The Civil War
It has been stated that we will never fully understand what the lives of people were like in the past. Recently a journal appeared written by a thoughtful young girl who lived in Crystal Lake, Illinois. It is a treasure of people's emotions and experiences wrapped in the confines of an insightful journal. Her entries give a better understanding of what life was like in the McHenry County area at the time of the Civil War. In Martha Josephine Buck's diary, A Girl of the Civil War, we see how difficult the lives of the ordinary people were, and what position people took towards the war. We are able to perceive indirectly through the eyes of a young woman what the Civil War was actually like and how it affected Crystal Lake.
Buck's diary was found several years ago at the Crystal Lake Library in typewritten form. Some unknown person had transcribed it from the handwritten original. The typescript, now on deposit at Crystal Lake South High School, is an unusual document.
Buck was born on November 27, 1842. At the age of two she moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois, to live on a farm. At the age of nineteen she started to keep a journal of her life. She wrote in her journal regularly for almost a year until she married "Mr. Harwood," as she addressed him.
During the war, people in northern Illinois took a stand against the Confederacy and slavery. The majority of Crystal Lake citizens, according to Buck's journal, opposed the Southern states and joined the Union along with fellow Illinoisian, Abraham Lincoln. Buck wrote of hearing reports about the "debates between Senator Stephen A. Douglas . . . and Abraham Lincoln concerning the extension of slavery. All of Illinois was strongly opposed to that." Many in Crystal Lake, including Buck, wished to have "peace, peace on Earth and good will toward men;" nevertheless, war had been declared when "Fort Sumter had been fired upon." It was a "war between brother and brother," Buck wrote. Because of the war, the Union Army called on people to help the cause and "all the young men . . . were responding."
However, the period of the war for the people who had not gone to fight was also very hard. Families had been ripped apart because many enlisted in the army, including two of Buck's own brothers. "Lige, my big brother, was among the first to go." George too, " had long since gone away into the army," she wrote.
Furthermore, due to the shortage of trained medical professionals who had also gone to help in the war effort, Buck's father developed an illness and was so weakened by it that he "could do none of the work at all." Because doctors were few and far away, many people in Crystal Lake traveled to the neighboring town of "Woodstock on Horseback for the Doctor." Essentially when people got sick it meant there was a high probability of death. For example, Buck's oldest sister died at "only twenty years of age" because "she had caught a cold."
As a result, a number of women and children in Crystal Lake had to take on the tough jobs that the men on the farm had before they went off to battle or got sick. "Someone had to turn to and help—and help hard." Unfortunately, Buck was the only one of five girls in her family, that "had ever done field work on the farm.'' Consequently, she was chosen to be the one to "help hard." It was a joint war effort of men, women, and children in Crystal Lake.
Regarding the soldiers, the Crystal Lake residents had made very sure they were doing well. They showed their support by organizing the Soldiers Aid Society with the church. Whenever there was a lecture, concert, or performance, "the proceeds were to go to ... the Soldiers Aid Society," which aided the soldiers tremendously and helped bond the community of Crystal Lake.
The Christian Church in Crystal Lake was very important and possessed a great deal of power over the people of the time. It organized almost all the social events, including a Bible class for the community. "We are going to have a Bible class every Tuesday ... I went to church yesterday . . . Lawrence, Mary, Mollie were to do the singing," wrote Buck. In addition, the church at times interfered with the people's lives and was such an intrinsic part of Crystal Lake, that they would even deny marriages to people. "It seems . . . the church does not approve us, Mr. Harwood's choice, and we hear that they talk of interfering in the matter."
Martha Buck Harwood's revealing journal shows how a small, rural town in northern Illinois was affected by the Civil War. She provides another outlook that is not normally covered in many textbooks on history and the Civil-War period. In her journal we read what life was like from a contemporary's viewpoint. These images are of great importance to historians, researchers, and ordinary people who are intrigued by this period of the nation's history.— [From Martha Josephine Buck Harwood, A Girl of the Civil War, unpublished.]