By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The Macoupin County Civil War Roundtable takes an annual trip to visit war-related sites, often traveling to battlegrounds and forts in Tennessee or Kentucky.
This year, the group's chairman, John Alexander, decided to stick closer to home, scheduling the group for a three-day trek Saturday that brought 22 people to Quincy to visit its Civil War-related sites.
"I wanted to see if we could get a feel for the Civil War by staying right here in Illinois," Alexander said. "People always think you have to go down South to see and feel the Civil War. This trip kind of proves otherwise. You can see a lot of the Civil War right here in your own backyard."
On Friday, The group retraced Gen. U.S. Grant's march from Springfield to Naples and heads home today with a stop in Pittsfield to take in the Civil War Re-enactment, part of Lincoln Days.
In between, the group visited the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Interpretive Center, the debate site in Washington Park, the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, the All Wars Museum at the Illinois Veterans Home, the Quincy Museum, the Dr. Richard Eells House and Woodland Cemetery.
"We have a lot of history in this town, and not many people know about it," said Warren Speckhart, a local historian who accompanied the Macoupin County visitors. "I think they've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed meeting these people."
Marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War could draw other visitors to Quincy to take in its sites in the coming years.
"Quincy had such an incredibly strong relationship and role in the Civil War," said Reg Ankrom, who serves on the advisory board for the interpretive center and worked with Alexander on planning the trip. "This is the first shot of people coming in to Quincy just to see its Civil War materials and artifacts and so on."
The cemetery, for example, boasts several Civil War gravesites, including one for Lt. William Shipley, the foster son of Orville and Eliza Browning and the first Quincy soldier killed in the war. He died in the Battle of Belmont, Mo., on Nov. 7, 1861.
Tim Jacobs with the Tri-State Civil War Roundtable led the cemetery tour, adding details about the soldiers and the Brownings, who were close friends of Abraham Lincoln's.
"There's a lot to see and do here, that's for sure," said Alexander, who lives in Virden. "I've been over here several times -- my dad grew up in Hannibal, so I've known about Quincy forever -- but I bet half the people in our group have never been to Quincy and the other half were here once or twice maybe 10 years ago.
"I think they all had their eyes opened here today to what a great community this is."
Several of the sites made a deep impression on the Macoupin County visitors.
The All Wars Museum "kind of pulls at your heart a little if you have any interest in military history," Alexander said. "I'd never been in the John Wood Home. I'm sure everybody over here knows it's fantastic. We didn't know until this morning."
The 100th anniversary of the Civil War, the first re-airing of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary and the upcoming 150th anniversary are generating more interest in the War Between the States.
"I run a bookstore," Alexander said. "I know more people are asking about Civil War books this year than some years past."
The Macoupin County group meets monthly September through May for programs looking at all facets of the war and how people lived in the 19th century. The membership includes some experts on Civil War history, many history buffs and a nearly equal number of men and women.
Rex Pitchford drove a truck for ABF, often driving through the Gem City, but never really stopping to visit or take in the Civil War sites.
"Once people come over here and take a quick look at some of these sites, they're more apt to come back explores these sites more fully," Alexander said.
Pitchford, who lives in Raymond, and several of the Macoupin County visitors plan to make a return trip to the Gem City.
"My wife said we're going too fast. She plans on coming back to several places," Pitchford said.
"One thing about Quincy that amazes me is how much they're starting to get behind this."