We can never seem to get enough of the Civil War, even though America's greatest and most bloody war ended more than 130 years ago. The popularity of the television series on the war produced by Ken Burns and the critical and financial successes of the big-budget movies Glory and Gettysburg are strong indications that the Civil War remains of enduring interest to many Americans.
Illinois and its residents were deeply involved in the events of the Civil War era. By 1860 Illinois had experienced a spectacular decade of growth and prosperity. When the Civil War began, Illinois had a population of more than 1.7 million and was the fourth most populous state in the nation. In addition to its economic growth and general prosperity, the state's geographic location and size made Illinois a major player in the political events leading up to disruption, secession, and Civil War. It is useful to remember that two of the most important political figures of the period, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, were influential in the nation's politics partly because they represented the burgeoning eminence of Illinois.
The significant contributions of Illinois to ultimate Union victory in the Civil War are well documented. Almost 260,000 Illinois residents served in Union military units, and they fought and died in hundreds of engagements great and small from Pennsylvania to Texas. It is easy to be overawed by the scope and enormity of the Civil War, and history can be most meaningful to students if it is approached in more manageable segments.
For instance, what was it like to serve in a Civil War military unit? Why and how did some men join as volunteers and others avoid military service entirely? What kind of medical treatment did wounded or sick Illinois soldiers receive? Did soldier life in "ethnic" regiments differ markedly from the experiences of soldiers in regiments made up of native-born individuals? How did Illinois soldiers behave in "enemy" territory? What was life like on the Illinois homefront? What did readers know about the issues of the day and the actions of President Lincoln from the information reported in the often partisan press?
In the following pages, you and your students have the opportunity to find answers to these questions and more. The five co-authored articles are excellent examples of the practice of the craft of history, as they add both valuable information and keen insight to aid us in the study of Illinois and the Civil War. Teachers and students will find the suggested teaching strategies and classroom activities both imaginative and beneficial.
I want to formally thank the ten authors of the articles contained in this issue. They well used their expertise and collective talents, and they cheerfully met every deadline. Special thanks, also, to Keith Sculle who instigated this project and gave me the opportunity to play a part.
It is my sincere hope that you and your students will enjoy reading and using these fine articles.
Larry T. Balsamo