When I added a visit to the Civil War Museum, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I knew that Crystal wouldn’t be as excited as I was. This changed when we met Peggy Gregorski, who would provide us with an amazing tour. While I spent the majority of my time taking photos, Crystal took in the interesting narrative from our guide. Located near the edge of lake Michigan, this museum focuses on the Upper Midwest’s contribution to the “war between the states”.
We want to thank Visit Kenosha and the Civil War Museum for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
Honoring All Soldiers
After our introduction to Peggy, it was time to begin our visit. There is a gallery that is dedicated to all of those that have served. “Solidarity of Soldiers” is a collection of statues that are posed as they gather at an evening campfire. It has images that range from the Revolutionary War through present day conflicts. As we wandered through the statues, it brought a sense of patriotism and respect for the sacrifices of so many.
Taking the Tour
Our next portion took us into the main series of galleries, that make up the bulk of The Civil War Museum in Kenosha. This museum focuses on seven of the Upper Midwest states. These include; Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The first series of exhibits paints a picture of the atmosphere that existed in the region leading up to the war. The Upper Midwest would play a significant role for the Union forces, as it supplied raw materials, food, and most importantly around 750,000 able bodies.
War Comes to America
Industry was expanding rapidly into the Upper Midwest, as the first whispers of the war were heard. When the first shots rang out at Fort Sumter, in early 1861, patriotic fervor spread quickly. While parents tried to hold their kids back, many youngsters felt that the war would be over in no time. Of course, not all communities were so supportive of the war effort. The first significant anti-draft riot took place in Port Washington, Wisconsin.
A really nice feature at The Civil War Museum in Kenosha is the life-size dioramas. Some of these are interactive, like the train pictured above. Set up to resemble an actual passenger car, some benches have room for visitors to sit with the statues. This triggers each passenger to tell a short story about their reason to be on the train. It’s interesting to hear the various details from each person on board, as they made their way east to the battleground region.
It seems like each Civil War museum we visit has some unique artifacts, which we have never seen. The badges and tokens used by slave owners tells a story of how slaves were “rented” out to other landowners, businesses, and even the local governments. These are just a few of the interesting artifacts found at The Civil War Museum in Kenosha.
Life in the Fields
A soldier’s life in Civil War camps was very tedious. The reality is that not much time was spent on the front line of battles. Those who enlisted, or were drafted, expected excitement to be commonplace. The reality quickly set in, when days were spent doing seemingly endless drills. The romance of battle came from the nostalgia of the Revolutionary War. Since this had occurred a few generations prior, memories of war were no longer based on reality. Twice as many soldiers would die from disease than from direct battle wounds.
The Costs of War
The Civil War Museum in Kenosha tackles some other issues that were associated with the long days of idleness. Alcoholism was a plague among officers, who had ample access to whiskey. It was also used as a stimulant for injured soldiers, but supplies wavered as the war drug along. While in many camps alcohol was prohibited, an illicit supply seemed to be plentiful.
In almost every Civil War museum we have visited, there is an exhibit that details the prolific injuries that were a result of the battles. The use of “minie ball” bullets, which had the tendency to shatter bones, required the removal of limbs, instead of attempting to repair a wound. In battlefield hospitals, surgeons faced an almost endless line of injured soldiers, so little time was allowed for triage and complicated surgery.
As we continued our tour, Peggy broke from the predetermined path to lead us to a special portion of the museum. The Civil War Museum in Kenosha is one of only a handful of museums to offer a 360° movie experience. She led us to the theater, where a crowd was assembling. The lights dimmed and soon we were engulfed in an amazing audio-visual experience that drew us into the battlefield. As the story of three war participants unfolded around us, in the panoramic 10-minute film, we found that it also incorporate ground motion to add to a complete sensation.
Civil War Museum in Kenosha
With our visit complete, we thanked Peggy for her amazing detail. The Civil War Museum in Kenosha is a good spot to gain a better understanding of the important role that the people of the Upper Midwest played in the “war between the states”. Their use of life-size dioramas really helps bring the history to life. For those that enjoy Civil War history, this is definitely a stop you will want to add to your travel list. Of course, you will also want to check out some of the other museums in downtown Kenosha. (Here’s a link to the Kenosha History Center nearby.) With so many great sites to see, as well as the views of Lake Michigan, Kenosha, Wisconsin should be on your vacation destination radar.
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