STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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An estimated 800 to 1,000 Civil War re-enactors will converge on Neshaminy State Park 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25-26.
The 26th annual living history weekend at the park, which will be held rain or shine, will focus on the Petersburg, Va. campaign of 1865, which ultimately led to Robert E. Lee’s surrender. “The surrender would take place about a week later (after the battles of Five Forks and White Oak Road),” said Warminster resident and the event’s executive chairman, Chuck Gilson.
The park is at 3401 State Road, Bensalem and, Gilson said, the park’s 334 acres make it ideal for a re-enactment event of this size. “The public’s more than welcome to walk around (the camp sites) and ask questions,” said Gilson, adding that his re-enactor unit, the 28th Pennsylvania Company out of Philadelphia, has spare uniforms you can try on. “This year we’re having a traveling museum. It’s supposedly the largest (Civil War artifact) collection in private hands.”
“I’ve been doing Neshaminy since ‘01. I might have missed it one year,” said Rick White, secretary of the Hatfield-based living history group the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. “Neshaminy is the one in the tri-state area that is consistently well-attended. It’s like the (re-enactment) season opener,” said White, who has donned both the blue “Federal” uniform and the gray of the CSA.
Taking place on the River Landing, the battle re-enactments will commence at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday. Bill McGowan, who will be one of the Confederate States of America battalion commanders at Neshaminy, gave away a spoiler that “Saturday will be one of the rare Confederate victories.”
He advised newcomers to this event that the weapons are faithful reproductions of the ones used during the War Between the States, and they’re loud. “I’ve had my bell rung several times when there was a discharge too close to my ear,” McGowan noted.
The event also features camp life scenarios, civilian life (the “sutlers” that assisted the troops) and military demonstrations. McGowan added that the re-enactors will “be in period attire and attitudes,” cooking meals on a campfire, and with their modern conveniences out of sight.
Here’s a look at what’s scheduled, so you can plan ahead:
10 a.m.: Dress parade in the camp sites; cavalry demonstrations in the Drill Field near the Sutler area (Saturday), or the Landing area (Sunday).
10:30 a.m. Saturday: Battalion drills at the Drill Field.
11 a.m.: Dress parade in camp sites; review of Union forces at Drill Field (Sunday).
11:30 a.m.: Artillery demonstrations at Union Camp; band concert at Drill Field (Saturday).
11:45 a.m. Saturday: Cooper shop refreshment saloon recruitment drive at the crossroads/Sutler area.
Noon: Cooking demonstration in camps.
12:30 p.m. Saturday: Mifflin Guard fife and drum corps concert at the crossroads/Sutler area.
1 p.m. Saturday: Civilian activities and military forms for battle in respective camps.
1:30 p.m. Sunday: Five Forks battle re-enactment.
2:30 p.m. Saturday: White Oak Road battle re-enactment.
3:30 p.m. Saturday: Hospital scenes in camp sites.
3:30 p.m. Sunday: Honor ceremony.
“There’s enough going on to make it interesting for a spectator. Take the kids in a stroller … and make a day of it,” said White.
McGowan, who has real-life military experience serving in the U.S. Army, appreciates the unspeakable danger that soldiers in the Civil War put themselves in, marching shoulder-to-shoulder directly into gun and cannon fire. “The courage they showed was phenomenal,” he said, mentioning that 23,000 died just at the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam.
Admission is free and funds raised go toward Civil War battlefield and artifact preservation, Gilson said.