Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Life in Jacksonburgh (Cascades Civil War Muster in Jackson, Michigan 2012)

It's been a few years since I've posted about the Jackson, Michigan Civil War event, so I thought I would give you all a taste of how my family and I (as well a few hundred others) spent the last full weekend in August.
How can I explain a Civil War event such as the one that takes place in Jackson? Well, I think to begin with is...it's BIG. Yes, it's true: more reenactors and living historians participate at the Jackson event (officially known as the Cascades Civil War Muster, after the Cascades Falls Park in which at all takes place) than any other in Michigan. And possibly in the entire Great Lakes region, if I'm not mistaken.
In fact, I've been told that it is as close to a national event as you can get without actually being one. There is plenty of space to play in the 457 acre Cascades Park, and yet with the amount of reenactors that normally attend it can fill up fairly quickly.
(Mind you, I am not comparing Jackson to a national event, so please don't write me to tell me how much larger a national event is. I already know. I am only giving an example here. It's a shame that I even need to write this disclaimer, but, because of past experience, I do.)
The Union military during morning drill
The battles are pretty extensive and, during this 150th remembrance they usually attempt to choose battles by the coinciding year. This year of 1862 saw 2nd Bull Run/Manassas on Saturday, and Stones River on Sunday. Both were well played out and the crowd that came to watch did not leave disappointed.
The smell of gunpowder filled the air

The military unit I am with, the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry, was the color guard for the Battle of Stones River, and my son, Robbie, proudly carried the 21st Michigan flag onto the battlefield.
The musket fire was non-stop!
The infantry, cavalry, and artillery (I believe there were 11 cannons there) participated in force, giving a good representation of the sights and sounds as it may have been seen and heard 150 years ago. Have you ever heard nearly a dozen cannons going off one after another?
Can you hear - and feel - the cannon's boom?
Add to that the constant sound of a few hundred muskets firing, along with the sight, smell, & taste of gunpowder and you'll have an idea of the sensation of what a battle during the Jackson Civil War event is like.
That also gives a fair idea (on a much smaller scale) of what local folks heard during an actual battle a century and a half ago.
The Rebels were out in full force...
...but the losses on both sides were great.
But there is more to the Jackson event than battles; living history for the civilians is given just as much precedence, and many of the civilian participants actively bring home life during the 1860's alive before the visitor's eyes by creating a small town atmosphere. The volunteers from Cascades committee and from the host unit, the 7th Michigan, have, over the last few years, been building false-front structures to give the historical impressions area a more authentic feel. It grows by one or two false-fronts a year and will, hopefully, become a regular "faux" town.
Welcome to Jacksonburgh, Michigan
Notice the title of this posting: "Life in Jacksonburgh."
Like numerous others, I thought the powers that be just grabbed the name Jacksonburgh out of thin air, maybe combining Jackson with Gettysburg to give it that historical Civil War flavor.
Not so.
The city of Jackson was originally called Jacksonburgh back in 1830. It was then changed to Jacksonopolis in 1835.
Finally, in 1838 it became plain old Jackson, Michigan.
'Twas a busy little town, old Jacksonburgh
So I guess technically Jacksonburgh is not quite correct for 1862...but that's okay. At least we're able to give a bit more on the city's history than probably most of its residents may know.
This year, as in previous years, I've held the position of Postmaster. Since Jacksonburgh represents a rural town, I run a rural post office out of my home/tent, not unlike so many other postmasters of the period.
But, as stated above, Jacksonburgh is growing into a city (it eventually becomes the City of Jackson in 1857) and this year the actual 21st century United States Post Office has erected a pretty fancy 1860's post office that includes a telegraph.
A very impressive big-city post office set up. Awesome job!

