More than 5,000 watch Civil War re-enactment in Lake County
In February 1862, Civil War troops fought the Battle of Fort Donelson — a battle that opened Tennessee's Cumberland River to attacks from the North and cost the lives of 1,000 troops.
On Saturday and Sunday, in weather considerably warmer than it was for the original contest, the battle was fought again at the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda as part of the 21st annual Civil War Days, presented by the Lake County Forest Preserve District and the Lake County Discovery Museum.
Spectators, many dressed in Civil War costumes, watched a ferocious battle, as black powder smoke rose from rifles and cannons, and soldiers on horseback wielded swords.
Visitors also had a chance to visit such real historical figures as Gen. George Armstrong Custer, as well as visit tents with demonstrations of Civil War-era weapons and medical practices.
Seleena Kuester, museum educator, said between 5,000 and 6,000 people came to watch more than 500 re-enactors, with Saturday's figures dampened a bit by the hot weather.
This year's event was unprecedented in at least one aspect of its realism, with the digging of trenches, Kuester said.
"Our forest preserve operations crew dug the trenches with our heavy equipment, but then the re-enactors came out and dressed them with split rails, making them look a little more realistic," she said. "This helps, I think, to bring a little bit more attention to a historical topic that is of great importance to our area. We had a lot of men from Lake County who served in the Civil War."
Among the re-enactors was Richard Smanski, 27, of Hanover Park. He enacted the role of a Confederate staff officer, Lt. Claiborn Hall.
He said he began re-enacting in high school with a Boy Scout crew, eventually earning a master's in history with a focus on the Civil War period.
"The thing that really defines this war for me is the fact that what took place here — and the decisions that were made here, both at the societal level and the national level, are really what created America as we know it," he said.
For Volo resident Lesley Wall and her family, the event was a chance to experience history in person rather than on a printed page.
"I think being able to watch this, as opposed to reading about it, is so much more interesting to the kids. They get to see it up close and personal," she said.
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