This month marks the 150th anniversary of the start of our nation’s Civil War.
The conflict between 11 Southern slave states and 20 mostly Northern free states began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
From the first shot through the war’s end in 1865, nearly 620,000 Americans, from both north and south, lost their lives in the hostilities.
Some 55 men from Huntley served in the Civil War. Among them were the first village president John Cummings and his brother Willard, and Charles C. Huntley, the son of town founder Thomas S. Huntley.
Local cemetery art specialist Laurel Mellien honored the war heroes with a presentation Monday to the Kishwaukee Trail Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution.
Her talk, “The Art of Civil War Commemoration,” explained the significance and symbolism on badges, monuments and headstones.
Crossed swords indicate officers who died in battle. A mourning cloth over a decorative cannon shows a decommissioning of artillery. Confederate flags decorate headstones on southern graves.
Unadorned government issued headstones can be seen in cemeteries throughout the United States. Laurel explained that in some cases these headstones were used by families as footstones at the deceased soldier’s burial site, with a more elaborate family marker installed at the head. She said several samples of this can be seen in the Huntley Cemetery on Dean Street.
One such easily observed example is that of C. M. Smith, who served in the 52nd Illinois Infantry and died at the age of 39 in 1881. His gravesite with headstone and footstone sits near the road at Dean Street. Two other examples in the Huntley Cemetery are those of Thomas Jackson and Samuel G. Van Horn. First Lieutenant Jackson was wounded in action a Brice’s Crossroads, Mississippi, and died from his wounds on June 22, 1864. (To find more information on McHenry County Civil War veterans see www.mchenrycivilwar.com.)
Laurel also spoke of the numerous Civil War memorials that were placed throughout towns around the country after the war to honor soldiers and military heroes.
She said the Monumental Bronze Company of Connecticut sold these statues through catalogs and sales agents. The statues, which sold for about $450, were made of durable white bronze and most often showed a uniformed soldier at parade rest with his rifle lowered in front of him. She said one example of this common monument can be seen in the town square in Woodstock.
To see maps marking the various sites where McHenry County soldiers served during the conflict, visit The James, the McHenry County Historical Society’s Mobile History museum.
The James will be in the Huntley Area Public Library’s west parking lot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 16 as part of a series of events that day at the library to commemorate the Civil War anniversary.
The museum’s touring bus will feature the exhibit “Between the Fighting” which will focus on what the soldiers did between battles. Community members can tour the interactive exhibits free of charge.
For more information on The James and its other touring locations scheduled throughout the county, call the museum at 815-923-2267.
The Huntley Area Public Library’s May 16 Senior Coffee will focus on “Seniors in the Civil War.”
Henry and Marta Vincent, members of the McHenry County Civil War Round Table and Civil War re-enactors, will appear in period costume and talk about what life was like for senior citizens as civilians and soldiers during the Civil War.
The program meets from 10 to 11 a.m. in the library’s program room. Advance registration is required. Call the library at 847-669-5386.
Patrons of all ages are invited to meet with the Civil War re-enactors in the library’s west parking lot from 11 to 11:30 a.m. following the Senior Coffee.