How can I, a small-time rural postmaster, compete with that?
I can't.
So I'm quitting.
Yup - I'm done postmastering.
I am changing my occupation.
But not because of this big-city post office.
Actually, since this fancy schmancy post office is only set up at Jackson, I would have no problem continuing on as postmaster at all of the other events I participate at.
But I'm bored.
After something like seven years of doing this same old thing of postmastering over and over, I'm getting very *yawn* tired of it.
So I am working on my next incarnation.
A gathering of friends at the rural post office
I'll keep my new occupation a secret for a while until I have all of the facts and figures taken care of.
I'll give you a hint, though...back in April of 2011 I wrote an extensive posting on a subject that grows nearer and dearer to my heart as I continue my research.
And we'll leave it at that for the time being...
Back at the Jackson event...well, do you remember our time-travel excursion a few of us took this past July (The Glorious Fourth)? Particularly making homemade ice cream while at the farm? Well, upon our return to the 21st century I searched around the internet and purchased as close to a period-correct ice cream maker that I could locate and afford.
So guess what we did on the steamy 92 degree Saturday at Jackson?
"It's not so hard turning the handle," he said at first.
Yup - we made ice cream.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people my age knew what it was - it's not something one sees very often - but the best part was seeing the children's faces when I told them what we were doing.
"You've been to the Dairy Queen, haven't you?" I asked a few of the elementary-age kids.
They nodded their heads.
"Well, haven't you seen all of their workers in back, each one holding an ice cream maker and turning the handle?"
They only stared in reply, not sure if I was being serious or not.
At least the parents gave me a sympathy chuckle...
"Where'd you get the ice?" One parent asked me.
"Where do you get your ice?" I responded.
"Well, we make it," he told me.
"Oh," I said, "Then you own the ice house down the road! I didn't recognize you!"
He enjoyed the bantering.
Of course, we allowed the modern children to take a few turns in cranking the handle. And our own 1860's kids took their turns as well.
That is, until the cream became pretty thick...
The adults took turns making ice cream once the children could not turn the wooden handle so easily
Since we made six quarts we were able to treat many of our reenacting friends to this delectable delight, though I didn't want to chance giving a taste to the modern children walking by; the way society is today I would not feel comfortable doing that. Just one allergic reaction and we're done for.
Everyone, including adults (and non-period-dressed reenacting friends) enjoyed the fruits of ice cream making labor

And there were other ways living historians found to keep cool.
Here is something rarely seen at reenactments:
Women in 1860's bathing "costumes" - yes, they were called bathing costumes
And did they enjoy swimming in the icy cold water of the fountain!
The ladies of the 24th Michigan certainly know how to enjoy themselves in the summer heat!
The Michigan Soldiers Aid Society was at Jackson as well. Here is another group of civilians that practice what they preach in living history. Quilt making, period-correct beauty projects, bonnet making, and sewing classes are just a few of the things they do. In fact, they set up a table here to sell little novelties and notions to help raise funds for the fighting men in blue
Ladies of the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society
One of the 21st Michigan civilian members, Miss Rebecca, is becoming quite the expert on tea and has been spending much of her time researching the popular Victorian drink and its history. She has done a wonderful job and even did a presentation during this weekend.
She wrote an interesting post on her blog about her exploits.
Miss Rebecca and a portion of her tea presentation. Yes, that is a brick of tea you see sitting upon the table.
Moving out of our little town of Jacksonburgh, one will find another world far up beyond the hill. That's where the majority of civilians camp. It's a mini neighborhood in itself.

Wait-----did I say "mini"?
Heck! I'll bet there was a hundred-plus tents tucked back there, each filled with reenacting families wearing their 1860's finest. And the way this area looked at night is like seeing a time long past return.
 And we mustn't forget the sutlers. We in the reenacting world call the area in which the sutlers set up their shops the 1860's mall. Depending on the year, there can be anywhere from 20 to 40 businesses selling their wares: some high quality and accurate, some pretty darn farby. But even in the most farbiest of shops, gems can still be found, so all are worth a peek.
Unfortunately, I have no photographs of the large civilian camp nor the sutler area.
It used to be said that it wasn't Jackson unless it rained. Lucky for us that slogan is changing because it hasn't rained at the Jackson event since the Friday of '09. Even then, the rest of the weekend was sunny.
Cascades Civil War Muster in Jackson is a pretty major event for reenactors in the lower (and even upper!) Great Lakes region of the Midwest. For many, it's the last blast for the season, though most of us continue on at smaller events. And this year of 2012 there are still a few national events such as a couple for Antietam as well as one in Perryville, Kentucky that many from our area plan to participate in.
Jackson is considered to be one of the classic non-national events (nearing the 30 year mark!), one that is similar to Greenfield Village's Civil War Remembrance in the reunion-type atmosphere of the reenactors. Everyone knows how difficult larger events can be to keep in historical accuracy, but these folks are really making the attempt to do so. Yes, there is always room for tweaking here and there, but the signs, for the most part, are pointing to continued growth, especially with a growing special impressions historical town.
I'm looking forward to next year and to my new impression.
See you at Wolcott Mill in October!
A gathering of friends at the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society house
(The historical information about Jackson and its various incarnations came from the book Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig.)


