In Maywood, History Brought To Life By Civil War-Era Actors

Chris Bryant, who portrays William Herman Stipp, a volunteer with the 10th Illinois Infantry, which formed out of Sandwich, Ill. Stipp was among a group of actors portraying overlooked Civil War-era personalities during the annual Civil War Living History demonstration in Maywood on May 14. | Michael Romain 

Sunday, May 15, 2022 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

William Herman Stipp broke down in tears as he talked about Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a fierce advocate for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

“She ran around northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin raising funds to buy soldiers fresh food and better hospital goods than they were getting in the hospitals down south,” Stipp said.

During the Civil War, surgeons relied on foods like onion and potatoes to help mitigate diseases that proved more lethal than weaponry.

“The latest number I’ve seen is 690,000 men who died during the Civil War,” Stipp said. “I’ve got a book back home of color photographs and [the author] had toward the back of the book that out of the 690,000 that died, [a relatively small number] died from combat. The rest of them drowned, got run over by a wagon, but the biggie was disease.”

Stipp gestured to an onion that was on a nearby table and held it up.

“[Mrs. Bickerdyke] was giving a lecture in Chicago somewhere and she stopped in the middle of it and held up an onion and said, ‘Young ladies, don’t send your lovers a letter. Send them an onion. It will save his life.’” “

Stipp’s tears burst forth again. He and other Civil War soldiers had so much love for Bickerdyke that they called her Mother. She was so well-respected that even Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of all the Union armies and the eventual President of the United States, deferred to her.

William Herman Stipp, the first volunteer to sign up with the 10th Illinois Infantry — the first full all-volunteer company formed in the state of Illinois, in a city called Sandwich — is actually Chris Bryant, a passionate Civil War buff who lives in Zion.

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Bryant was among a group of volunteers acting out that pivotal moment in American history during the annual Civil War Living History demonstration, held May 15 on the vacant lot beside the historic Home for Soldiers’ Widows located at 1st Avenue and Lake Street.

While he cooked a piece of salt pork on a fire inside of the Union Army encampment — replete with medical tents and muskets loaded with blanks that were fired off intermittently — George Woodwork, another member of the 10th Illinois Infantry, explained the importance of Soldiers’ Widows building.

Bob Winter, who portrays Union soldier George Woodwork, cooks some bacon in a canteen half during Saturday’s Civil War Living History re-enactment. | Michael Romain 

“During the war, husbands may have died and there was no support for [widows] other than the community, because women didn’t hold many jobs,” Woodwork said.

Woodwork, who is actually Bob Winter, then explained the innovation of salt pork, also known as bacon, cooked inside of one half of a drinking canteen.

“The canteens were soldered together,” Winter, channeling Woodwork, said. “The soldiers would have one leaking and they’d throw it into the fire, break it off and have two halves. The guys would use that as a frying pan. It’s light and easy to carry and reuse.”

As he was speaking, Abraham Lincoln walked up and explained how the 16th president was an inspiration for buildings like the Widows’ home.

“The motto of the VA, ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan,’ are words from my second inaugural address,” said Lincoln, convincingly portrayed by Kevin J. Wood.  “In that sense, Lincoln was an inspiration for these sorts of things.”

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