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Civil War era comes alive in Maywood

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By MIKE SANDROLINI

MAYWOOD | Those who visited the second annual Civil War Living History exhibit held last Saturday at the northwest corner of 1st Avenue and Lake Street were transported to an era over 150 years ago when the Union army fought and eventually defeated the Confederate army, preserving the union.

The Civil War, from 1861 to 1865, is the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Between 620,000 to 750,000 soldiers died—a figure that exceeds the combined totals of U.S. military deaths in World War I and World War II.

The exhibit, hosted by the Maywood Historic Preservation Commission and the village of Maywood, brought to life what life was like for soldiers who fought in the 10th Illinois Infantry Regiment Company. It was the first Union regiment formed in Illinois, with men from the area of Sandwich—a town located in northwest Illinois near DeKalb. These men enlisted in April, 1861, shortly after Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

Members of the 10th Illinois Infantry Reenactment Group—which travels throughout the state during the spring and summer months—spent most of the morning and late into the afternoon dressed in Civil War era military uniforms and civilian attire. Featured at the exhibit were original rifles, muskets, pistols, knives and swords used by Union soldiers, along with tents that slept two or four soldiers, and various other items (such as food rations, cooking utensils, newspapers, boots and smoking pipes) that was part of each soldier’s gear.

Bob Winters, who heads up the reenactment group, says he got involved in the group in the late 1980s.

“I’ve been a Civil War buff for years, reading about it since I was a child,” he said. “Then I met this group out at the Graue Mill (Museum in Oak Brook) in 1988; that’s when I signed up with them and the next year I started reenacting.”

Winters said the 10th Illinois Infantry “was very successful and they were well drilled.” The 10th Illinois Infantry, which consisted of around 1,000 soldiers, fought in battles in the western theater of the Civil War, but one of its first assignments was to become part of the Cairo expedition. Cairo, the southernmost city in Illinois, was of strategic importance to the Union because it’s where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet. Winter said the 10th Illinois Infantry helped guard Cairo from being taken over by the Confederates “and also because there were a lot of Southern sympathizers (in that area) and they wanted to make sure that was taken care of.”

Also among the featured exhibits was a tent that explained how deceased soldiers were embalmed—embalmers also were responsible for building wooden coffins for each dead soldier—as well as a tent that was set up in camp to treat wounded soldiers. A table with different types of medicines used during the Civil War era was part of the exhibit, but those medicines were very primitive. Soldiers died from infections while being treated for their injuries and wounds (doctors at that time didn’t understand infections), and the only way to treat broken legs or arms was to amputate. Yet many soldiers died from illnesses and diseases for which there were no cures in the mid-19th century.

“They had stuff to give them to kind of drug them up,” such as chloroform, Winter said, but that was the extent of what those undergoing amputation had available to them.

Lead balls shaped like bullets were used as ammunition, and Winter said “if that hits your bone, it’s going to shatter the bone because it hits (the bone) and it flattens (the bullet) out.”

SOLDIERS WIDOW’S AND ORPHANS HOME

Several feet north of where the 10th Illinois Infantry Reenactment Group set up their exhibits for the day stands the Soldiers Widow’s and Orphans Home, located at 224 N. 1st Ave. Vicki Haas, vice chair of the Maywood Historic Preservation Commission, said the building was made a village land mark in July, 2016.

The home was built in 1924 by the daughters of Union veterans to house widows and children of Union civil war veterans. It operated in this capacity until the mid-1970s.

The home, which is owned by the village, now sits vacant. The village has this home—along with vacant land adjacent to the building along Lake Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue—up for sale for redevelopment purposes. Since the home was declared a village landmark, it qualifies under Cook County’s Class L Property Tax Incentive Program. Under this program, “owners of qualifying commercial and industrial properties designated as ‘landmarks’ and undergoing ‘substantial rehabilitation’ can have their property tax assessment levels reduced for a 12-year period,” according to the MacRostic Historic Advisors LLC website.

“We’re eager to have it redeveloped,” Haas said. “This is a gateway intersection for the village. There’s lot of great potential.”

Haas said a Juneteenth celebration is held in front of the Soldiers Widow’s and Orphans Home. Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the day—June 19, 1865—when slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Maywood has fabulous history,” she said, pointing out the plaque at the Lake Street McDonalds which serves as a memorial to the Underground Railroad. This McDonalds stands on what once was the site of the Ten Mile Freedom House—a safe haven for runaway slaves along the Des Plaines River.

She also noted that the village was founded in 1868 by Col. Williams T. Nichols, a Civil War veteran. Nichols named the village after his daughter, May, who died of typhoid. Furthermore, she cited the village’s unique ties to the Bataan Death March in World War II, where 122 men of Maywood’s 33rd Tank Company Illinois National Guard were captured by Japanese forces. They were part of between 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war who were forced to march 65 miles to prison camps. Only 41 of the 122 men returned to Maywood alive.

“Maywood has a phenomenal history of being a caring community with the Civil War, with Bataan, with (the) Hines (Veterans Center). All through the years there’s a lot of good people here caring for each other.”

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