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


From Civil War to Great War

Now through September 17, 2017

Through the use of side by side artifact and image comparisons as well as first hand accounts, the exhibit compares the United States soldier’s experience in both the American Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1917-1918). In many ways the experiences were completely different, but in some ways eerily similar. Exhibited side by side are the items Civil War and World War I soldiers used to survive their time at the front including uniforms, food storage and preparation tools, clothing, canteens, weapons, and personal items.

Here is more information about the exhibit.

Sixty-two years after the end of the American Civil War, United States soldiers left North America to fight on the battlefields of World War I, or the Great War as it was called. The world had seen technological advances during those years, many of which would greatly impact the global war that would claim millions of lives.

Those technological advances changed the experience of war for the American soldier and made it unrecognizable from one generation to the next. What Civil War soldier could have imagined heavier than air flying machines above enemy lines or gigantic steel tanks rumbling across open fields? In other ways, however, the two wars were very similar. Soldiers in both conflicts huddled in trenches awaiting an enemy attack and relied on horses to transport supplies and the wounded.

Surprisingly, the exhibit shows the technology used during World War I often had direct links to the Civil War. U-boats and observation balloons used during World War I were only improvements on similar technology used during the Civil War. That’s right, Civil War navies used submarines and spied on enemy lines using a primitive Air Force!

Additionally, home front communities rallied to support each war with money and supplies during both wars. Families sacrificed food and luxury items to make sure their boys had what they needed. Women volunteered to serve as nurses in hospitals, bringing care and a kind face where it was needed most. Many women who stayed home ran businesses and farms or worked in wartime factories.

Sadly, the treatment of African American soldiers changed little over the course of the two wars. Brave men volunteered to fight for their national government in both wars, only to be forced to serve in segregated regiments. During World War I, African American soldiers were placed in French armies, to fight under a foreign flag using foreign manufactured weapons.

Many of the biggest changes between the wars came in the increased fire power of the individual soldier. Although the same armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, made both the standard Civil War and World War I infantry rifle, a World War I soldier could fire up to 15 rounds a minute with his, while a well-trained Civil War soldier could only squeeze off two or three. This does not even take into account the deadly fire power of the machine gun, ever present on all World War I battlefields, which could fire hundreds of rounds per minute.


The Fiery Trial

Permanent Exhibit

The Fiery Trial tells the personal stories of the men and women of the Upper Middle West – specifically Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Through state-of-the-art museum technology, life-size dioramas, and interactive engaging exhibits, visitors travel back in history to the social, political, and economic influences that contributed to the Civil War.

From the home front, to the railroad and waterways, to the battlefront and back home again, the Civil War is seen through the eyes of soldiers, nurses, spouses, children, clergymen, slaves, tradesmen, and the others who lived it. Experience the incredible logistics and resources that were required to mount the war effort, and the deep emotions that tore families apart.

Admission fees apply.

Medical care for Civil War soldiers in the field was extremely difficult.

Medical care for Civil War soldiers in the field was extremely difficult.

Seeing the Elephant

Permanent Exhibit

Seeing the Elephant is the term Civil War soldiers used to describe the first experience with combat. This new, high-tech digital movie experience in The Fiery Trial exhibit gives visitors a glimpse at “the Elephant.” One of just a handful of venues nationwide using 360° movie technology, this 10-minute film incorporates visual and sound effects as well as ground motion to enhance viewers’ movie experience.

The story follows three characters: a young man seeking adventure, a patriotic family man, and an abolitionist – from enlistment to their first taste of combat. All three face battle together and ultimately deal with the consequences of war. Mr. Bill Kurtis narrates the film.

The 10-minute film plays on the hour in The Fiery Trial gallery. Admission fees apply.

Veterans Memorial Gallery

Permanent Gallery

Veterans Memorial Gallery

The Civil War Museum is proud to honor all US soldiers and veterans. Reflective of the theme, “Solidarity of Soldiers,” this gallery depicts Civil War soldiers huddled around a campfire under a twilight sky. Surrounding them are life-size soldiers from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts. These soldiers all have a common bond — the waiting, the anxiety and the camaraderie shared in those quiet moments between battles. They share a common sense of duty, patriotism and honor, no matter where or when they serve or have served our nation.

Around the gallery perimeter are displays of artifacts and memorabilia from each war. The Veterans Terrace on the exterior of the Museum surrounds the gallery. The bricks in the terrace honor veterans of all wars.