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Civil War Comes to Rock Island

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The first few minutes of a war are exciting. Some madness seems to make men eager to leave home and family to hunt each other down.

On April 13th, 1861, the news of Fort Sumter brought this madness to Rock Island. It almost seemed like a picnic. The Rock Island Argus made a list of what to bring to the war, suggesting that a soldier's pack ought to include: two flannel shirts, two stout hickory shirts, two fine shirts, four pairs of woolen socks, two pairs of underwear, a black silk neckerchief, a pair of stout boots, two towels, a piece of soap, a tooth brush, a butcher knife, a tin cup, needles, pins and buttons, scissors and thread, "and all the grub you can stow."

To stay healthy, the Argus recommended that they take rubber ground covers and a soft felt hat large enough to allow a space over the brain, and that they let their beards grow to protect their throats and lungs, and to wash every day and avoid strong coffee and oily meat.

It was almost as if the boys were headed for a camping trip.

Women's organizations also got into the act, raising money through flea markets, benefit concerts and bake sales to buy food, whiskey, newspapers and bandages.

The first few companies of volunteers left Rock Island with bands and parades, but by the fall of 1861, the madness had subsided. News from the front took its place alongside notices of daily life, while entertainers were already making use of the war. That winter, a Dr. Fisher presented a lecture to the Ladies Aid Society of Davenport on "Gunpowder, Cannon, and Projectiles," complete with demonstrations, just after a new huge rolling canvas painting opened: "The Scott Panorama and Fantascena of the War of the Rebellion, from the beginning of hostilities to the Bombardment of Port Royal, with lifelike moving figures."

Meanwhile, at places like Belmont and Lexington, the Rock Island volunteers were seeing the war close-up. Already the same ships that had taken the volunteers off to the war with such celebration were already returning upstream to the Army hospital in Keokuk, bringing the wounded, who had learned that war is not a picnic.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.