New WI Museum Exhibit
6:15 pm
Mon February 13, 2012

Life in Western Illinois During the Civil War

The Western Illinois Museum's first new exhibit of the year demonstrates how day-to-day life continued in this region during one of the nation's greatest challenges.

“Home Front: Life During the Civil War” will remain in display through May 26.

Curator Sue Scott and historian Bob Welch conducted the research for the exhibit, which is divided into four sections: agriculture of the period, home life, commemorating the war's soldiers, and the underground railroad.

Scott said there are differing accounts from different sources regarding the underground railroad, which made it a challenge to research. But she believes the section contains enough information to take visitors back in time.

“You still get the flavor and you still get the feeling of the hostility and you get the names of some of the families that were involved,” Scott said.

Welch is impressed with the 1855 George Brown corn planter that is prominently displayed in the agriculture section. He said the horse-drawn device, which was built in Knox County, was revolutionary for its time because it allowed farmers to plant corn more quickly and easily. Before the corn planter was invented, the seed was planted by hand.

“This is the birth of the corn and hog economy that comes to dominate the Midwest even to this day,” Welch said.

He said the corn planter is in phenomenal shape given its age.

While men were off to war, women were forced to undertake tasks normally done by men. Welch said the exhibit includes an 1865 ad that shows a woman driving a hay rake, which he thinks is one of the first such images to show it was socially acceptable for women to do masculine labor on the farm. He said that was a fairly large ideological change for the time period.

Welch said the exhibit demonstrates the Civil War era is about more than the battles.

“We have agricultural change represented. We have domestic change represented. As a whole it shows what life was like and how people tried to deal with the experience of war here in Macomb and here in McDonough County,” Welch said.

“Life did go on with adjustments and we can't become overwhelmed in the story of the battlefield. The story of the Civil War era is the story of our entire country and everybody who lived here.”

The museum is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00am - 4:00pm. Admission is free; donations are accepted.