A Legacy of Learning: A History of Our Local Schools
June- September 2012
Life During the Civil War
February 11 through May 26, 2012
We are at the beginning of a five year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Americans will celebrate epic battles, remember famous politicians, and watch cinematically glorified, romanticized tales of cultures lost. These ideas seem so distant to a Western Illinoisan. This exhibit takes a different approach, bringing the issues closer to home as it considers the Civil War's impact on our region.
In 1860, Macomb was a growing city with a growing population. The railroad had recently come into town in 1855. Businesses were booming around what we now refer to as the Courthouse Square. There were two local newspapers, the Democratic Macomb Eagle and the Republican Macomb Journal. With Abraham Lincoln recently elected to the presidency, the politics were as lively as ever. Only thirty years after it was established, Macomb was on the verge of one of the most significant events in American history.
Sections in the Exhibit
The exhibit is broken up into four distinct sections. They include: agricultural practices during the Civil War, domestic life, a remembrance of those who served in the war, and the African American experience. Unique artifacts also accompany each section of the exhibit.
Section I: Agricultural Practices during the Civil War
In 1860, it was very expensive to start a farm. Land prices from speculators, those who invested in large swathes of land to resell to farmers, ranged from $10 to $30 per acre. However, speculators allowed farmers to use credit to buy land which spread payment out over a period of years. The investment in tools and machinery to operate a farm, however, required an immediate outlay of funds. On average, a farmer paid $968.00 for tools and machinery. This was quite an initial expense for a profession that earned approximately $300 a year. The start of the Civil War coincided with a profound shift in agricultural technology. Not since the Greeks, had there been major changes in agricultural technology. The artifacts included in this exhibit represent the radical change in farming. The new technology opened the door for a greater yield on crops. It also allowed for a smaller number of laborers, allowing men to leave the farm and fight in the war. Female labor also increased with the new technology.
Land prices ranged from $10-30 an acre
On average, a farmer paid an initial $968 for the tools and machinery to start a farm.
Farmers earned about $300 a year.
Guide visitors in the exhibit discussing draft power to the right of the entrance.
Draft Power: Overview
Part of the transition in agriculture during the Civil War era was the change in the type of animal power used on the farm. In the era of settlement, roughly 1820 to 1850, oxen provided an optimal power source due to their strength, and essential trait for breaking the thick prairie sod. With the rise of machines like McCormick’s reaper and other labor-saving devices that relied on speed for power rather than strength, American farmers switched to horses for their source of power on the farm. While an ox provided great strength, they were not as fast or as agile as horses. The leather harness and collar show the changes necessary in bringing horse power to bear on the farms and fields of Western Illinois. The horse, with a significantly thinner layer of fat, needed a complex web of harness, as well as a well-padded collar when working.
In 1849, on farms in the Military Tract, 11,762 oxen provided the heavy labor; by 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War, only 1,037 remained. During the same period, the number of horses on farms increased from 49,615 to 142,492.
The horse and new technologies dramatically changed the course of American agriculture.
Why do you think it took farmer so long to realize its potential?
Do you think it had something to do with the rise of related technology?
Tilling the Soil: Overview
Remind the visitors to look at the artifacts, including the single shovel and John Deere plow.
Cultivation took a great deal of the farmer’s time in the early part of the growing season, depending on the crop. Once the prairie sod was initially broken, plows such as the wooden beam John Deere plow shown here turned the soil in the spring to prepare fields for seeding.
The single-shovel plow or “bull-nosed” plow is an older style of tool still in use on farms in the 1860s. Prior to the acceptance of the modern moldboard design, the shovel plow was the main tool for cutting furrows in a field, especially in the South, where many of this region’s early settlers originated. Southern plows essentially “scratched” through the thinner, rockier soils.
Following the development of plows better suited to turning the heavier soils of the upper Midwest, farmers continued to use the shovel plow, albeit in a new role. The plow became a cultivator used in corn fields and pulled by a single horse. Corn was planted with thirty to forty inches between plants in any direction, a space wide enough for the horse and cultivator to pass through and cut out the weeds in a field. Cultivation continued until early July, when the plants were tall enough that weeds no longer threatened to choke out the new crop.
Corn, the King of the Prairie: Overview
In 1853, George Brown (see image on wall, to the left) of Knox County dramatically changed corn production in the Midwest with the introduction of his horse-drawn corn planter, an early version of which is on display here. Prior to planting, a wagon was driven across the field to mark the row spacing. Two people operated the machine: One man drove while riding on the bench in back, while another person, usually a young son, rode on the seat in front. When the planter crossed the row marks in the field, the person in front operated the lever, which caused seeds to drop out of the boxes and into a furrow cut open by the shoe-blades in front. The flat wheels then closed the row as they passed over. Brown’s machine allowed farmers to plant as much as ten to twenty acres of corn in a day, dramatically increasing the size of fields and corn yields on the farm.
Look closely at the corn planter, you can still see some of its original paint!
