Civil War re-enactors Bring History to Life

A photo of the
A photo of the "Civil War Days" at Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda Source: Lake County Discovery Museum

Sam Johnson turned a wheel on his portable forage. Meanwhile, he heated a long piece of metal until it glowed.

8-year-old Erik Edwards watched and eventually asked, “What are you making?” Johnson gets that question all the time from visitors to events where he works. Today, he is at the Civil War Days in the fields around the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda.

Johnson ignores the question. “It intrigues them more,” he says.

About 600 Civil War re-enactors participated in the Civil War Days. The event brings 3000 to 4000 visitors each year. During the event, visitors can see narrated battles, crafts, presentations, and demonstrations. Selena Kuester is an education manager for Lake County Forest Preserves. She’s also the coordinator of the Civil War Days.

Programs this year include local stories from the Civil War era, including a discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Waukegan. Kuester thinks that the variety of programs is what keep people coming back from year to year.

“From some people, reading history doesn’t do it for them,” she said.

That’s part of the reason that Cecilia Friberg brought Edwards and his siblings to the festival. She wanted them to see how things get made and get an understanding of what history was really like.

Edwards was amazed at how long it took Johnson to create a decorative leaf with a chisel and tongs. Edwards had only seen blacksmiths in video games where creating something took only a few seconds.

“This takes so much longer,” he said.

Karen Pickett volunteers as a re-enactor. It gives her appreciation for how people lived in that era. She got involved through her husband who is part of a team of four to five people that shoot cannon during the battle re-enactments.

Pickett enjoys the research into getting all the details right. She also likes to see the children running barefoot and learning how to play the old games. The couple plan to do it as long as they can, possibly expanding to other locations.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE