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home : columnists : time was March 29, 2017

3/1/2017 10:00:00 AM
Honoring a fallen hero, Braidwood style
GENERAL GRANT is shown working on his memoirs a few weeks before he died.
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GENERAL GRANT is shown working on his memoirs a few weeks before he died.

Sandy Vasko

Twenty years after the end of the War Between the States, old soldiers were starting to reminisce about the good old days. In Will County a reunion of the 100th Illinois Voluntary Regiment was being planned, it would be the first ever.

But before that could happen, an old soldier passed away, and not only veterans but people all over the country stopped to honor him.

On July 23, 1885 President Grant succumbed to throat cancer. Grant was a controversial man throughout his lifetime. He had many critics who said that he was addicted to whiskey and was drunk most of the time.

Abraham Lincoln tried to quell those rumors by saying that if whiskey was the cause of Grant's many victories, then he wanted to send him a case.

And successful he was. Victory after victory followed him and his army. He had attended West Point but was a poor student. His strategy in war was simple.

He was quoted as saying, "The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on."

There was no doubt that Grant was an exceptional soldier, but his reputation as a President was troubled by scandal and proven corruption, although no one had ever linked Grant himself to any of it.

It was no wonder then that in 1885 the headlines read "General Grant Dies!" instead of "President Grant."

The July 24 edition of the Braidwood column in the Wilmington Advocate had this to say, "On receipt of the news of Gen. Grant's death yesterday, the bell at the City hall was tolled and flags were placed at half-mast. Several business places were draped with mourning."

In the Aug. 7, 1885 Wilmington Advocate, we read, "Memorial honors to the memory of the late Gen. U. S. Grant will be in order at Braidwood, tomorrow, at the space just in the rear of Cleveland block. Robert Huston will be president of the day, Capt. Lines, marshal, and Rev, S. Allen, chaplain.

"Wm. Mooney will speak upon Grant as a soldier, and J. S. Reynolds will treat of his record as a civilian. A large gathering is predicted. Many business places about town are draped in morning for the late Gen Grant."

Well, it was all well and good to predict a large gathering, but to actually produce one is another story. You see, Braidwood's population was made up, for the most part, of newly arrived immigrants.

Most of the citizens weren't in this country when Grant was winning the war, and in fact, most of them did not know him as President either.

Besides there was so many other things to do. There was a circus in town, and it was payday. That meant shopping and saloon hopping would be especially popular.

On the morning of Aug. 8 in Wilmington a cannon was being fired every 30 minutes to honor General Grant, special trains were arriving, bringing thousands for the service.

On the island speaker stands were being hastily erected. Food was being prepared to feed the multitude and children were being dressed in their Sunday finest.

In Braidwood, the scene was quiet all morning, although a few visitors arrived from Coal City to see the circus.

In Wilmington all shops were closed, black bunting was everywhere, and old soldiers walked the streets in their old uniforms, the better to honor the fallen soldier.

There was a somber mood as the procession, consisting of soldiers, citizens and bands playing a funeral dirge wound its way through the town to the island.

In Braidwood a goodly number did attend the services, probably about 500. But the stores were all open and doing a brisk payday business.

The various social lodges used the occasion to display their finery, which always included a brightly colored uniform. The brightest uniforms though belonged to the circus band that had volunteered to play during the ceremony.

The scene was described like this, "The Gen. Grant Memorial services in Braidwood on Saturday were both appropriate and patriotic.

The grand procession comprised the mayor and council, the entire fire department, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Bohemian Benevolent society and many citizens.

"The Miners' band, the Bohemian band, Howe's drum corps and the circus band made the instrumental music, while a fine choir, 20 strong, and under the baton of John Barkell, did excellent singing.

"Mr. Mooney's speech, upon Grant's military record, was highly commented upon, and the resolutions adopted fittingly expressed the feelings of the people concerning the death of the great commander. The demonstration was a fine one and a credit to all concerned."

In Wilmington, the crowd dispersed quietly to spend the rest of the day in mourning and contemplation. There was no gay bands or entertainment that day.

In Braidwood, the crowd dispersed after the procession, many of them following the circus band to the main tent. Others went to the Italian picnic or shopping at stores that would be open until 10 p.m.

Then there were the others, who honored the fallen hero by hoisting one at their favorite saloon. It was as good an excuse as any other.

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