Lady Elgin Disaster
In September of 1860, Lake Michigan suffered one of its worst marine disasters in history. The Lady Elgin was a side paddle Great Lake Steamer on a return voyage from Milwaukee to Chicago. On its way back north just after midnight on September 8th, it collided with the Schooner Augusta, south bound for Chicago. The Augusta was fortunate and survived the accident, making it the rest of the way to Chicago. Four miles off the coast of Illinois, the Elgin was not as lucky and sank within the hour. A rough estimate of the number of passengers on board that night is 398, most Milwaukee citizens, of which only 96 survived the disaster.
Most of the passengers were Irishmen from the Union Guard, a militia unit based out of the Third Ward. Returning from a political rally in Chicago during a very tumultuous time in America, immediately preceding the Civil War, the Union Guard represented a significant number of the growing Irish population in Milwaukee. Following the sinking of the Lady Elgin, their community was devastated by the loss of so many of its prominent members.