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Civil War history explored at local cemetery

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 8:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013 11:56 p.m. CDT
(Felix Sarver –
Thomas Oestreicher, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, talks about the history of the organization for audiences for the annual Elmwood Cemetery Heritage Walk in Sycamore. Oestreicher was one of many speakers to talk about Civil War veterans from the Sycamore area.

SYCAMORE – Dennis Maher always heard stories about his Civil War relatives as a child.

On Sunday, the Sycamore resident got his chance to share stories about Civil War veterans to dozens of people who came to the Elmwood Cemetery in Sycamore. Maher's tales were part of a series of presentations hosted by the Sycamore History Museum to commemorate the 150th anniversary of a war that ripped the nation apart and claimed the lives of more than 600,000 soldiers.

The presentations, part of the museum's annual Elmwood Cemetery Heritage Walk, drew connections between Sycamore and the Civil War through stories of local residents who fought or provided help during the war. Maher recounted the lives of two veterans, Enoch Marchant and Edward Winans. 

Both Sycamore residents enlisted during the conflict, but only Winans fought in more than a dozen engagements, such as the Battle of Harpers Ferry. Marchant spent several months in Nashville, Tenn., carrying out railroad duties.

"They both joined with a great deal of enthusiasm and patriotism and one saw [more battles] than the other," Maher said. "But they both did their duty."

Marchant and Winans were two of eight veterans profiled by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The veterans were buried in Soldiers Row, with their graves marked by white, rounded tombstones. Close to 200 Civil War veterans and three generals are buried at the cemetery. 

Visitors also got to learn the history behind the Elmwood Cemetery Gates and Sarah Ellen Sprenkle Teach, a Sycamore resident who served in the Women's Relief Corps, which aided widows and orphans of veterans. 

People during the Civil War period had a thirst for knowledge about the war, said Curtis Clegg, one of the presenters. There were about 500 correspondents reporting on the war, and emerging technology such as photography shaped people's perception of what was happening, he said. 

Clegg said photography allowed people to see for the first time what battle was like, and the photographs of the carnage showed it wasn't romantic. 

"It was really a quick dose of reality for a lot of people," he said. 

John Boies, president of the Elmwood Cemetery Association, said the cemetery not only provides a peaceful place for gravesites but also a place for people to learn about their roots. 

"What a great resource that the community has kept for the study of local history," he said.

Sycamore resident Karen Sharp said she was excited to hear about the Civil War history behind the cemetery. 

"It's almost like having the history come to life," she said. 

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