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Detroit During the War of 1812 and the Regency Era: 1811 - 1820

I've had the pleasure recently to spend a bit of time as a modern visitor, rather than a participant, watching an era I know very little about come to life before my eyes: the Regency era. I must admit that I have very little knowledge of the period - for some reason I bypassed the earlier part of the 19th century in my studies and went from the colonial/Rev War period straight to the mid-to-late 19th century.
I have watched the Jane Austin films - yes, I'm a guy and I admit that I enjoy watching these period dramas! Hey! It's history! - and that is the extent of my knowledge here.
The thing is, Michigan and Detroit played a prominent role in the War of 1812. And yet so little has been written in the school history books about it. And our local media have all but ignored the 200th anniversary of the forgotten war and era as well.
But I thank God for places like Greenfield Village and Historic Fort Wayne (the fort in Detroit, not the city in Indiana), for they have presented events - on the same weekend no less - celebrating the era as well as teaching thousands about the people and the War.
First, please allow me to give you a brief explanation (taken from the History Channel's page) about the War itself:
In the War of 1812, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country's future. Causes of the war included British attempts to restrict U.S. trade, the Royal Navy's impressment of American seamen and America's desire to expand its territory. The United States suffered many costly defeats at the hands of British, Canadian and Native American troops over the course of the War of 1812, including the capture and burning of the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., in August 1814. Nonetheless, American troops were able to repulse British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans, boosting national confidence and fostering a new spirit of patriotism. The ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815, ended the war but left many of the most contentious questions unresolved. Nonetheless, many in the United States celebrated the War of 1812 as a "second war of independence," beginning an era of partisan agreement and national pride.

Now, a bit more specifically, here is a bit about something closer to home for us living in the Detroit area:
The Siege of Detroit, also known as the Surrender of Detroit, or the Battle of Fort Detroit, was an early engagement in this war. A British force under Major General Isaac Brock, with American Indian allies under the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, used bluff and deception to intimidate the American Brigadier General William Hull into surrendering the fort and town of Detroit and a dispirited army, which nevertheless outnumbered the victorious British and Native Americans, without firing a returning shot
This took place on August 16, 1812 on the very spot where the photograph below was taken 200 years and three days later.
The British gained an important post on American territory and won control over Michigan Territory and the Detroit region for most of the following year. Brock was hailed as a hero, and Tecumseh's influence over the confederation of natives was strengthened. General Hull was tried by court martial and was sentenced to death for his conduct at Detroit, but the sentence was commuted by President Madison to dismissal from the Army, in recognition of his honorable service in the Revolutionary War. American attempts to regain Detroit were continually thwarted by poor communications and the difficulties of maintaining militia contingents in the field, until they won a naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie on 10 September 1813. This isolated the British at Amherstburg and Detroit from their supplies and forced them to retreat. Hull's successor, Major General William Henry Harrison, pursued the retreating British and Natives and defeated them at the Battle of the Thames (in Ontario), where Tecumseh was killed.
The following gives a bit of a description of the news of everyday life in Detroit during this regency era:
The War of 1812 left Detroit and the surrounding areas in almost total devastation. The British had burned all of the wooden buildings in the fort before they left and the Indians had destroyed the farm areas around the city, burning homes and shooting livestock. Judge Woodward appealed to Washington for relief (which) sent food for the people and livestock for the farms.
By 1816, conditions had improved. The end of the war started a westward immigration movement...between 1815 and 1820, Detroit's population had increased from 1,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. Settlers were encouraged to explore the outlying areas...locating favorable farm and town sites.
Detroit was becoming a lively place during this time, especially now that attacks by Indians were no longer a fear.
In 1816, workers began a road linking Detroit to the settlement of Pontiac, which was the forerunner of what was to become one of its most famous streets, Woodward.
In 1817, President James Monroe became the first U.S. President to visit the city while in office; he stayed for five days in August. This was a morale booster for the citizens and they planned a procession through the streets with a fireworks display on the night of his arrival (August 13). As a gift, the citizens gave the President horses and a carriage. Michigan territory governor, Lewis Cass, made sure the presidential visit was publicized in the east in hopes of enticing new immigrants to settle here. 
1817 was also the year the city even began its own newspaper, the Detroit Gazette, printed in both English and French.
In 1818, the Walk-in-the-Water steamboat first crossed Lake Erie and headed up to Detroit. Practically the entire town showed up for the event.  
As was printed in the Gazette on August 28: Yesterday, between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m., the elegant steamboat Walk-in-the-Water arrived. As she passed the public wharf, she was cheered by hundreds of the inhabitants who had collected to witness this truly novel and grand spectacle.
Soon after, steamers were running on regular schedules, carrying an ever-increasing volume of traffic from Buffalo, New York.. 