The significance of the corn planter cannot be understated. It revolutionized agriculture in Illinois. Prior to this, corn was planted by hand and famers were only able to plant about an acre per day. With the introduction of this device, farmers were able to plant roughly ten acres of corn per day. This piece of equipment led to the corn-hog economy that persists to this day. In other words, the corn planter allowed farmers to feed sufficient amounts of corn to hogs.
As we know, corn is still a major crop in Illinois today? Do you think there is a connection between the prevalence of corn production in Illinois today and the introduction of Brown’s corn planter?
Small Grain Cultivation: Overview
While corn was grown in impressive amounts throughout the Midwest, wheat was the main cash crop of the region through the 1860s.
McDonough County’s farmers raised 212,884 bushels of wheat in 1859; a decade later, those same farms accounted for 310,017 bushels. Wheat prices also rose during the period.
In 1861, wheat sold for between eighty-five and ninety cents per bushel
By 1864, wheat garnered between $1.30 and $1.75 per bushel. Rye and oats were also cultivated in significant amounts.
The equipment on display is but a small sampling of the types used to cultivate perhaps the most important crop a farmer in Western Illinois grew on his farm.
Are you surprised that wheat was the main cash crop in the Civil War era?
Why do you think that wheat production rapidly rose during the Civil War years?
Section II: Domestic Life: New Responsibilities for Women
The Civil War’s effects were not exclusive to the battlefield. This part of the exhibit attempts to show how the war affected soldier’s families at home.
Women would have had to manage the family farm when their husbands and sons went to war. About one half of the Northern population would have lived on a farm during the Civil War years. The percentage would have been higher in Western Illinois. Women would have been responsible for everything from planting, taking care of the livestock, and even carrying out business deals in order to maintain an income.
Women and children would have to provide for their families in the stead of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Many of them would find jobs in factories, domestic work, and places of business. This was also true for Macomb residents. Luther Johnson owned a large mercantile business on the Courthouse Square during the Civil War. Due to a lack of men to employ, he was the first in the county to hire two lady clerks in his mercantile.
Rising Food Prices: Overview
Rising food prices were one of the numerous negative effects that the Civil War had for people at home. This was the case because businesses took advantage of economic hardships by raising prices for goods. Corn, for example, increased from $.25-.30 in 1861 to $1:00-1:05 in 1865. Women who were not from wealthy families were most affected by the rising prices. Many people simply went without food that they were accustomed to eating before the war. As a result of the food shortage, people were forced to eat much cheaper food, and some of the recipes exhibited here reflect that.
Were you aware that the Civil War had a profound effect on families due to rising food prices?
If you lived in this era, what would you have done to keep food on the table?
Be sure to remind visitors that we have a listening station for Music of the Home Front. Women would listen to these songs to remind them of their loved ones in battle and also of the men who had died. “The Vacant Chair” is one of the songs that can be listened to.
Look at the wood burning stove on display. Explain to them that in the 1850s, there was a shift from hearth cooking to stove cooking. Devices like this allowed women to streamline some of their household tasks so they could focus on running the farm. Also, point out the utensils that we have on display!
Before the Civil War, women played a large role in the washing of clothing. This, of course, continued during the war. However, as we have seen, women were also now responsible for many other tasks. Washing clothing was no small task, the arduous process often took days to complete.
Fortunately, the rocker style washing machine greatly improved the washing process. Hand methods of agitating clothing included a large bucket filled with soapy water and clothing with a wooden paddle to churn back and forth. The rocker designed washing machine performed the agitation method by rocking back and forth.
Inform the visitors that we have a woman’s nightgown and drawers, a men’s shirt, apple picking boots, an apron, an ironing board, and a roller fluter on display.
Do any of these pieces of clothing look similar to what we wear today? What piece of equipment on display here looks strikingly similar to its modern equivalent?
Section III: Remembrance
This section of the exhibit serves as a remembrance for those people from McDonough County that served in the Civil War in some capacity. It also serves as a reminder of the countless personal tragedies that the war caused.
The Tragedies of War: Overview
The Civil War was devastating for the United States, but caused many personal tragedies. On display here are letters that tell stories of personal loss. Women, for example, were often left widowed after the war and responsible for raising the children. The prevalent existence of mourning covers, also on display here, conveys the persistence of despair.
Encourage visitors to sit at the table and read the transcripts of letters between husbands and wives. In these letters, husbands often provided advice for women in how to manage the farm.
The Civil War was unique, but are there any common threads that connect it to warfare in general. Think about how war affects military families today.
Remembering those who served: Overview
A staggering 2,734 men from Macomb served in the Civil War. In the Wall of Honor section of the exhibit, their names are all listed. Included are stories of notable people from the area that served, including C.V. Chandler.
Inform the visitors that we have the following artifacts on display:
C.V. Chandler’s Grand Army of the Republic medal
A grave marker for the Grand Army of the Republic
Sons of Union Veterans Sack Coat
George Yocum’s Civil War drum
The Civil War was not fought in McDonough County, but that does not mean that the people of McDonough County did not influence the war.
