Bringing history to life
Civil War reenactment in New London
By John Faucher
A misty haze sank to eye level as the smell of gun powder lingered over a damp battlefield adjacent to New London’s Heritage Historical Village Sunday.
About 85 visitors watched and listened as Civil War reenactment groups performed live demonstrations of history in the scrimmage field and throughout the village encampment.
A thunder of cannons from McAllister’s Battery and a three-inch rifled gun from Wyatt’s Battery on opposite ends of the field volleyed back and forth as the men of Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry and the 41st Virginia Infantry maneuvered for battle.
Back at the village’s historic log cabin in a primitive field hospital surgeon Smokey Brannaman and his assistant Chuck Vavrek prepared to take in the wounded.
Brannaman and Vavrek, who are also members of the 1st Alabama Calvary, have been reenacting Civil War scenes since the early 1980s.
“I’m getting too old to be falling off horses,” said Vavrek. “That’s why I’m assigned to help Smokey tend to the wounded.”
Brannaman, a professional horse trainer in real life, started his reenacting days in the infantry, before joining up with the 1st Calvary.
Civil War field hospital
In the early 2000s, he became interested in serving at a field hospital in Gettysburg.
Soon after, he began collecting his own original Civil War surgical instruments and studied the history of medical care and procedures from both the Federal and Confederate sides.
“A lot of guys would survive the initial surgery but died later on of disease or infection,” said Brannaman, as he wiped his surgical saw off on a bloody white apron.
“There was nothing sanitary about this back then,” he said awhile demonstrating a field amputation on an very lifelike injured Confederate manikin.
Meanwhile Vavrek comforted a Union soldier waiting next in line also with a leg wound, by giving him opium pills and a shot of whiskey.
“By the time they reached here, most of the men had already been given something for pain by the field nurses or one of the other men,” said Brannaman.
He served as a walking, talking history book for onlookers as he explained his utensils and assortment of period medicine bottles.
“The Federal Army only had a handful of doctors and the South didn’t have any at the start of the war,” he said.
Contracted surgeons found in nearby towns were the norm at many Civil War field hospitals.
Capt. Robert Schwandt, of Company E, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, said enactors go to great lengths to remain as historically correct as possible.
“This is our group’s first time here,” said Schwandt. “We definitely plan on returning next year and look forward to hopefully a little drier weekend.”
Several inches of rain fell during the two-day reenactment, the first of its kind for the New London Heritage Historical Society.
High marks for event
All six reenactment groups involved in the event gave the New London Heritage Historical Society high marks for their facilities and accommodations.
“Charmaine Gerndt and her crew did an exceptional job getting this event off the ground. We greatly appreciate their efforts and they should be commended,” said Schwandt.
Tony Fuller, president of the NLHHS, said they were pleased with the variety of demonstrations and the interaction groups had with the public.
“I think it was a very positive community event, despite the weather. We’re glad we did it and we’ll do it again,” said Fuller.
The New London Heritage Historical Society holds a number of events at the both the historical village and the Thern Farm located on State Highway 54 in New London.
Fuller said their most recent event at the farm drew more than 800 visitors for Rhubarb Fest and it was a “big success.”
The next big event planned for the village is Heritage Days and Rail Fest held on the first Saturday of August.
“This year we’re focusing on World War I as a theme,” said Fuller.
The group is still working out the details and they’ve already lined up a traveling historical WWI exhibit from Oshkosh in addition to a period blood mobile demonstration.
“There will be a focus on women’s involvement in the war effort and a special anniversary celebrated as part of the event.
“Stay tuned for more information on upcoming events in the paper,” said Fuller.