Civil War camp delights fans

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

The cannon blasts amid shouts from soldiers. Acrid black powder permeates the air and the Union soldiers in their blue, wool uniforms mill about in action. One soldier of the 2nd Battery Light Infantry Unit from Sac County clutches his hand as blood drips from a battle wound.

Ten feet away, a boy in a blue tank top and Nike sneakers covers his ears.

Such was the scene last Friday at Circle Park during the first ever appearance of the Civil War living history program at the Fourth of July Spectacular.

Except of course, there usually isn't blood. Jack McDermott, a reenactor from Schaller, nicked himself on the ordinance rifle, an authentic replica of the cannons used during the Civil War. McDermott had his wound bandaged by Dr. Marvin Roose, the camp's surgeon.

"To be a doctor in 1860, was not held in very high regard," said Roose, from Lake View. Doctors during the Civil War era attended two year medical programs. Military units often elected doctors and sometimes unit musicians took on double duty as nurses.

Roose researched his role for the reenactment thoroughly, as did his wife, Mary, who gave a presentation on women's role in the Civil War, such as taking on the farming or business duties of their enlisted husbands. Contrary to today's fashion standards, women of the 1860's preferred a white complexion, wearing high necklines and gloves.

While many actual Civil War camps did not have women, the 2nd battery reenactment camp is a family operation, said Terry Gerdes, whose wife Sharon and daughter Faith also participate in the unit.

Gerdes said he became involved with the living history camp about ten years ago when he saw the group perform at the Sac County Expo.

"I was drawn to the uniforms," he said. Gerdes talks about camp life in his presentation, pulling out a haversack, a canvas bag coated in tar used to store food. The three primary rations of a Civil War soldier were coffee, salt pork, often eaten raw, and hard tack, a cracker made out of flour and water.

"I like the personal aspect of the soldiers and what they went through," Gerdes said. A history buff, he said he saturated himself in books to learn about the soldiers' camp life.

A carpenter by trade, Gerdes said it helps to be self-employed to be a member of the reenactment camp. They present to at least ten schools in the spring and travel to festivals all over Iowa. He said he was exceptionally impressed with the Storm Lake celebration.

"This is really our best crowd ever," Gerdes said.

Most of the members of the reenactment camp have an avid interest in history, and many have military backgrounds themselves.

Jim Hansen, a Storm Lake resident who helps blast off the cannons, got involved almost ten years ago because he was heavily interested in black rifles. He also has two ancestors who fought in the Civil War, one with the First Infantry in Iowa

Dick Petschauer of Carnavon, who helps with the camp life presentation, served in the army and the navy for a combined 24 years. Out of curiosity, Petschauer became involved with the camp 12 years ago, and soon his wife and two kids joined him.

He said he enjoys telling little bits and pieces of unknown history. Not traditionally a history buff, it was something that grew on him.

"I didn't like history in school, but the military aspect drew me in," Petschauer said. "Maybe it was the uniforms."

He also said a crowd like the one at Storm Lake really makes him appreciative of his hobby.

"Today at an event like this, with the size of the crowd, makes it a lot of fun," he said. "So many people here show an actual interest."

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