"Illinois's War: The Civil War in Documents" is an interesting and unique look at how Illinois, its people and its politicians played a part during the Civil War and the years surrounding it.
Eastern Illinois University history Professor Mark Hubbard chose real documents — speeches, newspaper articles and letters — organized them to reveal the events and beliefs in Illinois in the mid-1800s and created a "narrative framework through brief chapter introductions and background information for each document."
The research that went into this book is obvious by the documentation provided in each chapter. It's well-organized and easy to find particular memoir excerpts or editorials, for example, if readers do not wish to follow this chronologically.
Hubbard's introductions to each chapter and document give readers the context they need to fully understand this era and the significance of each document.
Chapters start with "Illinois and the Politics of Slavery," beginning with a letter from Charles Wilson, Republican editor of the Chicago Daily Evening Journal, to Republican Sen. Lyman Trumbull, explaining Wilson's views on the Republican Party and African Americans.
Other chapters in the book explore Abraham Lincoln and the "secession crisis," Illinois and the Emancipation Proclamation, being in the war and life after the war.
Each of the eight chapters includes an average of 10 documents, often exemplifying different sides during that time, such as "The Disgrace at Bull Run," which appeared in The Illinois State Journal (Republican-affiliated), and an article about the same event in the Democrat-affiliated Chicago Times titled "Know the Truth." Both appeared in the week of July 23, 1861, and Hubbard shows even back then the differences between the two parties and their control in the media.
One of the most interesting documents included in "Illinois's War" is from the book "Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home." Hubbard uses two letters from Friedrich Martens, a German immigrant who settled in Illinois between 1857 and '60, attempting to find work as a painter, bartender and teacher.
Hubbard writes, "Despite being a Democrat, Martens enthusiastically answered Lincoln's initial call for troops, joining Company E, Sixth Illinois Infantry — a company that brought together many of the area's German population."
Martens' letter informs his "dear ones" that he has been in the field for nine weeks and "life is very bad." He goes on to explain that he hasn't been out of his clothes for nine weeks, has little straw for a bed, and bread and meat for food. He complains of the heat; but in the next line, Martens writes, "But it's a sacred cause, and so we don't feel the hardship."
He also starts his next letter excitedly with: "Your son is a soldier! Yes, parents, your son is a soldier in America."
Besides the documents and annotations, the book also has a few photos and maps and a timeline of Civil War events in the country and Illinois from 1848 to '70, beginning with March 1848 when Illinois voters ratified a state constitution and voted to authorize the state Legislature "to prevent the migration of free blacks to Illinois." It ends in July 1870, when voters approved a new state constitution.
Finally, Hubbard has a section full of discussion questions, making this a great book for teachers, home school parents, professors and even book club members interested in history.
For Civil War buffs, The Ohio University Press has other similar titles, each focusing on the events in different states: Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana. The series is titled, "The Civil War in the Great Interior." More information can be found on the publisher's website, http://www.ohioswallow.com.
There's no doubt that Hubbard's book will be enjoyed by many, including Lincoln fans, because the president was from Illinois and many of the documents surround his beliefs and policies during a crucial time in history.
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.