Chicago Played A Bigger Role In Civil War Than You Might Think

By Justin Breen | May 9, 2016 5:57am | Updated on May 13, 2016 11:36am
 Chicago played a key role in the Civil War.
Chicago Civil War
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CHICAGO — Monday marks the 151st anniversary of the South surrendering to the North — ending the Civil War — and the battle had a lasting impact on Chicago.

"The Civil War had significant impact on Chicago," said Russell Lewis, executive vice president and chief historian at Chicago History Museum. "It helped to position Chicago as the national distribution center and spurred industrialization."

Justin Breen shares some insights into Chicago's role in the Civil War.

Some impacts, courtesy of Chicago History Museum and the Encyclopedia of Chicago:

Boosted commerce: "The opening of the Union Stock Yard on Christmas Day, 1865, is symbolic of the Civil War's impact on Chicago. The war directed the flow of vital food commodities away from Chicago's most persistent urban rivals, which were too close to the front lines during the first two years of the war and were hurt by stoppages of trade on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers."

Helped banking: "The Civil War also helped spur industrialization by bringing stable banking to Chicago for the first time. The First National Bank of Chicago was founded in July 1863, and by war's end the city boasted 13 national banks, more than any other city in America."

Race riot: "In 1862 the city suffered its first race riot when white teamsters tried to prevent African-Americans from using the omnibus system. The Chicago City Council voted to segregate the public schools."

POW camp: Chicago was home to one of the largest Union Army prisoner-of-war camps for Confederate soldiers: Camp Douglas, near 35th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. Of the 10,000-plus Confederate soldiers at the camp, 4,457 died, mostly due to poor sanitary and medical facilities. The Chicago History Museum has several artifacts from the camp, including the bell that rang out to signify the end of the Civil War.

Death toll: There were 22,436 soldiers from Cook County, and most came from Chicago. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the city died, and there are memorials in Grant Park, Lincoln Park and some city cemeteries.

"Thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in Lincoln Park [formerly the city cemetery] and in Oak Wood Cemetery, which has a significant monument memorializing the rebel soldiers who perished at Camp Douglas," Lewis said.

Check out some Chicago-based Civil War photos below or in the slideshow above:

Members of Morgan's Raiders, a group of Confederate prisoners-of-war famous for their repeated attempts to escape Camp Douglas.

Exterior view of Camp Douglas barracks, on 37th Street, between Ellis and Lake Park Avenue, Chicago.

Bell from the chapel of Camp Douglas, which housed Confederate prisoners during the Civil War, Chicago.

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