Janesville73.3°

Civil War event draws in historians, enthusiasts

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 20, 2008
— Sounds from more than 140 years ago filled the air at the Lincoln-Tallman Restorations on Saturday:

The gentle clanking of horse bridles.


The steady but arrhythmic tapping of the coppersmith’s hammer.


The cluck of chickens and swoosh of hoopskirts.


The event was “Haversacks and Hoopskirts,” the Rock County Historical Society’s annual living history event.


The event included children’s crafts and games, medical demonstrations, a ladies’ tea and a debate featuring President Lincoln, Gen. Grant, Lincoln’s foes and others.


On the grounds, a coppersmith and spinner demonstrated their crafts. A medical man and undertaker displayed their equipment.


At the historical society, visitors wandered through the “Victorian Mourning” exhibit, which will be up for several more months.


“It’s part of our mission statement to educate the public,” said Madge Murphy, society director.


Most local residents know about Lincoln’s famous stop in Janesville. But many people don’t know of Rock County’s role in the Civil War, Murphy said.


That’s the kind of history Pete Skelly and Maurice Montgomery love—and of course both of them were present at Saturday’s event.


Skelly is president of the Lincoln Fellowship of Wisconsin and is working on a book about the 13th Wisconsin Regiment; Montgomery, former curator of the historical society, is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Rock County history.


Here’s what they shared:


n Rock County had more men, per capita, who participated in the Civil War than any other county in the state.


n The 13th Wisconsin was organized in Janesville and consisted of men from Rock and Green counties. They went first to Kansas and then to Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. In the southern states, they spent their time guarding the railroad. The rail lines were crucial to keeping the troops supplied.


In that role, the 13th had to ward off guerrilla fighters interest in sabotage.


n Of the 189 men who died, only four died in guerilla fighting. The rest died from diseases such as dysentery.


n At the beginning of the war, most men who died were buried on site. But the use of chemicals for embalming became more prevalent during the war because families wanted their sons, husbands and fiancés to be buried at home.


Many local cemeteries hold civil war veterans.



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