Living history

Sorry for the blog silence yesterday, but I was off doing something fun. We headed up north to do a balloon event, which was a bust because of the fog. Afterwards, when we were consoling ourselves at a Starbucks with some hot chocolate, I happened to see a flier advertising a Civil War reenactment, complete with two full battles. A nice man at the Starbucks gave us directions to get there, and off we went.

What we discovered was Civil War Days at Duncan Mills, along the Russian River:

On July 14th and 15th, the quaint north coast town of Duncans Mills, California, will become the fields of Virginia circa 1863. Civil War Days will once again be on tap as one of the largest re-enactments west of the Mississippi. Over a thousand re-enactors will converge to ensure a very memorable experience for all who attend.

Civil War Days will give visitors the opportunity to interact with the soldiers and civilians of the Civil War. You’ll witness the camps of the Union and Confederacy, see how civilians lived and served with the armies of 1863, be taken aback by the tactics utilized by both sides in what was referred to as the first “modern war.” This will be an event that will not only serve as an educational experience, but an unforgettable trip that will delight audiences of all ages.

This bland, press-release kind of language doesn’t do the event justice.  We discovered that hundreds of California reenactors gather there annually to recreate life during the Civil War.

In a large and beautiful grove, you can wander to a civilian encampment, complete with marvelous stores selling clothes, weapons and household items, as well as both a Union encampment and a Confederate encampment. In each of these areas, the participants have worked to make everything as realistic as possible — clothes, weapons, tools, cooking implements, chairs, bedrolls, anything you can think about. And because they’re enthusiasts, they know so much about what they’ve chosen to do and are excited to share their information. We learned about sharpshooting in the Civil War era, cooking, furniture making, mortars, bands, medicine, leisure activities, the mechanics of dressing a middle class lady, and so much more. The children were fascinated. They got a whole history class packed into a single afternoon.

The highlight of the day was two battle reenactments, with hundreds of participants. It was thrilling. The only thing I would have done differently was earplugs, which I later discovered I could have purchased in the civilian encampment.

I’d always been vaguely aware of these Civil War events, but had assumed that they were just fake battles.  I did not realize that they were so much more.  As we explained it to the children, people who are fascinated by the era, and are stymied by the fact that we can’t travel back in time, have done the next best thing:  they’ve recreated a moment in time as faithfully as possible, and then shared it with all of us.

If you’re interested in finding Civil War enactments in your own area, check the internet.  For example, our event was put on by the National Civil War Association which, despite its name, is a Northern California organization.  As you can see, the Duncan Mills event is the one nearest us, but there are events all over the place, all the time.