A new historical marker will remind drivers on Route 71 about three-plus miles southwest of Ottawa they’re traveling right through the onetime site of a Civil War training camp.
Before a crowd of 50 people the marker was unveiled Sunday through the efforts of the Starved Rock Civil War Roundtable.
After the war broke out, use of the pasture was secured by Judge T. Lyle Dickey, of Ottawa, to organize a regiment of cavalry authorized by the U.S. Secretary of War. It was named Camp Hunter after the land’s owner, said Dan Schott of the SRCWR.
The camp stretched between Covel and Fall creeks and between the Illinois River and the river bluff.
In late August men began showing up from several Illinois counties for organization and training.
They were not only from La Salle County, but also Cook, DeWitt, Kankakee, Kendall, Logan, McLean, Ogle, Putnam, Rock Island, Tazewell, Vermillion, Will and Woodford counties.
On Sept. 26, 1861, the regiment was mustered into federal service. A month later, the 4th Illinois Cavalry, approximately 1,100 men in 12 companies, marched south to Springfield to receive their weapons.
The men had enlisted for three years of service. During that time it participated in the Battle of Shiloh and several other actions.
In October of 1864, when their three-year enlistments were over, the 4th was in Vicksburg, Miss. Men who wished to be discharged were sent back to Illinois. Others who wished to continue their service were assigned to other units.
In 1942 a marker with a flagpole commemorating the training camp was installed. The new marker location is much more visible from Route 71.
The SRCWR developed a goal of placing a better marker and approached the Illinois State Historical Society.
Since 1934, the society has commemorated more than 400 historic sites describing persons, events, and other subjects important to Illinois’ heritage and legacy that deserve public awareness.
The Society relies on individuals and organizations such as the Starved Rock Civil War Roundtable who are passionate about local history.
At its monthly meetings at Ottawa High School, roundtable members make small donations to a sealed “preservation jar” to support projects decided on annually. Three years of donations plus a one-time $33 donation from each member last spring raised most of the needed funds. There were additional donations from the Ottawa American Legion Post 33 and Bob Paglis of Ottawa.
Schott said there also was considerable help from the Illinois Department of Transportation, which provided the small plot of land for the marker.
Additionally, the expertise and cement for the marker pad was provided by Mickey Ruiz of Ruiz Construction in Ottawa.
The old marker was placed at the base of the new marker.
The SCWRT decided not to relocate the flag pole to the new marker site.
Maintenance was a concern, as well as the need to keep the flag lit at night.