New buildings were being erected, among them a few bookstores and clothing shops, the Palmer brothers general store, the incorporation of the Detroit City Library (marking the beginning of the University of Michigan), a hotel called the Steamboat Hotel, which began a ferry service to Canada (whose owner also served as the public hangman), and the formation of the Detroit Musical Society.

As far as clothing, I procured the following from various on line sources, including We Make History:
The era spanning from the 1790s to the 1820s saw an emphasis on elegance and simplicity which was motivated by the democratic ideals of the French Republic but which looked back to classical Greece and Rome for its fashion inspiration. Waists were high, the directional emphasis was vertical, and lightweight white fabrics were at the height of fashions which were so simple that the lady of the time often wore only three garments; a chemise, a corset and a gown! This was an incredible contrast to the clothing of preceding and succeeding periods with their horizontal emphases, multiple layers and often heavy fabrics.

In this period, fashionable women's clothing styles were based on the Empire silhouette - dresses were closely fitted to the torso just under the bust, falling loosely below. In different contexts, such styles are commonly called Directoire style (referring to the Directory government of France during the second half of the 1790s), Empire style (referring to Napoleon's 1804–1814/1815 empire, and often also to his 1800–1804 "consulate"), or Regency (most precisely referring to the 1811–1820 period of George IV's formal regency, but often loosely used to refer to various periods between the 18th century and the Victorian).
The high waistline of 1795–1820 styles took attention away from the natural waist, so that there was then no point to the tight "wasp-waist" corseting often considered fashionable during other periods. Without the corset, chemise dresses displayed the long line of the body, as well as the curves of the female torso.
From what a Regency clothing historian told me, the fashion, although a political statement in France, caught on throughout the cities of North America, Detroit included.

For men, this period saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishment from serious men's clothing outside of formalized court dress. Cut and tailoring became much more important as an indicator of quality.
This was also the period of the rise of hair wax for styling men's hair, as well as mutton chops as a style of facial hair.
Breeches became longer—tightly fitted leather riding breeches reached almost to the boot tops—and were replaced by pantaloons or trousers for fashionable street wear. Coats were cutaway in front with long skirts or tails behind, and had tall standing collars. The lapels featured an M-shaped notch unique to the period.
Shirts were made of linen, had attached collars, and were worn with stocks or wrapped in a cravat tied in various fashions. Pleated frills at the cuffs and front opening went out of fashion by the end of the period.
Waistcoats were relatively high-waisted, and squared off at the bottom, but came in a broad variety of styles. They were often double-breasted, with wide lapels and stand collars. High-collared white waistcoats were fashionable until 1815, then collars were gradually lowered as the shawl collar came into use toward the end of this period.

