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updated: 8/30/2011 8:46 AM

Civil War re-enactment — it's what he loves

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  • Ken Gough has participated in Civil War re-enactments for 40 years. He has most recently begun to focus on the Elgin Continentals -- one of the first regiments to join the war from Illinois. He is seen here in their uniform.

      Ken Gough has participated in Civil War re-enactments for 40 years. He has most recently begun to focus on the Elgin Continentals -- one of the first regiments to join the war from Illinois. He is seen here in their uniform.
    courtesy of Ken Gough

  • Ken Gough suited up for Elgin's Cemetery Walk wearing the 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry uniform in Bluff City Cemetery. He has participated in re-enactments for 40 years and enjoys researching Civil War history as well as teaching others about it.

      Ken Gough suited up for Elgin's Cemetery Walk wearing the 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry uniform in Bluff City Cemetery. He has participated in re-enactments for 40 years and enjoys researching Civil War history as well as teaching others about it.
    courtesy of Ken Gough

 
 

In Ken Gough's 40th year doing re-enactments, he has chosen to highlight the story of the Elgin Continentals -- one of the first regiments in Illinois to join the Civil War.

For many years, Gough of Elgin said he did at least 15 re-enactments a season, going out onto the battlefield dressed as a Union soldier.

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Now it's more like six to eight events between May and October and he tends to focus on "living history" where he spends a re-enactment weekend talking about a particular story instead of fighting.

"I use the uniform as a teaching tool," Gough said.

For about five years, Gough said he constructed a portable log cabin at events. He goes into schools and gives demonstrations and teaches lessons. He guest lectures in college classes. He brings history to life with his collected artifacts and period uniforms.

And it all goes back to his childhood.

His mother used to force him to watch "Gone With the Wind" -- a movie that offered the majority of her Civil War era knowledge, Gough said.

"We had to see that god-awful movie every year like a trek to Mecca," Gough said. "I started studying Civil War to pick at her, being the rebellious kid I was. And I just kind of fell in love with the time period."

Re-enactments have shaped his life since then.

Gough met his wife in 1975 at a re-enactment in Chickamauga, Ga. Her father belonged to the same outfit he did, which brought them together. They dated from re-enactment to re-enactment and eventually married, having two daughters -- one who has embraced the family activity.

When Gough first started re-enacting, he joined up with the 12th South Carolina Infantry Regiment. He said much more than half of new recruits choose the Confederacy because of the romanticized "underdog" spirit. But he soon moved to the Union side with The Mudsills, a re-enacting group from the Midwest, and has stuck with them ever since.

Gough said he is also a member of several other groups in the area. Sometimes groups like his band together to work as extras in movies about the Civil War. The re-enactors volunteer their time and save all the money they would be paid into a separate account for land purchases.

At the end of the movie shoot they see how much money they have and use it to buy a piece of endangered property that relates to the Civil War. Then they donate it to the National Park Service for ongoing maintenance.

Gough said he and his fellow re-enactors are realistic about their mission to save the land.

"Every history group in the world thinks that their moment in history needs to be preserved," Gough said. "If we preserved it all, the United States of America would be on about three acres and the rest would be national park."

But little by little, sometimes just four or five acres at a time, these groups do buy and donate land for preservation.

Looking back at his 40 years of involvement, Gough doesn't see a time when he'll stop altogether, though he has already slowed down. History, in some form, will always be a major part of his life.

Whether it's research he does with the Elgin Area Historical Society or for people who want to know more about their own Civil War family history, he will continue to collect paperwork for timeline studies and share his knowledge with others. It's what he loves.

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