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NEWS | Feb. 18, 2011

Illinois National Guard carries on legacy 150 years after Civil War

By Courtesy Story

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and today's Illinois National Guard Soldiers share many similarities their predecessors.

Illinois was one of the biggest contributors of troops during the Civil War, said Adriana Schroeder, historian for the Illinois National Guard.

Illinois did not have to instate the draft until the fall of 1864, meaning that for the first three and a half years of the war, Illinois had an all-volunteer force, just like today's military, she said.

"When Illinois Governor Richard Yates called for 6,000 troops from Illinois at the beginning of the war in 1861, he got an estimated 100,000 volunteers." Schroeder said.

"Even though the state was authorized to accept some of the extra volunteers, 5,610 of the Soldiers ended up serving under the state of Missouri, as Illinois did not have the funds to support the excess troops."

Illinois citizens were patriotic to the call of their state, said Schroeder.

The Soldiers of the past seem to have similar motivations for joining as today's Soldiers, said Richard Schachtsiek, Civil War re-enactor.

"It was a lot like jury duty today; it was your civic duty to go," Schachtsiek said.

"They were going to save the Union. It was patriotism. They were going because all their friends and buddies were going. They were going to see the bigger world."

Army Lt. Col. Mark K. Whitlock, director of the Illinois State Military Museum, agreed with Schachtsiek. Today's Illinois National Guard Soldiers have many commonalities with past warfighters, he said.

Civil War Soldiers from Illinois would go to war because they wanted to protect their home and their loved ones from having a war fought on their soil, in their hometowns, he said.

"Soldiers in the Civil War took to arms to protect what they believe in and to defend it," Whitlock said.

"Today's Soldiers are much the same. Even despite combat operations overseas, people are still enlisting into the military knowing very well they may be called to serve in a combat zone."

The Civil War evolved warfighting into what warfighting is today, Whitlock said. In the wars preceding the Civil War, opposing sides would line up approximately 50 to 100 yards across from each other and fire muskets that could fire only three rounds per minute, without much accuracy.

"Winning in war is based on the technology and the advancements of weapons and tactics," said Whitlock. "The Civil War influenced modern warfare and the military as a whole."

With the invention of newer weapons that could fire more rapidly and were accurate at distances of up to 300 yards, the lining up of Soldiers became too dangerous and the tactics began to shift toward the trench warfare that would be seen in World War I.

"They introduced grenades during the Civil War," Whitlock said. "You have mines, you have all kinds of obstacles and things like that, so it is becoming much more of a modern battlefield, and the mentality of the leadership and the tactics had to evolve as well, because the weaponry was evolving."

The Illinois National Guard has several units whose lineage dates back to the Civil War including the 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, the 1544th Transportation Company and the 444th Chemical Company.

Abraham Lincoln, a veteran of the Black Hawk War, and Ulysses S. Grant were members of the Illinois militia, today's Illinois National Guard.

Whitlock said he hopes to plan a few events to mark the 150th anniversary of the war, including a visitation from an Abraham Lincoln impersonator.

"I hope that visitors will be interested, military and civilian, to come to the museum and visit our exhibits and learn about Illinois' contribution to the Civil War – more than 250,000 Soldiers -- and hopefully learn something about our military past," he said.