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.)



Pamela@ The Sampler Makers Farmhouse said...

Would love to have been there to see all this! Looks like such fun~

Gina @ VictorianWannaBe said...

Hi Ken! Another great post! I know I probably say that every time, but I mean it. I really enjoy reading them. They always look like so much fun! I like those fake store fronts and that Post Office. The ladies in the fountain in their bathing costumes is great! That's one way to cool off! Besides getting a taste of that yummy cold ice cream! Thanks for sharing! (I'm talking about the post not the ice cream! ha!ha!) Gina

Historical Ken said...

Thank you GinaB - - - I really appreciate your comments!
You, too, Pamela!