Midway Village adds rare Civil War-era artifacts to collection

Online Staff Report

Rockford’s Midway Village Museum has announced the addition of rare artifacts related to the Civil War to its permanent collections of more than 150,000 artifacts related to Rockford history. The gifts are a donation from James and Pat Bittle of Naples, Fla., former residents of Rockford.

Specifically, the Bittle’s gift includes letters written by soldiers of the Civil War. In the collection of the letters and documents, there is also a newspaper copy of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen, printed on July 4, 1863. The newspaper is a spoil of the Vicksburg conquest, and is referred to as a “Wallpaper Edition” of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen.

The Civil War-era letters provide daily insight into daily life as a soldier in first-person detail with an occasional glimpse of homefront life and how the families in Rockford were coping with the war and having loved ones in harm’s way.

Included in the documents are the letters of Christopher T. Dunham, who in 1860 was elected the county surveyor of Freeport, Ill. He served in the Union Army from 1861 to 1864.

Also included are letters of the three Sealey Brothers — Charles, Robert and George. The brothers were born in England and became residents of Rockford beginning in 1855. Charles, Company G, 44th Regiment, Illinois, Volunteer, was a private out of Winnebago County. He was captured during the battle of Chickamauga and died as a prisoner of war in Andersonville Prison June 10, 1864. Robert, Company G 45th Regiment, Illinois, Volunteer, entered as a lieutenant and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. At the fall of Vicksburg, he led the first regiment into Vicksburg.

Robert and George Sealy’s letters and documents are particularly important, as both men were on the scene when the Union Army captured Vicksburg, Miss., July 4, 1863, ending the siege of the city that started in May.

The fall of Vicksburg was a pivotal moment of the war. Situated on the Mississippi, the city was a Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River and considered by Lincoln to be the key to a potential Union victory.

The newspaper is a particularly rare Civil War artifact with few surviving over the years. The Bittle collection copy is identical to the one held by the Library of Congress. With paper at a premium after the siege of more than a month, this newspaper was printed on the back of wallpaper. When the Union soldiers took the town July 4, 1863, they found the typeset from a July 2 edition of the paper sitting on the presses. In the bottom right corner, you will see a note addendum, which was added by the Union soldiers as a response to the sarcasm and vitriol the newspaper had been printing in earlier additions.

Additionally, Mary Sealey, the sister of the three Sealey brothers, was married to Amos Woodward, who would go on to found Woodward Governor, one of Rockford’s most prominent businesses in the community today.

Midway Village Museum begins its Winter Lecture Series Saturday, Jan. 25, with a Civil War Symposium. Marquette University’s Professor James Marten will speak about the returning veterans of the Civil War. Other topics include Civil War Small Arms and the Chickasaw Bayou as Family History. Attendees will get a glimpse of the Bittle Collection as well. Reservations are required for the symposium, and may be made online at www.midwayvillage.com or by calling (815) 397-9112. The Winter Lecture Series continues with additional lectures through February and March. Check the website for complete details.

Posted Jan. 22, 2014

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