Do you like road trips?
Now, to me, road trips mean a week of open running, usually stuffed with obscure historical sites, good food, and fine (or at least decent) wine. Oh, and bookstores. I brake for bookstores.
I don’t often get a full week to do exactly what I want, when I want. I know, I know. Suck it up.
But if I go too long between trips, I scratch my itch with local history. And here’s the deal: everywhere has history. I can sniff out the Civil War connections to almost any place.
This week has been a case in point. I visited several local connections over the past few days. Each time, I got that visceral little thrill that tells me that the beast is feeding.
First up: Des Plaines Illinois. More Specifically, Camp Slemmer.
You’ve never heard of Camp Slemmer? What about Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer? He is the guy who defended Fort Pickens in early 1861, while Sumter was drawing all that attention over on the Atlantic Coast. In the summer of 1861, the newly promoted Captain Slemmer was sent to Chicago to recruit a new regiment of US Army regulars, the 16th Infantry. In September, he established the aforementioned camp, on the east bank of the Des Plaines River, just south of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bridge. Camp Slemmer operated for several months until the 1at Battalion of the 16th departed for the Army of the Cumberland that fall. The 16th, then led by Maj. Phillip Sidney Coolidge, would be virtually destroyed at Chickamauga two years hence. More on Maj. Coolidge – a fascinating character in his own right – another day.
Today, no vestige of Camp Slemmer remains, but it is still a campground – the Methodist Campground, part of the Cook County Forest Preserve System. Here is the historical marker.
In Barrington Illinois – one of our ritzier Chicago suburbs – I make a point of visiting this monument every few years.
Note the two artillery tubes. Those guns, according to the plaque, were Union fieldpieces lost at Chickamauga, and then recaptured at Missionary Ridge. Their provenance, I admit, is doubtful. I ran the idea past the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park some years ago, and they – shall we say – expressed some skepticism. But to that, I don’t really care. I like the connection, and I like the fact that it is 20 minutes from my home even more.
On Saturday I felt the need to wander a bit farther afield. Pat McCormick was willing to ride along. We visited a couple more Chickamauga connections.
Next up: the flag of the 100th Illinois Infantry, newly conserved and proudly displayed at the historical museum in Joliet Illinois. Here is an image of that flag:
The 100th was commanded by Col. Frederic A. Bartelson, who lost an arm at Shiloh, returned to raise the 100th, and was captured at Chickamauga. He kept a fascinating diary of his time in Libby Prison, including careful documentation of the famous 1864 escape, until he was exchanged in time to return to the front later that summer. He was killed at Kennesaw.
Some of you might be more familiar with Joliet because of a certain film extravaganza. Jake! Elwood!
Joliet State Prison – now closed
Next stop was the grave of Col. Silas Miller, who commanded the 36th Illinois at Chickamauga. He was also mortally wounded at Kennesaw. His grave and marker can now be found in Spring Grove Cemetery, Aurora Illinois, on a gentle rise above the Fox River. His funeral was the largest seen in Aurora to that date.
Then it was off to downtown Aurora, to a place almost unique in modern America; a restored Grand Army of the Republic Hall. Here veterans of (among others) the 36th Illinois Infantry, 8th Illinois Cavalry, and 127th Illinois Infantry all met in fellowship, ice cream, cigars and whiskey. A fine body of men, no doubt.
There are but few GAR Halls remaining. Kudos to the City of Aurora for fighting so hard to save this one.
Bottom line: If you can’t be with the history you love, love the history you’re with.
(apologies to Mr. Stills.)