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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 12:07 am

Celebrating Valentine’s Day Civil War-style

From an 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly.


Thanks to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) and the Springfield Soldiers Aid Society, visitors got the chance to experience Valentine’s Day Civil War-style.  

On Feb. 11 the IHPA hosted Civil War Saturday at the Old State Capitol. The theme for the event was Victorian Valentines as members of the Soldiers Aid Society provided information how Valentine’s Day was celebrated during the Civil War period. The program featured demonstrations by society members dressed in period attire.

IPHA assistant site superintendent Troy Gilmore gave a general overview of Civil War Saturdays, programs that center on specific events or people who lived during the Civil War. “Sometimes it may be a reenactor portraying a general or a solider in the Army, or in this case, the Soldiers Aid Society, a group that would have supported the soldiers by doing things like knitting socks, doing food drives and even rolling bandages for Civil War hospitals,” said Gilmore.

Society president Laura Rayman explained the history of Valentine’s Day and its transformation during the Civil War. “Valentine’s Day has gone on for a long time, long before the Civil War, but the holiday was tweaked during that time, bringing along some very specific changes,” said Rayman. “Here we have examples of the types of cards that were included by that time. These are reproductions to show the types of cards made by soldiers as well as the homemade cards that people would have made.”

Rayman hoped to use the event as a way to educate people about the customs of the Victorian era. “We’re giving everyone who wants to make a Civil War Valentine an opportunity to put together one,” she said. “It’s not going to exactly look like a card from that time, but it’s a great chance for us to give them a very heavy dose of history.”

Margo Cullen, an IHPA volunteer, described how the event came about. “We were trying to think of something that we could do to gain an interest in visitors to come in and see different things,” said Cullen. “When we noticed that the Soldiers Aid Society would be visiting the Old State Capitol during the winter, it provided us a chance to put on a program where people come in to participate and stay at our sites a little bit longer than maybe they would have otherwise.”

Additionally, Rayman talked to vistors about the history of the society and its importance to war efforts. In August 1861, the Springfield Soldiers Aid Society was formed to provide supplies, food and clothing to Union soldiers. The society’s headquarters was at the State Capitol Building, as Gov. Richard Yates provided use of the Senate chamber for the aid society to meet and gather other small groups to send goods they either made or purchased in Springfield to the soldiers on the warfront. “Each group or family would send a box of whatever they had made, and it could have been anything you could possibly imagine,” said Rayman.

The society kept meticulous records and, according to Rayman, some of the items featured on the list provide special context. “There was a box with only one fish in it, and we laughed about it for a while, but then we thought about it more,” said Rayman. “If you were very poor, and you wanted to support the soldiers, and one fish was all you had, then that one fish was probably more important than any of the other items that went into that box. You always have to put these things into context and look at it from the ladies’ perspective.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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