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Civil War history comes to life in Willmar, Minn., Saturday

Submitted photo courtesy of 2nd Minnesota Battery

One hundred and 50 years after the start of the American Civil War, there is still a strong respect for the veterans who fought in the long, bloody battle and a fascination about the people, life, culture and hardships of that period in American history.

A glimpse of what life was like in those times will be on display this week in Willmar during a free educational encampment depicting the Civil War. It'll be presented by volunteer re-enactors of the 2nd Minnesota Battery Light Artillery.

The Civil War encampment will take place, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society's Sperry House.

There will be music, demonstrations, food and different stations for the public to see on civilian life, small and shoulder arms, battle flags, artifacts and a Confederate uniform. An artillery demonstration will take place at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The display will not, however, be a re-enactment of a Civil War battle, said John Cain, a member of the 2nd Minnesota Battery Light Artillery Reenactors group, based in Red Wing.

Cain said his group does participate in battle reenactments, and will travel to original battlegrounds in Tennessee and Kentucky next year during massive commemorative events that will attract thousands of Civil War re-enactors and spectators.

He said he and the other dozen members of the group that will be in Willmar will be "creating a scenario" representative of the 1861-1865 time span that includes stations where the public can move to "see the different aspects of the Civil War."

He said he hopes people "learn something new" about the Civil War while attending the day-long display, like the evolution of designs of the Confederate flags and some parts of history that many Americans would like to "blot out" -- like the battle at Fort Pillow where black Union troops were executed by Confederates. Some of those details "get pushed under the rug," he said.

The group has done these types of educational presentations for the last 25 years, especially for metro school children, but they rarely travel to west central Minnesota.

The artillery demonstrations include step-by-step instructions on how to load a Civil War-era gun and "what was shot out of a cannon at that time," said Cain. Each drill will take 20-25 minutes.

Female members of the reenactment group will provide demonstrations on laundry and quilting and "speak to what civilian life was like" 150 years ago.

The interactive display will be a learning opportunity for people of all ages, said Jill Wohnoutka, director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society. "People like to touch and interact," she said. "It's living history."

The special program is being done to honor the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, said Wohnoutka, who hopes the event will "spark some interest" in Civil War history, including the 200 war veterans who had ties to Kandiyohi County. Some of those soldiers lived here and joined the war and others were in the war and moved to county after it was over, she said.

Their names and their roles in the Civil War are currently on display in the museum, but more information is being sought.

"These guys are hard mysteries," said Wohnoutka, adding that some relatives of county Civil War veterans have provided good information that is being incorporated into local archives, but more is needed.

They've identified four Kandiyohi County residents who served in the 2nd Minnesota Battery, which was mustered at Fort Snelling. Three left the area but one, Henry Peterson Ruh, died here in 1901 and is buried at the Calvary Lutheran Church Cemetery in Willmar, she said.

So far she has been unable to determine if there are any relatives of those four soldiers from the 2nd Minnesota Battery still living in the area.

Cain said efforts began this year to install a memorial in St. Paul that would honor all Minnesotans who fought in the Civil War.

Learning about the Civil War 150 years after it began will also provide a platform for next year's 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict, which had a strong presence in Kandiyohi County, said Wohnoutka.

At a glance

n Civil War Encampment: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Kandiyohi County Historical Society Sperry House grounds, just off of North Business 71, in Willmar.

n Artillery demonstrations: 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

n Dale and Sharon Koenen of Clara City will also have their collection on display.

n Kandiyohi County's Civil War veteran Martin Jorgenson's gun will be on display in the Kandiyohi County Historical Museum.

n For more information call the Kandiyohi County Historical Society at 235-1881.

Who they are:

n The 2nd Minnesota Battery Re-enactors are a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Civil War history by living it. The unit was reactivated in 1985 and has continued to present an accurate and interesting history of the 2nd Minnesota Battery and Civil War history to hundreds of thousands of people.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750