For the last 27 years, Kearney Mansion in Fresno, CA has played host to annual “living history” Civil War events which are hosted by the Fresno Historical Society. I have attended this event a few times for school, and it has always been a memorable experience. What I like so much about this event is teaching via immersion; yes, you could just as easily read a book or 10 about the Civil War, but as someone who is a kinesthetic learner, this kind of event is very stimulating. (This is by no means a knock on reading, I love reading!)
This past Saturday, my family decided we were going to make a day of it. My brother, dad, and I had not been since our last school trips, and until today my mom had never been (she has also never been inside the mansion).
On the grounds around the mansion there are a number of tents set up. There are two larger collections of tents set up in “camps” deeper in the property, one of which is for the Union and one for the Confederacy. The remaining tents are for shops and vendors selling food, as well as various informational and artisanal booths.
At 10:30 a.m., we watched the military parade (this morning it was the Confederate Army) and the raising of the flag.
From there, we went to the weapons booth, the blacksmith area, and then by the confederate end of the field to look at the cannons. We even saw one man sitting at a table by himself breaking out whiskey. My dad turned to the rest of us and said, “It’s a little early for whiskey, don’t you think?” to which we replied in unison, “It’s never too early for whiskey.” Dad is clearly an amateur.
As we moved down the road, we stopped at the tent for the “surgeon” of the time. I say “surgeon” because those persons who worked on the soldiers at the time of the war could be called such after being present for a few seminars – no actual experience required.
After that, we moved to the steward’s table in the confederate camp. At the time of the civil war, a steward was essentially the surgeon’s assistant, and no prior knowledge was necessary.
At his table, we learned about the role of Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman in medicine during the Civil War. Alcott was a nurse and wrote a book based on her experiences, and Whitman (who also wrote a book about the war) was involved with caring for soldiers.
The medic tents and tables have always been my favorite at the event because I am fascinated by the evolution of medicine and science, hence my degree in biology.
Once we got our fill of medical information, we wandered through the Confederate and Union soldier camps.
From the soldier camps, we moved to the civilian camp. Within the civilian camp is the Meeting Hall, goods tents that primarily sell replica items for the period, and more artisan tents. Naturally, the one that caught my attention was the Spinners & Weavers tent, which also featured a lace maker.
At 1:00 p.m. we watched a war reenactment. This particular reenactment is not of a particular battle, but more of a showcase of the battle style of the time. The battle lasted about a half an hour, and there was no shortage of cannon fire.
In addition to the battle actors, there are also actors for specific historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, M. Theo Kearney, and Clara Barton. These actors wander throughout the park interacting with attendees, and some give addresses or have question and answer sessions in the meeting hall. At 2:15, we listened to the Gettysburg Address performed by the Abraham Lincoln actor. When my dad first saw Lincoln, he told us all he was going to go up to him and say, “Hi, I’m Booth!” We concluded our trip at the broom making booth, hosted by a man out of Dinuba, CA who makes brooms for a living (which are sold at a number of local stores).
I am so glad that I was able to attend this year’s Civil War Revisited event, and am already planning for next year!