'A House Divided' brings the Civil War into the 21st century

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A group of men dressed as Civil War era soldiers advanced on the Ohio History Connection’s Ohio Village on Saturday afternoon. They carried replicas of Civil War era rifles and occasionally paused to fire blanks at the re-created historical town, which on Saturday was populated with Civil War reenactors.

The men marching toward the village wore Union garb, while the men defending it were clad in the gray colors of the Confederacy.

Spectators in modern clothing looked in wonderment on the faux Union raid from the other side of a line of caution tape that surrounded the town for the duration of the battle, often snapping pictures with their smartphones and tablets.

The people playing the part of 1860s soldiers and civilians hoped visitors to Ohio Village on the North Side said they would take away more than just the spectacle.

History comes with important lessons, and the mistakes of the past can teach lessons in the present, said Michael O’Halloran who was dressed as medical steward to a Union Army surgeon.

The occasion was “A House Divided,” a biennial gathering of Civil War reenactors that brings history buffs to Central Ohio, and O’Halloran was one of nearly three hundred fellow reenactors who descended on Ohio Village for the two-day event.

Living history, he said, leaves more of an impression than a textbook.

“All of us know the quickest and easiest way to learn history is to be involved in it,” he said. “What (visitors) quickly learn is, people before you had the same thoughts, same fears, same everything.”

And soldiers on both sides of the Civil War had much in common with one another, O’Halloran said, and visitors to the re-enactment should know that they have much in common with people who come from circumstances different than their own.

Other reenactors echoed that sentiment.

“I love meeting the public and helping them connect with history in a less abstract way,” said Dana Gagnon, 48, who came to Ohio Village from Cincinnati to portray a Civil War-era schoolteacher.

Two of those members of the public were Wesley and Bennett Shroff, ages 9 and 6, respectively.

The afternoon was educational for the boys, said their mother, Samantha Shroff. She thought it was important to make an impression on them while they are still young.

“They’re into history and war,” Shroff said as her sons took pictures with a man playing Abraham Lincoln. “It’s important to bring them to places like this, so they can see it while they’re still interested.”

The hands-on history is also educational for the people participating in it.

Gagnon said that female reenactors tend to learn that their ancestors were much more practical than movies make them out to be.

Female reenactors, she said, are often surprised all of the layers of clothing women wore in the 1860.

“A lot of us are new and we think, ‘ What are these strange layers? We are so much more clever now. I will be so much more comfortable if I wear modern (undergarments),'” she said. “And then you find out immediately that the most comfortable thing to wear with an 1860s dress is 1860s underpinnings.”

A corset, for example, provided support for the bulky dresses that women wore in that era, Gagnon said.

“A House Divided” continues on at Ohio Village on Sunday.

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@PatrickACooley