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February 2006

2006 Calendar of Events

February 18 Board meeting at Bob’s house in Joliet, IL at 4 pm (pizza lunch at noon with round-rolling/stitching to follow)
March 11-12 Indoor Infantry Drill (round-rolling/game club/movie night in the evening) at Dollinger Farm at 9 am
April 15 Unit Dues are Due!
April 21-23 Living History with the 45th Illinois Infantry, Downtown Galena, IL
May 19-21 Re-enactment at Naperville, IL
May 29 Color Guard Ceremony at Rosehill Cemetery at 9:30 am
June 2-4 Living History (timeline event) at Milwaukee, WI
July 7-9 Re-enactment at Wauconda, IL
July 21-23 Re-enactment at Glenview, IL
August 4-6 Re-enactment with the 26th North Carolina Infantry (Unit will be Confederate) at Boscobel, WI
August 11-13 Living History at Des Plaines, IL – military will fall in under the 10th Illinois Infantry
September 8-10 Re-enactment at Lockport, IL
September 15-17 Re-enactment at Marengo, IL
October 6-8 Re-enactment at Perryville, KY
October 13-15 Re-enactment at Princeton, IL
October 20-22 Re-enactment at Minooka, IL
November 12 Color Guard Ceremony at Rosehill Cemetery at 9:30 am
December 2 Christmas Party

Remember that you can always find more event details and directions at the unit website, http://www.64thill.org/events/. We also have info on several Civil War dances/formal balls held throughout the year in the area.

Board Elections

Congratulations to the 2006-2008 Board winners!

Your fruit baskets are on their way.

Thank you to everyone who sent in their nomination and election ballots. We had an excellent voter response this year!

Dues/Insurance Costs

Just a reminder that 2006 dues/insurance fees are due on April 15, 2006, after which there is a “grace period” of 30 days. The 2006 dues are $10 per individual or $15 per family. Insurance fees are $9 per member and are not optional. Please note that the insurance fee is slightly higher this year due to higher premiums. Please send your dues and insurance fees to our treasurer, Dianna Bierman.

Recruiting Efforts

Over the winter we’ve already received several inquiries and lots of interest from potential recruits, both military and civilian. What a great way to start off the 2006 season! Much traffic is now being generated through the unit’s website, which is constantly being updated. If you know someone who is interesting in joining the 64th or learning more about the unit, feel free to direct them to John Thurston (military), or Marge Dernulc or Mary Gutzke (civilian) for more information.

Western Brigade

Last year the 64th fell in with the Western Brigade at the national event at Corinth, MS. The members that attended the event were very impressed with this organization. Scott is researching the possibility of the 64th officially joining the Western Brigade for future events. Both the Western Brigade and the 1st Illinois Battalion will be attending the national event in Perryville this year.

Bob the Gray

No, this isn’t a deranged version of “Lord of the Rings” starring Bob Bierman as Gandolf. Instead, Bob has been contacted by several area Confederate units to help form the Confederate Brigade of Illinois, and provide direction in getting it off the ground. So just in case you see Bob out and about in a strange-looking uniform this summer, you’ll know what’s going on…. We wish the Confederate Brigade of Illinois good luck during their first season!

Next Board Meeting

The next meeting will be at the Bierman’s house on Saturday, Feb. 18. Pizza lunch will be provided by the unit at noon, with round-rolling/ladies’ stitching in the afternoon; the meeting will follow at 4 pm.

Chaplain’s Corner
By Jerry Kowalski

This past Christmas season, many people got their underwear in a bunch over the political correctness of wishing others Merry Christmas. The next politically correct problem to arise will probably be a prohibition against saying “God Bless You” when someone sneezes. Already movement is afoot to remove the words “In God We Trust” from our currency and coinage. I have given some thought to this matter and have the following to offer for your consideration;

Which raises the questions:

I invite your thoughts and reply to Chaplain Jerry Kowalski paptom@msn.com

Door’s Open
By Ken Gough

Ahhh. My midwinter obsession. Those of you who know me know all about my bouts of winter madness. I always find some off the wall subject no one else thinks is important to focus on. This to fill those short days until the wood smoke can once again bring tears to my eyes.


