RISING SUN — Although 154 years have passed since Union and Confederate soldiers last faced off on the battlefield, the Blue and the Gray saw action once again — under much more amicable circumstances this time — at the Rising Sun Civil War Festival Oct. 4-6 at Veterans Memorial Park.
Reenactors set up camp and opened up their living classroom for school visitations on Friday, Oct. 4, and welcomed the public on Oct. 5 and 6. On Saturday and Sunday, the re-enactors also participated in the Battle of Rising Sun.
Before Saturday’s battle, George Fischel crafted empty canon rounds out of foil while Lynne Houck filled them with 2 ounces of gunpowder each.
Houck, who was reenacting on the Confederate side, said she got involved with Civil War reenacting after her husband and son were already doing it and she tagged along.
When she started, Houck helped out around camp as many women did during the 1860s. But after growing bored of those duties, Houck lended her hand with artillery preparations.
“I’ve been working the canon ever since,” she said.
Houck was in charge of a canon called “Wavie Jane” — a family name of sorts.
“She’s named after my husband’s aunt from North Carolina because she was short and she was loud, and Wavie Jane is short and loud,” Houck said, adding that Wavie Jane shoots 6-ounce rounds as opposed to some of her counterparts that require only 2 ounces per round.
Across the bridge, Union reenactors from the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company K, prepared for battle and showed members of the public how to fire a rifle.
One spectator who was up to the task was Sue Fenner, of Bel Air. Fenner said she has fired a rifle before but her previous experiences with guns were nothing like this.
“It was very loud,” she said. “The gun was a little heavy and it was very powerful. I think it’s nice of them to let us try it out.”
Fenner said the festival is important simply because the Civil War is part of American history.
“Whether you agree with everything that happened or not, it is a part of what made this nation what it is,” she said. “I believe that we need to learn the good and the bad so that we know how to make our country better.”
Among the Union reenactors was Zachery Bleacher, of York, Pa., who got involved with Civil War reenacting after a college friend introduced him to it.
At first, Bleacher was unsure of the hobby, but his friend talked him into it and he has been reenacting for 16 years.
Bleacher said historical events like the Civil War festival serve as a reminder of the past and a cautionary tale for the future.
“It is absolutely important to remember where we came from and even where we’re headed,” he said. “You’ve got to understand history or, as they say, you’re doomed to repeat it.”
As a reenactor, Bleacher considers himself and his compatriots to be amateur educators, supplementing the information that may not be taught in traditional classrooms. When children visit their campground, Bleacher said he is often surprised by how little many of them know about the Civil War, but he is hoping to change that.
“We’ve been talking to kids all weekend and I’ve been flabbergasted at the lack of information that they’re given time and time again — or misinformation that they’re given … It’s a shame and we try to curtail that as much as we can and dispel some of those myths and give them some truths and give them a taste and feel for what it was like,” he said. “It’s why we’re out here. It’s why we do what we do.”
One of the younger reenactors at the festival on Saturday was 17-year-old Destin Mosko, of Hanover, Pa.
Mosko said he got involved with Civil War reenacting when he was about 9 years old. He said it is especially important for young people to learn about the nation’s history so they know the foundation the country was built upon.
“If you don’t know about our history, then you don’t have the right to call yourself an American,” he said. “You need to know our history so that we don’t repeat it, but also so we can embrace it and take pride in it. Not everything about it, but we need to be able to say ‘This is what happened and I’m proud that it happened because that is my history.’”
Bleacher calls reenacting “experimental archaeology” — an opportunity to not only study history, but to live it.
“It’s the only way you can really get down and experience what it was like to live during the Civil War, to be a soldier, to be general, to be a civilian, is to experience it first-hand,” he said. “Through that, you can really live out what it was like, what did they eat, what did they smell like, what hardships did they go through, what were they feeling, what were they sensing.”
Some Civil War events give reenactors a complete immersion where they have to hike 5 to 10 miles, set up camp and live with no modern amenities. By living as soldiers would have during the Civil War, Bleache said the experience provides a deeper understanding of what they would have been going through.
“Your food is supplied through period rations. You’re like ‘It’s raining, it’s muddy, I’m soaking wet, this is terrible and this is what they went through every day.’ … You’re living through that. Why would you even go and then fight for somebody on top of that? Why would you even have the energy, or the oomph or the gumption to stand next to a hundred of your compatriots and go ‘Alright, let’s go shoot at these guys.’”
But through reading memoirs from the soldiers themselves, Bleacher discovered that for many of them their will to fight was fueled by more than any single issue; they fought for one another, Bleacher said.
“It gets down to the nitty gritty of the guy standing next to you that you’re sharing a tent with, that you’re soaking wet and you’re stuck in the mud and you’re hungry and you’re tired and you’re itchy from the lice and fleas ... It’s about them. It isn’t about anything else at that point. You’re there for each other," he said.