I don't believe, in general, there is a more anticipated Civil War reenactment in Michigan than the one held at Greenfield Village every Memorial Day Weekend. For three days (four, if you count Friday set up) reenactors take over the historic open-air museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and turn it into the America of the early 1860s. Nestled among 80 or so historic structures are hundreds of tents filled with living historians anxiously and excitedly a-waiting to speak and share with the interested public their knowledge of this war that divided the United States in two; brother against brother certainly occurred during this tumultuous time back in the 1860s.
My lovely wife is a Patriot as well. Yes she is!
For over a dozen years I have participated in Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village, and for over a dozen years I look forward to it just as much as the year previous, for it is a very, dare I say, exciting weekend; it seems that every reenactor I personally know, aside from a very few, are there as well. It's like a gathering of the tribes after the long winter's nap.
And, given the fact that we are inside one of America's most well-known historical museums, we are pretty much guaranteed thousands of visitors because of its reputation. But since it is an outdoor museum, weather can play a factor, so we always hope and pray for decent weather.
As far as the number of visitors that come, nearly 30,000 step through the entry gates throughout the three day weekend just to see us.
That's no small number, my friend.
So we all are on our best behavior the entire time and try to be as good of presenters as we can, sharing our historical knowledge with the droves.
As I did last year, I will let the many photographs taken do the talking (with snarky commentary by yours truly).
I hope you enjoy:
are only a few of the civilians of the 21st Michigan, the Civil War unit I belong to. We had our image
taken on the side porch of the birthplace of Henry Ford, which was built
in 1861 - the same year we were portraying.
Meet Jamie. She is brand new to the 21st Michigan (you met her a few weeks back at the Fort Wayne event). This is only her second reenactment. I happened to look up and saw her standing as you see here and, well, I had no choice but to take this image.
Robert Beech is one of the top wet plate photographers around. Not only does he do our local events, but he also has done national events as well. We are proud to have him in the 21st Michigan.
These fine folks are with the 102nd Colored Troops. I have spoken with this group a number of times and they do such a great job in their presentations.
The US Christian Commission Scenario:
The Christian Commission, run by Mrs. St. John, is always a welcome sight for the wounded soldiers who find themselves in the care of the lovely ladies who care for them.
On this sweltering day (88 degrees!), the nurses care for the wounded men and try to keep them cool with wet compresses.
Mrs. St. John and friends have been doing this scenario for years.
As visitors watch on, the ladies remain in 1st person to give it that authentic feel.
We always bring period games for the younger ones to play, including the ever-popular checkers, cards, and other such time-passers. However, on the farm, young boys would have spent more time with a tool in their hands, such as a shovel, an ax, a scythe, or a sickle rather than a frivolous toy.
Although we could not go onto the field of Firestone Farm, we did take a few photos of some of the boys posing with their tools in front of the farm:
I would say these boys look like the real deal, don't you?
Deep in the background you can see the house and barn of Firestone Farm. And you can see farmer Steve harrowing with his team of horses near the upper right.
Yes, the black object you see to the lower right is exactly what you think it is! So...did they past the 'farm boy' test?
At the Eagle Tavern:
The exterior of the Eagle Tavern, built in Clinton, Michigan in 1831. I love the patriotism that radiates from this wonderful old building.
Inside the tavern we awaited to be seated.
The following is a recollection of a special 4th of July feast while at a gathering here at "The Eagle" from 1859:
midnight banquet was spread on two long tables, where all the good things were
put on, decorated with summer flowers and lighted with hanging chandeliers. At
one end of the table a whole roasted pig with a cob of corn in its mouth, and
at the other end of the table was several roast turkeys, and in the middle of
the table was a huge pyramid cake about 3 feet high, and there were high glass
bowls of raisins, nuts, and candies, and every other good edible. The dining
room was on the other side of the building from the ballroom, connected by a
Okay, so our dinner wasn't quite so elaborate, but they still serve one of the best "period" meals around!
And the tavern looked even more spectacular by candle light in the evening:
One of the favorite times for us was spending an evening
inside the Eagle Tavern. The good folks at Greenfield Village opened up
this 1831 building on Saturday night strictly for period-dress reenactors only.
few of us civilians from the 21st Michigan gathered at a couple of the
tables to enjoy this rare opportunity to spend time in the past in a
very authentic manner.
Here are the same fine group of living historians, but only from the opposite end of the table.