Not something to really get excited about. We all take it for granted, don’t we. However, I with my ability (or maybe curse) of looking into seemingly inane topics have chosen to delve into this subject.

First, what is needed to make the stuff in the first place? Lye (sodium hydroxide to you science geeks), water, and oils or fats. Sounds simple enough. Run down to the local supermarket, pick up what you need, cook it up.

Not so fast. Place yourself in the war years. Prior to the Civil War the soap industry used a great deal of cottonseed oil for their production of soap. With the south in rebellion, it kinda puts a crimp in things.

Sure, soap making was a pioneer skill that was practiced on the farm and other rural settings all over the country, but Hollywood not withstanding, some eighty percent of the north’s population lived in urban areas. Sure they had access to the lye and water. Lye was leeched by filtering water through a barrel or hopper filled with wood ashes. For the most part this was simply cooked down with tallow or lard to produce a soft soap that was kept in a wooden bowl carved from a tree bole. But the oils. Hard soap requires a lot of oil, about two thirds or more. If you lived in town, where do you suppose you would get enough fats or oils to make up more than a token batch of soap? You could save enough from your kitchen to supply your families needs, certainly not enough to spare more than a lump or two to a soldier from your own family.

Soap chandlers across the country were scrambling to find replacement ingredients for their production. Tallow and lard from slaughter houses replaced the easier to work with oils. Rendering fats takes longer than pressing oils. What did this mean to you, the consumer? Prices are going to go up. Quality of the product is going down.

With my madness in full swing, I decided to give soap making a try. Digging around I came up with a few recipes. Waiting for a Saturday with my wife at work, I brought out my arsenal of utensils, purchased and hidden away for just this. Even I wouldn’t go as far as to use hers. Particularly after she had seen me reading up on soap making and flatly told me “Not in my house!” Enlisting the aid (press gang count?) of my daughter, I went to work.

Five hours later. After melting pounds of lard, making up a smoking witch’s brew of drain cleaner (yup, I said drain cleaner) and chasing down a cat whose tail got into the mix. After all that, getting busted by my wife who got off early with Beth hollering “He made me do it!” Funny, she’s twenty four and still felt the need to scoot up the stairs to get out of the line of fire. Finally, we were stirring up a slowly thickening goo of something that charitably could be called soap. The next day it was hard enough to be cut into bars and stacked. Now that slimy mass has to sit and cure for between six to eight weeks before it can be safely used.

I suspect that this is the step, or rather the skipping of this step, that lye soap gets its bad rap. Until it’s cured the lye is still active even though it looks harmless. It can burn your skin from just handling the bars. After proper curing, it’s as safe as any you will buy in the store today.

After it’s been cured it will be grated, remelted with more oils, then poured into molds to harden. This step can be done in a living history setting as the soap will be harmless. This step is not absolutely necessary as the soap is usable as is but it will make for better bars. They will then be ready to be mailed to whatever soldier you think is most in need of a bath.

What did this teach me? Making soap is a lot of work. More than I ever thought and I was using ingredients purchased at the store. I didn’t boil down my lye from ashes, or render my own fats. Now think of about six million men off to war, up to a quarter of the basic ingredients for soap making out of reach. You have to supply soap for both the army (after submitting the lowest bid of course) and for sale to the civilian population. Now try and make a profit at the same time. Talk about a challenge.

How much do you think that three cent bar of soap you bought in 1860 is going to cost by say 1864?

Should any of you wish to follow in my insanity I’ll be happy to furnish a receipt that I know will work using easy to get ingredients. Your local library has dozens of books on the subject. It’s not hard to do but care must be taken when working with the lye. You must follow all precautions on the container. Mixing the lye should be done slowly and in a well ventilated area to avoid getting any on yourself or breathing the fumes. All joking aside, it really is dangerous and at all times, I kept a bottle of vinegar handy to neutralize any spills.

Stop on by the cabin at the next event and see the finished product. We’ll have it Stacked on a shelf for use. Another valuable addition to the display.


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