Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North

The Newberry’s new exhibit celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is a “must see” for genealogists and history buffs. The exhibit features paintings from the Terra Foundation for American Art as well as maps, sheet music, manuscript material and ephemera from the Newberry. A section on Chicago is of special interest and a companion digital version of the exhibit is also available.

A computer kiosk within the exhibit introduces visitors to still another new project. The Newberry Transcription Project is a crowdsourcing effort to transcribe Civil War soldiers’ letters held in the Newberry’s Modern Manuscript Collection. It provides an opportunity for the public to help make accessible the personal narratives of soldiers and their families who claimed Illinois as their home.

Other papers and letters not included in the transcription project can also be found in the Modern Manuscript Collections. The diaries of Elvira Sheridan Badger are among them. Elvira was born in 1832, in Charleston, South Carolina and was raised in Louisville. Elvira married Alpheus C. Badger, a prominent banker, in the early 1850’s and the couple had six children. Here’s how Elvira, still in Louisville, accounts for the events of the time:

11/6/1860 “Today is Election day of President. Everything passed off very pleasantly and quiet. I went shopping with children and sisters all day.”

2/2/1861 “The children are wearing Union badges a great deal. Our Country is in a very critical condition. People very much distressed.”

2/22/1861 “I went with the children to the Court House to see the raising of a new Union Stars and Stripes Flag. The crowd was dense. A large band of singers sang the Star Spangled Banner as the flag was unfurled.”

4/22/1861 “War news still dreadful. Mr. Badger talks of going away, we know not where. Civil War very much feared.”

4/30/1861 “Mr. Badger is troubled about political affairs and talks of moving to Chicago, which will be very trying to me to leave my parents and sisters.”

6/23/1861 “We arrived in Chicago this morning at 6. My husband was there to receive us. All were delighted to see him – he carried us right to our home. He has taken for us a magnificent house on Michigan Avenue, all furnished. Breakfast was served by May, a white girl.”

Those who are interested in their ancestors’ military role in the war may want to consult these guides to the Newberry collection:
Civil War - Military Research
Civil War - Confederate Research

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