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This article and the accompanying photos are copyight The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and were originally published on Monday, February 7, 2011

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A Civil Event: Re-enactors Set to Mark War's Anniversary


photo 1 The 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of the Irish Brigade marches into its annual meeting at the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall next to Foxboro Common in January. The group is preparing to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War over the next year.

 (Staff photo by Tom Maguire)

FOXBORO - As the nation gets ready to observe the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, members of the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of the Irish Brigade are making plans to help commemorate the milestone.

A weekend meeting at Foxboro's Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall late last month brought together old and new members, dressed in full kit, to discuss the Civil War's upcoming sesquicentennial.

From electing officers and board members to deciding their event schedule and answering policy questions, the meeting laid out plans for the next year.

"The 150th anniversary is to today's living historians what the Civil War centennial was to re-enactors in the 1960s. It's the Big One," said Tom Higgins, a lieutenant and recruiting officer of the regiment.

"Last year was our strongest for recruiting in quite some time, with 15 new enlistments," Higgins said. "There are currently 60 members from seven states. An additional three members have joined this year."

The 28th Massachusetts will continue its recruiting efforts in hopes of one day reaching the 224 enlisted men and officers needed to accurately portray the unit as it took the field in 1863.

Membership in the unit fluctuates over time. "There is an ebb and flow of people coming in and out of the hobby," said Steve Eames, one of the founders of the 28th.

"There was a time when we had three companies, back in the late '90s," Eames said. "135th Gettysburg, for example, we took 85 men down to that re-enactment."

Higgins says there is growing enthusiasm for the 150th anniversary.

"Interest has been building for a while and guys are enlisting now so they can be ready to take the field for the large-scale battle events coming up," he said.

In a typical year, the 28th takes part in 10 to 15 events, including school presentations, parades, battle re-enactments and living history encampments.

photo 2

ommanding Officer Steve Eames runs the annual meeting from the head of the table inside the hall. A list of Foxboro residents that were killed in the Civil War is behind him.

(Staff photo by Tom Maguire)
Dave Grace of Gloucester is the highest ranking noncommissioned officer in the 28th. As the 1st sergeant, it is his responsibility to make sure his men are staying safe and feeling well.

That includes little things, such as staying hydrated and eating well. It also means making sure enactors are trained with black powder and can operate a musket.

"Re-enactments are like really primitive camping, but with a military side," Grace said.

They try to keep the experience authentic, by using "only the equipment and tentage, etc. that Civil War soldiers were issued."

"Of course, what we as re-enactors use is all reproduction stuff, but the similarities between reproduced uniforms and equipment to the originals can be amazing," he said.

At a typical re-enactment, spectators can see a Civil War era drill, a mock battle and other military demonstrations.

Grace even mentions that those with strong stomachs can witness surgeon's or embalmer's demonstrations.

Over the next five years, re-enactors will gather to re-create most of the Civil War battles.

The First Battle of Bull Run will happen in July, outside Manassas, Va. And enactors will travel for the battles of Antietam, Shiloh and Fredericksburg next year.

The battles at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg will be re-enacted in 2013, and Grant's Overland Campaign across Virginia is scheduled for 2014.

"Toward the conclusion of the sesquicentennial observance, we also expect to participate in the Siege of Petersburg and observe Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, just as the original 28th Massachusetts did," Grace said.

The battle re-enactments can attract 15,000 to 20,000 enactors, and Higgins said the events draw "many times that many spectators."

In 1983, Eames and two of his fellow Revolutionary War re-enactors, Mike Meyerdierks and Jon Mack, decided to create their own unit for Civil War re-enactments.

"We were all Civil War buffs, so it seemed like a natural thing to do," Eames said.

After researching several units, they decided upon the 28th, partly because it included members from all over New England, and because "we liked the idea of the Irish Brigade," Eames said.

The original 28th had also seen many eastern battles, including Gettysburg, a battle Eames wanted to participate in.
photo 3

Civil War re-enactors from the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the Irish Brigade pose in front of Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, which is a monument to Foxboro residents who died in the war.

(Staff photo by Tom Maguire)

The group came together in time for the 125th anniversary, the first cycle held since the 100th anniversary in the 1960s.

Eames retired from the Civil War events after 22 years, but, following a visit to the Gettysburg National Museum last May, chose to come back.

"I felt that I still have the energy to get out there and do this 150th cycle," Eames said.

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