Civil War scenes re-enacted in Lake County
For the 22nd year, the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda resounded with the rattle of rifle shots and the concussion of cannon fire during the annual two-day Civil War commemoration.
On Sunday, Civil War Days culminated with the 1863 Battle of Champion Hill, a key victory for Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in his Vicksburg campaign.
Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources for the Lake County Discovery Museum, which hosted of the event, reminded the crowd that the state of Illinois had the second-highest number of casualties of any state in the nation.
"The battles were not fought here in Lake County, but just in Lake County ... over 2,000 men were enlisted in the (96th) Illinois volunteers and other regiments," she said.
Battle narrator Erik Schultz, his voice sometimes drowned out by gunfire, explained the fine points of 1860s warfare as cavalry horses conducted reconnaissance, prior to the full scale battle involving artillery and infantry.
Spectators crowded into shaded picnic areas to watch the simulation. They included Beth Hale, of Gurnee, who said she and her boyfriend are into Civil War history.
"I love feeling immersed in it, with everyone dressed up. It's neat to see it play out. It's something you can't really get from a book," she said.
Participants dressed in period garb, and the area was filled with horses and cannons, both of which were deployed in the battle.
Among those fighting for the South as a private was Gurnee resident Matt Oclon, in his fourth year doing this re-enactment. He said when you break it down, it is only an hour of fighting during each battle, but what really makes it worthwhile is the camping and camaraderie with friends.
Bob Benedik, of Carpentersville, said he became involved after he was asked to join a re-enactment.
"The cannon went off. I looked at everybody and said, 'I'm hooked,'" Benedik recalled.
Rena Oclon, Matt's mother, participated while wearing a Civil War era dress. Steve Oclon, Matt's father, who lives in Elgin and is a cabinetmaker and amateur metal worker, said he wound up building cannons as well. One of his cannons was out in the field Sunday.
Steve Oclon said he was lucky enough to find someone to build the barrel, customizing it to the time period, For the trunnion supports, he found a place in Michigan that cast them off original pieces. For the wheels, he "got lucky," finding two cannon wheels in Pennsylvania that he bought sight unseen.
"They came back, and they were an extremely important addition. They were pre-Harpers' Ferry, 1861," he said. "Shooting a 12-pound mountain howitzer, live fire, is a treat. The cannon will jump up in the air about six-eight inches and go about two-three feet back."