Friends of the National Frontier Trails Museum invite you to step back in time Saturday and experience what life in Independence was like during the Civil War as it unfolds in a military encampment on the Trails Museum campus. Sponsored by Friends of the National Frontier Trails Museum, the Family Fun Day re-enactment is focused on “seeing and understanding what a Civil War encampment might be like,” says Kathy Vest, president of the Friends Board of Directors. The idea behind Family Fun Day – the third such program presented this summer – is to offer special programs at the Independence museum on a regular basis to lure visitors back to this one-of-a-kind museum at 318 W. Pacific Ave., Kathy says. Another Family Fun Day will be presented in August. Outside activities are free; however, there is a fee to visit the museum. And for those who do, a free covered-wagon ride awaits them. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “This is really a unique opportunity for residents in this area to come and learn what life was like in their hometown,” Kathy says, calling the encampment a vignette of the time. “It’s an educational opportunity; a family opportunity to learn about that era.” Says Kathy: “We are trying to fill in that gap (in history) that hasn’t really been portrayed correctly in what was going on here in Independence.” What is there to see and do at the living-history presentation? Well, you can enjoy the Civil War music of a “pick and hammer” group, meet Union and Confederate militia, witness exciting vignettes, listen to soldiers tell stories about the Second Battle of Independence (which is being portrayed), as well as getting a close-up glimpse of a militia camp, a refugee camp and a medical camp. In addition, youngsters will have the opportunity to make a clay bullet from a Civil War mold, write with a quill pen and enjoy refreshments as they watch history come alive. But don’t come expecting to see a full-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Independence. There’s not going to be one. However, there will be skirmishes throughout the day between bushwhackers and the federal militia. In addition, you’ll see guerrillas on horseback and a lot of black powder going off, all of which adds to the realism. In order to get civilian re-enactors involved in the numerous vignettes, civilian women might take a wounded guerrilla to one of their tents and shelter him, says re-enactor Sam Savona, who portrays a second lieutenant. Then having witnessed what happened, he says, “A civilian Unionist might go to the state militia and say these women are taking care of a bushwhacker. The Federals will go get (the guerrilla) and oust him out of the camp.” A member of Venture Crew 383 of Elliott’s Scouts, Sam is affiliated with this re-enactment company that is providing re-enactors for the Civil War encampment. As for Elliott’s Scouts, they were an actual unit and served as an advanced guard of Gen. Joe Shelby’s Iron Brigade. “We were made up of ex-Missouri guerrillas and farm boys around Jackson and Lafayette counties,” Sam says, adding: “We always stayed in front of Shelby’s brigade.” Partnering with Elliott’s Scouts at the encampment is the Western Blue Coats Field Hospital, an independent company, whose surgeon major is Mason Lumpkin. Portraying Union surgeon Benjamin Franklin Thayer, Mason commands a regimental Union field hospital at the encampment that includes a surgeon, two assistant surgeons and a nurse. Mason notes that as a support company, the Western Blue Coats took care of wounded Confederates, too, noting, “We are doctors first of all, and our job is to care for the wounded regardless of who they are fighting for or their affiliation.” Says Mason: “We try to do first-person impressions when we can and delve into history to help make sure the people who fought for our freedom are not forgotten – even the most ordinary soldier. ...We are here to portray the rank-and-file soldiers and officers who served.” As for the vignettes, “We take a look at what we are trying to emphasize, and we look at our vignettes that way,” says Greg Quirin, a first lieutenant in Elliott’s Scouts. “Some will be organized prior to the event beginning; others will actually feed off an actual vignette that has already begun.”
Greg says what he would like all visitors to take home from the living-history program is this: The war on the western frontier was much different from the war in the East. “Out here it was a much different war,” he notes, explaining that in many cases, the strife started along the Missouri-Kansas border in 1856 and continued until the Civil War began in 1861. “ In fact,” he adds, soldiers west of the Mississippi River use to refer to the Eastern Theater as a ‘gentleman’s war’ because there was nothing gentlemanly out here. This was total war from the beginning.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.