History Alive and Well at Cemetery
By: K. Gemperle and S. Remis
Many American cemeteries pay tribute to their war dead with little more than memorial monuments and some occasional solemn ceremonies. Rosehill Cemetery, however, takes a distinctly more “spirited” approach.
Rosehill has a long history to draw on. Its military roll call includes William Duvol, the only Revolutionary War soldier at rest in a Chicago cemetery. Duvol was mustered into Rosehill from the city’s original lakefront burial grounds in the 1860s, when Chicago officials deemed it necessary for health reasons to rebury the deceased elsewhere at higher elevations.
Civil War buffs have long been attracted to Rosehill, where approximately 350 Union soldiers and sailors and at least three Confederates who gave their lives in service are entombed. It is the final resting place for several members of the 8th Illinois Cavalry, the unit that fired the first shots in the Battle of Gettysburg, and of a general whose troops helped Ulysses S. Grant avoid surrender in the Battle of Shiloh, Grant’s first major engagement of the war.
Rosehill Cemetery, in fact, maintains the distinction of being the largest private burial ground of Union veterans, including 16 generals, in the state of Illinois. To honor those who fought for country and cause, Rosehill officially opened its own Civil War Museum on January 15, 1995. Devoted exclusively to the Civil War, it is the only museum of its kind in the country.
Calling on Rosehill’s rich heritage, the museum’s mission is not only to preserve the history of the American Civil War, but to instill in its visitors a greater understanding and appreciation of the people who made a difference in the outcome of the greatest conflict in our nation’s history.
Located inside the cemetery’s administration building at 5800 N. Ravenswood and open every day, the museum displays military weapons, photos, maps and other artifacts. Visitors can see an authentic mountain howitzer cannon, an 1861 Springfield musket, which was standard issue for every infantryman, a replica of the Derringer used to assassinate Lincoln, a painting of a typical Union drummer boy and an actual drum itself.
On opening day, Museum Director David V. Wendell presided over a contingent of authors and nationally recognized authorities on the Civil War, who presented biographies of Rosehill’s hallowed and revealed the crucial significance of our city to the war. On the home front, Chicago was considered the second most important city in the Union, a title long since forgotten.
Another program on April 9 marked the 130th anniversary of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. The day’s activities included salutes by the largest peacetime assembly of Civil War cannons in Illinois history, cavalry charges, drills and a reenactment of Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration.
A special addition to this year’s commemoration of Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was the grand opening and dedication of the John A. Logan Wing of the Rosehill Civil War Museum.
John A. Logan was the Major General who returned to Illinois and established Decoration Day by Executive Order in 1868. The museum display follows the career of Logan, from his early days in the founding of the esteemed 31st Illinois Infantry, through his rapid rise to General and, ultimately, the United States Senate. His patriotic record as soldier and statesman was so acclaimed that he is one of the three Civil War Generals in Chicago to be honored with a public statue. Sculpted by August St. Gaudens, the statue stands in the landscaped gardens of south Grant Park.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, U.S. citizens took their obligation to remember the many soldiers who had died in the conflict very seriously. Observance of Decoration Day has always been a special event in Edgewater. Older residents recall that crowds of people used to pour into the area to honor their family members and other veterans who had sacrificed their lives. The events of the day were both solemn and festive.
A parade marched from the Ashland entrance, down Rosehill Drive and into the cemetery. At first it included just Civil War veterans, than added Spanish-American War vets in blue uniforms and, later, World War I vets. Neighborhood children sold flags and Cracker Jack on consignment from stores in the area. Everyone along the parade route wanted a flag to wave or to later place on the grave of a loved one. For a time, after the automobile was in common use, all car traffic was halted within the cemetery for the observance.
Rosehill was the first cemetery in Chicago to officially recognize this revered ritual of remembrance. Last May 29 it continued its 127-year tradition with the “Parade of Soldiers Past and Present,” drum and fife music of the Revolutionary War period and a twenty-one gun salute, among other tributes.
In front of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, members of the Chicago Light Artillery and area reenactment units conducted the “Grand Army of the Republic” Salute to their fallen namesakes. The monument, created by Leonard W. Volk, known for his sculptures of Abraham Lincoln, is just one of the artistic treasures to be found at Rosehill.
To conclude the dedication ceremony for the museum’s new wing, Thomas Logan Smith, great great grandson of General Logan, read the original General Order establishing the last Monday in May as Decoration Day.
On Saturday, September 2, Rosehill Cemetery will hold the “Victory Day 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the End of World War II,” from noon until 5:00 p.m. The event, which is free to the public, is scheduled to correspond with the exact date of the signing of surrender that brought WWII to a close.
Speakers include: Robert Morgan, pilot of the Memphis Belle; Charles Otis, pilot of the B-17 Windy City Challenger; Zenon Lukosius, naval engineer who helped to capture the U-505 submarine exhibited at the Museum of Science and Industry; and Richard Thomas, host of the cable TV show “Veterans.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt will be the guest of honor.
Rosehill’s WWII Veterans Memorial, composed of military vehicles and ordinance, will also be dedicated on that date. The program will conclude with a living history reenactment of a World War II camp and battle between American and German forces.
Pretty lively goings-on for a cemetery! But then Rosehill has always upheld a tradition of service - both to the dead and to the living. It is not only a city landmark, but a historical archive, a cultural trust, a memorial park and an active, vital part of our community.