Re-enactment at Pipestone, MN, Civil War Days Brings Details of 19th Century to Life

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Photos by Deb Watley and Creighton Watley

Last month, I attended one of the Pipestone Civil War Days in nearby Pipestone, Minnesota. Highlights of this annual event include the re-enactors who dress in period-type clothing, demonstrate various 19th Century skills, and stage a mock battle.

This was only my second Civil War re-enactment I’ve been able to attend. But, I’ve learned something each time.

At my first one, years ago in Centerville, Iowa, my family played cricket. The sport was popular among Civil War-era soldiers. Modern Americans have the misconception that it’s a boring sport, but we found it fun to play!

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At the Pipestone re-enactment, I realized how loud and smoky the cannons were. Even with wearing earplugs while a few cannons were fired, I could imagine what it must have been like during a real battle. The heat, smoke, noise, stench, would have been magnified. And the horrors of the wounded and killed soldiers and horses are almost beyond imagination.

Being able to experience some of those detail–in even a small way–helps me understand and appreciate what others’ lives were really like.

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I also took home my own little (reproduction) piece of the 19th Century. I learned the shade felt wonderful, but the closed back of my straw bonnet trapped the heat. But the women wearing the straw hats (that sit on top of the head) with the wide brims benefited from both the shade and the breeze.

There are re-eactments of many different time periods and cultures (i.e. Roman-era, U.S. Colonial-era, etc.). Have you ever been to one? Have you participated as a re-enactor? What did you learn?

5 comments

  1. Jane Healy

    I have heard about Civil War Days, but never gone. I have not experienced a reenactment of any kind. Thanks for posting your experiences! It sounds very interesting. Did you find out Pipestone’s Civil War connection?

    • Deb Watley

      According to the Civil Ward Days’ program of events, in 1886 the Southwestern Minnesota Grand Army of the Republic held a huge “encampment” (a kind of reunion) near Pipestone (same location as the National Monument now). Pipestone began it’s Civil War Days in 1991 in honor of the both the war’s veterans and the 1886 encampment.

  2. Mary Louise Sanchez

    The middle school our grandchildren attend have a Civil War battle reenactment every April. The teachers decide what the battle is; the kids are either Union or Confederate and have rented costumes. One granddaughter was in the Ohio regiment and they marched to the leader as she shouted OH and the regiment responded, IO. It’s pretty impressive to see middle school youth participating in a battle they had studied.

    We attended a Rendezvous in Ft. Bridger about 15 years ago during a Labor Day Weekend. It was like Rendezvous in days gone past. During the Rendezvous, Indians, Spanish, and Mountain Men would trade their supplies. At Ft. Bridger, the native Americans had their teepees set up; items for sale were put on the ground (as in old times); the costumes had to be as authentic as possible; and there was food. I was impressed with items that were sold. They had animal pelts, beads, and clothing which I believe were mostly to replenish or add to reenacters’ gear.

    I can recall that the aspen tree leaves were quaking and changing colors. The whole atmosphere took me back in time to the real rendezvous.

    • Deb Watley

      Wow! Those middle schoolers really get an immersive experience! I like that they get attached to certain regiments, too. I bet that helps the kids think about the people involved in those old battles.

      A Rendezvous sounds marvelous! (That brings back memories; I think I’ve been to a mini-rendezvous.) Did you see (and smell and taste) what they were cooking?

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