Pages Navigation Menu

The history, the people and the stories of the Upper Midwest



Upcoming Lectures


Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters

Friday, April 9  |  Noon  |  Presenter: Eric Hemenway  |  Watch on Facebook

Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters (formed in Kalamazoo and Dearborn in 1863) was made up of 139 Anishnaabek men. The company was comprised of Odawa, Ojibway and a few Potawatomi, three tribes that had long lived in the lower peninsula of Michigan and were allies in times of peace and war. Many tried to enlist in 1861 but were rejected. By 1863 Native Americans could officially enlist, and Company K served until the end of the conflict, seeing combat at the Battle of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and the Siege of Petersburg.


Lincolnonics: Why Lincoln Still Rocks the Global Conversation on Progress

Wednesday, April 14  |  3pm  |  Presenter: John Wasik  |  Watch on Facebook

Has there ever been a time when Abraham Lincoln has gone silent? Our immortal conscience on civil rights, individual freedom and great writer is speaking to us yet again in the time of COVID and public unrest. He has become even more relevant as the country tackles infrastructure, healthcare, climate change and human rights. Wasik’s new book, Lincolnomics, puts the 16th President in a powerful new light: He was our foremost architect of economic development, equal treatment and physical and intellectual improvements from transportation to medical research. Learn about the under-studied side of Lincoln, as patent holder, innovator, and urban planner, and how he not only gave us a framework for a more just and equitable society, he told us how we could go about building it.


Decatur, Illinois’ Five Civil War Generals

Friday, May 14  |  Noon  |  Presenter: Brent Wielt  |  Watch on Facebook

Five Civil War generals called Decatur, Illinois, their home. They varied widely in age, background, military experience, fame and their postwar lives, but all answered their nation’s call to arms. Learn the life stories of these remarkable men, and discover which of the five generals: served in Congress, led the effort to build Lincoln’s Tomb, has a statue in Chicago, was mayor of Decatur, was born in Switzerland, has no gravestone, owned a German language newspaper.

More About Brent Wielt

Mr. Wielt was born in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and received his Bachelor’s Degree in History and Master’s Degree in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University. In his current position as Historic Sites Manager for the Macon County Conservation District in Decatur, Brent serves as the district’s historian and curator.


Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery

Friday, June 11  |  Noon  |  Presenter: Dr. Barbara Krauthamer  |  Watch on Facebook

Dr. Krauthamer’s presentation draws upon her work on the history of African American photography in the Civil War era.  By looking at historical images and understanding the circumstances under which they were produced, we can better understand the lives and aspirations of African American women and men in the 19th Century United States.  This talk will feature both works by African American photographers and images of African American subjects to illuminate the intellectual and artistic richness of African American communities in the 19th Century.

Click here to learn more

Dr. Barbara Krauthamer is associate professor of history and associate dean of the Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American History. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Stanford University, Yale University, University of Texas at Austin, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Association of Black Women Historians.


Click here to watch past lectures and the Coffee & Hardtack series on YouTube



Virtual Programs

Juneteenth Performance: Caroline Quarlls – My Independence Day

Saturday, June 19  |  1pm  |  Free Zoom program – advance registration required  |
Register Here by June 18

During this first-person theater performance, meet Caroline Quarlls, an enslaved 16 year old girl who left the slave state of Missouri and began a journey that took her to Milwaukee. There she met a number of people who assisted with her escape to freedom in Canada. The audience will meet Caroline in 1880 after she just received a letter from Mr. Lyman Goodnow, one of the people that helped her travel the Underground Railroad from Wisconsin to Canada in 1842. The powerful performance recounts their harrowing experiences and is based on the responses Caroline wrote to questions in Goodnow’s letter.



I’ve Heard of Her Programs

Once a month museum staff lead a discussion on remarkable women, exploring their lives and roles in history – the good, the bad, and the in between. With the exception of the March presentation, programs are free and presented via Zoom to allow for audience participation. Advance registration is required so a Zoom link can be emailed to participants the morning of the program.


Thursday, April 15  |  Noon  |  Presenters: Caitlin Manwaring & Samantha Machalik  | 
Free live Zoom program – registration required  |  Register Here by April 14

Examine the true story behind the 1998 Disney movie Mulan. First written about in the 12th Century short poem, Ballad of Mulan, her folk story is thought to have originated in the 4th or 5th Century. Was Mulan real? Did she have a talking dragon friend? Why does her story carry on through the centuries? Join us for our first live virtual discussion.


Gudrid the Far-Traveled

Thursday, May 20  |  Noon  |  Presenters: Caitlin Manwaring & Samantha Machalik  |
Free live Zoom program – registration required  |  Register Here by May 19

Gudrid the Far-Traveled was as much of an adventurer as her nickname suggests. Born in Iceland at the height of the Viking Age, she journeyed throughout Europe, even reaching as far as Rome. She also beat Columbus to North America by about 500 years. What did she find there? How was she able to travel as far and wide as she did?


Billie Jean King

Thursday, June 17  |  Noon  |  Presenters: Caitlin Manwaring & Samantha Machalik
Free live Zoom program – registration required  |  Register Here by June 16

We’re talking sports and gender equality. Arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Billie Jean King changed the sport for women. King won the infamous “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. She has been a major advocate for gender equality throughout her life, and in the 1980s she became one of the first major athletes to publicly come out as being in a same sex relationship.



Click here to watch past I’ve Heard of Her programs on YouTube




This monthly program is for individuals living with early to mid-stage memory loss and their care partners. Participants are engaged in lively conversations, storytelling and other multi-sensory activities.

All SPARK! programs are currently being offered virtually. Please register for the free program at [email protected] or 262-653-4141. A link to Zoom will be emailed to all registrants the week of the program.

They Ate That?

Friday, April 16  |  2pm

Learn about the different foods that Civil War soldiers prepared and ate, then share your own stories about favorite recipes for dinners, desserts and more.


Civil War Drawing and Painting

Friday, May 21  |  2pm

Using original works of art from the Civil War Museum collection, learn about the drawings and paintings created by and for Civil War soldiers. Then create your own original drawings to share with the group.


You Are the Soldier

Friday, June 18  |  2pm

Learn about the uniforms, equipment and personal items of the Union soldiers. Create your own virtual knapsack by making choices about the items you would pack if you were a Civil War soldier.


Great Lakes Civil War Forum: Immigrants and the Civil War

Saturday, September 11  |  9am – 4pm

In-Person Option: $55 ($70 non-member price) includes live in-person presenters, coffee breaks and boxed lunch
Register Here for In-Person  |  Limited to 30 participants

Virtual Option:  $35 ($50 non-member price) includes all presentations streamed live via Zoom
Register Here for Virtual by September 8

By the close of the Civil War, nearly 25% of the Federal Army was composed of foreign born soldiers who immigrated to the United States. The 2021 Great Lakes Civil War Forum presents four programs that examine the experiences of some of these groups in the Union Army as well as Abraham Lincoln’s official policies towards immigrants.

Presentations Include:


Polish Participation in Civil War America

Presented by Dr. James Pula

One of the major themes in antebellum America was the rise of immigration. Much has been written about Irish and German immigrants in the Civil War, but studies of smaller groups are rare except in ethnic-oriented journals. Using photographs and other original materials, this presentation will explore the role of Polish immigrants in the anti-slavery movement and the resulting Civil War to identify key players—both North and South—and their contributions to the historical events of the times.


Blood of the Blood: Abraham Lincoln’s Lifelong Defense of the Immigrant

Presented by Dr. Jason Silverman

Long before he spoke about the evils of slavery, Abraham Lincoln spoke about the need for free labor, and he consistently articulated an economic philosophy that relied heavily upon immigrant labor. From his earliest speeches on, Lincoln saw immigrants as the farmers, merchants, and builders who would contribute mightily to the economic future of the United States.

Before the Civil War, Lincoln saw America as “comparatively a new country” in which immigrants should be welcome. “If they can better their condition by leaving their old homes,” Lincoln said, “there is nothing in my heart to forbid their coming; and I bid them all God speed.” As the war dragged on, Lincoln saw the immigrant as a crucial source of labor and lobbied Congress to encourage immigration. Lincoln’s signature on the Act to Encourage Immigration, July 4, 1864 allowed employees to bring foreign workers to America under contract and to deduct transportation costs from future wages. Lincoln later urged Congress to guard against frauds under this law and proclaimed immigrants “one of the principal replenishing streams . . . appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal wars and its wastes of national strength and health.”

Before the Statue of Liberty welcomed newcomers to American shores with the words of Emma Lazarus, Abraham Lincoln, unlike most of his contemporaries, perceived the United States as a hospitable home for immigrants where they would be treated as equals.


Faces of Immigrant Soldiers in the Civil War: An Album

Presented by Ronald S. Coddington

In April 1862, a year into the Civil War, essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed “America is another word for Opportunity.” Among those who could attest to Emerson’s words were families who arrived in the United States during the decades immediately preceding the war, and who sent their husbands, brothers and sons off to fight for their adopted country. This presentation is an album of rare portraits of representative soldiers from all walks of life who served, and their stories.


The Bonds of War

Presented by Diana L. Dretske

When curator Diana L. Dretske discovered that the five long-gone Union soldiers in a treasured photograph in the Bess Bower Dunn Museum were not fully identified, it compelled her into a project of recovery and reinterpretation. Utilizing an impressive array of local and national archives, as well as private papers, the author’s micro-historical approach records events that often go unnoticed, such as a farmer enlisting in the middle of a crop field, a sister searching her brother’s face for signs of war, and an immigrant dying in an effort to become a good American citizen.

This book, the most intensive examination of the 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry since the regiment’s history was published in 1887 centers on immigrants from the British Isles who wished to be citizens of a country at war with itself. Far removed from their native homelands, they found new promise in rural Illinois. These men, neighbors along the quiet Stateline Road in Lake County, decide to join the fighting at its most dangerous hour. The bonds of war become then the bonds of their new national identity.

The Bonds of War uncovers the common soldier from the cataclysm that is the American Civil War by offering a collective biography of five soldiers of the 96th in the Western Theater. The human drama of their lives unfolds before the reader on battlefields such as Chickamauga and within the high pine stockades of Andersonville. Their lives argue that those who seem to matter least in military history are the very ones who can tell us the most about the experience of war and the reasons for remembering.