February 11, 2013
Carl Sandburg was born January 6, 1878, almost thirteen years after the end of the Civil War. During his youth he knew many of the veterans from Knox County who had served in the Union army. Over the years several of the men were elected mayors of Galesburg and appointed members of the school board. Many were well-known merchants, attorneys and physicians in the city.
The Grand Army of the Republic was a national organization composed of those veterans. They were influential in politics at the local, state and national levels. The local post, No. 45, was named for General James T. Shields. He was born in Ireland and became an American citizen. Shields had served in the Mexican War and was a Brigadier General in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War. Every year the members conducted Decoration Day observances on May 30th with a parade, speeches and laying flowers and greenery on the graves of the soldiers.
In 1901, on the 92nd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the men of Post 45 dedicated an 18th century Spanish cannon which had been placed on a newly erected pedestal in the Public Square.
The exercise was a patriotic one, honoring the memory of President Lincoln. It was also a way to honor the young men from Galesburg who had served in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Carl Sandburg was one of those volunteers.
The cannon was captured at Santiago, Cuba, during the short war, along with a number of others. The government publicized the fact that groups and communities could acquire a cannon for placement in a local park. The men of Post 45 contacted Congressman George W. Prince and Illinois Governor Joseph Tanner, expressing their desire for one of the guns.
On August 3, 1899, the post received a letter confirming one of the cannons would be sent to Galesburg. The heavy object was shipped to Galesburg and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company stored it for almost a year.
In the meantime, money was raised from the citizens of the city for the creation of a proper pedestal for the cannon. E.S. Regnier of Galesburg carved a Spanish style gun carriage. The original block of granite weighed 9,000 pounds. It was placed on a foundation of paving bricks set in concrete with a stone slab on top. A niche in the slab provided room for a copper box filled with mementoes of the occasion.
On February 12, 1901, a parade formed on East Main Street and proceeded to the Public Square. R.E. Ervin, Commander of Post 45, presented the monument to the city. Mayor Fletcher Carney accepted the gift. Afterward, the procession and members of the public marched to the Knox County Courthouse to hear a program of music by Galesburg High School students and an oration by Clark E. Carr.
The cannon was aimed down East Main Street for many years. In 1923, the monument was moved to the Court House grounds, where it continues to stand along side many other military memorials. Of course, Post 45 of the Grand Army of the Republic conducted the proper ceremonies at the new site. The men of Post 45 were intent on leaving a monument to servicemen of the Spanish-American War. They also honored President Abraham Lincoln and the soldiers of the Civil War. The GAR men also provided a little history for today’s residents of Galesburg.