Mascoutah exhibit honors own from Civil War era

News-DemocratMarch 29, 2014 

One hundred and fifty years after the Mascoutah area sent 464 men to fight in the Civil War, the Mascoutah Heritage Museum has opened an exhibit honoring them and the families, friends and neighbors they left behind.

"Mascoutah in the Civil War," will run through Nov. 16 at the museum at 306 W. Main St.

Tom Snyder, a retired Air Force historian, helped set up the exhibit, along with Kathi Bell.

Snyder also wrote a 203-page book, "Mascoutah, Illinois, in the Civil War," which is available at the museum for $25. Proceeds go to the museum.

Unlike some broader Civil War exhibits, this one concentrates specifically on what the local men did in the war.

"We wanted to tell the Mascoutah story and some stories you might not have heard," Snyder said.

Snyder relied heavily on the letters of Lt. Henry Clay Fike to his wife, Cimboline, in his book and in the displays to tell some of the stories.

Fike was a teacher and principal of Mascoutah public schools when he joined the Army. He was quartermaster of Co. K, 117th Illinois Infantry Regiment and wrote 314 letters home, which his wife kept.

They were donated to the University of Kansas and the museum was allowed to use copies of them. The letters' details of everyday life in the military as well as battles are invaluable to historians.

The exhibit follows the Mascoutah men and the Mascoutah area starting with a snapshot of the town before the April 1861 call-ups and through the war and the peace that followed.

Snyder said the area was 80 percent to 85 percent German in heritage and language.

"The town was strongly Republican and for Lincoln," he said.

When Lincoln issued a call for volunteers, locals rallied in response and before long were at Camp Yates in Springfield and then guarding Cairo with little equipment.

The local ladies sewed a battle flag for their new company. The exhibit has a replica of that flag.

The town and the farms around it organized five separate companies for the Union.

Thirteen Mascoutah men died in the Battle of Shiloh, more than half of the 22 who died during the entire war. One of those deaths came at the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Ga.

Another local story concerns Fred Scheve, who grabbed a rebel battle flag during the capture of Fort Donelson, Tenn. He smuggled it home but 42 years later returned it to the company, St. John's Guard, in the town in Tennessee where it had come from.

The exhibit follows the Mascoutah men through their major battles and troop movements in the war. It also covers the home front, where women suddenly were faced with making family decisions while surviving day to day.

Snyder was able to count about 80 southern sympathizers in the Mascoutah area. They gained the name copperheads because they were treacherous and didn't warn anybody they were lying in the grass waiting to strike like rattlesnakes do, he said.

The exhibit includes letters from Cimboline Fike chastising the sympathizers.

Another piece of the exhibit follows the veterans after the war when everyone joined the Grand Army of the Republic.

Snyder said they had some surprises in preparing the exhibit.

"We thought we had adequate security but it wasn't good enough for collectors to loan us materials," he said. "We spent thousands to upgrade our system."

The exhibit wouldn't have been possible without special donations from 28 merchants, he said.

The museum is open from 1-4 p.m. Sunday and on the first and third Sundays of each month, and from 9 a.m. to noon every Tuesday. Admission is free.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 618-239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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