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updated: 7/3/2014 2:20 PM

Elgin historian documents local soldiers

Historian documents, honors Elgin's Civil War soldiers

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Ken Gough

  • Ken Gough flips through his book at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. He is a Civil War historian who spent nine years researching Elgin soldiers and has published a book called "Elgin, Illinois Soldiers of the Civil War." He updates the book as new information is found.

       Ken Gough flips through his book at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. He is a Civil War historian who spent nine years researching Elgin soldiers and has published a book called "Elgin, Illinois Soldiers of the Civil War." He updates the book as new information is found.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Gough, right, talks with a visitor about his Civil War guns at the ninth annual Elgin History Fair last summer at the Elgin History Museum.

       Ken Gough, right, talks with a visitor about his Civil War guns at the ninth annual Elgin History Fair last summer at the Elgin History Museum.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • With his long white beard blowing with the wind and a large American flag waving overhead, Ken Gough portrays an Elgin Civil War soldier at the annual Elgin Area Historical Society Cemetery Walk in 2009.

       With his long white beard blowing with the wind and a large American flag waving overhead, Ken Gough portrays an Elgin Civil War soldier at the annual Elgin Area Historical Society Cemetery Walk in 2009.
    JOHN STARKS | Staff Photographer

  • Notes are added to Ken Gough's book as he collects more information on soldiers from the Civil War. He wrote a book detailing the lives of Civil War soldiers from Elgin.

       Notes are added to Ken Gough's book as he collects more information on soldiers from the Civil War. He wrote a book detailing the lives of Civil War soldiers from Elgin.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Civil War historian Ken Gough of Elgin holds an 1827 flintlock rifle he says he can trace to specific battles of the Civil War, during a recent presentation at the Dundee Township Historical Society in West Dundee. He spoke about the 52nd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

       Civil War historian Ken Gough of Elgin holds an 1827 flintlock rifle he says he can trace to specific battles of the Civil War, during a recent presentation at the Dundee Township Historical Society in West Dundee. He spoke about the 52nd Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Gough is a historian who has written a reference book about the Civil War soldiers who lived in Elgin. "Elgin, Illinois Soldiers of the Civil War" has personal information about the men who fought. It is on the second floor in the genealogy section at the Gail Borden Public Library.

       Ken Gough is a historian who has written a reference book about the Civil War soldiers who lived in Elgin. "Elgin, Illinois Soldiers of the Civil War" has personal information about the men who fought. It is on the second floor in the genealogy section at the Gail Borden Public Library.
    photos by John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Gough spent nine years on the second floor of Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library, researching via microfilm for a book chronicling the lives of every Civil War soldier who lived in Elgin.

       Ken Gough spent nine years on the second floor of Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library, researching via microfilm for a book chronicling the lives of every Civil War soldier who lived in Elgin.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Civil War historian Ken Gough of Elgin grew his beard to help hold the interest of children during his frequent talks at schools and libraries. He is also a re-enactor and has appeared in several movies.

       Civil War historian Ken Gough of Elgin grew his beard to help hold the interest of children during his frequent talks at schools and libraries. He is also a re-enactor and has appeared in several movies.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ken Gough keeps a long beard and wears eyeglasses that replicate what he sees in Civil War photographs. He uses microfilm readers at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin to read old newspapers for information on Civil War soldiers from Elgin.

       Ken Gough keeps a long beard and wears eyeglasses that replicate what he sees in Civil War photographs. He uses microfilm readers at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin to read old newspapers for information on Civil War soldiers from Elgin.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

More than 620,000 soldiers lost their lives in the Civil War. However, one man works to ensure that the ones who hailed for Elgin will never be forgotten.

For the past nine years, historian Ken Gough documented more than 3,200 people who had a tie to the war and who lived in Elgin at some time before, during or after the war.

The result is his book, "Elgin, Illinois Soldiers of the Civil War," which is available in the genealogy section of the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. A second copy is at the Elgin History Museum.

"I probably have 95 percent of (the Elgin soldiers) in that book," he said. "I'm not going to say I have everybody because even in the last couple of weeks I've found a couple that I missed."

The 294-page book started as a 24-page paper written for the Elgin Area Historical Society. And even though it is bound now, Gough, 59, says the book might actually never be finished because he continues to find more Elgin soldiers.

"Every now and then I get a letter from somebody with an obit about their great-grandfather that says they fought in the Civil War, and it's somebody I haven't heard about before," he explains. "And I encourage that. I want that information."

To find soldiers, Gough used the public library's microfilm readers. He does his research, sometimes up to eight hour a day, after his full-time job as an engineer designing staircases.

A difficult aspect of his investigation is that after the war, many veterans moved away from Elgin, and never talked about the war. As a result, there's often no local written account such as letters and newspaper accounts.

"Basically I'm going through the old newspapers, one obituary at a time," he explains. "I started at 1866 and worked through to the 1940s. That's where the really good stuff is."

In addition to his book, as he finds more data, he updates his blog, elginareacivilwarsoldiers.blogspot.com.

Well-known as a Civil War re-enactor and lecturer, he is easily recognized by his long beard and small, oval spectacles. His interest in the war began during high school in Georgia. His ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

"Just because they are my ancestors doesn't make them right," he says.

But his goal is more than reporting data. Gough digs for personal information about each man. His book tells the reader more about the character of the man than the footprints of the soldier.

"Everybody is interested in the battles and stuff, but I've found that what he did after the war could be a better story," he says. "My focus was on learning each man's story. What did he do? Was he a student? Did he work on a farm? Was he a printer?"

Gough speaks at schools, libraries, history clubs, and historical events. At one time, he was appearing in as many as 20 re-enactments annually. His look is genuine enough that he has appeared as a soldier in several big-screen, Hollywood movies, such as "Gettysburg" and "Glory."

He recently started a new project researching the citizens interred at Elgin City Cemetery, the city's first cemetery that was closed to new burials in 1906. But his Civil War passion continues to burn as he finds more onetime Elgin residents who fought.

"I wanted to know about the guys who actually got down in the mud and did the actual fighting," he said from his regular chair at the library. "They're the ones who carried the weight. Their story needed to be told."

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