MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Still fighting the Civil War

At historic sites, battle reenactments turn history into flesh and blood.

Union soldiers reenact a battle in Greenbush.

© Beth Gauper

Soldiers fire during the reenactment at Wisconsin's Wade House.

After 150 years, the Civil War still inflames imaginations. What was life really like then, at home and on the battlefield?

You can find out at the annual encampments hosted by historic sites, where reenactors offer artillery drills, medical demonstrations and shopping at Sutlers' Row, where vendors sell period goods.

Many feature appearances by President Lincoln and include period balls, concerts and church services.

But some encampments also include battle reenactments, which give spectators an incredible opportunity to see history in all its sound and fury.

Some feature thundering cavalry and dozens of cannons; others are more intimate, with affecting human dramas woven into the smoke of battle.

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War runs through 2015, so annual reenactments will be much more extensive than usual.

The states farther north were spared the carnage at home. But everyone suffered, and Civil War encampments at historic sites in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan bring the war home to modern-day spectators.

Here are many of the Upper Midwest's best Civil War events with battle reenactments in 2014.

The National Park Service's Sesquicentennial site lists many events in national parks, and CivilWar.org also lists events, many in much-traumatized Missouri.

April 26-27, Civil War Re-enactment in Keokuk, Iowa. This year, the town at the southeast tip of Iowa re-enacts the 1864 Battle of Atlanta and Battle of Ezra Church. Usually, it re-enacts the 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., which kept Missouri in the Union and was led by Gen. Samuel R. Curtis of Keokuk.

May 3-4, Civil War Encampment at Dousman Stagecoach Inn in Brookfield, Wis. On the western edge of Milwaukee, this 1843 inn holds an encampment on its parklike grounds and includes demonstrations, children's games and an Abraham Lincoln look-alike who gives the Gettysburg Address.

Ladies at the Wade House.

© Torsten Muller

Women play important roles in reenactments.

May 17-18,  Civil War Days at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Ill. This 12-acre history museum in the western suburbs of Chicago hosts battle reenactments, famous figures of the past and a sutlers' row.

Battles are at 2:30 p.m. both days.

June 21-22, Civil War Reenactment in Green Bay. On the Fox River, Heritage Hill State Historical Park is transformed into a battleground, this year for the 1864 Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. There's a battle each day, and youths can become a soldier for part of the day.

July 12-13, Civil War Days in Wauconda, Ill. The events at the Lake County Discovery Museum in the far northern suburbs of Chicago include appearances by Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, generals and Mrs. Lincoln as well as the president, plus a re-creation of the Summer Fair.

Large battles will be held each day.

July 26-27, Sweet's Civil War Encampment in Lombard, Ill. This free event in Four Seasons Park is named for Col. Benjamin Sweet, who led the Lombard regiment that served as prison guards at Camp Douglas in Chicago.

It features battles at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, a candlelight tour of the camps Saturday night and a ladies' tea and fashion show Sunday.

Aug. 1-3, Muskets & Memories in Boscobel, Wis. This large encampment along the Wisconsin River includes family dance lessons, a ladies' garden party, a ball, candlelight tours and a Grand March at 9:45 p.m. Saturday.

Battle-reenactment are at 1 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Aug. 9-10, Civil War Days in Pipestone, Minn. In the southwest corner of Minnesota, this biennial festival includes quilting bees, etiquette and ballroom dance lessons, camp tours, children's games, band concerts and a grand ball.

For more, see Pipestone homage.

Aug. 15-17, Galesburg Heritage Days in Galesburg, Ill. This living-history festival in Lake Storey Park includes a Civil War component with two battle reenactments, appearances by President Lincoln and a sutlers' row, military ball and pie and cake auction.

Aug. 29-31, Civil War Days in Lamoni, Iowa. This town in south-central Iowa, just across the Missouri border, features battles at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

A Civil War reenactor.

© Beth Gauper

A Rebel runs across a field during a skirmish at Norskedalen.

There also will be a period spelling bee, fashion show, dance and church service; a court martial; night artillery firing; cemetery tours; and a meal served to everyone in period dress (bring your own period cutlery).

Sept. 20-21, Civil War Muster in Holland, Mich. The Holland Museum's Van Raalte Farm Muster will reenact a battle.

There also will be re-enactments of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, medical scenarios, a fashion show and period church services.

Sept. 27-28, Civil War Weekend at the Wade House in Greenbush, Wis. This re-enactment near Sheboygan is the most impressive in the region, with 1,000 re-enactors and battles waged in the meadows and woods around an 1860s stagecoach inn that was a recruiting station during the Civil War.

Skirmishes are at 11 a.m. and battles at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more, see Blasts from the past.

Oct. 11-12, Civil War Heritage Weekend at Norskedalen near Coon Valley, Wis. The skirmishes on this atmospheric pioneer homestead in the coulees southeast of La Crosse, Wis., don't have horses, but they feature living-history actors whose performances can leave onlookers in tears. 

For more, see Fight club.

Oct. 11-12, Shadows of the Blue and Gray in Princeton, Ill. The event in this town off I-80, half an hour west of Starved Rock State Park, includes battle re-enactments at 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

There will also be a Grand Entrance parade with the Lincolns at noon Sunday, a Lincoln look-alike contest, a musket loading and firing competition and a period barn dance followed by a cannon fireworks show.

Oct. 18-19, Civil War Days Reenactment near Joliet, Ill. More than 500 reenactors come to the Dollinger Family Farms, where the family house was a stop on the stagecoach line and doubled as a tavern.

There will be kid's games, drills, a fashion show and narration before the 2 p.m. battles.




Last updated on June 16, 2014

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