In the days of the Civil War, it was brother against brother and countryman against countryman.
But what few appreciate is that if we had been alive then, they might have been our brothers, our fathers, our uncles or even us.
There’s no greater testament to the soldiers who were recruited from Northern Illinois and its suburbs than the members of the 10th Illinois Regiment, who depict what life was like in a Union military camp in 1863.
The re-enactors will camp on the grounds of Graue Mill and Museum in Oak Brook for two days and perform cooking, drilling and black powder firing demonstrations with authentic clothing, weapons and tools from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1 and 2, as part of the free annual Civil War Encampment.
“It gives you this really immersive look at what it would be like if you lived in a Union camp,” said Leslie Goddard, executive director at Graue Mill and Museum.
Roughly 25 members of the 10th Illinois Regiment will participate in the encampment, and more than 500 people come to get a taste of the Civil War over the event’s two days, Goddard said.
The demonstrations are interactive and allow kids to participate and see what steps were involved as you went into battle, for example, or what tools were used for cooking in the Civil War era.
“There were strict regimens about what you did when you went into battle,” Goddard said. “And it’s not just watching it. It’s fully sensory — you can smell the wood of the cooking.”
The encampment takes on special meaning this year, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
“I think it’s a good time to reflect on what made the war such an important time period,” Goddard said. “I hope people will get a new appreciation for the Civil War. It was such a pivotal period in our nation’s history, and I think it’s easy to forget that people in this area were profoundly impacted by the war.”
Goddard said the location of the encampment is an important part of the experience, being that the mill was built and used in the Civil War era.
“It’s a very evocative setting,” she said. “Graue Mill has a close connection with the Civil War because there’s a long-standing oral history that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. There were certainly people at the mill who were actively involved in the critical issues of the Civil War.”
Most people respond with amazement at how life back then was both really different in some ways and really similar in others to life today, Goddard said.
The thought of going to battle in a wool coat in August is appalling to men now, for example, but their experiences of communicating with loved ones, being resourceful and building connections with fellow soldiers are the same.
“A lot of military camp was about making friends and making do with what you have, so that’s the same,” Goddard said.
The particular company that the 10th Illinois Regiment portrays was formed on April 19, 1861, in Sandwich, and was the first full company formed in the state.
“It’s a pretty historical group,” said Robert Winter, an executive officer of the 10th Illinois Regiment who portrays a colonel.
Winter has been re-enacting with the 10th Illinois Regiment for 22 years, and he does it so people don’t forget what men during the Civil War did, and what all soldiers do, for our country.
“I’ve always been a Civil War historian, and it was one of those things where I thought it’d be good to get out and educate the public and experience what it was like to march in their feet,” Winter said.
The Civil War is a passion for the re-enactors, Winter said, and they spend a lot of time reading about and researching the war for their audiences, many of whom also have a strong interest in that time period.
“I’m sure they’re all historians in their own minds, in their own way,” Winter said. “Making people walk away and want to learn more, that’s our thing.”
For anyone who’s interested in learning more about history, the Civil War is the perfect period to start with, Goddard said. They can get a fascinating glimpse of the war in a short time, or they can spend hours upon hours looking at what research and study reveal.
“It’s a period that lends itself to rewarding historical discovery,” Goddard said. “Once you get interested in it, it just unfolds with stories and research and insight.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.