This article orginally appeared in the The Daily Journal
By Phil Angelo
If you are interested in Civil War history, make plans to visit Iroquois County this summer.
The Old Courthouse Museum, 103 W. Cherry St., Watseka, will have three special Civil War events this summer, funded in part by a $2,040 grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.
* On June 10, at 1:30 p.m., Greg Ikins will speak on the 76th Illinois Regiment in the Civil War. This unit was comprised mostly of men from Kankakee and Iroquois counties.
* On July 15, at 1:30 p.m., Don Goin, a former resident of Iroquois County and a member of the Kankakee Valley Civil War Roundtable, will speak on maritime disasters of the Civil War. Goin has presented locally before on the explosion of the Sultana. The Sultana, a paddlewheel steamboat, exploded and sank on the Mississippi River. An estimated 1,600 passengers, many of them just released captives from prisoner of war camps in the South, died.
* Goin’s presentation will be followed by Brian Ellis, who will speak on Civil War ghosts, He will appear as Mathias Stritt, a German immigrant who enlisted at Peoria and marched with Sherman to the sea.
* On Aug. 26, Civil War re-enactors will stage a campground of the 76th Illinois on the Old Courthouse grounds. Activities will include breakfast, church, knapsack inspection and drill.
Throughout all the activities and presentations, the museum will be open to the public.
Much of its Civil War collection was gathered in the lifetime of Matthew Peters. Peters was born in Bavaria, worked Mississippi Riverboats as a boy and enlisted in the 74th Ohio Infantry.
He was wounded at Stones River. His blood-stained glove is on display. He fought again at Chickamauga, Chattanooga and around Atlanta. He took shrapnel in the right leg at Buzzard’s Roost, Ga., but survived the war to march in the Grand Review in Washington in 1865.
After the war, he relocated to Iroquois County. He edited the town’s newspaper and served three terms as Watseka mayor. Peters Park, which holds the community’s Little League fields today, is named for him.
Peters’ memorabilia in the museum includes what is thought to be his sword, a slave collar and slave whip and an extensive collection of badges from reunions of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union Civil War veterans. There are also badges from the United Confederate Veterans. Peters apparently attended many events and saved a lot of material.
There is a copy of Casey’s Infantry Tactics and a rare flag from the Grand Review.
Peters was a poet of some note, though his verse is now mostly lost. He penned “That Little Bronze Button” in 1901, to commemorate the veteran. His poems were often read at reunions.
He also wrote, “Iroquois,” honoring Iroquois County, at the request of the then-superintendent of schools of Iroquois County, S. C. Rutherford.
The second and third stanzas (of eight), are:
“The mem’ry of thy pioneers,/Iroquois, dear Iroquois –/Who thro’ their courage, toil and tears,/Iroquois, dear Iroquois –/Bequeathed to us this fair domain,/Inspiring in our souls this strain –/Their names linked with the sweet refrain/Iroquois, dear Iroquois .