Civil War re-enactment will give visitors a look at realities of battle

What better way to make an impression than to give visitors an up-close-and-personal, interactive lo
As a Civil War re-enactor, Cobleskill resident Ken Nichols plays the regimental surgeon for the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry.
As a Civil War re-enactor, Cobleskill resident Ken Nichols plays the regimental surgeon for the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry.

What better way to make an impression than to give visitors an up-close-and-personal, interactive look at how Americans lived during the Civil War? That is exactly what re-enactors will be doing at The Civil War Encampment at the Troy Masonic Hall this weekend.

Doug and Maria Hull of Brunswick, re-enactors with the 77th New York State Volunteer Infantry unit, have organized the event for more than a decade, bringing together Civil War aficionados from as far away as Ontario (yes, Canadians fought in the American Civil War, something you can learn more about this weekend) to set up camp and offer visitors a glimpse of what soldiers and civilians alike did during the Civil War period.

Doug Hull does it for one simple reason: “To educate people,” he said. “If you don’t educate people, history will repeat itself.”

More than battles

While this encampment includes mock battles at around 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday— the kind of fodder one would expect to see at a military re-enactment — there is much more that gives visitors a picture of how the war affected both military and civilians, on the battlefield and the home front.

Civil War Encampment

WHERE: Troy Masonic Community Center, 39 Brunswick Road, Troy

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday


MORE INFO: 273-0196

The educational displays, complete with Civil War artifacts, will bring tangible lessons to those in attendance. Looking at a 12-pound Civil War musket behind glass in a cabinet at a museum doesn’t have the same impact as hefting the weapon oneself. “It never fails — once you take that musket and put it in somebody’s hand, they realize how heavy it is,” said Mike Doxtater, a re-enactor from Carleton Place, Ontario, who serves with the 2nd Michigan Unit.

Cathy Arie of Philadelphia, Jefferson County, is associated with two divisions, the 2nd New York Division, originally based in Troy, and Carrington’s Battery, a Southern unit. She changes which side she portrays depending on the other units present at the re-enactment. She and her family got involved after her husband retired from the Army and they were looking for a recreational activity to do together. Her husband purchased a Civil War hat when they were visiting family in Pennsylvania. A couple of weeks later, they went to a re-enactment and were hooked.

Arie will represent a camp follower. During the Civil War, some women followed the infantry units, doing tasks such as sewing, mending, cooking and laundry. Some of these women were displaced from their homes, and they found it safer to be with a military unit. It also allowed them to make a small living through the services they provided. She will bring her spinning wheel and spin sheep’s wool during the encampment weekend. She will also have a tape loom.

“I like to try to keep things period-correct,” Arie said. “Back then, they didn’t have elastic, so they would use these tapes to try to tie things off.” As the daughter of a U.S. history teacher whose passion was the Civil War, this activity is a natural for Arie. She also enjoys the camaraderie with other re-enactors.

Battlefield surgery

Representing another unit from Troy is Ken Nichols of Cobleskill, who plays the part of the regimental surgeon for the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry, a historical association registered with the state of New York.

“I love to teach, I love history, and I love the mystery behind the history of why people do things and why things happened the way they did,” Nichols said.

He will be unraveling some of those mysteries for visitors during his twice-daily talks about medical practices in the Civil War. He likes to correct Hollywood’s version of the Civil War. “Patients were asleep, not awake, for surgery, with chloroform or ether readily available since the 1840s,” he said. As far as amputations go, something commonly associated with medical care in the Civil War, there were not enough, he said. “Because of lack of battlefield knowledge, inexperienced medical staff did not amputate enough by even today’s standards to stop infection,” he said, pointing out that tens of thousands of the 650,000 men killed in the war died of gangrene.

He talks about the difficulties of battlefield surgeries, comparing surgical techniques used then to modern surgeries. He also discusses the death toll from disease, caused largely by a lack of sanitation.

He also likes to point out the good effects that the Civil War had, like the organization of a sanitary commission and the advent of modern sutures. “Fifty percent of the soldiers were sick with dysentery or other ailments which prompted urgency in preventive medicine and sanitation techniques which we still have today,” he said.

Canadian presence

Betty Doxtater will be joining her husband at the encampment this weekend, portraying a Canadian woman to point out to visitors that Canadians fought with American units. “A lot of the units that were along the border provinces and states has Canadians cross over and join up,” she said, pointing out that they used assumed names because it was illegal for them to fight in another country’s civil war. They did it for a few different reasons. Some may have had family in the United States, others wanted to earn money to buy property, and thrill seekers joined for the adventure of it.

There’ll be a celebrity at the re-enactment, too. John Baylis of Cassville, Oneida County, will be playing the part of Abraham Lincoln, something he has done for 30 years. He likes to mingle in the crowd and talk to people about the Civil War and Lincoln’s childhood.

There will be tents set up for displays, and balladeers will also be performing.

All of the re-enactors welcome questions from visitors, which furthers the educational benefits of the event. “Re-enactors are teaching people things that they wouldn’t have known otherwise with more depth than just in a book,” Doxtater said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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