Imagine stepping back in time during the Civil War in 1863 and walking into the campgrounds behind the frontline of a field filled with Confederate and Union soldiers at battle.

The Northwest Civil War Council (NCWC) brought history to life for the sixth Civil War living history event during a full reenactment at House on Metolius in Camp Sherman Saturday and Sunday.

With the thunderous crack of cannon and the sulfurous pop of muskets, the morning battle began on the meadow, just a stone’s throw from the Metolius River.

When the rifles were empty and the artillery nothing more than smoke, dozens of reenactors, often shouting at the top of their lungs when pretending to be wounded, or cheering when a shot landed, delighted the crowd of spectators.

Over 150 years after bloodshed divided the United States, the stories and memories of the Civil War still attract the citizens of the once-war-torn country.

NCWC is a nonprofit living-history organization dedicated to educating the public and their members about the American Civil War. It is made up of individual units (Union, Confederate and Civilian) who come together several times each year to entertain and educate the public about the American Civil War.

Event Coordinator David Banks, who has been a part of the NCWC since 2012, noted, “This is one of the most unique events that we have. I’m sure much of America has heard or read about removing Confederate statues and symbols from our past, and the Civil War reenactment is about the closest and most unbiased look at both sides of the issue one can find.”

Sisters resident and reenactment member Michelle Ehr, aka Mrs. Molly McDaniels, was set up in the Confederate camp getting ready to assist with another burial, this time, an elderly woman. McDaniel’s husband, now deceased, had been the undertaker.

“Molly serves as a ‘layerout of the dead’ because as a woman she could not be an undertaker since it was culturally not acceptable,” Ehr said.

“Layers-out of the dead would wash, dress, and groom the body. They would also close the mouth of the deceased, using a tied cloth or a stick propped between the chin and breastbone, and use coins or other objects to keep the eyes closed.

“There were more U.S. lives lost in the Civil War than any other wars combined,” Ehr said. “There was so much death in the Civil War that there was no one that wasn’t touched by it. There were very young widows with babies and without family nearby, they were left pretty much penniless.”

The American Civil War created an extraordinary number of young widows, many married for a short time. Between 1861 and 1865, approximately three million husbands, fathers, sons, uncles, and brothers left for war. Roughly 750,000 American families would never see their loved one’s face again as the men died, often far from home. As a result, some 200,000 women became widows within those four years.

As spectators walked the grounds, actors in the event remained in character, cooking small meals over campfires and singing songs to the fiddle or other period-correct musical instruments.

Bend resident Matt Cleman, who portrays a Union sergeant with the 69th New York in the Civil War event, has been reenacting for 12 years and has been both Union and Confederate soldiers.

“It’s always been my goal to present a realistic person for visitors at events; so that they feel like they’ve met an actual living person,” Cleman said.

In 2018, Cleman and several other NCWC members were approached by the Bowman Museum in Prineville about portraying persons of historical significance to Central Oregon.

“The first of these persons to be brought to life was Barney Prine, known as the founder of Prineville, and this was my task,” Cleman said.

Using material provided by Steve Lent and Sandy Cohen of the Bowman Museum, as well as information from other sources, Cleman created a 25-minute presentation about the life of Barney Prine. He served during the Civil War as a member of the First Oregon Infantry; and later established a business at the location which became Prineville, the town which bears his name.

Cleman appeared as Prine at the Bowman Museum for four weeks in February 2019.

“Prine’s story of hard work, courage, and honesty are a legacy to Central Oregon, which I was pleased to present,” added Cleman.

Cleman, along with Stephen Holgate, who portrayed the 16th president of the U.S. on Saturday, had the opportunity to bring both Barney Prine and “Abe” Lincoln to life again for 575 students who visited the event site last Friday for a special school day of

history.

When you think of military food, the word “delicious” doesn’t often come to mind when battlefield food was just a pound of salt pork and a few ounces of sugar.

Salem resident Doug Odell, aka Union Company Cook, along with a few more reenactors cooked 1,000 hardtack (a simple type of biscuit or cracker, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt), army beans and corn pone to hand out to students on Friday evening.

“We call those hard biscuits tooth grinders,” Odell said, laughing.

He added, “This morning we had corn pones, salt, cornmeal and hot water, and cooked them in bacon grease. We ate army beans for lunch, which would be navy beans now-a-days. Typical things the camp’s cook would have on hand would be army beans, split peas, corn meal, flour, salt and pepper, and tea.”

On the battlefield things were even bleaker. Rations were meant to last up to three days, and soldiers on the move were reduced to 16-20 ounces of salted meat, approximately 20 ounces of hard tack, plus sugar and coffee rations.

Life during the Civil War in 1863 wasn’t easy, and the reenactment members presented their activities and struggles during the war.