Thursday, May 26, 2016

After the Civil War

Every year since I was a child, I visited the Civil War Muster in Jackson at Cascades Park. It was always one of the highlights of my summer. Always, my favorite part was seeing the women in the period dresses, particularly with their wide, bell shaped hoop skirts. I loved watching them float around the park and I enjoyed getting a real life glimpse into the past. 

This year Ella Sharp Museum put on a two-day Civil War event much like the Civil War Muster, but in my opinion much better. Reasons being that it was a much smaller and intimate event and also because there were many hands on experiences to be had. But perhaps my largest reason is because, after all these years of looking in as an outsider, I actually got to be on the other side of the event. I got to be a part of bringing the Civil War back to life. 

In my recent post I wrote about interpreting a Civil War nurse. In addition to doing public presentations about nursing I got to stick around the rest of the night and socialize  with the  re-enactors.That evening a candle light tour of the grounds was scheduled. It would be a tour through several stops with re-enactments of different Civil War life happenings would be going on. As the tour grew near, it became clear no public would be showing up. However, that didn't stop the re-enactors for performing their show for themselves and of course me. I was still dressed in historical clothing and was standing with the ladies, unaware of just how deep re-enactors take things. I was in the middle of being a spectator and part of the show at the same time.
We stood outside of the log cabin while hearing the charges against a soldier and witnessing his subsequent execution by firing squad. One of the ladies even married the man before his execution so that she could collect his pension. I watched one soldier stand in the doorway of the log cabin and in that moment you couldn't have done much to convince me I was standing in 2016. It truly felt like I was standing 155 years in the past. Usually one to be a feminist, I enjoyed this brief glimpse into a time when men's and women's roles were much more clearly defined. Though I was treated differently, I quite enjoyed being treated like a true lady. One man even escorted me into the military camp.

Our next stop was to the Sharp House for parlor games. People were mostly breaking character at this point because the tour wasn't truly happening. But I entered the front door to women sitting on the furniture in the parlor and I felt like I was a guest into the home of Dwight and Mary Merriman and maybe their little daughter Ella was in the next room.  I sat down on the sofa (which I never have gotten to do!) and enjoyed the illusion as long as it could last.
The re-enactors stayed around for a few drinks in the granary saloon complete with live period music. I was lucky enough to be a part of this as well, both because I invited myself and I still had a friend there. I stayed until well after dark, which meant that during a late night walk up Farm Lane I got showered by the light of a full moon while listening only to my boots click on the pavement. I walked up the the farm house to help pick it up a bit and lock up. Being in Ella's home was not only spooky but calming at the same time. The bright moonlight shone through lace curtains and there was nothing silent about walking through this house alone at night.

I've been learning a lot about the Civil War these past weeks. Learning more than just dates, names of battles, and the order of events. I've been learning about the people who lived it. We can be very quick to judge people from the past for what we see as barbaric ways, poor decisions, and inconvenient ways of life. But, what not enough of us realize is that they were coming from a different place, knew different things, had different experiences, and didn't know what we do now. People may look at us in 150 years and things we were crazy for executing criminals or not being able to develop a cure for cancer. Sometimes we may call them stupid. They weren't stupid, only ignorant to what we know now. In many ways we run the risk of being ignorant too. Those ignorant among us are the ones that don't allow history to become a lesson. Living history isn't meant to keep us there, but honor it, preserve it, and let us learn from it.

PS-I finally got to try on that hoop skirt!