Reminiscences of Chicago During the Civil War

Jan 21, 2013 by

Reminiscences of Chicago during the Civil War by Lakeside Classics was originally published in 1914 and is a unique recounting of the great windy city during the civil war.

Here are a few lines from the introduction to give you a feel for it:

“If we were compiling a book on the Civil War in Chicago, we should have to begin with the Underground Railroad, the passage of John Brown through the city under safe conduct of Allen Pinkerton, and the like, with a full roll-call of all the splendid array of troops that went forth from the city. But since we are not thinking so much about war as about the life in Chicago during the war, we have taken the liberty of speaking of things warlike and unwarlike. “This war,” said The London Times, of November 3, 1863, “has brought the levity of the American character out in bold relief. There is something saddening, indeed revolting, in the high glee, real or affected, with which the people here look upon what ought to be, at any rate, a grievous national calamity.”

With unfeeling “levity” The Chicago Tribune on October 8th of the same year had remarked that: “On every street and avenue one sees new buildings going up, immense stone, brick, and iron business blocks, marble palaces, and new residences everywhere; the grading of streets, the building of sewers, and laying of water and gas pipes are all in progress at the same time. The unmistakable signs of active, thriving trade are everywhere manifest, not at any particular point, but everywhere throughout the city, where the enterprise of man can gain a foothold. ‘ The population of Chicago went up from 109,000 to 178,000 during the four years of the war, and other signs of “levity” were the popularity of grand opera, of such actors as Booth, Forrest, Hackett, and Laura Keene, not to say Tom Thumb and Wood’s Museum.

In private life tableaux vivants were much in vogue, together with photograph albums, flower shows, croquet, ice-skating, New Year’s calls, and other frivolities. Before engaging in battle, we are told, it is customary to take an observation from some elevated point, and this is afforded in the “Bird’s Eye View of Chicago,” extracted from Mr. Frederick Francis Cook’s Bygone Days in Chicago. Mr. Cook enjoyed the triple advantage, during war time, of living in Chicago, of being a newspaper reporter, and of working first on The Journal, then on The Times, and then on The Tribune. He gained an all-round grasp of feeling and facts, and when, some years since, he came back to Chicago, and, with the help of the Chicago Historical Society, reviewed the period, he was able to make a book which the native Chicagoan, even of a later generation, recognizes as true to the “hard facts,” and something more. Chicago, as we have seen, was not at all a militant city at the time the war began, and yet introduction she has the credit of contributing the most highly drilled corps of men in the country…”


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