Posted in Today's File

Past, President, Future

Civil War Officers
Although Idaho volunteers enlisted with the Union, this weekend’s encampment included a few officers in grey. Perhaps talking terms of truce over a hot (tin) mug of coffee?

Last week a time-warp descended on the State Park beside our house. Overlaid on the invisible borders of the frisbee-golf course, an army encampment of Civil War soldiers and camp followers sprang up, authentic in every detail (except, perhaps, for the general lack of dirt and grime).

This group of history hobbyists pitches camp here every year to commemorate the Idaho Volunteers’ contribution to the Civil War. The Territory of Idaho sent volunteer soldiers in response to the U.S. call for troops, although most of them ended up guarding way stations along the Oregon Trail rather than facing off against Confederates.

Civil War graves
Civil War soldiers in Boise’s Pioneer Cemetery

Still, the Oregon Trail duty was no picnic; nor were the various “Indian wars” in which many of those troops became entangled. The Pioneer Cemetery and the Idaho State Veterans’ Cemetery–both in the foothills above Boise–hold row upon row of the Idaho Territory’s Civil War dead.  But here they are today—alive and lively, dressed (and armed!) for time travel, and every one of them tickled to talk about their carefully collected “combat couture,” along with accessories from mess kits to musketry.

I walked over to the park and wandered through the time-warp with my camera, anticipating the humor of some anachronistic contrasts (Civil War soldier on a cell phone, maybe?), but discovered instead how devoted to detail these folks truly are.

Union Suit underwear pegged to camp clothesline
“Union Suit” underwear pegged to a camp clothesline

The only out-of-place item I spotted all afternoon was the pair of neon-green earplugs worn by a teenage Private on the cannon crew. And the cannon-fodder itself, I guess–the gunnery officer described their cement-filled tennis balls as “the poor man’s cannonball.”

While the gunners fired volleys into the lake, the blacksmith banged away on horseshoes at his forge, the camp cook hovered over her cast-iron cookware, and the laundry tent was flanked by bright-red “union suit” long underwear jigging in the breeze…

Civil War camp cookI had assumed, for some reason, that the Civil War re-enactors would mostly be Old Guys, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that nearly half of them were teenagers–scrawny young men in Privates’ uniforms, awkwardly doffing their forage caps in deference to the grey-mustached officers, and some young ladies in hoop skirts and shawls making eyes at the uniformed young men. (No “acting” there, I’m pretty sure–some things don’t change over the centuries!) It was a pleasant surprise to find our future generation as interested in the past as their elders.

And then we had the distinguished and dignified President in attendance. President Lincoln, that is. Standing solemnly beside a pair of Union officers–with a sparsely-starred flag behind them–this gentleman had all the regal reserve of a still-photo of the Original…

President Abraham Lincoln impersonator
The Illinois Rail-Splitter Himself: Honest Abe


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

17 thoughts on “Past, President, Future

  1. Does sound like a time-warp. I love the story of the kid with the neon-green earplugs. When Sara worked and lived in Afghanistan, she says she visited remote villages where she felt like she had traveled back in time 2,000 years–except that a few of the men wore writstwatches. She swears that was the only evidence of the century she was actually in.


  2. Very cool! And very cool that there were teens there.
    I started reading Civil War history in my twenties, and twenty years later, still haven’t stopped…


  3. Great piece Kana, and nice photography – particularly liked the last one with Honest Abe and the two soldiers. We have our own Civil War re-enactment societies here in the UK – different period of course, but taken every bit as seriously.


  4. Hi,
    Sounds like a lot of fun, and teenagers getting involved as well, I think that is great. :)
    A bit of history coming to life, the photos do show how much effort everyone puts in for this, and I love the photo of the lady cooking, she looks great. :D


  5. Right up my alley! Tried re-enactments one summer – it was a lot of fun but for the women, mostly WORK … keeping anything clean for more than a minute is so difficult. But, I sure learned a lot about me – I love the modern world and the internet.

    Thanks for the pics and smiles.


    1. Isn’t that the truth? I don’t mind admitting that I was eyeing that wooden wash-tub and being grateful for the laundry MACHINES at home! (And the laundry-MAN at home, come to that… I can’t remember the last time I actually ran a load myself… Sheepish grin…)


  6. Here, we have re-enactments of all sorts, from opposite army’s fighting each other, to army camps, old model houses, talks about how soldiers were care for, who followed armies to cook for them, etc. etc. all with period costumes, of course. Young and old love playing their parts.

    This stuff is wonderful, isn’t it? This post reminds me of what we have here too. Thanks, Kana.


  7. After reading your post I wished that I had gone with you. However I think it would have brought back too many of my “Special Ops” memories. Actually, reading your post, I felt like I was right there with you!


  8. Great photos! What a fun way to educate ourselves on history. Tell me… was Lincoln the Vampire Slayer in attendance as well? hahaha…

    Last week my daughter took part in a re-enactment of the Civil War with her history class. I’ve never seen her so animated on the topic of history!


  9. This is the way to learn history. Would that it were all this interesting. Nice photos. As usual, the woman is slaving over a hot pot and the men are standing around. :)


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