|The bayonet in its temporary exhibit (Nick Little, Market House Antiques)|
So reads a marker on the edge of the county fairground in Jacksonville, a city of 20,000 in west-central Illinois. The future American hero and the first men he commanded during the Civil War passed through the community only months into the conflict.
It would have been easier and quicker to put them on the train. But Col. Grant wanted the farm boys, merchants and bankers who joined the 21st Illinois Infantry to be infused with more discipline and “good preparation” as they prepared for eventual battle.
|Grant in 1861 (NPS)|
Some 140 years later -- in May 2002 -- a resident on West Lafayette Avenue, a few parcels from the fairground, was using a gas-powered tiller for a garden when it struck something metal. The item, about 8 inches beneath the surface, was a rusted but intact bayonet, slightly bent from the impact with the tiller. He also reportedly found unfired musket balls.
Bob Anderson last week donated the bayonet, believed to be from a Springfield (Mass.) musket, to the Jacksonville Area Museum, which will display it after the venue opens later this summer.
“There is no way to confirm with absolute uncertainty” that the bayonet is related to the 21st Illinois, David Blanchette, board chairman of the museum, told the Civil War Picket. But given its age, location and having been underground for such a long time, it could well be, he said.
Starting today and until it is relocated to the new museum, the bayonet will be display at Market House Antiques on State Street in downtown Jacksonville.
The donation came to light in a recent newspaper article and when the museum posted a Facebook item and photograph.
“It isn't hard to imagine a soldier who was being rushed off to war accidentally leaving it behind when the 21st Illinois left its overnight camp on the way to the Mississippi River,” Blanchette said in the post.
City to tell its story in a big way
|The old post office will house exhibits (Jacksonville Area Museum)|
The local convention and visitors bureau describes the town as “a community rich in historical treasures, with thriving arts, education, and culture, and wrapped in Midwest hospitality. Centrally located between St. Louis and Chicago, and near Springfield, Jacksonville offers an excellent place to live, work, and play.”
Blanchette says other Civil War items in the museum collection include letters, photos, diaries and a sword that belonged to Lt. William L. English, a Jacksonville native who served in the conflict and during the Indian Wars (left, in photo).
English died in 1877 from wounds received while fighting the Nez Perce at the Battle of the Big Hole in Montana. The museum has swords from other members of the English family.
The museum hopes the bayonet donation will encourage others to do the same, whatever the subject.
The venue is developing "engaging exhibits and original artifacts that tell the Jacksonville area's important, fascinating and often surprising history."
(A footnote: Heavyweight boxer Ken Norton was from Jacksonville and excelled in high school sports.)
These men needed a strong dose of discipline
Grant wrote in his memoirs about his brief time leading the 21st Illinois, from late June until Aug. 7, 1861, when he was commissioned a brigadier general and received a new assignment.
The men of the regiment, shortly after they enlisted for 30 days, refused to be led by their elected colonel, who apparently sometimes joined them in their carousing in their off time. Grant, then 39, was appointed to command the unruly unit, which was mostly made up of recruits from the eastern part of the state.
“I found it very hard work for a few days to bring all the men into anything like subordination; but the great majority favored discipline, and by the application of a little regular army punishment all were reduced to as good discipline as one could ask,” he wrote.
|(Courtesy of Nick Little, Market House Antiques)|
The fairgrounds were then called Camp Duncan and it was used for drilling raw recruits. The Morgan County Fair is still held most years on the 30-acre site purchased by local farm leaders in 1858. The Illinois State Fair, now held in Springfield, was held there a year before Grant’s men stopped by.
According to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier newspaper, A.Y. Hart, a member of the regiment from Mattoon, years later recalled their brief stay in July 1861. Several accounts say the regiment rested at the fairground and left before nightfall.
“Col. Grant stationed himself at the gate at the fairgrounds and examined our canteens for whiskey,” Hart said. “One man of my company bought a coffee boiler, stopped the passage between the boiler and spout with wax, filled the boiler with whiskey and the spout with milk, and Col. Grant passed him in.”
Grant is promoted and destiny takes over
|The fairgrounds monument (Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau photos)|
“The boat, when it did come, grounded on a sand-bar a few miles below where we were in camp. We remained there several days waiting to have the boat get off the bar, but before this occurred news came that an Illinois regiment was surrounded by rebels at a point on the Hannibal and St. Joe Railroad some miles west of Palmyra, in Missouri, and I was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to their relief. We took the (rail) cars and reached Quincy in a few hours.”
The regiment spent time in several towns in Missouri, across the river from Quincy, and then moved down to Ironton, where the promoted Grant was put in charge of the southeast part of the state.
The 21st Illinois, with a new colonel, went on to fight in Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Grant, as we know, would go on to be general-in-chief of the U.S. armies and the 18th president, from 1869 to 1877.
The folks in Jacksonville recall their part of Civil War history.
“It was on Grant’s way to being an important part of U.S. history,” the museum’s Blanchette says.