Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2011

Civil War re-enactors feel the thrill of battle with fewer casualties

Civil War re-enactors with the 3rd Kansas, Battery B, light artillery unit, including two men from Lawrence, participated in the Wilson's Creek 150th Anniversary Reenactment on August 12-14 near Springfield, Mo. William Quantrill fought with the Missouri Guard in the battle, August 10, 1861, considered the second major battle of the Civil War. Two years later, Quantrill attacked Lawrence.

August 18, 2011


Local events for Civil War on the Western Frontier

Activities surrounding the annual Civil War on the Western Frontier continue through Sunday, the 148th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. Here are some highlights. For more information, visit


• Quantrill’s Raid Walking Tour, 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m. and 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Pre-registration required and admission charged. Register at Watkins Museum, 1047 Mass., 841-4109.

• Shared Stories of the Civil War, a Reader’s Theater presentation, 10 a.m.-11 a.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Mass. No admission charge.

• Lecture/booksigning of “Thomas Ewing Jr.” by Ronald Smith, 1 p.m.-2 p.m., Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. No admission charge.


• Rev. Cordley’s recollections, by re-enactor Harold Riehm. Cordley, a survivor of Quantrill’s Raid, officiated at funerals for many raid victims., 7 p.m.-8 p.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Mass. No admission charge.

• Roll call of names of nearly 200 victims of Quantrill’s Raid, 8:15 p.m.-8:45 p.m., Watkins Museum, 1047 Mass. No admission charge.

— Civil war re-enactor Alan Van Loenen, Lawrence, and his artillery crew were preparing to fire a final cannon blast toward Confederate infantry, when several soldiers, formerly (playing) dead, rose from the Missouri cornfield in front of the cannon line.

“Get back down,” yelled the crew, waving their arms and warning the nearby soldiers to remain dead, safe from the cannon’s blast. The men dropped, and members of the 3rd Kansas Battery B light artillery unit discharged their 6-pound, smoothbore cannon one last time. Through the clearing smoke the dead rose once again, brushed off the dust and marched off the battlefield to the sound of spectators’ applause.

The action was part of the 150th Battle of Wilson’s Creek Civil War reenactment last weekend on a national battlefield 12 miles southwest of Springfield, Mo. The Aug. 10, 1861, battle is considered the second major land battle of the Civil War. The Confederates won, giving them control of southwestern Missouri.

Last weekend’s Wilson’s Creek re-enactment drew about 25,000 spectators and is one of dozens of national Civil War re-enactments scheduled during the next four years to celebrate the war’s sesquicentennial.

A fighting group

According to the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield website, it was an interesting group that fought there. Jesse James’ brother, Frank James, William Clarke Quantrill and Cole Younger participated in the battle as members of the Missouri State Guard. Two years later — on Aug. 21, 1863 — Quantrill attacked Lawrence.

And 148 years later, Van Loenen was one of 3,000 re-enactors who took part in the three-day engagement.

“I had 24 years in the regular military, and when I retired from that in 1995, I found out I kind of missed the military association.”

He joined the 3rd Kansas light artillery re-enactors after seeing them at a Civil War on the Western Frontier event in Lawrence.

He had one stipulation.

“I wanted to be an enlisted guy again,” said Van Loenen. “Don’t ask me to hold any rank.”

There are an estimated 30,000 Civil War re-enactors in the United States, but the numbers have been declining from a peak in 2000 of 50,000. Van Loenen hopes the 150th anniversary sparks an increase in membership.

“To be quite honest, the average age is older, retired. What we’d like to do is get the younger generation interested,” says Loenen. “If you like comradeship around a campfire at night, you like history and primitive camping, Civil War re-enacting is for you.”

If you catch the re-enactment bug, you’ll definitely need the re-enactment look.

It takes a little gear, and authenticity is important. Period clothes and gear can include a jacket and vest, hat, shirt, pants, boots, canteen, a tent and possibly a horse, cannon or a reproduction musket.

Out among them

In the Union camp at Wilson’s Creek, hundreds of white canvas A-frame tents cover a large clearing on a dusty hillside. Spectators wander through the campsites and catch the soldiers between battles, where they eat over a fire pit, nap under a shade tree, tend horses or play cards.

Vietnam veteran Howard Rose, Kingwood, Texas, with Company A, 13th U.S. infantry, cleans his rifle before an evening meal. Rose enjoys the battles for the feeling of excitement and the adrenaline rush.

