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Civil War re-enactment transcends eras

posted Apr 29, 2013, 10:58 AM by Beverly Vaughan

Civil War reenactment 1

MEDINA — Smoke obscured the sight of the men, clad in the Confederate gray and rifles at hand, as they charged forward with shouts toward a ridge line, where their once and future countrymen stood and fired a procession of percussive volleys across the field.

It was scene from another time, rendering a hauntingly realistic view into the fraternal conflict for the modern-day audience assembled at the Genesee Community College’s Medina campus.

GCC’s second annual Civil War Initiative hit its pinnacle this weekend with an encampment and other events that blurred the differences between 2013 and 1861. A downtown parade Saturday echoed the 150-year-old emotions of a ceremony that surrounded the departure of local men that had enlisted shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter.

Following a procession of drum and fife bands and re-enactors of Union and Confederate units, the sword used by Capt. Erwin Bowen of the New York 28th Infantry’s Medina company, was presented by Bowen’s great-great-granddaughter, Mary Zimmerman, to Simon Taylor, who portrayed Bowen.

Both were dressed in the styles of the Civil War-era as they echoed the words said at the original ceremony, pulled from newspaper clippings by encampment honorary chairman Adam Tabelski.

“Trusting in the God of Justice, who alone can rule the contest, we tearfully commend you and yours to His keeping, and wait with a firm belief, that after this hour of country’s danger has passed, you will return bearing the Star Spangled Banner, tattered it may be and torn, but without a star or a stripe effaced,” Zimmerman said. “Take then, this sword. We give it you with confidence, feeling that it will always be used to promoted freedom, justice and union.”

The ceremony permitted GCC instructor of history Derek Maxfield to inhabit another time. Maxfield took on the role of local educator Oliver Morehouse, who encouraged strength of devotion for both the soldiers and citizens staying behind at the 1861 ceremony.

“When you’re standing there and speaking the words that were said at that place and at that specific moment, it’s remarkable,” said Maxfield, the coordinator of the Civil War Initiative. “It transcends time.”

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War will be marked this summer with huge gatherings in the locations where a nation’s division reached violent ends.

Orleans County was far removed from those tragic moments, but the initiative strives to present the contributions of local soldiers and the honorable service of men on both sides of the war.

“There’s a romance to it — it was a different era and a different culture,” said Maxfield, who noted that historians have developed a “Lost Cause” narrative that honors both the victorious Union and the defeated Confederates. “They recognize that there was bravery and courage on both sides.”

Like many communities in upstate New York, companies of local men heeded the call to arms, often serving with their relatives and neighbors. That was true for Company D of the 28th New York, which fought in the Shenandoah Valley and at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

“It was like the entire community went to war,” Tabelski explained. “They were living, marching and fighting with men from Medina.”

The history of Company D was presented along with a  scaled-down yet diverse display of camp life and presentations of lectures and historic artifacts.

The event was greeted with kind weather and an appreciative crowd of 2,500, which calls for an encore. Maxfield said Sunday that preparations are under way for the 2014 Civil War Initiative, which will once again be in Medina on the last weekend of April.