Civil War Weekend heats up history in Hastings

  • Article by: LIALA HELAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2013 - 10:55 AM

In Hastings, Civil War re-enactors provided a glimpse of the hardships, sacrifice and, yes, pleasures of a simpler time.

Mel Scharffbillig of Hastings says he was born 100 years too late.

“I would’ve been free as a bird,” he said of living in an older era. “Life was simpler — it made more sense. You didn’t keep buying Styrofoam cups every day. You had a metal cup that lasted you all your life. Or in my case, I made a metal cup that lasted me a lifetime, as long as I didn’t lose it.”

Scharffbillig was playing the role of a Civil War-era blacksmith at Hastings’ Civil War Weekend Sept. 7 and 8. His sentiments about an older era — when people seemed more connected to one another — and his appreciation of the challenges faced by Minnesotans in the Civil War era was shared by other re-enactors at the annual event, many seen carrying tin cups filled with lemonade in the 90-degree temperatures.

People were dressed in heavy 1800s garb, slept in tents, and carried out the daily tasks of civilians and soldiers. Children played games, and a mock Civil War wedding took place. Camps surrounded the William G. LeDuc Historic House, a mansion built during the Civil War.

The theme was “The Price of Victory,” given that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.

“To put it very bluntly, the price of victory was death,” said Amy Deaver, volunteer coordinator for the event organized by the Dakota County Historical Society. “Gettysburg had the all-time highest death rate.”

The event featured speakers on mourning; a Civil War-era coffin was on display.

“We really try to minimize the presence of 21st-century trappings,” Deaver said. “It’s very realistic.”

A Hastings man who has been a blacksmith for more than 53 years played someone who made utensils, latches and other tools.

“I grew up without electricity, so I know what it was like,” Richard Carlson said.

A volunteer at the event approached Carlson with a broken handle on her purse. Carlson dug into his pockets and started bending metal.

“He has all the tools,” Dottie Bronowski said with a laugh. “He can fix anything.”

Just eat it or go hungry

At the cooking camp, Spencer Johnson spent his weekend cooking food such as salted beef or pork, boiled sausages, sauerkraut, potatoes and hard crackers that soldiers often joked would break their teeth.

Johnson is a seventh-grade U.S. history teacher at Hastings Middle School, and students helped him.

“This kind of stuff just hooks the kids,” Johnson said.

They made applesauce from apples on the land and eggs from the chicken coop a few feet away.

“It gives you an appreciation for what people went through back then. We’re only here two days. I can go home and take a shower, sit in air conditioning. They had to be sweaty and dirty, and they couldn’t even take a break,” Johnson said.

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  • Video: Come and get it

    Tuesday September 17, 2013

    Re-enactors at the Hastings Civil War Weekend play "Roast Beef" to let soldiers know that lunch is ready: boiled...

  • The Civil War Weekend included educational demonstrations about Minnesota soldiers who served in the Civil War. Arn Kind, right, recruiting sergeant for the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment re-enactment group, watched as his recruits attempted to fire their wooden replica rifles.

  • Sgt. Shane of the Fourth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment relaxed and had a smoke during down time in Civil War preparations. The Civil War Weekend was held at the LeDuc Historic Estate in Hastings.

  • A Civil War medical emergency — operating on a soldier’s injured leg —was reenacted, from left, by chaplain Todd Hein, surgeon Jim Hjermstad and assistant surgeon William Amberg.

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