Not only was the sight period-correct, but so was the music! Here, JJ and Mr. & Mrs. Masciale "charmed all (their) hearers, and helped to make that old
tavern popular," by playing the old-time tunes of long ago, now familiar mostly to those of us who do living history. Watch and listen to the link to You Tube below to see and hear what they sounded like on this night:
Mr. & Mrs. Masciale were two of the musicians you saw in the above clip. The LaBarres (and Miss Young) also presented as GAR members during the reenactment. And all were a part of this wonderful evening at the Eagle Tavern as well.
The Pub with the barkeep inside the Eagle Tavern.
The happenings in and around our camping area:
The art of spinning (and weaving, crocheting, knitting...) are so old I will not even try to guess when they were invented. But I can agree upon the comment that there is nothing more soothing than the sight and sound of a treadle spinning wheel whirring away.
Over the years, my wife, Patty, has become not only a master at the art of spinning wool into yarn, but a master presenter at reenactments as well. No, she does not care for the 1st person events we do, but to speak to visitors about her passion for woolen arts is something she does very well, and she holds the visitor's attention while doing it.
She happily passes her talents on to the younger generation, ensuring the future of this ancient art will be around for generations to come.
McMann specialty is period cooking, and there are few better at cooking
a 19th century meal than Carol, seen here making noodles.
Yes, Carrie (as Agnes) portrays our domestic servant, but I believe serving grapes in this manner is going a little too far, don't you think?
Bella has recently taken up playing the lap dulcimer (otherwise known
as a mountain dulcimer) and entertained us throughout the day on
Saturday with wonderful period instrumentals.
Wearing our Sunday best.
New-to-reenacting Jamie with good friend Mrs. Schmidt.
Writing a letter to a beau.
Mr. Tennies spent some time making whistles out of tree branches. Yes, they worked!
and Mrs. Cook, two wonderful people who have not done much reenacting
of late but came back with a vengeance this year and spent the three
days of Greenfield Village's Civil War Remembrance in the humid heat
like the pros they are.
Yes, we do need to take our Saturday bath, even at a reenactment!
The ladies of our camping area are ready for morning church service. Yes, Greenfield Village also provides a period-appropriate religious service for the reenactors before the gates open to the public.
Entertainment at the Fleishman tent! Here you see Jillian enjoying Larissa's stereoscope.
One of our many visitors asked if Dave and I would engage in a political discussion of sorts so she could take action shots of us. We both, of course, agreed to do so. He, as Senator Jacob Howard, is a pro-Lincoln supporter. I portray one of the many northerners who is not quite so fond of our 16th president. And so the debate between the two of us began.
Naturally, since we are the best of friends, our political debate ended with a friendly handshake and a smile. Our visitors seemed to really enjoy it.
Just a few of the lovely ladies of the 21st Michigan.
It was one of the warmest and muggiest Greenfield Village events in years, with temps nearing 90 degrees. So, what does one do to cool off in such weather? Why, soak their feet...and invite friends to join them!
K Krewer enjoyed watching the ladies cool off in their pail of water.
Speaking of a pail of water: "Jackie and Jill went up the hill to fetch that pail of water..."
"...Jackie fell down and broke her crown, and Jill came tumbling after!" Yes, the two ladies here are Jackie and Jillian, and I could not resist this groaner!
At the ball in Lovett Hall:
The lovely ladies of the Christian Commission at the ball
Not only does Greenfield Village allow the reenactors to enjoy an evening at the tavern, but they also throw us a period ball.
Yes, there I am, the long-haired balding guy with the plaid pants!
And here is a short clip of "The Rose Dance":
Some of the Union fife and drummers
Some of the southern boys play an old tune...maybe it's Shady Grove perhaps?
Here is part of the camp of the 21st Michigan. My son and a few of the others always remain in camp unless they are marching & drilling or unless there is a battle.
My son and one of his pards preparing food for supper.
Fun with the soldiers:
Look, sister! Here are the soldiers, and they are right behind our own home!
Why, indeed there were soldiers sitting right there, close enough to touch, in the yard of the lovely young ladies!
Do you think one may come over if I give a little wave? How are you, boys? Oh! It worked! Here comes one! What will Father say?
How are you, ladies? I couldn't help but notice you two.
Oh! And here is another! Oh my! Mother will be furious! We shan't be seen back here with you men! We must go.
Whoops! There is the call of the bugle. We must take our leave. It was very nice to chat with you.
Yes, it was not long before mother joined her daughters, and can you blame her with all of those young soldiers about?
The Decoration Day/Memorial Day ceremony:
Before I began participating in the Greenfield Village event many years ago, Memorial Day was, to me, a day off school, a day for our local parade, and the opening day for summer. Nothing more. Now, because of this ceremony, my thoughts on this day are of the men and women who were willing to give "their last full measure of devotion" for our great country.
