On this Veterans Day, Americans across the country are honoring those who served. A visit to the Illinois State University Archives reveals some of the various ways those associated with ISU served their country, including how the first president of the university risked his life in battle, and how the university's first librarian helped document the activities of students turned soldiers.
The Illinois State University campus is home to nearly 450 student veterans, and the school is ranked among the top 15 percent of colleges and universities for being military-friendly. This tradition started early on campus, dating back to the Civil War and ISU's first president, Charles Hovey. In that fraught time, Hovey watched as his students began preparing for battle on the quad.
April Anderson, University Archivist, said the young men on campus were eager to fight for the Union and so formed a group called The Normal Rifles. "The country at that time thought that this was just an incursion, that it was going to be a quick war," said Anderson. "Hovey knew better, because Hovey saw the students here, the Normal Rifles, marching back and forth with wooden rifles in front of Old Main. They drilled themselves and the were preparing, they were ready to go."
Hovey wanted his students to graduate, so he worked out a deal with them that they would first graduate, then upon graduation they would form a regiment together -- the 33rd Illinois. Hovey took command of the regiment and served with distinction. The ISU Archive has the saber that he carried during the war, including the Battle of Vicksburg.
But it's not just weaponry at the archive. File upon file reveal the vast correspondence initiated by ISU's first librarian, Ange Milner during WWI. Milner cataloged all the ISU students who were serving in WWI. She collected over 800 files that contain a detailed survey from the student serving, plus photos and letters. "This is a really interesting record about the service of that student," Anderson said. "It included what they were doing before, during and after the war. I've never seen a collection like this at any University. The students wrote to Ange and they told her about their experiences in the trenches, about things blowing up, about getting hit with mustard gas. So it was a first hand account of the first mechanized war."