By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — The encampment planned for the last weekend of April at the GCC Medina campus will offer a taste of not only what the skirmishes between Union and Confederate soldier were like but also the lifestyles that thousands of men experienced during their time of service.
Coordinating the scores re-enactors taking to the field as part of the college’s Civil War Initiative is Tom Bowers, an Albion native and the speaker at the first of three lectures scheduled for the lead-up to the encampment.
Bowers will present “Hardtack, housewives, coffee, and cowpies — the life of a Civil War Soldier” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the GCC Medina campus on Maple Ridge Road.The lecture series and encampment will shine a light on the average soldiers, whose sacrifices are often lost in study of history.
”Everybody knows Lee and Lincoln, so I try to take a bit of what i’ve learned in three decades of re-enactment and apply that to the average soldier — what he was thinking, how he ate and slept, what he carried, how he fought off disease and maintained discipline and stayed true to his cause,” Bowers said. “The efforts of men who left home for honor, family, home and country.”
Bowers has learned much about what those soldiers faced over three decades of participating as a Civil War re-enactor. He is a founding member of the 34th North Carolina Reenactment Group, a Rochester-based unit based on a historic unit of rebels from the rural area between Charlotte and Asheville that participates in dozens battlefield re-enactments and living history events each year.
The choice to portray the 34th North Carolina, Company H was one that the re-enactors studied closely. The company, made up of the very young and old, was formed in 1863 after many of the men in the middle age range were lost in the first years of the war.
”We looked for a unit that reflected more of an agrarian society,” explained Bowers, who noted their cause was not slavery, but the defense of a homeland in the way their grandfathers did during the Revolutionary War. “Their home was their country, they didn’t venture out past the next hill or dale. They certainly didn’t like British intrusion any more than they liked the Washington intrusion.”
Bowers said he was always interested in military history but became interested in re-enacting after stopping in Gettysburg while covering a bicycle trip to Virginia for the Journal-Register in the late 1970s.
”We slept on battlefield and learned confines of the field. I was quite impressed by that,” said Bowers, who soon after began attending re-enactment events in Western New York.
He joined a Rochester-based re-enactment unit and participated in the 125th anniversary events, which are now being echoed at battlefields across the country. “25 years later, we’re reenacting ... all the way from Fort Sumter sumter to Appomattox.”
While large masses of re-enactors have attended events at the sites of the Battle of Antietam and the Second Manassas last year, Bowers said he appreciates the smaller events that his group participates in.
”I enjoy the campfire life and encampments,” Bowers said. “It’s an opportunity to cook coffee over an open fire, tell stories and sing songs — all of the things that would have allowed soldiers to wile away the hours ... the social aspects of the war.”
”We’re getting to know these guys — they lived together, marched, slept and fought together. There’s a bond of brotherhood that we try to reflect.”Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.