McDonald Civil War re-enactment to feature lesser-known portrayals
Members of the United States Colored Troops re-enactment group are shown onstage at Soldiers & Sailors Hall during their annual Cannonball fundraising event.
Members of the United States Colored Troops re-enactment group are shown during the Harrisburg Grand Review Parade in 2012.
McDonald Borough will try to capture some of the spirit of ’63 during a historical event at Heritage Park this weekend.
The spirit of 1863, that is.
Heritage Public Library is sponsoring a Civil War re-enactment from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the community park in honor of the ongoing 150th anniversary of that conflict. Organizers said the event would help residents relive the sights, smells and sounds of daily life during the Civil War.
Rea Redd, organizer for Company A, 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, who would be taking part in the festivities, said the event would give insight into what people – both soldier and civilian – were going through during this turbulent time in American history.
“People are going to walk up and get a chance to see Civil War life,” Redd said. “They will see what they don’t know about the Civil War and what people at the time were just struggling with.”
In addition to the “Pittsburgh Rifles” of the 9th Pennsyvania, the event would feature drummers from the United States Colored Troops, a drum corps of young men representing the service of local African Americans during the Civil War.
John L. Ford, director and historian for the USCT, said African Americans played an important role in the war. 8,900 black Pennsylvanians signed up to fight after the Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for military service in 1863, including 600 from the Pittsburgh Area.
“Those men who were enslaved and called Negroes had the opportunity to fight for their freedom,” Ford said. “And it was not just fighting for freedom, but they wanted to fight for dignity, they wanted to be treated as humans, to fight for their humanity and be treated as people.”
Ford said the members of USCT were between the ages of 9 and 17. They helped educate the public about this important history while learning important lessons themselves.
“This was all brand new to them,” Ford said. “They never learned this black history in their school systems. It’s remarkable what they know now and how it makes them so much happier. When they get a foundation of who the were, they learn and understand who they are and who they can be.”
The young men recreate the lives of people who lived long before them, but they also learn context for today’s society.
“It makes them feel good about who they are,” Ford said. “The media makes young black men feel bad, feel like they’re all criminals or are going to be shot. There are so many negative things portrayed on the news and programming that they see 24-7.”
When they find out what really happened, “it makes them feel like they can succeed in life and they can get around obstacles… It often leads to a lifetime appreciation of history,” Ford said.
In addition to the performances by the USCT, reenactors from the 9th Pennsylvania would be on hand to show what Union camp life was like and to provide demonstrations of Civil War munitions and armaments. There would also be stations set up to give visitors a sense of what it was like inside a wartime field hospital.
The group of enthusiasts would include a number of women, who would underscore the importance of monumental shifts in gender roles that resulted from the Civil War.
“You’re going to find women who are going through the process of change,” Redd said.
One example of this change Redd pointed to was the fact that all military nurses before the Civil War were male, while nearly all nurses after the war were female.
“The Civil War was a great laboratory for gaining new responsibilities for women. You can really see what area women did for the war effort.”