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Civil War reenactments relive history

Updated: July 23, 2012 6:50AM



Belles and battles, trains and tea are just part of the not one, but two Civil War reenactment events in LaPorte this weekend: Civil War Railroad Days at the Hesston Steam Museum and Civil War Days at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum.

Given the relative proximity, reasonable prices, and even free activities at these interesting and educational events, why not attend both?

“The unique thing about this event is that everyone who takes the train ride gets involved in a skirmish,” according to Ted Rita, general manager of the Hesston Steam Museum.

He explained the premise of the battle.

“The Union army payroll is being transported on a train that comes under fire. Cannons fire around you, the cavalry rides out on their horses — it makes you feel like you are in a battle. But what I really appreciate is that the reenactors are very good at showing the great regard for human life — even in battle.”

But Rita suggested that before visitors take that train ride, they visit the Union and Confederate encampments.

“Go and talk to the reenactors first and see their camps. The reenactors know so much about that time, and may even speak to you in historical character. You’ll see camp life, like the soldiers maintaining their firearms, the ladies making lunch, and you’ll feel like you’re back in that time.”

“Then after the train ride, go back and visit the camps again. You’ll have a very different sense of what happened and what you see. This is just such a great educational opportunity,” Rita said.

He also described several new additions to this event this year, including: a reenactment group from Crown Point portraying Company B of the 20th Indiana Volunteer Infantry; a group portraying the first U.S. Sharpshooters; an individual who handcrafts miniature pewter Civil War figures and made what he claims to be the world’s smallest authentic firing cannon; and a representative of the Calumet Region Civil War Presentation Project.

Admission to the Hesston Steam Museum grounds, including the encampment area, is free. Train ride tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children age 3 and older, and free for younger children. The Civil War train will depart about every 40 minutes. Two other gauges of steam locomotives will also be in operation through the weekend.

The Hesston Steam Museum is at 1201 E. County Road 1000N, northeast of LaPorte. Take Interstate 94 to Michigan exit 1 and go south to County Road 1000N. From there, follow signs east to the museum grounds. For more information, visit www.hesston.org.

Two more Civil War battles will be “fought” about 15 miles from Hesston at the LaPorte County Historical Society Museum, where admission on the grounds, including to view the encampment and battles, is free.

“The Saturday battle is in the three-acre field behind the museum,” said Susie Richter, museum curator. “On Sunday the battle takes place on the building. Our building is a two-story with a balcony and big white columns. It can remind you of a southern plantation, like Tara from ‘Gone with the Wind’.” The Southern belles run around yelling that the Yankees are coming, and then there is a battle for the plantation. Last year there were ‘dead’ Yankees all over the front lawn.”

The battles are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. each day. Richter also recommended visiting the camps to see interesting demonstrations of camp and period life, including cooking, washing, needlework, an artillery drill and blacksmithing.

Several historical programs will be offered inside the museum, including: a program on the life of a Civil War widow at 1 p.m. Saturday followed by a tea with refreshments and parlor games; and a presentation on Civil War soldiers from LaPorte at 1 p.m. Sunday. Admission to these programs is free with museum admission of $6 for adults, $5 for age 60 and older, and $3 for students ages 12 to 17.

The public is also invited to attend the church service on Sunday morning, as well as the Civil War ball from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, on the veranda of the museum.

“It’s beautiful. There is music, dancing and refreshments. The ladies are in lovely gowns. It’s a highfalutin’ good time,” Richter said.

The LaPorte County Historical Society Museum is at 2405 Indiana Ave., on the southern outskirts of town along Indiana 35. For more information, call 324-6767 or visit www.laportecountyhistory.org.



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