One of the goals of this blog is to highlight some of the great work reenactors can do in the realms of historic preservation and education. This can take many forms from living histories, fundraisers, reenactments, and school presentations. To kick this line of blogs off, I’d like to start with an event I helped plan for a few years running. While I will confess to a certain amount of bias in this event, I truly do believe that, even if I had no part in it, the goals of the event are very noble indeed.
For several years running, the 150th Pennsylvania, “Bucktails,” from Meadville, PA have hosted an event titled “Muster in the Park,” which was held in Diamond Park, Meadville, PA. Historically, this was the site were companies raised in western Crawford County gathered to be enlisted into federal service during the Civil War. Men from Crawford County served in some of the most famous and toughest regiments of the U.S. Army: 83rd, 10th Reserves, 145th, and 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, as well as having men serve in a variety of other commands individually. Meadville also boasts one of the oldest monuments erected to the county’s sons who fought in the war. It is this monument that the event was founded for.
The Crawford County Soldiers and Sailors memorial was erected in the late 1860s, and over the years has become worn and cracked due to the harsh Northwestern Pennsylvania winters. The bronze figure atop the memorial had become green, his base cracked and dirtied by generations of kids climbed on it, and the 20 lbs. Parrott guns near it graffitied. The 150th Pennsylvania reenactors took it upon themselves to raise the necessary funds to restore the monument to its former glory.
Beginning in 2012, a living history reenactment has been held in Diamond Park. This event features military encampments, civilian displays, and demos by the 150th. There is also a Lincoln actor, which is especially poignant as it was men from Meadville, Co. K of the 150th, who served as Lincoln’s bodyguard from the fall of 1862 until the end of the war. While some of the displays and material culture may not be the most authentic, the reenactors who hold this event have never ceased to impress and educate the public. Each year that the event has been held there have been endless crowds wandering through the park talking to reenactors. I myself have gone hoarse from talking and narrating some of the demos. Being able to talk to so many people, and connect them to their area’s Civil War past is very important, and helps to ensure that people not only remember their past, but also gives them a personal investment in that history.
It is the efforts of groups like the 150th, and events like Muster in the Park, that serve as the front line for historic education and preservation. While it is of undoubted importance to do living histories at national parks and battle sites, it is just as important, if not more so, to do them at home in our local communities. If we make history engaging and connect people to something on a local or personal level, they will be much more willing to come to the more high-profile National Park events and reenactments. The efforts of this group and event have proven how successful such efforts can be as they raised more than the target amount in four years, a year less than they had anticipated it would take. Because of this, they not only restored the monument, but also erected an iron fence, and beautified the ground around it. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the 150th and Muster in the Park Committee for their fine work, and hope that they keep it up in the years to come.