WATERVLIET — The debate about Civil War memorials spilled over into a Time Line of World History, an annual educational event held at Schuyler Flatts this past weekend.
Organizers didn’t want to directly weigh in on the current controversies, insisting the event, which has been going on for at least a decade, was to offer the public a hands-on, fun history lesson.
There was at least one complaint about reenactors from the Confederate side of the Civil War being onsite, said Colonie Historian Kevin Franklin. Police departments were on alert if any trouble arose, but things went smoothly.
“I think everyone needs to cool down,” Franklin said about the recent national uproar.
For a photo gallery of the reenactment, click here.
Some of the participants, though, said there were less gray uniforms than in years past.
What is frustrating to the reenactors, who go to great pains to make sure what they present is as accurate as possible, is how people on both sides have distorted history to satisfy their own narrow, pre-conceived objectives.
For example, said Jim Hunt of Waterford, who was representing the 123rd of New York, the Confederate Flag that has caused so much angst isn’t a confederate national flag but a confederate battle flag not unlike the different flags carried by the north soldiers to represent their respective companies and states.
“People don’t know the history of these flags,” he said. “And people don’t appreciate or know about the significance of this particular time period. Most of these southern guys who fought, they didn’t own slaves. They were farmers. It’s no different than today. It was
the big rich guys who owned slaves.”
It’s not unlike Gen. Robert E. Lee, he said, who long after his death has come to represent the South’s desire to keep slavery in place. Hunt, though, said Lee was first offered the opportunity to command the Union Army but turned it down because he would not fight against his home state of Virginia.
“The Civil War was about state’s rights and it evolved into a moral war with [Pres.] Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He was initially willing to allow slavery in areas where it already existed if the South came back into the Union.” Hunt said. “But, he was afraid England was going to come into the war on the side of the South and they couldn’t do that if it was a war against slavery because they had recently abolished slavery in that country.
“It was about state’s rights, and not having the federal government tell states what to do. We are still arguing that point today.”
He said he understands what the Rebel Flag has come to represent but said that only came about by people not paying attention to historical fact.
“It’s not just a southern history it’s a national history and people don’t know the history. It’s ignorance, not understanding,” he said. “There hasn’t been a war in the history of the world that resolved any conflict. We have changed maps, maybe, but war and fighting never solved problems. The only thing that can change anything is when we can look at each other and say ‘I know you are different than me but I can accept that and still say, ‘I love you.’”
His encampment, like the others, is as near as humanly possible to what a northern infantryman’s encampment was like during the Civil War. On display was a linen shirt with wooden buttons, a wooden set of dice, wool socks, unroasted coffee beans – because the government couldn’t afford to roast them for the soldiers – biscuits the soldiers ate and a 10-pound musket and ammo.
“I can tell you what a musket feels like, and how heavy it is, or you
can come here and pick it up yourself,” he said.
Other Civil War encampments had similar stuff, and other booths had period correct items on display from the ninth century Vikings, World Wars I and II, and other periods either of our history or that influenced the nation we are today.
“This is where we came from,” said Jarl Seamus of Amsterdam dressed as a Viking from the ninth century. “The Vikings had an enormous impact with the development on early medieval Europe and had a profound impact on the development on French and England and that is who we became. It’s a fun way to present a very dry subject.”
Despite that objective, the current national controversy wasn’t far from the minds of many.
“I understand their concerns but their methodology is wrong, it’s fallacious,” said Tim Snow, a Civil War reenactor. “You can attack the symbol all you want, but you have to go after people’s hearts. And what we are doing here does go after people’s hearts. By coming to something like this you get a better understanding of what the world was about back then, of what the different sides were fighting for. Some people would say both sides lost the war, and I believe that when you look at the devastation this country went through.”
He said the Civil War was a turning point, not only for this country but for the entire world.
“Slavery has been an institution on this planet since man has been around,” he said. “And we are coming out of that into a state of ‘look at this new country that’s born, all men are created equal and it’s not based on the color of your skin.’ This is a big step in the history of this planet, the creation of this country, and to start attacking its roots without thinking about that is a mistake.”
Randy McCullar, of Johnstown, was dressed as a confederate soldier at the Living History and could trace his ancestry to the Civil War and to the infamous Battle of Shiloh.
“It’s important to preserve our history so it doesn’t repeat itself,” said McCullar. “To me, what’s going on now is terrible. My ancestors didn’t own any slaves. I despise the white supremacists and the KKK and all that, but when you start destroying history it’s just salt in the wounds.
“How about Stone Mountain or Mount Rushmore? Is that next? Washington and Jefferson owned slaves and it’s a disgrace to the Native Americans. It’s on their land and they protested it when it was built. Should that come down too?”