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Local

Re-enactors bring Civil War to life with encampment in Sandwich

Jim Gurganus (left) of Park Forest leads a musket demonstration Friday during the Company H 10th Illinois Infantry's living history encampment at James Knights Park, 1001 N. Latham St., in Sandwich.
Jim Gurganus (left) of Park Forest leads a musket demonstration Friday during the Company H 10th Illinois Infantry's living history encampment at James Knights Park, 1001 N. Latham St., in Sandwich.

SANDWICH – Eric Terlep of Sandwich never had attended a historical re-enactment before visiting the Company H 10th Illinois Infantry living history encampment at James Knights Park, 1001 N. Latham St., in Sandwich last year.

This past weekend, Terlep wore a wool coat, brought his musket and joined the ranks as one of the infantry’s more than 12 re-enactors. On Friday, about 380 Sandwich elementary and middle school students attended the living history encampment.

“I’m not a teacher; I’m a software engineer, and I love being able to share my love of history with the children,” Terlep said. “The kids have so much fun and are excited to learn. By participating in the re-enactment, we’re keeping history alive and doing the soldiers honor.”

The encampment shows students and the community what the daily life of a Civil War soldier was like, from cooking and receiving medical attention to sleeping in tents and firing black powder muskets.

This year’s encampment included tents, historical artifacts and replicas, and demonstrations of marching, musket firing, wartime medical treatments and embalming methods.

The re-enactment group has been hosting the annual event since 2001. It hosts the event the weekend closest to April 19, which is the anniversary of the forming of the Company H Sandwich Union Guards at Freeland Corner in Sandwich. April 20 to 22, 1861, were the mustering dates of training for the 112 men who volunteered with the Sandwich Union Guard, which later became part of the 10th Illinois Infantry.

While the men prepared for battle, the town’s women brought their sewing machines to a local church. They removed the church pews and made a company flag and uniforms for each of the men.

From Sandwich, the men traveled to Cairo, Illinois, where they participated in the Cairo Expedition and protected the Illinois border, a railroad bridge and waterways where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet.

After the Cairo Expedition, they traveled to Mound City, where they protected the building of ironclad warships, joined Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s army and became part of the 10th Illinois Infantry.

The 10th Illinois Infantry helped build Fort Negley in Nashville, Tennessee, the largest interior fort in the country. After joining Union Gen. William Sherman’s army for the Atlanta Campaign in 1864, the company participated in many battles, helped capture Atlanta and took part in the March to the Sea, which helped capture Savannah, Georgia.

On July 4, 1865, the soldiers were mustered out of service in Louisville, Kentucky. On July 11, 1865, they received final discharge and pay.

Bob Winter of Lombard, the re-enactment company’s commander who portrays Lt. George Woodward, said that participating in re-enactments helps people remember the importance of the Civil War.

Winter has been a Civil War re-enactor since 1989. His wife, Luetta, joins him in costume, helping feed the soldiers with homemade and historically accurate meals, such as chicken and dumplings, stew and bread.

“The encampment helps remind people what those men and women did for our country,” he said. “As we get further and further away from the Civil War, there’s more history for kids to learn in school. Years ago, 20 to 40 years ago, they spent a month or longer learning about the Civil War. Now it’s a week or shorter. The Civil War made our country what it is – it made us a country.”

Heather Cyr of Sandwich attended the living history encampment with the third-grade class of her son, Aiden.

“I always drive by and see the tents, and I’ve always wanted to stop,” Cyr said. “I love the history of the Civil War era and am a strong believer in our Second Amendment rights. This is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about liberty and rights. We have what we have now because of what people gave up. The Civil War was important, and this encampment really shows that.”

Pamela Pescitelli, a third-grade teacher at Woodbury Elementary School, said that bringing her students to attend the re-enactment group’s encampment each year is “a way to bring history to life.”

“I’ve been coming here with classes for more than 10 years, and it’s such a great experience for the students,” Pescitelli said. “They explain the Civil War to their age level, so they’re learning about what food the soldiers ate, what they wore, what their daily life was like. The Civil War was more than Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address – it was a big part of our country’s history. I wish we could learn all of our history this way.”

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