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Local

Wilson's Creek revisited

Confederates, Union return to the battefield

More than the usual amount of cavalry, with some even engaging in sword fights while on horseback, participated in the Civil War re-enactment at Dollinger Family Farm in Channahon this weekend.
More than the usual amount of cavalry, with some even engaging in sword fights while on horseback, participated in the Civil War re-enactment at Dollinger Family Farm in Channahon this weekend.

CHANNAHON — A thousand observers watched as 700 re-enactors and $1 million in equipment, weapons, and uniforms took to the Civil War "battlefield" Saturday at Dollinger Family Farm.

Many observers noted afterward the re-enactment was the best they had seen in years of attending the annual event.

"In the 15 years I've been here, this was one of the finest and best choreographed battles I've ever seen," Kevin Lonergan of Bettendorf, Iowa, said.

"They also did a wonderful job in honoring Gen. Dellinger."

The Wilson's Creek foray was the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River, and was where Nathaniel Lyon became the first Union general killed in combat. Although the Confederate troops were victorious, the South failed to capitalize on the win.

Lonergan, who spells off re-enactor Jerry Kowalski of Joliet at the microphone as Union "Gen. Thomas," said the incredible cooperation between the Union and Confederate commander re-enactors to recreate the battle "was just amazing."

"There was more cavalry, more guns, a nice amount of infantry — it was quite a show," he said. "A million-dollar spectacle. For each infantryman, its $1,000 to $1,500 in equipment, weapons, uniforms, and multiply that many times by the number you have out there."

The actual Battle of Wilson's creek took place in September and October of 1861. This year marks the first year of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which ended in 1864 in a Union victory.

When the fighting began at Wilson's Creek, the war was still new and the armies were not well trained or disciplined, but they were still on the battlefield, Kowalski said.

"The heat of the battle came upon them, and they became excited and agitated, and did things normal, rational people don't do," he said.

Kowalski said people study history to learn its lessons and not keep making the same mistakes over and over again. As authentic as the "battle" was staged, some things, however, cannot ever be replicated.

"You can't replicate the sound of men dying, or the screams of those who have lost an arm or a leg, or had an eye punched out with a bullet," he said.

The re-enactment included a dress parade for re-enactor Brig. Gen. David Dellinger, who was retiring from participating in Civil War re-enactments.

Dellinger was also presented with his personal flag.

The Civil War was fought over the question of whether the states that were joining the union could have slaves or be free.

"In Washington (D.C.), they couldn't decide. There were problems with taxation and immigration," Kowalski added, speaking about electing the right people to federal and state governments.

"You are free to not vote if you choose not to," he told the spectators. "I sometimes think the candidates being offered are the lesser of two evils. That's my personal opinion. We need to vote, though, to make sure the right people get there."

Ten-year-old Alexia Tordy of Ottumwa, Iowa, was fascinated with the "battle" and the whole Civil War picture.

"I can't think of the words, but it's a really bloody war," she said. "I really learned a lot in a short day."

Alexia also learned that people of that era were not wasteful as compared to today.

"It would be better for our environment and better for our pocketbook if we weren't," she said.

She agreed most definitely there was a lot to learn from 150 years ago "that we need for our future."

Her mother, Jessie Tordy, portrayed a Southern lady.

"We really don't want to repeat our mistakes," she said of the importance of remembering and recalling the Civil War. Also that the people of today, and especially children, see and experience the emotions that go on in all battles, not just those of the Civil War.

"They see what the men went through, what their wives went through, and you want to give honor to those who went through it."

She laughed, saying Alexia was seeing what women of that era went through, like washing their dishes by hand in far harder circumstances than today when the automatic dishwasher does the chore.

Phil Stockey of Yorkville, a sixth-grade history teacher, drove to the farm after seeing signs along the highway about the re-enactment event.

"I think it's important that people today see everything wasn't always so easy — that a lot of people had to go through the door for us to enjoy what we enjoy today," he said. "It's great to come out and relive that."

Terry Dyer lives in Roscoe, five miles south of the Wisconsin border. He has studied history and loved it all his live. He's also the state commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. His great-great-uncle, Henry Dyer, fought in the 12th Illinois Cavalry in the Civil War.

Dyer said the Civil War is important because it "made us what we are today."

"Most people don't realize this," he said. "We went to war - and never should have - because we lost the one thing we built a democracy on, and we have problems with it today. That is our ability to compromise with one another as a nation. Sound familiar?"

Anyone who tries to understand the nation we have become, both good and bad today, needs to understand the horrific conflict our nation took part in during the Civil War, he said.

"Where three million of us fought in it, 620,000 of us died in it, 2 percent of the existing population, to form for the first time the United States of America," Dyer noted. "We need to be a nation of compromise rather than being so polarized like we are today. It's only destroying us."

Bill Johnson of Rockton, two miles from Wisconsin, re-enacts the role of a Union cavalry member.

"Just a trooper," he said. "I have relatives who were in the Civil War, and I am a member of Sons. That's my interest, as well as my relatives. I'm an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam Era, so I'm also promoting the veterans."

The annual two-day Civil War re-enactment is staged the third weekend in October, along with a shortened version for school children the day before.

Farm owners Noreen and John Dollinger are hosts to the event.


 

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