article is copyight The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and
was originally published on Sunday, March 25, 2007.
to Enlist in the Civil War?
BY RICK FOSTER/SUN
FOXBORO - The 28th Massachusetts Volunteer
Infantry is looking for a few good men.
And not just good men. The job description
specifies Civil War buffs of military bearing who don't mind marching
long distances, sleeping on hay or wearing woolen uniforms and carrying
heavy period rifles into re-created battles.
"It's a life-changing experience," says
Attleboro's Tom Higgins, 48, recruiting sergeant for the re-created
Civil War unit comprised of about 50 re-enactors from throughout New
England. "It gives you a personal perspective of what a Civil War
soldier went through."
The historical 28th was formed in late 1861
in response to President Lincoln's call for volunteers.
Members, many of them from Irish extraction, fought with and alongside
the Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade. The regiment, originally made
up of about 1,000 officers and men, was one of the war's bloodiest
losing more than 390 soldiers to battle or disease.
The re-created unit is made up of a variety
of Civil War re-enactors from a wide range of backgrounds. The 28th
participates in anywhere from 6-10 "missions" a year including
regimental meetings, training sessions and encampments. While on the
march, military re-enactors hew to a historically accurate line wearing
period garb, sleeping in Union Army style tents and cooking over fires.
Several of the 28th's men come from
southeastern Massachusetts, and an annual meeting is held at Foxboro's
Higgins said a lifelong interest in history
and a chance encounter with a historical exhibit in 1998 detailing
Massachusetts' Civil War heritage galvanized him to become a Civil War
"I've had other hobbies, but nothing else
has lasted like this," said Higgins who said he draws a sense of
participating in living history by portraying the life of an enlisted
man. Being in an Irish-American unit is particularly appealing to
Higgins, whose great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland in the
Higgins has participated in a large number
of marches, encampments and battle re-creations, many of them in
Virginia and the Carolinas where much of the heavy fighting occurred.
Re-enactors invest an average $1,000 apiece to outfit themselves with
authentic uniforms, equipment and a reproduction Civil War rifle.
While re-enactors learn what life was like
for Civil War soldiers, eating hardscrabble food, carrying heavy
military gear and sleeping on the ground, they also learn a lot about
"These people in the 19th Century were a lot
hardier than us," says Paul Irish of Millbury, who plays a captain in
the 28th. "We're softer than they were. They had to put up with a lot
World War II veteran Don French of Dighton,
whose grandfather fought in the Civil War, said that participating in
re-creations of actual battles provides a unique understanding of the
courage required of soldiers on both sides.
"Standing there watching that wave of grey
coming at you and knowing you'll only be able to load and fire your
rifle maybe a couple of times in a minute, you get a feeling for what
they were up against," he said.
The 28th is one of several northeastern
re-enactor units which often join together for "engagements" on
anniversaries of major battles. The regiment is scheduled to
participate in major re-creations next September surrounding the
battles of Antietam and South Mountain.
Like most Civil War groups, the 28th
actively recruits re-enactors to fill its ranks. Although the bloody
combat of the real Civil War is long since over, re-enactor units face
a problem their forbears never contemplated, Higgins said. "The Civil
War lasted four years," he said. "The re-created 28th has been around
for more than 20 years. Over that period of time people get older,
retire, move. We have to attract new members."
Rick Foster can be reached at 508-236-0428