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Civil War reenactors provide living history to SLC students, community members

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BRASHER FALLS - The Civil War came to life for St. Lawrence Central elementary school students one day last week as reenactors set up a camp next to the school’s football field.

While a fundraiser for the school’s athletic department had community residents driving the latest model of Dodge vehicles featuring Bluetooth capabilities, back up mirrors and turbo power engines, a group of men dressed in Union uniforms marched onto the lawn in front of the high school and fired off a 21-round salute next to the flagpole to honor the area’s fallen veterans.

Captain Peter Gilbert Jr., 118th NY, a reenactor from Tupper Lake, said the camp was set up Friday.

“We did a living history for the school to honor the men in the area that fought in the Civil War to honor and memorialize them,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert said the 118th NY reenactors are currently 65 members strong, military and civilian.

“There are several factions within the 118th NY. We have a Christian Commission, an artillery unit, an apothecary, a limited field hospital. We do a lot of living history with clubs and schools,” he noted.

Dallas R. Robinson, Plum Brook Road, Norfolk, said the reenactors take part in two to three events a month. He said upcoming events include a large event that occurs July 26-28 each year at the Robert Moses State Park and a September appearance at the Wilder Farm in Burke. The unit’s schedule is posted at www.118thny.org.

Mr. Robinson said his involvement with the reenactors can be traced back to a visit he took to the Wilder Farm a number of years ago when a Civil War encampment was on site.

“I had been interested in the Civil War, and I went to the Wilder Farm for an event,” he recalled.

He said as he was being recruited that day to join the Union forces he was grabbed by Mr. Gilbert, whom he worked with at the Ogdensburg Psychiatric Center at the time, and was convinced to enlist to in a Confederate unit. He served in that unit for a number of years before turning in his gray uniform for the colors of the Union soldiers.

Mr. Robinson remains fascinated by the local connection to the Civil War.

“I started looking around in different cemeteries in the area and actually developed a grave registry with 2,200 names on it. I would just hate to have these people and their stones not remembered,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert, an Ogdensburg native, said his interest in the Civil War has a family connection.

“My great-great-great grandfather, James Farden, was a corporal in the 106th NY. He was wounded twice in battle, first at Cold Harbor and then at Fisher Hill. The second wound sent him to a hospital where he remained until the end of the war,” he noted.

“I’ve been a reenactor since I was a kid. I started off 25 years ago as a water boy and a runner and now I’m captain of the company. I’ve held every rank on my way up,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert also noted reenacting is a family affair.

“My father was in the unit. He was the company cabinet and coffin maker. Carpentry was a big thing during the Civil War. The carpenters were making and repairing equipment and making coffins,” he noted.

His daughter, Krystal, was with Mr. Gilbert at the Brasher Falls event.

“She’s been with me as a reenactor since she was 9. She’s now 18. She has a lot of interest in history,” he noted.

The female reenactors, dressed in period dresses, portrayed members of the Christian Commission at the camp. They supported the troops in the field.

Diana M. Fennell, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Lawrence Central, said students enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the reenactors and learn about life in the 1860s.

She said students learned about the Civil War in the computer lab and by watching videos and talking about the war between the states in the days leading up to the visit by the reenactors. But, she suggested, the soldiers dressed in uniforms brings the lessons home to the students.

“It gives them an opportunity to learn about it firsthand, and they loved the drills the guys did with them. Each group learned different drills. It was a very positive experience. I know some of the students even came back on Saturday, and one of the ladies talked to them about the clothing from that time period,” she said.

Fourth-grader Trevor J. Rheaume said he enjoyed the visit by the Civil War reenactors.

“It was fun. I liked it. I like to learn a lot about history. My grandpa reads a lot of war books,” he noted.

He said the opportunity to participate in some drills with the soldiers was memorable.

“They told us that sometimes the soldiers marched about 12 hours a day. I also learned the Battle of Gettysburg started over a misunderstanding about shoes,” he said.

Mr. Gilbert said the Civil War remains a critical part of America’s history.

“There were roughly 800,000 Americans killed in the Civil War. We honor primarily the 118th and the Union troops, but we also honor our Confederate brothers. We were all Americans,” he said. “When you add the civilian casualties during the war, there were probably over 1.3 million deaths. The south was totally devastated.”


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