General Reeve began his discussion of the Illinois Military
Museum with a short history of the facility. The museum is a
repository of items collected for over two centuries from the
Illinois National Guard and its predecessors. The first home of the
museum was the Memorial Hall in the Secretary of State building on
the campus of the State Capital in downtown Springfield.
In 2003, the collection was moved to its current home at Camp
Lincoln. The historic building was constructed in 1905 and used as a
hospital for the army guard base. It is now dedicated solely to the
The current two story museum has some of the rarest items available.
The history of the Illinois National Guard actually began before
Illinois became a state in 1818. Previous to that time, Illinois was
part of Virginia under French control prior to the Revolutionary
The inhabitants of this area at that time were a self-sufficient lot
who had to fend for themselves. Part of their required personal
items at that time was a rifle and powder for protection, but also
to hunt for food for their families.
The Illinois Military Museum follows the course of these area
citizens through to statehood when the Illinois National Guard was
formed. Reeve said, “The museum details the story of Illinois
citizens who volunteered to serve their state and country.”
Guard members are citizen volunteers who are called upon from time
to time to help defend our state and country. The Illinois National
Guard members have been engaged in every conflict that the United
States has fought, from the Black Hawk Wars of the early 1830’s,
through the recently ended second Iraq conflict, and Afghanistan.
The members of the guard are highly trained and can fill many rolls.
In 1917 during WW I, an aviation unit of the Army National Guard
formed. It is included in museum displays and now part of the
extensive archives at Camp Lincoln. In 1918 during combat over
France, Guard aviators produced the first four air aces recognized
for heroism, one of those pilots being Reed Landis from Illinois.
Illinois even has a Navy presence in the Guard.
Reeve related some history related to one of the famous members of
the Illinois National Guard. He was an unknown trading post
entrepreneur at New Salem, and later a circuit riding lawyer named
Mr. Lincoln joined the Guard in the early 1830’s just in time to
participate in the Black Hawk War in Illinois during 1832. He
originally signed up for a 30-day enlistment as a 23 year old, then
signed again for another 30 days, and subsequently made a third
enlistment. Lincoln was so well liked by his comrades that he was
elected to positions of leadership in his guard unit. While Lincoln
saw no combat against the Black Hawk Indian tribe, he remarked later
in his life that his time in the Illinois Army Guard was some of the
most satisfying of his life.
General Reeve said, “The Illinois Military Museum is more than one
famous person and one war.” Other illustrious Illinois residents
that served in the guard include Robert McCormick, founder of the
Chicago Tribune; Carl Sandburg, world renowned Illinois poet and
Lincoln biographer; John A. Logan (does that name sound familiar?)
and Ulysses S. Grant.
Reeve spoke further about the history of the Illinois Guard and
items in the museum, mentioning that Illinois Guard members served
in the Mexican War and were sent into Mexico. The museum has
uniforms from this era. The Guard fought in the battle of Cerro
Gordo in the Mexican War. That conflict remains a controversial
subject among military historians. During his lone term in Congress,
Abraham Lincoln challenged the United States government to justify
the war against Mexico in his “Spot Resolution.”
Reeve continued to unroll the fascinating history of the Illinois
National Guard that is represented in the museum by addressing its
role in the Civil War. While former Guard member Abraham Lincoln
occupied the White House as president, his home state sent over
250,000 of its citizens into that conflict. The museum has some
unique Civil War items that by their very existence attests to the
quality of this collection.
The first overseas deployment of the Illinois National Guard was
during the Spanish American War of 1897, when a contingent of troops
was sent to Cuba.
The 20th Century brought conflicts that again called upon the
citizen soldiers of Illinois. Reeve mentioned the 12,000 guardsmen
who were sent to New Mexico in 1916 after the attack on the small
town of Columbus, New Mexico by a rogue Mexican general name Pancho
During WW I, 18,000 guardsmen went into the United States’ Army in
its battle against Germany. The contingent sent to Europe was unique
because it contained black officers and soldiers, a step that was
way ahead of the rest of the country.
[to top of second column]
At this point General Reeve wanted to make a very important
point about the Illinois National Guard. While the Guard
continued to serve in times of conflict in World War II, Korea,
Viet Nam, both conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said “The
Illinois Guard is not just about participating in conflicts and
the museum is not just about war. The small things the Guard
performs are also vital to its mission and the story that the
Illinois Military Museum tells.”
The Guard’s mission is also to build and heal. Highly trained
Guard units provide medical care and security after natural
disasters both in state and outside Illinois. The Guard builds
schools and digs wells in countries around the world. “These
humanitarian missions are some of the most important tasks that
the men and women of the Guard do,” he said.
“The State Partnership for Peace has matched the Illinois
National Guard with Poland since the early 1990’s after the fall
of the Iron Curtain. The Guard participates in joint exercises
with Polish units.” The Guard was also called upon after the
terrorism attacks of 9-11.
The Illinois Military Museum has over 12,000 items in its
possession. Only a small number of these are displayed on a
rotating basis. One of its most famous items is Mexican General
Santa Anna’s cork leg which was captured during the war with
Mexico. The display of the leg is a beautiful recreation of the
incident when the leg was taken. It seems that the general had
removed the prosthesis and was reclining in his coach enjoying
lunch when US soldiers approached. He scrambled to escape
leaving his cork leg behind. The leg was taken by an Illinois
soldier and has ended up in Springfield, Illinois.
Stepping off the elevator onto the second floor of the museum
and into the main exhibit area, one encounters an evocative
display of Guard members who have perished while performing
Perhaps the most spectacular collection at the Illinois Military
Museum is the battle flags. The museum has more than 1,000
battle flags beginning with a few from the Mexican War in 1846.
The flags were used before the advent of radio communication to
signal the troops.
At one time the flags hung in the Centennial Hall in the
Secretary of State office. They were not well cared for and were
finally removed and entrusted to the care of the Illinois
Some of these priceless flags are in fragile condition from age
and neglect. The irreplaceable treasures are now stored in a
climate controlled vault at Camp Lincoln. A different flag is
removed from the vault every 90 days and displayed in the
museum. The flags tell their own story of the Illinois National
Guard in thread and fabric.
Stuart Reeve concluded his presentation on the Illinois Military
Museum to the gathered members of LCG&HS by saying, “The museum
is an Illinois asset, a national asset. It is a living history
museum that changes all of the time, as the role of the Illinois
National Guard changes. We have designed the museum to be a
welcoming and at times a very personal place. ” He believes that
the museum is a gem that is not to be missed.
The Illinois Military Museum is located on the grounds of Camp
Lincoln on the north side of Springfield, just two short blocks
north of the intersection of North Grand Avenue and MacArthur
Boulevard. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to
You can find the updated hours and more information on the
museum's Face Book page along with upcoming special events or
contact Stuart Reeve at (217) 761-3384. Admission to the museum
The Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society meets each
month on the third Monday at 6:30 p.m. at their research center
at 114 North Chicago Street in Lincoln. Each meeting features a
guest speaker discussing genealogy and research and central
Illinois history. The research center may be contacted at (217)
732-3200 or by email at LCGHS1@hotmail.com.
[By CURT FOX]
Air National Guard, Origins