Does it surprise you that so many men from the area took up the Union cause in the war?
Also, be sure to look at the names on the wall and see if you recognize any of them.
Rise of Veterans Groups: Overview
The conclusion of the Civil War led to the formation of first all-inclusive veterans clubs in the United States. In 1866, one year after the Civil War concluded, Union veterans created The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) as a fraternal organization composed of Army soldiers who had fought in the Civil War. First formed for camaraderie, the organization grew, becoming powerful and politically influential. The GAR founded soldiers' homes, was active in relief work and in pension legislation. As only those who fought in the Civil War could be members of the GAR. Realized their organization would eventually die out when the last Civil War veteran was gone, the GAR in 1881 established the Sons of Union Veterans (SUVCW). Their sons could carry on its traditions and memory long after the GAR had ceased to exist. Currently, the SUVCW has over 6,000 members nationwide in about 200 community-based camps.
Think about the veterans groups that you know of today.
Do you think the founding of these groups was influenced by the early veterans groups that we discussed?
Section IV: African American Experience
At the beginning of the Civil War, there were no free blacks that resided in Macomb. Interestingly, the 1860 Census shows a total of seven free blacks in Illinois in 1860, only four names appear in the Census book: Jack McCord, Peter and Lisa Clark, and a woman named Celia, who is listed as living with the Wesley Mayland household. After the war, however, there was a slow trickle of black settlers in McDonough County.
The issue of slavery divides McDonough County: Overview
Before the Civil War, the issue of slavery deeply divided McDonough County. This is not terribly surprising because many of the original settlers of Macomb were from Southern states. That division played itself out every week in the pages of the Macomb Eagle, the county’s Democratically-aligned newspaper, and the Macomb Journal, the voice of the county’s smaller Republican population.
It is fairly evident that McDonough County was actually a Democratic stronghold. The Democrats carried the county in 1860 for Stephen Douglas, the candidate for the Northern branch of the fractured party. The great question that seemed to divide the town politically was slavery and abolition. The Democrats, led by Eagle editor Nelson Abbott, opposed the end of slavery and freedom for African-Americans, while local Republicans supported the Lincoln administration’s push for emancipation when it became an expedient for prosecuting the war, although without a viable plan for how former slaves could involve themselves in American society.
The existence of the Underground Railroad in Macomb is a further example of abolitionist support. Included in the exhibit are accounts of abolitionists being heckled by those who supported slavery.
Inform the visitors that the information about the Underground Railroad is gathered from two sources. One of which is a 1922 account D.N. Blazer. The other is the 1878 History of McDonough County, IL by S.J. Clarke. By its very nature, the Underground Railroad was secretive. Thus, some of the information is extremely difficult to verify. Encourage visitors to read the transcripts for themselves.
Illinois fought on the Union side during the Civil War. Yet, many people from McDonough County supported slavery.
Were you aware of the anti-abolitionist views that many people from the area held? If you were not aware, are you surprised?
The end of the war brings more blacks to McDonough County: Overview
The Emancipation Proclamation resulted in a number of blacks coming to McDonough County. Families came from slave states such as Kentucky and Missouri. Included in this section of the exhibit are stories of a few of the slave families that relocated in McDonough County. By 1875, there sixty blacks living in Macomb. Some started successful businesses. There were many results of the Civil War, but an important one is the fact the end of the war allowed blacks to live free lives throughout the United States, including Macomb and McDonough County.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War profoundly changed life in McDonough County. Blacks from former slave states soon called Macomb home.
Have you ever thought about the results of the Civil War on a local scale such as this?
Listen to the emancipation songs that we have on mp3 players!
Shared Images: Recording and Collecting a Visual History
September 20 - December 30, 2011
Connectedness: A History of Women's Clubs
April 26 - August 13, 2011
Fishin', Huntin' & Braggin
January 4 - March 26, 2011
October 23 - December 4, 2010
May 15 - September 11, 2010
December 22, 2009 - April 24, 2010
September 1 through November 21, 2009
June - August 8, 2008
February 12 - May 2, 2009
January 16 - January 17, 2009
September 4 - November 15, 2008
From Here to There: Transportation in Western Illinois
June 3 - August 2, 2008
Uniforms, Soldiers & Allies: The Western Illinois Experience During World War II
January 1- April 1, 2008
Advertising Art of the Late 19th Century: The Dr. Lindsay Ma Collection
February 6 - March 21, 2007
Music, Music, Music
June - July 2007
Colchester: 150 Years
August 25 - November 17, 2007
August 22 - November 25, 2006
April 8, 2006
December 2, 2005 - February 28, 2006
August 9 - November 2005
March 6 - July 2005
Toys, Toys, Toys: From All Ages, For All Ages
December, 2004 - January 29, 2005
Veterinary Medicine: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow; All Creatures Great & Small
February 21 - June 30, 2004
Western Illinois University: Then and Now
April 19 - August 1, 2003
Civil War at Home and on the Battlefield
April 10, 2003