Around twenty ladies dressed in their Sunday best, and some in mourning, all play a very important part in this wonderful ceremony dedicated to those who fought and died giving service to this great country.
And many of us civilians take part as well, as "background players" (more or less) to give atmosphere to the ceremony. For those of us who participate in any way, no matter how small, it is an honor.
Once the reenactors were inside the roped off area, the ladies who would lay the flowers and wreaths in honor of the fighting men who are no longer with us lined up in preparation to do their march.
Before the laying of the flowers and wreaths, all who once served or are currently in the military - reenactors and visitors - were asked to come and stand in front of a replica of the 24th Michigan battle flag so they could be honored. This is why you see modern dressed folk here.
Back in 1868, when
the Union veterans returned home after the conflict, they established their own
organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), where they could
gather to help one another remember, heal and aid those affected by the war,
including the widows and orphans left behind. The GAR also worked to establish
Memorial Day – or Decoration Day as it was then known – asking members to
decorate the graves of their fallen comrades with flowers. Here, portraying the original GAR are Mr. & Mrs. LaBarre and Kimberly Young.
Two women representing widows of men lost during the conflict between the states, march up with a memorial wreath as a symbol to the graves of those who served from both sides of the conflict.
Each lady moved up with flowers in hand. They were not honoring only the men who fought in the Civil War, but of all American wars.
And it was not necessary for the women to dress in mourning clothing to take part in the ceremony.
For the first time, my wife, in the brown dress, took part in this ceremony. She later told me what an honor it was for her to do this.
As you can see in this picture, the ladies lay the flowers at the foot of the wreath, representing the grave of the soldiers.
This is truly a touching ceremony, and there were many, including your friendly historical blogger, who had tear-filled eyes.
The solemnity of this special ceremony cannot be overstated, and I wish
we, as a country, took more time to appreciate what the men and women of
the service did and continue to do for all of us who are citizens of the United
States. Yeah, I may sound corny here, but I don't care - it is the way I feel.
At 3:00 on Memorial Day Monday afternoon, a loud whistle blew as notification for one minute of silence. The entire Village seemed to stop all they were doing for those sixty seconds, many lowering their eyes, some in prayer, to remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion...
Meanwhile, back at the farm...
Remember the "aged" photo near the top of this post of the civilian group I belong to, the 21st Michigan? Well, that's what the future will see, but here we are in all our 19th century living color glory.
I'd like to end this posting on a light-hearted 'note,' if I may:
Can you guess what these Victorian ladies are replicating?
Well, I'll give you a little hint:
Yes, my very good friends actually "reenacted" a Victorian version of the Beatles "Help!" album cover for me! Thank you ladies! (By the way, the Beatles 'flag semaphore' does not spell out "Help," because, according to cover photographer Robert Freeman,"the arrangement of the arms with those letters
didn't look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic
positioning of the arms." Instead, what you see The Beatles - and our Victorian ladies - spelling out is NUJV)
You know, I cannot overstate the quality and honor of reenacting for Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village. It is an invitation-only event, meaning you cannot just sign up on your own or show up; you must be invited by The Henry Ford in order to participate. So it truly is a real honor for us to reenact there.
There is so much to see and do during this event, and, I must admit, the good folks at Greenfield Village treat us reenactors wonderfully: "giving" us the Eagle Tavern on Saturday evening, throwing us a period ball on Sunday night, allowing us (if we choose) to sleep in our tents right there in the midst of dozens of historic buildings...it really is top notch all around. And it's not an event that I plan to give up my place at.
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Literally, the hours following this reenactment at Greenfield Village found Facebook inundated with thousands of pictures taken there. So many that it was hard to look at them all. And because I am the eye behind my own camera, there aren't many of me on my own digital card so I had to rely on pictures taken by others. Yes, the majority of pictures here were taken by me, but I would like to thank B&K Photography,
Mary Marshall, Jeanette Du, Elaine Masciale, Larissa Fleishman, and David Walker for allowing me the use of their art in this
week’s post as well.
Wonderful report! I would have loved to hear that debate (or at least read a transcript). The citizens of Utah Territory (where I live) were quite fond of Mr. Lincoln, so the thought of any well-standing American opposing him may have seemed blasphemic to them during the period :)
Our debate about Lincoln was unscripted - off the cuff.
Every-so-often he and I will do this, and we will usually stick with the more tried and true reasons for both sides only because we've found if you get too deep into the lesser known politics and reasons, we will lose the audience.
Our debates usually only last for a few minutes.
Very interesting and informative blog Ken, well done. It's such a tragedy that some of the moments in history that explains our nations foundation is being dismantled in the name of political correctness. Some sort of intervention is needed to clearly explain the consequences of trying to erase our past
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