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Re-enactors remember Civil War’s 150th anniversary

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MASSENA — The Civil War was not fought in Northern New York, but many men from the area fought and died in the conflict. Now, 150 years later, re-enactors came to Robert Moses State Park to preserve the war’s memory while teaching others about the past.

Civil War Weekend began 11 years ago as a way of making history more accessible than a lecture or textbook.

“One of the first things we thought was, what can we do that’s more interesting for kids and for families?” said event coordinator Susan Longshore.

The event was held Saturday and Sunday by the St. Lawrence County Historical Association and the re-enactors of the 2nd Michigan Volunteers.

“We’re constantly getting new ideas from people,” Ms. Longshore said.

Attendees wandered through a tent city, talking with re-enactors about the practices of the day. They read newspaper clippings describing the fate of Civil War units from the north country while their kids played with toys and games from the Victorian era.

“I like walking through the tents and talking to people. They know what they’re talking about,” said Scott D. Glessner, Massena. “You get a much better sense of the history behind everything.”

Both days were highlighted by a scaled-down re-enactment of the Battle of Fredricksburg, which was fought in Virginia in December 1862. Children covered their ears as cannons and rifles boomed.

The real Battle of Fredricksburg was a disaster for the Union, with thousands of soldiers dying over four days while trying to take an entrenched Confederate position. This weekend’s re-enactments were much smaller, lasting less than 20 minutes, but the outcome was the same. Blue-clad Union soldiers fell to southern gunfire during a desperate final charge. Minutes later, the fallen re-enactors were back on their feet, ready to answer spectators’ questions.

“You can go to all the museums you want, but you have a piece of glass separating you from the displays. Here, you can touch it,” re-enactor Michael J. Doxtater told the crowd during the event’s closing ceremonies after Sunday’s battle.

Re-enactors and attendees alike use those events as a way to get close to history.

“For me, history isn’t remembering dates and events. For me it’s about imagining them and living them,” said Andrew A. Brink, Potsdam.

Mr. Brink is blind, but he still participates in re-enactments as a way of honoring his great-great-great-grandfather, who fought in the Confederate Army. Sometimes he participates in the battle as a Union Army prisoner. This weekend he did not fight, but he gave a presentation on the legendary “Rebel Yell” based on what he learned from a documentary.

The chance to educate others is one of the greatest joys of being a re-enactor, said Willis J. VanMarten, Syracuse.

“I did not realize until the last 13 years what I could learn or teach,” he said.


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