History repeats itself-- North meets South at annual Civil War Muster in Jackson

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

As history buffs, Cindy Carlson and her daughter, Christina, enjoyed attending the last two Civil War musters in Jackson's Cascades Park.

They loved seeing the horses and cannons, smelling bacon frying at campsites, and hearing military commands shouted out to uniformed soldiers.

But they were tourists in street clothes.

At this year's muster on Aug. 24 and 25, the Jackson residents carried parasols and wore bonnets and long dresses over hoop skirts.

And that made all the difference.

"When you come here just as a person dressed normally, you don't get the same feeling as actually being part of how they lived back then," said Christina, daughter of Gilbert Carlson, Jackson's assistant city attorney. "It comes more alive."

"The first time we came here, we came to the civilian camp and saw the clothes," said Cindy Carlson, who plans to attend a ball in Marshall in September with her daughter, as well as any other Michigan event honoring the time period. "We love the dresses."

She said her husband is interested in the period surrounding the Civil War, but hasn't become a reenactor.

"We're working on it," she said, smiling.

The Carlsons were just two of about 1,000 reenactors at the annual Civil War Muster, Michigan's oldest and largest Civil war reenactment. Along with reenactments of the Battle of 2nd Manassas and the Battle of Stones River, the weekend included authentic camps open to the public, demonstrations, music, drills, medical scenarios, and a military ball.

Grand Ledge attorney Ben Cwayna has been a reenactor since he joined the 12th South Carolina/4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry at the age of 12. He started as a drummer boy, and was subsequently elected as private, corporal, sergeant, and captain.

He now participates in about eight events a year, including at least one national reenactment.

Cwayna will attend the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg July 4-7, 2013. The battle was the single largest battle ever fought on American soil, and the anniversary is expected to draw thousands of reenactors from around the world.

"This time period in our nation's history set us up for the country we are today, both good and bad," said Cwayna, 32, a general practice attorney who graduated from Michigan State University College of Law (formerly Detroit College of Law). "It defined how our nation would be down the road."

He said the Civil War era is particularly fascinating.

"And I want to keep the memory of it alive," he said. "Doing this is an opportunity to not only teach history by doing it and living it, but it's a lot of fun as well. The men in our crowd are great guys I consider like family. It's a camaraderie thing, very much like it was with the real soldiers."

Published: Thu, Aug 30, 2012