Evansville re-enactment camp gives kids a taste of Civil War life

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Saturday, May 19, 2012
— Two crooked lines of eighth-graders marched across a baseball field carrying musket-shaped boards.

In the distance, cannon fire echoed through Lake Leota Park.

Across the creek, kids learned about life in 1860 as they moved through stations of white canvas tents in a camp replicating the Civil War era.

Evansville sixth-grader Ron Cresswell and his classmates watched as re-enactor Bob Mann of Brookfield ordered his uniformed troops to fire their muskets. Kids sat plugging their ears while others took pictures.

“I think the entire camp is just amazing—how they can bring back the guns and shoot them in front of us,” Ron said.

Re-enactors from around the Midwest filled about 20 stations that more than 1,800 middle school students from around the area visited Friday at the park. The invite-only day for schools kicked off the second annual Rally ’Round the Flag, a Civil War sesquicentennial event put on by the Evansville Grove Society.

Events continue today through Sunday afternoon at the park, along with a few events elsewhere, such as a parade and a military ball tonight at Creekside Place. The weekend includes speeches, a concert by the 1st Brigade Band, Civil War fashion show, supper with the troops, church service in period style with live music and artillery demonstrations.

The shade of the park helped filter the hot sun for re-enactors, dressed head-to-toe in heavy military uniforms or large dresses. Ron and many of his peers said they couldn’t imagine living in that era.

“Especially the food,” he said.

Life without a freezer seemed to amaze some students as they watched Wendy Heiken of Galena, Ill., cook over an open campfire.

“You got to wait one-and-a-half days to cook your beans,” Evansville fifth-grader Dodge Levin cited as a reason why he wouldn’t want to live in that era. “And having to be a kid going into the war.”

Heiken told students how pigs were butchered in late fall so families could eat ham and bacon through winter. Such food wasn’t available in summer because it would spoil, she said. The hungriest times of the year were April and May, the months when stored food started running out and gardens produced little fresh food.

Asparagus and rhubarb were among the seasonal vegetables on Heiken’s table Friday.

Heiken’s camp included two tents, complete with a table and chairs under a canopy, where she will live through the weekend. She is a member of Historical Timekeepers, a civilian Civil War re-enactor group in southeastern Wisconsin. Friday was her first school event, but she has 12 events planned through October.

“I love history. I love living history,” she said. “I love the clothes. I love the food—I really love the cooking. I love the simplicity.”

The cannon and musket firings were among the highlights for most students.

“The cannon was loud!” Lodi fifth-grader Gloria Bilse said.

“I didn’t know how many horses died,” Lodi fourth-grader Signe Lee said after watching a presentation on cavalry in the war.

Perched atop a horse, one re-enactor told students how 2.2 million horses were killed in the Civil War—or one in five horses in the country. It also wasn’t uncommon for a horse to head back into camp from a battle and have eight to 10 bullets removed, he said.

Gloria and classmate Jamie Williams agreed it would be scary to live during the Civil War.

“I would just not like it at all. It would be scary for me fighting, families apart from each other,” Jamie said. “It would just be very sad.”

If you go

What: Rally ‘Round the Flag! second annual Civil War living history event

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Most events are in Evansville’s Lake Leota Park, with others at Maple Hill Cemetery and Creekside Place, Evansville.

Cost: Most events are free.

Details: For a complete schedule with times and locations of events, visit grovesociety.org.

Last updated: 8:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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