“It’s a lot better than what happened in Vietnam,” said Rose. “At least here, at the end of the battles, they blow a bugle and we all rise up and shake hands.”

One of those buglers, musician R.J. Samp, Wheaton, Ill., is practicing nearby with a fellow bugler. For this weekend engagement, Samp is the bugler for Union Gen. Terry Crowder and responsible for sending bugle signals out to artillery, cavalry and infantry units.

“I re-enact about once a month as a bugler, usually mounted on a horse,” said Samp. “And I still have my teeth.”

That’s no easy feat. Horses often cause the majority of re-enactment casualties. By weekend’s end, three soldiers were recovering from horse-related injuries — after they either fell off or their horses fell on them.

While the camaraderie and fraternity of re-enactors between the Blue and the Gray is evident, there’s still some competitive spirit. On a night raid of a Union campsite, a Rebel cavalry soldier was dismounted by guards and staff. As punishment, the young trooper’s horse was painted with large U.S. letters in toothpaste.

On a hill above

The acted battles can be impressive for both spectators and re-enactors alike. Chuck Nimmo, Buffalo., Mo., had a front-row seat for Saturday afternoon’s battle. It was his first time witnessing a re-enactment.

“I wanted to see more hand-to-hand combat,” he said with a slight chuckle. “I’ve always been a big fan of the history of the Civil War. It stands out in most people’s minds because it was brother against brother and family against family. A war among ourselves.”

Bob Wandel, Lawrence, with the 3rd Kansas, who will participate in Lawrence’s Civil War on the Western Frontier, enjoys the views and vantage point of the artillery units, usually on a hill overlooking the battlefield. “If you see a whole line of men coming at you with loaded guns, even though you know you’re not going to get shot, it’s very impressive,” says Wandel.

But working on an artillery crew has its costs too. The noise of the blasts are loud, and while not period authentic, the members of the 3rd Kansas protect their hearing with earplugs. Still they feel the reverberations.

And for each cannon blast that shakes his body and pounds his ears, Van Loenen, also a retired budget director for the KU Medical Center, considers another cost incurred by his artillery unit.

“I often think about how each time we fire — there goes another $10.”


hitme 6 years, 10 months ago

If we put a cable between the two sides there will be fewer casualties and collisions. Cables save lives.

Sean Livingstone 6 years, 10 months ago

There's nothing to celebrate about wars.... it may benefit people at that time and may be necessary... like WWII and even the war in Afganistan. However, people have to die because we didn't act fast enough to stop the atrocities before they become bad. WWII happened because no one stopped the German Nazi and Japanese Imperialism fast enough (Nazi had been invading a lot of countries and killing Jews for a long time before 1939, and Japan was occupying a lot of countries before they invaded the United States). Civil war could've been avoided if people woke up to realize that the North and the South viewed things differently (as they still do today, but it wasn't like an entire North versus South). But America finds a better solution... to bring the fight to the congress instead of picking up our weapons again. We cannot celebrate.... we should just reflect and understand... so that we don't commit the same mistakes and let people die again.

Sean Livingstone 6 years, 10 months ago

Winston, I never once promoted war... I'm promoting early interventions....

verity 6 years, 10 months ago

I used to hear that a lot back in the fifties and sixties when I was a young'en. I never understood why we fought the Civil War---I always thought we should have just let them go.

War is always a terrible thing and I really don't understand reenactments or glorifying it.

I'm sure I'm going to catch it for saying that.

Brandon Devlin 6 years, 10 months ago

You're not serious, are you?

This is a "historical reenactment," ie, if Union forces won an engagement, they will win the engagement during the event. The purpose is to show those with an interest in the history of our land how things were 150 years ago, and to give a perspective that you don't get from just reading the history of a battle.

Sorry, but Confederate forces, especially in the first couple years of the war, did win engagements, including Wilson's Creek. (Sorry, Emily, you can't just change history just to make it more politically correct.)

verity 6 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, there's all sorts of problems when you go back and change the past. I know, because I saw it on teevee.

Harold_Chasen 6 years, 10 months ago

Count me in on the next one. I don't care which war we do next, I'm up for some serious enemy killing. I hope we get to take trophies!!

Frightwig 6 years, 10 months ago

Bless these troops! Thank you for keeping our country safe!

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