An exhibit now open at the Old Capitol Museum at the University of Iowa commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Exhibit manager, Byron Preston, says they use the actual recollections of eastern Iowans to paint a picture of the war.
“Fortunately a lot of those guys, and there was a woman…they left diaries and accounts of their experiences during the war. So we have a lot of first-hand accounts, and these guys were interviewed by their hometown newspapers when they got back. So we have a lot of first-person narrative,” according the Preston.
He says they transcribed and condensed quite a few diaries and letters home and also have artifacts from eastern Iowa to go with them. Preston says it was interesting to read through and prepare the material for the exhibit.
“What struck me, the experiences on both sides were fairly universal. As you know, the homesickness, being terrified in combat, the disease, the poor sanitation in camps and just the general longing for the war to be over once the patriotic fervor for the war had left the soldiers — both North and South,” Preston says.
For most of the Iowans it was the first time they had ever left their own county, and they found themselves far away from home. “Most of the cases of the soldiers from eastern Iowa, they generally went down to and participated in the Vicksburg Campaign in Mississippi, the Atlanta Campaign and the battles defending Atlanta, and then Sherman’s March to the Sea,” Preston explains.
“The 22nd Iowa which was mustered here in Iowa City, they participated in those battles and also went on to fight in Virginia. They were one of the few midwestern regiments that fought on Virginia soil and got mustered out in 1865.”
The exhibit called “Gone to See the Elephant: The Civil War through the Eyes of Iowa Soldiers” will run through next May. The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday one p.m. to five p.m. Admission is free.