Otterville’s Civil War con­nec­tion

Tillsonburg News - - OPINION - Chris Ab­bott

union and Con­fed­er­ate flags will be fly­ing in otterville this week­end for the an­nual Civil War re-en­act­ment at Wood­lawn House and rail­way sta­tion.

“there are go­ing to be skir­mishes each day, at 2 p.m. satur­day and 1 p.m. sun­day,” said gail lewis, a south nor­wich His­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety vol­un­teer.

both en­camp­ments will be open to the pub­lic from 10 a.m. un­til 4 p.m. satur­day and 10-3 sun­day.

“on satur­day evening, there is a Can­dle­light tour start­ing at 7 p.m. it’s a guided tour through the en­camp­ments and there’s skits and lit­tle vi­gnettes at each stop. it makes for a re­ally nice evening and it’s very ed­u­ca­tional.”

the tour - and the re-en­act­ment week­end - is not a cel­e­bra­tion of war, lewis noted. it’s meant to take visi­tors into first-per­son his­tory show­cas­ing what life was like dur­ing the amer­i­can Civil War.

“it’s just a very charm­ing night. the lights are all off and you get to see what life was like in the evenings with the camp­fires, lanterns and can­dle­light. and they change it ev­ery year - i never know what each of them are go­ing to do. it’s just a very charm­ing thing to experience.”

the south nor­wich His­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety runs a food booth on site - stop by to sam­ple the home-style treats, from chili to pie.

Cana­di­ans in the grand army of the repub­lic sup­plies the ma­jor­ity of the re-en­ac­tors.

“it’s go­ing to be a nice week­end for the fel­lows wear­ing their wool out­fits,” said lewis. “their uni­forms are all wool and it gets a lit­tle hot. all the re-en­ac­tors are very strict that their at­tire is pe­riod. so the ladies have their full gar­ments... and i don’t know how they wear those things.

“some of them go right into their per­son’s role for the week­end and it’s hard to get them to break that. some of them you can’t coax them into ‘real life’, they go into the per­son for the week­end. so it’s re­ally fun.”

many of the re-en­ac­tors also camp overnight for the en­tire week­end, sleep­ing in ‘can­vas con­dos.’

“it’s amaz­ing that they do that,” lewis smiled. “one time it was the tail end of a hur­ri­cane. Just windy, driv­ing rain, hor­i­zon­tal rain. i went up first thing in the morn­ing to make them cof­fee and one of the fel­lows said his tent blew down. He was just in a lit­tle one-man, so i said, ‘well i hope you came in the build­ing for the night?’ He said, ‘nope, i crawled out, stood it back up and crawled back in.’”

ad­mis­sion to the Civil War re-en­act­ment is by dona­tion, and quite of­ten up to 100 people will at­tend satur­day’s skir­mish.

“it’s usu­ally well attended.”

Civil war con­nec­tion

otterville, and the mu­seum site in par­tic­u­lar, pro­vides a very suit­able lo­ca­tion for the Civil War re-en­act­ment.

Wood­lawn House and rail­way sta­tion build­ings are ‘pe­riod’ for the Civil War, lewis noted.

“the one ceme­tery on site has a vet­eran that served in the north, and a vet­eran that served in the south. and since then we have marked sev­eral graves in the area with grand army of the repub­lic stars that are vet­er­ans of the Civil War.

“We have a his­tory of black set­tlers here, who were free blacks and some that came in the un­der­ground rail­way years. so it fits otterville his­tory very nicely.

“a lot of people don’t un­der­stand that there were over 40,000 Cana­di­ans that fought on one side or the other in the amer­i­can Civil War. and that’s amaz­ing when you con­sider the pop­u­la­tion of what was up­per Canada at the time.

“and of course it re­ally af­fected the eco­nomics of the area as well. there’s a nearby farm that had quite an elab­o­rate house built on it from the prof­its of sell­ing horses to the union army. the im­pact was felt all over Canada, even in Que­bec, and of course the mar­itimes.”

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