Illinois State Military Museum a history lesson!

Illinois State Military Museum

A visit to this museum has been a long time coming! The Illinois State Military Museum is all about preserving the heritage of the Illinois National Guard. My husband Keith and I stopped outside to admire a few pieces of MAJOR equipment. We saw tanks and helicopters. Then we made our way up to the museum which looks rather like a castle.

Illinois State Military Museum

Part of Camp Lincoln

The Illinois State Military Museum is part of Camp Lincoln. Purchased in 1886 for $18,100 it was set up as a training facility for large groups. This was Camp Lincoln’s Commissary-Building, or “Castle”. It is the oldest permanent building on site.

The museum was established in 1878. It was first located at the Illinois State Capitol Building. Later the museum was moved to Camp Lincoln. When this happened in 1979, artifacts were moved as well. They were then stored at the commissary. In 2003, the building was renovated, and the museum opened to the public.

What you will find at the museum

Illinois State Military Museum

The website shares, “The exhibit includes rare items such as the artificial leg of Mexican General Santa Anna, a target board shot at by President Lincoln, as well as vehicles, weapons, uniforms, equipment and photographs. The Citizen-Soldier exhibit features the military experiences of famous Illinois soldiers such as Carl Sandburg, Robert McCormick, John A. Logan and Abraham Lincoln.”

Interview with Paul Fanning

Richard Schachtsiek who manned the front desk and museum director Paul Fanning

We toured this wonderful museum’s first and second floors. Then I had a chance to interview Paul Fanning, the Director. “I have been here for five years,” Paul said.

Paul Fanning served in the Army for 32 years. He shared one of the highlights of the museum is, “It tells a great story of the guard, and militia and why it is unique and different.”

You can’t come to a museum in Springfield without a Lincoln sighting! Paul Fanning points out Abraham Lincoln in the Blackhawk War display. However, perhaps the neatest Lincoln memorabilia is a target board where he shot seven times with a Spencer rifle. The seven consecutive shots were at a distance of forty yards while in the White House.

Illinois State Military Museum
This motorcycle and soldier is just one of the cool exhibits!

Paul Fanning also shared a bit of Hollywood. There is a John Wayne connection with the movie The Horse Soldiers. “It is about one of our guys.”

Besides the greatness of the Illinois past, Paul Fanning said, “We are open to the sins of our past.”

He was saying at the museum they do not try to hide the segregation in the history and other historical black eyes.

“The 370th Unit was the first Black unit that went to war with officers,” he added, sharing some proud firsts as well.

The museum has a fascinating Medal of Honor that was given to an immigrant Johannes Sigfrid Anderson from Finland. He fought for the US during World War I.

Illinois State Military Museum
Johannes Sigfrid Anderson’s Medal of Honor

Since taking over, Paul Fanning is trying to move exhibits around. Thus, if you visit at various times of the year, you will see something different each time!


“We also have one of the largest flag collections in the nation and the Civil War flags from the Hall of Flags,” Paul said. If a family member asks ahead of time to see a flag from a battle that they know their loved one was in that may be able to be arranged.

Where do items for the Illinois State Military Museum come from?

Paul Fanning said that soldiers bring in items all the time. One current display is of Goldberg the dog. He was a small dog that was at the front with soldiers during WWII. He came home with a soldier from Illinois. The gentleman’s great granddaughter donated pictures of the family and Goldberg. Now Paul said he is putting together a display about this.

Other items that have come from donations include weapons like one that was picked up during the Civil War at the Battle of Pea Ridge. “We are always looking for things so bring items in,” Paul said.

Richard Schachtsiek was manning the counter when we visited, and Paul said that he is the weapons expert and helps him with this history!

Always looking for information

There is unique history everywhere! During the Korean War, Paul said units didn’t go overseas as a whole unit, but some soldiers went as individuals. He is trying to find information on those soldiers.

There are many special stories to read while visiting like reading about how the 106th Cavalry Group from Illinois helped free King Leopold of Belgium and his family from their German captors during World War II.


At the museum they often have speakers on the weekends. So, this is a very vibrant museum where the community can learn from volunteers who give of their time. “The biggest point is to educate. We hold events all year long,” Paul Fannig said.

The museum is a self-guided tour. How long it takes to view depends entirely on the individual! The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday from 1:00 to 4:30 or by appointment. Admission and parking are free. The museum is located at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. They survive on donations.

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