'Civil War Day' teaches about life of a soldier, family

2nd annual event holds demos on cooking, school, medicine in the early 1860s

May 22, 2011|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

They thundered across the long green, with the tips of their rifles pointed at the enemy.

"Company halt!"

About half a dozen elementary school-age soldiers, mostly in T-shirts, one in a Todd Heap jersey, were trying to surprise combatants at the second annual Civil War Day at Redeemer Lutheran Church in northern Baltimore County on Saturday.

The stopped and waited for further instructions.

"Fire!" yelled the commanding officer to his troops.

Silence.

"I didn't hear anything." (A common tendency with wooden guns.)

"Reload! Fire!"

"Pow! Pow Pow!" the young soldiers remembered to yell. And so it was another victory for Union troops in Parkton, battling against grown-up actors.

Re-enactors from the 16th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Company G and the 45th Pennsylvania Company K helped lead the charge, the children armed not with 9-pound rifles but the lighter pinewood models.

Besides the "Battle of Parkton," the event offered exhibits to help people learn about life for the average soldier and American family during the Civil War. Different presentations — from Civil War-era cooking to crafts to ice cream-making — were led by actors dressed variously as soldiers and civilians.

Under a white linen tent, Cindy Wolgemuth offered samples of a powdery substance that, when mixed with water, makes toothpaste similar to what soldiers would have used during the war, she said.

She showed off the meager possessions that soldiers carried, including hardtack (similar to saltine crackers, but harder). Wolgemuth said that when it got wet, it would sometimes become infested with weevils. Normally, she said, they also carried a muslin bag of cornmeal powder, which they mixed with water to make "hasty pudding."

Suzan Dorn demonstrated "graces," a game played with two wooden rods and hoops decorated with colorful ribbons. Players would fling the hoops back and forth, catching them with the rods. It was a game primarily for young girls, to help them learn poise and grace, Dorn said.

Wolgemuth said one of the most common questions re-enactors hear is, "'Do you do Gettysburg?' They see a Civil War soldier, and all they know is Gettysburg," but there is much more too learn, she said.

Another object of Civil War Day was to teach about the U.S. Christian Mission, which was founded by the YMCA on Nov. 14, 1861, for the physical and spiritual benefit of the soldiers, said Rev. James Banach of Redeemer Lutheran.

The plan for Saturday evening was a camp worship service, where participants would learn about the 5,000 Christian Mission delegates; numbered among them were poet Walt Whitman and author Louisa May Alcott.

"People at the YMCA realized there was going to be a greater need for [soldiers'] physical and spiritual needs," Banach said.

Elaine Thompson, a church member from Pennsylvania, said she enjoyed learning about different herbs used in medications during the war, while her kids learned how to make lemon-flavored ice cream.

Before, she said with a laugh, "They thought it came out of the refrigerator."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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