This week in the Civil War - April 22, 1862
Arthur John, Real Son, dies at 106

Civil War re-enactors drawn to stories, way of life from bloody conflict

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In this photo taken April 15, 2012, Chuck Caldwell, of Moline, Ill., speaks during a presentation on the Civil War at the Rock Island County Historical Society in Moline. At right is fellow Civil War re-enactor Darwin Gillespie of Port Byron, Ill. (AP Photo/The Dispatch, Jonathan Turner) QUAD CITY TIMES 

Moline, Ill. — Despite being the deadliest war in U.S. history, the Civil War was, at times, actually civil.

Soldiers on each side respected and helped each other, said a presenter Sunday at the Rock Island County Historical Society. Darwin Gillespie, of Port Byron, recently visited Fredericksburg, Va., and learned Confederate soldiers went out on the battlefield after fighting was over and supplied water to Union soldiers.

"There was that kind of respect. That's just the way things were back then," said Mr. Gillespie, who's been doing Civil War re-enactments for 24 years. "It was a totally different time period. That's one of the reasons I re-enact — I love the beliefs back then, what we stood for, the hardships we went through to make this country what we have."

"I say, we're wimps compared to what they did," he said of 21st-century life. "The way they lived, endured during that time period, really we're totally wimpy. That's what I totally admire about the time — the dedication each man had toward what they believed in. It wasn't over land. Nowadays, we fight over oil, we fight over land. They fought for what they believed in. It wasn't over possessions."

The 1861-1865 war claimed 625,000 lives (the majority from disease such as dysentery) and pitted the Union Army — fighting to preserve the U.S. as one nation — against the Confederates — who fought to preserve states' rights, including the right to maintain slavery, Mr. Gillespie said.

He and other re-enactors wore authentic uniforms and other clothes from the period and showed examples of weapons, equipment, supplies, backpacks, eating utensils and clothes.

Chuck Caldwell of Moline noted the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Union Army was led by Robert H. Graham, who before the war was owner of the Moline Independent newspaper, and soldiers from Rock Island, Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties fought in the regiment.

Robert Scott, a re-enactor from Wilton, Iowa, said soldiers would walk 100 miles in three days, in wool uniforms, carrying their load.

"You think anybody could do that nowadays, the average person?" he asked.

Mr. Caldwell's wife Debbie, who's been re-enacting for 26 years, portrayed an ordinary woman active in the Christian Commission at the time, which offered food, supplies, prayer and other help to soldiers. She's a nurse in real life and worked with an Iranian doctor for 25 years. He once told Mrs. Caldwell: "Your country is the only country that has survived a civil war, pulled itself back together. My country of Iran has been battling civil wars for centuries."

"That was a light bulb moment for me," she said. "I had done all this reading, and I never thought what a great thing it was."

Mr. Gillespie was an extra in the 1991 film "Gettysburg," visited the famous Pennsylvania battle site two weeks ago and plans to go back there next year for the 150th anniversary of the July 1863 battle — the deadliest of the Civil War.

"Gettysburg alone had 60,000 troops on each side," he said. During filming, there were 2,500 on each side, and that looked like a lot, he said. Next year, re-enactors hope to get 20,000 total there. In the real battle, 15,000 men lost their lives.

"It was days before they started burying them. That didn't include the horses," Mr. Gillespie said. "Imagine what the stench would be for Gettysburg residents. You can't really picture how bad and gruesome the war was."

Information from: The Dispatch,

From: The Republic Columbus, Idianana

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