Re-enactors at Fort D bring Civil War history to life

Sunday, November 11, 2007
Children played on the Quaker cannon Saturday at Fort D Living History Day in Cape Girardeau. The mounted logs were intended to fool the enemy into thinking a fort had more cannons than it did. Pictured from left were Joy Mueller and Miles Mueller, both of Cape Girardeau, and Sarah Stephens of Jackson. (CHRIS PAGANO ~

Visitors at Fort D's Living History event Saturday stepped back in time to gather for recreation, meet old friends, spend time with family and get points for history class. Most picked up some information just by touring the site, listening to the presentation prior to artillery firing and reading the display signs.

Ham, beans and biscuits were cooked on a fire by women in period dress. Members of the Turner Brigade fired cannons, answered questions and posed as Civil War soldiers.

Member Scott House said compared to their Confederate counterparts, Union soldiers did not go hungry. "The men would cook up a bunch of bacon, hollow out loaves of bread and stuff onions, beans, bacon and the grease inside to have food for a few days."

House said it is tough finding details about the men who inhabited Fort D and the surrounding forts in Cape Girardeau. "Every now and then you get a mention, and that's what you go on."

Fort D's stone fort, built by the Works Progress Administration, was not part of the site until 1936. During the Civil War, earth was built up to serve as a fortified protection and, because of Cape Girardeau's high ground, it was an important military post. Soldiers sometimes built shelters into the dirt. Cannons fired from the fort during the Civil War were 32- and 24-pounders. At Saturday's firing, the cannons used were 3/4 original size.

"A full-size cannon could fire accurately for one mile," House said. "If you were on the other side of the Mississippi you'd be safe."

Central Middle School student Zach Stagner, 11, learned the role of powder monkey last May when he helped the Turner Brigade fire cannons by delivering the charge in his leather pouch for approval by the gunner on command. Zach's interest in the Civil War results from family connections -- his great-great-great-grandfathers fought in it, one on each side of the conflict.

"The powder monkey makes us come back," said Martha Young of Cape Girardeau.

Young, a friend of Zack's family, was present for his debut in May, but she also has personal Fort D memories. "We used to have Girl Scout meetings here," she said.

Another reason Young came out was to meet with Zach's mother, to whom she'd lent a Civil War photo. Knowing of Zach's interest, Young shared the photo of a parade of Civil War veterans walking up Broadway in the early 1900s. In the background is the Brinkoph-Howell Funeral Home her dad once owned.

Joy Mueller, 13, said she would feel more like she was going back in time if she had an outfit to wear. Joy, surrounded by string game books, held up blue yarn she'd shaped into a kind of horizontal ladder, following the book's directions. The amusement was a good example of an activity children engaged in when toys were not mass-produced.

Children weren't the only ones enjoying the novelty of going back in time. Marian Martin of Jackson said her recently retired husband, Gerald, who is a Civil War buff, joined the Turner Brigade back in the summer. "He has been wanting to do this forever." Gerald is a retired Air Force captain. The couple has done battlefield tours for at least 10 years. "We never need a guide," she said.

Marian Martin likes to revisit history because it reminds her of her own past. "For me this is natural. I grew up on a farm. We made our own clothes, had no indoor plumbing or water and cooked on a wood stove. There's nothing like homemade biscuits on a wood stove," she said. She has also been a living history re-enactor.

335-6611, extension 133

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