Bayonet Discovered

An original bayonet discovered by a Jacksonville man tilling his garden may have a connection to Grant’s March, the July 1861 journey that took then-Colonel Ulysses S. Grant and 1,000 soldiers from Illinois to the battlefields of the Civil War.

The Jacksonville resident who found the bayonet has donated the rusted but intact item to the Jacksonville Area Museum. Since the museum’s opening date is still several months away, the bayonet may be seen at Market House Antiques, 226 E. State Street in Jacksonville, on Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday, March 30.

“Although we can’t conclusively prove the bayonet came from a Grant’s March participant, it’s the same type carried by Union soldiers and was found just a few hundred feet from the site of Grant’s July 5, 1861 encampment,” said Jacksonville Area Museum Board Chairman David Blanchette. “It isn’t hard to imagine a soldier who was being rushed off to war accidentally leaving it behind when the 21st Illinois left its overnight camp on the way to the Mississippi River.”

Bob Anderson was tilling his garden in the 1500 block of West Lafayette street in Jacksonville when the tiller struck a metal object. Anderson retrieved the object, which had been bent slightly by the tiller blade, and recognized it as a bayonet of the type that may have been used in the Civil War. Anderson also found several badly-deteriorated and unfired lead musket balls nearby. He decided to donate the bayonet to the Jacksonville Area Museum to preserve and interpret it for posterity.

On July 3, 1861, Colonel Ulysses S. Grant mounted a horse and led his first Civil War command out of Camp Yates in Springfield, en route to Quincy. The 39-year-old Grant had molded his somewhat unruly troops – members of the 21st Illinois volunteer infantry regiment – into a disciplined fighting force. The 21st Regiment made its way to the Morgan County Fairgrounds in Jacksonville and rested on July 5. This bayonet, which was recently unearthed in a garden a few yards away from the fairgrounds, may have belonged to one of Grant’s men. Grant left the 21st Regiment in August 1861 when he was promoted to brigadier general. The members of the 21st, most of whom were from eastern Illinois, later participated in the battles of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Chickamauga, Georgia, where they suffered many casualties.

The Jacksonville Area Museum, funded with donations and grants, will open in mid-2021 in the old Post Office Building in the 300 block of East State Street. It will use original artifacts, storytelling exhibits and the building itself to show people of all ages and backgrounds why the Jacksonville community has been and continues to be one of a kind.

The museum will host the prestigious Smithsonian “Voices and Votes” traveling exhibit in late 2021, and is also the repository for the archival collection from MacMurray College, the nearby educational institution that closed in May 2020.

Visit www.jacksonvilleareamuseum.org for more information.