Civil War re-enactment features real life

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Sunday, May 22, 2011
— An army marches on its stomach.

It also marches via its blacksmith, its wheelwright and its carpenter.

On Saturday, a blacksmith, a carpenter and even a representative of the patent office were on hand in Lake Leota Park in Evansville to provide support for the 2nd Wisconsin, Volunteer Infantry Regiment and others in the “Rally ‘Round the Flag” Civil War home front re-enactment.

The event, which runs through 4 p.m. today, features living history demonstrations and parade ground drills.

It also features plenty of friendly re-enactors willing to demonstrate their skills or share secrets about how to make hard tack more palatable.

On Saturday, a small crowd had gathered about blacksmith Jon Theissen’s tent to watch him hammer iron into new shapes—and to listen to his engaging—and almost continuous— patter.

“The army could only go for three days without supplies,” explained Theissen, as he operated the bellows of his 1860s blacksmith stove.

“Being a blacksmith during the Civil War was a dangerous job,” Theissen said.

It wasn’t the prospect of burns or lugging around a 200-pound anvil.

The enemy knew that the best way to damage a regiment was by taking out the man who provided tools, fixed weapons, shoed horses and did a variety of other jobs.

Without the blacksmith, a regiment would have to depend on the locals, who weren’t likely to be friendly.

As he worked, Theissen explained the bits of trivia connected to his job. He showed his audience how metal varied from “red hot”—not very hot, in blacksmithing terms—to “orange hot”, then “yellow hot” and, finally, “white hot.”

“Did you know water on a fire can make it hotter?” he said, as he splashed water from a dented and darkened metal pitcher on the fire.

By dousing some of the coals, the heat consolidates and increases in the remaining coals, he explained.

On the other side of the camp, soldiers were cooking a late afternoon snack.

Ugljesha Pirocanac—the name is Serbian in case you’re wondering—of Waterloo, explained that hardtack was biscuits made of flour, salt and baking soda that were baked until they acquired anvil-like hardness.

“Eight squares a day were considered a bread ration,” Pirocanac said.

Pirocanac was cutting up salt pork into squares and cooking it over an improvised fire pit cut into the grass.

Soldiers also received a ration of sugar and coffee, and, if they were lucky, condensed milk.

“Borden was around before the Civil War,” said David May, a fellow Union solider from Baraboo.

May said one of the best ways to eat hardtack was to soak it in the fat from the salt pork and sprinkle it with sugar—because really, everything is better with bacon fat.

One of May’s fellow re-enactors once made a dish consisting of diced red and green cabbage mixed with the fat from salt pork.

“He wouldn’t tell me everything that was in it,” May said. “There might have been caraway seeds—or salt and pepper.”

As long as it contained that salty, bacony, fat, it would be just perfect.


What: “Rally ’Round the Flag” Civil War home front re-enactment.

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Lake Leota Park, Lake Leota Park Drive, Evansville. Signs along Highway 14 guide visitors to the site.

At 12:30, a “talking spirits” and Civil War veterans memorial ceremony will take place at Maple Hill Cemetery on Cemetery road.

Cost: Free.

Last updated: 5:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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