Nearly a thousand invited guests gathered in Chicago on the morning of June 5, 1854, to board two long trains that pulled out of the La Salle Street Station, bound for Rock Island on newly completed track. Arriving in Rock Island that same evening, the trains were greeted by spectacular fireworks, which saw the steamboats and their passengers off on their seven-day trip upriver.
This "Grand Excursion" occurred a week after President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act revoking the Missouri Compromise (1820), which had prohibited slavery in Kansas and Nebraska. Historians agree that this act was the decisive event setting the nation on a collision course to the Civil War. A microcosm of antebellum society, the excursionists debated national policy and happily viewed the spectacular Upper Mississippi scenery, while their nation was careening headlong into disaster.
To narrate the story of the Grand Excursion of 1854, author Steven Keillor makes excellent use of editors’ accounts, journals, and letters.
About the Author:
Steven J. Keillor is a historian who has written extensively on Minnesota and U.S. history, including biographies of Minnesota governors Knute Nelson and Hjalmar Petersen, and a history of rural cooperatives. He has taught history at several Minnesota colleges and universities, including the University of Minnesota, from which he received his doctorate in 1993.