I hope to learn more about this period in time of which I know so little. I would like to give special thanks to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan and Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan for presenting the War of 1812 as well as the Regency era for thousands of us history buffs, and for giving me not only a new understanding of the period but garnering an interest in learning more.
Also, thanks must go to the 1812 fashion show hostess with the mostess, Ericka Osen, for giving a wonderful bit o' history of the whys and wherefores of 1812 styles as she showed the fashions of the day.

Other information written here comes directly from the magnificent book "Detroit: A Motor City History" by David Lee Poremba.
A few other books that added to this post:
Echoes of Detroit - A 300 Year History by Irwin Cohen,
Yesterday's Detroit by Frank Angelo,
Detroit Almanac


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Unique Way of Bringing the Past to Life

When you walk around the town that you live in,  do you ever think about what originally stood where that modern gas station now stands?
Have you thought about how the busy concrete intersection may have once been a dirt road?
How about that building over there?  What was there before?
I think these thoughts all the time.
Even while waiting at a red light in my car I look around and wonder what this exact spot looked like 100 or more years ago.
You see,  most of the buildings from a century  (and before)  in my city of Eastpointe have been long torn down;  I'm an old soul living in a very modern suburban city.
So I decided to do some super-sleuthing and find out about the ghosts of buildings past - to find the original location of the buildings pictured in the old photographs I've seen in the books about the history of my city  In that way I can somewhat  *see*  what was originally in that very same spot so long ago,   thus allowing me to live out  (to an extent)  my fantasy of traveling back in time while in my own hometown.
To take it a bit further,  I took photographs as close as possible to where the photographers once stood way back when.
The following photographs are my results:

NW corner of Gratiot Blvd & 9 Mile Rd THEN
St. Peter's Lutheran Church
This church was razed and the cemetery was relocated to the new St. Peters located almost directly across Gratiot Blvd. Halfway was the original name of my hometown of Eastpointe. It was changed to East Detroit in 1929 and then to Eastpointe in 1991.
NW corner of Gratiot & 9 Mile NOW - A BP gas station
(though Big Boys is no longer Big Boys)


9 Mile Rd looking west from Gratiot Blvd THEN
It was just a country lane known as School Road because there were multiple schools along this road within a relatively short distance from each other.  Note the wood-plank sidewalk. This photo was taken around 1900.

9 Mile Rd looking west from Gratiot NOW.  No longer a country lane,  9 Mile and Gratiot is a very busy intersection.  And schools are still located along this strip.

This was the west side of Southbound Gratiot THEN.
  Eastpointe was a rural country town,  even to the point where one could
buy,  sell,  or trade horses here. 

Here is the exact same location of the previous picture - the west side of Southbound Gratiot NOW.
The horse market is long gone...
  That spot is now part of the parking lot of a shopping plaza


SE corner of Gratiot Blvd. and 9 Mile THEN.  "Then"  being in the 1930's.  If you look to the left of the brick Kaiser building you will see a framed structure.  That was the original school house that was moved from its location along  9 Mile to here in the 1920's.  It has since been moved back to within 100 feet of where it was originally stood and id now beautifully restored  (see link at bottom of post)

SE corner of Gratiot Blvd and 9 Mile NOW
The original Kaiser building was razed a few years ago and a Rite Aid
has been built in its place


Gratiot Blvd. just south of 9 mile THEN.
This is even before the brick Kaiser building from the above  "THEN"  photo!
How cool it would be to see my hometown during the late 19th or early 20th century!
Gratiot just south of 9 mile NOW.
Bland and boring...

 Is it just me or are modern cities sterile looking?  They all just seem to run along the lines of never-ending conformity from one to another,  sameness abounding,  never knowing where one city ends and the next one begins,  whereas in the old days each town or village had a unique style and character of its own,  separated by miles of farm land or untouched forests...a beginning and an end.
I guess I have an old soul indeed.

Here we show a 2013  "then and now"  casualty of Eastpointe:

Oakwood Jr. High School,  on the very first day that it was open for class back in
September of 1953.  This was my Jr. High back in the 1970's.  I also worked here
as an adult.

