The Civil War was America's most deadly war, with over 620,000 Americans losing their lives, and another 1.1 million casualties. Batavia sent many to the war effort including Don Newton, who served as an officer. His letters to his wife are part of the permanent collection of the Depot Museum.
"Brave men are losing their lives by the hundreds, all for their country," wrote Newton in 1862. "I will live to see this land once more under the gentle wreath of peace."
If you goWhat: History Returns to Batavia: A Civil War Celebration
When: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7-8
Where: Batavia Riverwalk and Batavia Depot Museum, North Island Avenue and Houston Street
Even though Newton's words are now recorded in a typewritten mimeographed copy, there is something overwhelming about holding his personal letters in hand and sharing the carefully chosen words describing the war to the woman he loved deeply.
On Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8, in remembrance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, re-enactors from the 17th Corps Field Hospital, the 104th Illinois Volunteers and Battery G will be setting up an encampment at the Batavia Riverwalk. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Folks can witness what it was like in a military field hospital. They can learn about cannons and go through the drills with the regiments. They can see a collection of military medical instruments used during the Civil War on display at the Depot Museum.
Flautist Cathy Steinbach will play period pieces from Stephen Foster. In the evening, the Battlefield Balladiers will entertain.
Much of what we know of the Civil War comes from personal accounts, like Newton's and from those historians who choose to dedicate themselves to poring over historical documents, newspapers and government records to compile as much information as possible.
Trevor Steinbach of Batavia is one who has dedicated himself to the history of Civil War medical history, especially, Dr. Charles Ambler Bucher.
"I became involved in the medical field history because of my great-grandfather who was into homeopathic medicine and spoke to the soldiers just before the battle of Little Big Horn, in the Indian Wars."
Soon Steinbach's interest centered on the Civil War and especially Dr. Bucher.
"I started in the 1990s and spent many hours reading newspaper accounts from the Aurora Beacon News and Batavia Herald over a 25-year period.' he said. "I worked with the Recorder of Deeds to go through Bucher's holdings and personal property."
Then Steinbach went to Rush Medical School and went through their records since Bucher had gotten his degree there. He studied Batavia City Council minutes during the time that Bucher served as president. He pored over records from the state archives the Fox Valley Medical Society, and the Batavia Masonic Lodge. He researched the records of the Grand Army of the Republic when Bucher had served as commander.
And those are just a few sources Steinbach remembered during the interview.
Trevor Steinbach donated all of his research to the Batavia Gustafson Research Center at the Batavia Depot Museum. He worked closely with Chris Winter, curator at the museum to set up the previous Civil War exhibit and secured items for the medical exhibit that will be on display during the Civil War Celebration.
There are some who use the information in the research center and write historical accounts without citing references. Then there are those, like Steinbach, Robert Barnes, and Philip Burnham, who find a subject that interests them do the research and donate it back to the museum. Our community should be very thankful for their contributions.
"Batavia has a rich Civil War history," said Steinbach. "Of the 86 Batavians in the 124th Regiment, 12 were members of the Methodist Church who all signed up together after attending the Men's Sunday school class."
Steinbach will be portraying his favorite subject, Dr. Bucher, a member of that class, who went on to be a surgeon for the Union Army. He will be explaining and demonstrating medical procedures.
"This encampment (has) re-enactors who all hold bachelor's degrees or graduate degrees." said Steinbach, who got his doctorate in education. "These men and women are committed to making the experience meaningful for all members of the family."