Mike McPherson stood outside a canvas tent in a makeshift soldier’s camp set up on the lawn of the old Lockeford School. He wore a worn work shirt, blue pants, suspenders and no shoes. He favored a heavily bandaged foot that had been accidentally “shot” the night before after drinking too much, and seemed just a touch shell shocked from a series of rifle volleys.
Luckily, McPherson was playing a character.
The Lockeford Historical Society paired with the Second South Carolina Voluntary Infantry to create the second annual living history and Civil War Encampment on Saturday.
The encampment depicted moments in history that could have been plucked from any day in the Civil War years, or during one of the many wars with Native Americans in American History.
“We need to teach the public what’s not in the history books,” said McPherson, who was actually portraying his own ancestor. After lots of research, McPherson discovered David E. Nathan Hemphill, a southern soldier who fought in the Civil War.
Research is a common hobby of the men and women in various military, ante-bellum and other historical costumes.
Josiah Simpson, who served as the surgeon general in Baltimore during the Civil War, was depicted by Robert Ferguson. Ferguson sat under a canvas awning and explained his surgeon’s kit to eager listeners. The kit included a bone saw, sutures, tourniquets, and small surgical knives.
Ferguson maintained a good battle surgeon could saw through a wounded limb and stitch up an amputation in 15 minutes.
Sam Quon, dressed in a many-layered gown of red and black, played the role of a wealthy madam in charge of a high class brothel. As the story goes, the woman came to the frontier as a mail-order bride from the east coast or Europe. But the journey by steamer, stagecoach or wagon could take up to a year. By that time her intended was killed in battle and she was left with minimal skills and in need of a way to support herself.
“I know how to be a seamstress, a wife and a mother. So what does a poor girl do?” she said.
Donna Leartherman wore a delicate gown of flower print linen with robin’s egg blue ruffles, and a small white hat with a feather. A feminine, stylized toolbelt called a chatelaine was pinned to her skirt to keep needed tools or accessories at hand. One could attach a glove hook to fasten a string of buttons or a dance card to keep track of suitors at a ball.
She played the role of an officer’s wife, following her husband back and forth across the Great Plains to his various military posts. She and her husband Aaron Leatherman, of Angels Camp, are members of the Legends of the American West. It’s a re-enactment club that travels to various events in California and farther afield to support the remembering of history.
“How do you know where you came from if you don’t know what people have been through?” she said, adding that re-enactors support the importance of their collective histories.
“A lot of this is overlooked in history. They don’t teach is like they used to. We need to keep showing people what ladies and gentleman went through, so they can show others after we’re gone,” she said.
Aaron Leatherman displayed an impressive collection of Civil War Era military issue rifles and revolvers. These weapons were in common use for many years after the war was over.
One rifle was created by Christian Spencer, who arranged an audience with Abraham Lincoln to prove its worth. After firing it once on the White House lawn, the rifle was approved for military use.
Aaron Leatherman draws on a lifetime of gathering historical trivia, and has collected military weapons since he was old enough to purchase a gun.
“I like history,” he said. “Plus, this way I get to collect more guns and hats.”
Not everyone played a character. Many visitors came by to check out the rifles, the famous Old Moses cannon, and learn something new.
Charles McDonald was spending the day with friends on the Civil War side of camp. He was not an actor, but a fan of history who lives just down the street.
“It’s an encampment, a living history day, and it was excellent,” said McDonald, who added that there were more actors this year than in 2011.
In the future, McPherson hopes to grow the event with more actors and more space to spread out camp.
“This is a stepping stone to the full reenactment. We’ll bring the rest of the boys out and get a full engagement on,” he said.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.