Due to dwindling population,  it was decided that this grand building,  renamed Oakwood Middle School,  was to close after the 2009/2010 school year.  Here is a photo that I took on the very last day Oakwood was open for classes - June 17,  2010.  I tried my best to line it up exactly as the previous picture.

Now,  this next picture is actually pretty sad,  especially for those of us who attended Oakwood and worked here as well:
This is the front of Oakwood from a different angle after most of the building had been razed in the summer of 2012.  Yes,  it was sad.

And now, here is what was built where most of the Oakwood building stood:
I took this photo roughly from the same angle as the first two pics of Oakwood.  

So there you have a few then and now photographs of our fair city,  from horse barns to gas stations.  I suppose as a historian I look at things with a vision of the past and see the changes - both good & bad - that occur over time.  It's interesting to note where we've been,  where we are,  and where we're going...

To learn more of  Eastpointe as it was in the 19th century, please click HERE

~   ~   ~

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Civil War in Port Sanilac

Okay, so my title is a bit misleading.
No battle during the American Civil War was fought in Port Sanilac (which is in Michigan, located in the thumb portion of our state - hold your right hand out, palm facing toward you. Do you see where the crease of your thumb knuckle is? Yeah, the right side of the crease...that's roughly where Port Sanilac is located - right along Lake Huron. It's wonderful to live in a state where we can just whip out our hand for a state map!).
But we did our best to bring the past to life here in this tiny rural village.
It's unfortunate, however, that, though we almost always get a large contingency of civilians that will attend these smaller events, the military tends to stay away in droves. As you can tell by the photos posted here, there were hardly any soldiers - not nearly enough to make any sort of an extended battle.
My hat is off, however, to the Union and Confederate soldiers that did show up, for they made it worthwhile for the visitors who came to see some guns.
And there was shooting, with musket fire and cannonading - enough to give those watching a hint of what it might have been like 150 years ago.
What is really nice about the Port Sanilac event is that we can do what we want - whatever battle or scenario we decide to do. If we want to include civilians, the historical open-air museum village, or just the battlefield, the choice is up to the participants and not some board.
Except for next year: I have something very special in mind for next year...
Anyhow, I'm going to post a few photos here from the Port Sanilac event and let them do most of the talking. After all, it's said that pictures are worth a thousand words:

 We held a period fashion show. Here are just a few of the "latest" fashions for 1862 - - - -
Miss Konrad and Miss Lamkin speak of their clothing
Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Edison spoke of their clothing as well as their young son Thomas.
Rebecca shows her morning wrapper to the audience during the fashion show
Our models spoke of everyday life of the 1860's as well as their clothing.

Stemming from its popularity at last year's Port Sanilac event, we had another shotgun wedding again this year:
This young miss looks on as her "father" found the man who put her in a family way
They will not get away with these handcuffs on!
The preacher is also a surgeon. It was quite the wedding!
The young miss felt only shame in what she did
And soon, to her disbelief, she was a married woman

President Lincoln and Michigan Governor Blair inspects the troops

We also had a battle...
With so few military showing up, it was more of a small skirmish...

No matter the size of the military, the men still put their all into it

...and had a great time.

The public enjoyed it, and that's what counts!
So many fighting men did not make it home...
...except in a pine box.
The new young bride was ever-so-happy that her husband survived the skirmish and ran to him.
Papa looks on and she hugs her man.
The men of the 21st Michigan stand behind the grave markers of Sanilac County men who fought in the Civil War. The grave markers here are representations.
A snake oil salesman made his way through the village selling his cures to ailing people. It worked, as you can see the man "resting" after trying some of Dr. Gagalot's medicine.
Letter writing in camp
Yours truly (with the carpet bag) and a friend

The period church service was wonderful for all attendees
We took some time to visit the 19th century Port Sanilac light house

Here are some of the 21st Michigan members that participated in the Port Sanilac event
And we mustn't forget about our local ghost!

By the way, maybe no actual Civil War battles were fought here in Port Sanilac, but this tiny village does have some interesting stories of its own:
The great storm

See you next time!