a Civil War monument was dedicated in Macomb’s Chandler Park to honor the memory of the men of McDonough County who gave their lives so “that the government of the people shall not perish from the earth.” That monument still exists in the park named after C.V. who in 1879 donated the park to the city of Macomb.
The presentation of this metal to Chandler by his fellow veterans was a surprise. The metal is solid gold issued by the Grand Army of the Republic membership and is engraved on the back with the words: “From his McDonough County Comrades Aug 3, 1899”. These special testimonial GAR medals are rare and much sought after by collectors.
It was not until 1905, forty years after the end of the Civil War, that the Federal government began issuing the first Civil War service medals. Often commemoration of military service was left to veteran’s organizations. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was one of the largest veterans groups formed by Union veterans from the Civil War. The organization was founded in 1866 by veterans in Illinois, and by 1890 the group had grown to over 400,000 members nationwide. The Grand Army of the Republic membership medal was popular at the time because it was one of the few ways to commemorate military service. Chandler belonged to the McDonough Lodge No.103, GAR, of which he was Commander for many years.
This particular GAR medal has been individualized for C.V. Chandler with his name and hometown, Macomb IL. This is no ordinary GAR membership medal but one a specially created to honor Chandler. The medal resembles the ordinary GAR membership badges in size and shape, but an ordinary GAR medal is made of bronze, not gold and does not have an individual’s name or hometown. The typical ribbon on these medals had an American flag but the flag on Chandler’s medal has the addition of a red borders which indicates he was an officer in his local post. The front of the star has a distinctive blue surround inscribed: 'Grand Army of the Republic - 1861 Veteran 1866'. The five-pointed star at the bottom of the badge is the standard-issue GAR medal star. The five points of the star each feature a symbol: a bugle, an anchor, crossed swords, crossed bayoneted muskets, and crossed cannons. A sailor and a soldier shake hands in front of Liberty in the center of the star and on the reverse of the star is the engraved inscription to Chandler. At the top of the medal is an eagle clutching a saber in its talons while perched atop larger crossed cannons which rest on a stack of cannonballs.
C.V. Chanlder was born in 1843, one of six children. His parents were Charles Chandler and Sarah K. Chandler. His father had arrived in Macomb in 1834 (just a few years after the founding of Macomb in 1831) and became successful buying and selling land. C.V.’s father later became a banker and then president of the First National Bank.
At the beginning of the Civil War, 19-year-old C.V. decided not to go to college and instead enlisted in the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The unit was organized in Quincy and left the state for war on September 19, 1862. In the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Chandler saw active combat duty. At the bloody Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 he was wounded, he eventually had to resign from duty because of his wounds.
Charles returned to Macomb and married Clara Baker, and they had six children. After his father’s death in 1878 he took over as president of the First National Bank of Macomb. C.V. worked hard to develop Macomb in the 19th century. A business leader and entrepreneur, Chandler’s interests were in businesses and property. He chaired and funded charities and civic groups as well as being a strong supporter of the Grand Army of the Republic. He acquired land in town to develop a park and in 1879 he gave the city the square block that became Chandler Park. C.V. Chandler funded a monument to honor the Civil War fallen which was erected in 1899. Chandler’s medal survives to this day noting the day the monument in Chandler Park was dedicated and illustrates the high esteem Chandler was held by his fellow veterans.
Sadly, in 1910, due to number of circumstances, C. V. Chandler went bankrupt and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana to live with his son. He died October 20, 1934. However, he always had a special place in his heart for his hometown and C.V. Chandler’s final resting place is in Macomb, buried in Oakwood Cemetery.
From an essay by Heather Munro