History came to life in Knights Ferry on March 23-24 as American Civil War enthusiasts re-enacted battles and daily life in the Union and Confederate camps during Civil War Days put on by the American Civil War Association.
The Knights Ferry Civil War Days event took over the expanse surrounding the Stanislaus River Park area in Knights Ferry. The Stanislaus River and the covered bridge served as the backdrop for two battles daily as event attendees found spots to sit on the hillside to observe the action and hear the boom of the cannons, and occasionally cheer.
Members of the public were also able to meet and interact with soldiers and experience camp life first hand by talking to civilians who populated the camps.
Steven Bechtold of the Sonora area talked to a crowd of people gathered near the Union camp about the reproduction flag of the 2nd Regiment Wisconsin Volunteers. He described the efforts that were taken to make the flag appear as authentic as possible, just as it was during the war. The flag was made of silk, it was painted, blood-stained, and tattered from being battle worn.
“This is what these guys fought under. This was their flag,” he said.
Bechtold explained how flags served as a communication device to the soldiers, for both sides. The flag showed which direction the fight was headed for the side that followed it, sometimes it signaled for them to fall back, sometimes it rallied them to fight harder. From the other side, he said, soldiers would “aim at the colors” because they knew that if they took down the other side’s flag, they would destroy communication.
“Every unit protected their flag,” Bechtold said, adding that the Colorguard were considered the bravest in the company and if they were killed or wounded, then the bravest soldiers would step up to carry the flag.
Kevin and Yvonne Reynolds of Patterson participate in the Civil War events with their son and daughter. Kevin is the Union company clerk and does the paperwork in camp. The Reynolds were participating as a family in Civil War days in Knights Ferry for their sixth year. Yvonne said that while she and her husband and daughter were in the Union camp for the weekend, their son was with the Confederates this time because he was needed there, but they’re usually a Union family.
“Some people have a definite preference (for which side they serve)… Some people, it depends on their family heritage, some like one uniform or another,” she said.
She noted that in their family, they have approximately 30 direct ancestors who served in the Civil War, with about three-quarters serving for the Union and the other one-quarter for the Confederacy.
Reynolds added that her son loves history and since she home schools her children and they live so close, participating in the Civil War re-enactment is a great way for her son to learn more about the war. She said that they do about four to six Civil War events per year, mostly in Northern California.
Alice and Matthew Schug of El Dorado were civilians in the Confederate camp. This was their eleventh year at the event. They met at a Civil War event in Knights Ferry and were later married in a Civil War theme wedding.
In camp, Alice sewed from her 1898 Singer sewing machine, making small fabric drawstring bags for children. She also talked about the 1865 Wilcox and Gibbs sewing machine she had displayed. It was patented in 1857 and the same model was made through the 1940s, she said.
She said that when she first started at the Civil War events, she made quilts but then she felt like she had enough quilts. About five years ago, she began making the drawstring bags for the children, allowing them to turn the wheel on the side of the sewing machine. She explained how drawstring bags were commonly used in the Civil War because they were simple to make and held all sorts of things. Depending on their size, they could carry money and trinkets, hold grounds to make coffee, serve as a pillow case, and numerous other uses. Matthew Schug, a man with many talents, put the strings through the bags. He also pressed folds in the fabric for the bags before they were sewn with his old-fashioned irons that were heated up on a wood stove, which he was also using to bake an apple pie.
The Civil War re-enactors were clearly lovers of history and wanted to share their knowledge with anyone from the public who asked. Authentic clothing, weaponry, tools, utensils, tents, and more were all a part of the scene, allowing attendees to step back in time and witness what life was like during the Civil War era.