History on Display: An Unexpected Civil War Museum

Several months ago I received an email inviting me to speak about Civil War nurses at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha Wisconsin. Betraying the biases of someone who grew up in Missouri, with Civil War history in her back yard,* I thought it sounded a little odd. Why, I wondered, would Kenosha have a Civil War museum? But I love to stand up in front of people and talk about history,** so I shrugged my shoulders and said yes.

Unidentified soldier of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry REgiment

In fact, Kenosha has a wonderful Civil War museum with a unique focus: the Civil War as experienced in the upper Midwest. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin not have been contested ground, but they sent more than one million men to serve in the Union army and provided much the food and raw material on which that army depended. The museum looks at personal stories of loss and large scale issues of logistics–and at the places where the two meet. I was fascinated by the story of Cordelia Harvey, known as the Wisconsin Angel, who was instrumental in influencing Lincoln to build military hospitals in the north.  (The stories about women in the Civil War just keep rolling in.)

The heart of the exhibits, both physically and emotionally, is a ten-minute panoramic movie titled Seeing the Elephant–the term Civil War soldiers used to describe their first experience with combat. Shown on a 360 degree screen surrounding a raised platform, Seeing the Elephant is the modern equivalent of the cycloramas that thrilled audiences in the nineteenth century. It is a powerful combination of new technology and an old idea.  It packs quite a punch in ten minutes.

The museum also has a non-circulating Civil War reference library for Civil War enthusiasts interested in the Midwestern experience.

My Own True Love and I are plotting a trip back to Kenosha in the summer–the wind off the lake is a bit nippy in February. I’ll keep you posted

*You think I’m joking? The Missouri-Kansas border was the incubator in which the Civil War was born. By the time Confederate forces opened their bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861, western Missouri and eastern Kansas had already been at war for seven bloody years. Virginia was the only state to suffer through more battles in the war.

**If you’re interested in knowing where I’m speaking and what I’m speaking about, just keep an eye on the events page here and on my website, www.pameladtoler.com.



A Travelers Tip:

If you’re looking for Americana with your breakfast or lunch, try Frank’s Diner, home of an inside-out omelet known as the “garbage plate”. My Own True Love was delighted to discover Spam on the menu. I stuck with the veggie option.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.