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now on display

Our Cause is Just

Lincoln Heritage Museum's 2021 special exhibit Our Cause is Just: the Hawes Family during the Civil War tells the story of one Logan County, Illinois family during the Civil War.  See Civil War weapons, tools, uniforms and actual letters written by Hawes family members on the battlefield and while at home.


The Hawes Family During the Civil War

In many ways, John and Esther Hawes and their children from Logan County, Illinois were a typical Civil War era family. Like other Illinois families, the Hawes family persevered through the many challenges brought by our nation fighting itself. Esther bore five children with her first husband, Joseph Ewing, before he died in 1838. She married John Hawes in 1839. Together John and Esther had four children, three of whom survived to adulthood. At the outbreak of the war in 1861, only five of Esther’s nine children were still living: Louisa Ewing Shores (28), James Ewing (27), George Hawes (21), Henry Hawes (17), and Martha “Mattie” Hawes (11).

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, George was away from home attending Butler College in Ohio. He shortly thereafter wrote a letter home telling his parents he had enlisted in the fight. James Ewing, who was married with two children at the time, enlisted soon afterward. The Hawes family initially did not approve of Henry joining the war effort, reasoning that “they should have one son left with them’’. By 1862 however, Henry felt compelled to enlist and his parents finally gave their consent.

All three sons joined different companies of the 17th Illinois regiment, which were sent south to fight in Tennessee. By 1863, George and Henry’s companies became part of the infamous siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, which was a key position to controlling the Mississippi River and cutting the Confederacy physically in half. Following that battle victory, the brothers were sent their separate ways. 


The Hawes Collection

What distinguishes the John and Esther Hawes family from many other Illinois families ravaged by the Civil War is that from 1861 to 1865, the family at home and their sons on the battlefront exchanged over a hundred letters that have been preserved through the generations. James Hawes, a descendant of Civil War veteran Henry Hawes, acquired the letters when the family was clearing out an ancestor’s home. In 2012, James and Joanne Hawes donated the collection of letters to Lincoln Heritage Museum.

The Hawes Collection is unique due to the honesty of the Hawes soldiers; their letters back home contain graphic descriptions of death and brutality during the Civil War. Most soldiers writing home wanted to shield their families from the reality of war. The 112 letters contained in the Hawes Collection provide first-hand accounts from numerous battles, including Fort Donelson and the Siege of Vicksburg. Family gossip from back home, and the family’s thoughts on Abraham Lincoln, General Grant and several other significant figures are also contained in the vast Hawes Collection. The letters are often deeply introspective and include insightful commentary on the subject of emancipation, the meaning of war, and the future of the country. The letters are filled with emotion; they relay the joy of Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, and the shock of his assassination.

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