3 Days ‘Til Moorpark 2014

This video was filmed at a Civil War Re-enactment in Pennsylvania…  If you’re on the west coast of the US and thinking “I would’ve loved to go, but couldn’t make it to Pennsylvania”, fear not.

MOORPARK CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTMENT 2014 starts in 3 days and is the largest Civil War event west of the Mississippi River. Here’s a link with lots of information. (And remember: the event’s at a new location this year, so check for the new address.)

“McGuire Home, Winchester, Virginia,” Civil War Living History Group is attending this event. (Yeah, I need to go finish ironing about 15 yards of calico skirts…). We have some new display items and will be packing a Christmas box for the McGuire men who are with the Confederate military…can you guess some of the practical items we’ve accumulated? (I’ll post some photos of the display and event next week, in case you’re not attending).

Check out the new Living History pages. And if you’re attending this event or another Civil War re-enactment you may find this page (and the Student Questions) helpful!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Oh, by the way, the video clip is supposed to portray the Battle of Fairfield (July 3, 1863). Captain Hugh McGuire of the 11th Virginia Cavalry fought there.


Why Virginia?

I’m about 10 days away from attending the largest Civil War Re-enactment west of the Mississippi River…and yes, I’m excited. This will be the third year I’ve participated, but the first year that I get to take my own living history group to the event. Right now, I’m busy prepping the packing lists, finishing some sewing projects, and anticipating (and somewhat dreading) ironing the civilian costumes. (Each skirt is five yards of fabric!)

Since I’ve started portraying a member of the Virginian McGuire Family, I’ve noticed that one question a lot of spectators ask is “are you related to the family?” The answer is “no, unfortunately I’m not.” Then they usually get a curious look and ask, “Then why are you portraying Miss McGuire?” That’s a good question.

Short answer: I greatly admire Margaretta McGuire and her family. Long answer: I’m launching some extensive research projects about Virginian civilians and military leaders during the war and I needed to streamline my living history endeavors and research. I started searching for a Virginia family. Through studies of General “Stonewall” Jackson I knew about his surgeon – Dr. Hunter McGuire. A bit of historical paper-trails led to the re-discovery of Hunter’s family. When I found Miss Margaretta and learned that she lived in Winchester for the whole war (surviving 48 enemy occupations of the town) I knew I’d found someone special. Further research has revealed the strength of Miss Margaretta’s character, her godly life, and her willingness to fulfill a “daughter at home” role in family life.

Miss Margaretta

Miss Sarah as Margaretta McGuire

So “Why Virginia? How did your interest start there?” Well, Virginia is one of cornerstone states for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It is also one of the most war torn states since a lot of fighting happened there. The political advantages of Virginia, its strategic military location, and citizens’ tenacity are fascinating to me. But, ultimately, it is the people of Civil War Virginia and their personal stories set in that extreme tide of war that captivate me…

As I survey my Virginia histories and biographies (either on the shelf, stacked on my desk, or scattered around my study room), I feel “at home.” This feeling is difficult to put into words, but the history of these Virginians is welcoming and fascinating. I’m proud to say that in my living history persona and favorite area of study: Virginia Is My Home.

Enjoy this song from the soundtrack of “Gods and Generals.” Its sweeping melody is one of my favorites, and it wordlessly communicates the pride, enthusiasm, and honor of Civil War Virginia.

See you at Moorpark 2014?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Last post on the Shenandoah Valley during the Autumn 1864 on Friday!

Photos from Tom’s Farm Civil War Re-enactment 2014

Last Saturday I spent a busy day at Tom’s Farm Civil War Re-enactment. From 10am to 6pm I asked research questions, talked with friends, made new acquaintances, and absorbed the military setting. This is where the daydreams for new stories and historical projects begin.

I thought I’d share a couple of the best photos from the event. Enjoy! (You can click on one of the photos to see them all in larger format and as a slideshow).

Mark your calendars – Moorpark Civil War Re-enactment (the largest one west of the Mississippi River) is the second weekend of November! Expect to see a few more posts about this event as it draws nearer…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Leave a comment if you have a favorite photo – I’d appreciate it! Back to the Shenandoah Valley on Friday… What was General Sheridan’s surprise early on the morning of October 19, 1864?

Attending a Re-enactment (As a Spectator)

This coming weekend is the Civil War Re-enactment at Tom’s Farm in Corona, California. Here’s a link for more event info. By the way, “McGuire Home, Winchester, Virginia,” Living History Group is NOT encamping at this event.

A Military Camp at a Re-enactment

A Military Camp at a Re-enactment

Anyway, as I prepare to go on a research trip at this event, I thought I’d share my “packing” list and tips for attending a re-enactment as a spectator. (Now the packing list for when I go as a re-enactor looks very different – maybe I’ll share some of that next month…)

Here’s what I stuff in my trusty backpack when I’m doing a research trip at an event:

  • Water, Water, Water (it’s cheaper to carry it than buy it, believe me)
  • Lunch – I prefer peanut butter sandwich, apple, carrots, and a cookie or two (eating the carrots is optional…sometimes you should share with a horse, if the cavalryman gives permission)
  • Snack – never know how late you’re staying
  • Blanket or Towel – this is much nicer to sit on if you manage to get a “front row seat” at the battle or band concert
  • 1 or 2 Research Books (I usually take the ones with maps of the topics I’m exploring; it can be helpful for very in-depth discussions)
  • Camera – I usually take at least 50 photos during a battle and get only 1 or 2 good pictures (I either need a better camera, more skill, or those guys need to stop moving so quickly) One of the best photos from last year is at the end of this post.
  • Notepad – I usually carry this in my hand; I prefer a small size with a hard “backboard”  Warning: if you choose to carry a notepad, be prepared for the “are you a reporter?” questions
  • Pens – have to have something to write with…and carry at least two
  • Event Schedule – I like to plan what I’m going to see and do throughout the whole day
  • Wallet – never know when you’re gonna find the book you need for research or the perfect gift at the sutlers’ tents (And sometimes it costs to attend the event!)
  • Cellphone – just in case you need to call 911 because a cannon started a fire (yes, I’ve seen it happen)

Other things you should not forget:

  • Directions – how to get to the event (it’s no fun to get lost and know that you’re missing the artillery demonstration that you really wanted to see)
  • Coffee or Tea – optional, but nice to have on the drive
  • Favorite CD – optional, but generally more encouraging than the radio news
  • Gallon of water – this is to wash the front and back windows when you’re ready to head home. Parking is often a dirt field and you may need to wash away the archaeological layers before leaving.

My simple advice for attending an event as a spectator is “You’re here to learn, not teach; so listen, and learn something new. Ask questions and don’t be a know-it-all.”

Happy learning adventures! See you in the field?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Don’t forget to check the introduction to Civil War Shenandoah 1864. This coming Friday we’ll start the military campaign details. Leave a comment if you’re looking forward to this month’s topic…or if you’ve thought of something that’s not on my packing list!

Here's one of the best photos from last year (2013). Check back next week for my best photos of the 2014 Tom's Farm Civil War Re-enactment!

Here’s one of the best photos from last year (2013).



Victor Hugo’s Historian

In his classic book Les Miserables, Victor Hugo often gets side-tracked from the story and enlightens us all with some deep (sometimes confusing) philosophy.  While I haven’t always appreciated his digressions from the story plot, his thoughts are insightful.

Here is a quotes about what historians study (or should study) in his humble opinion:

“No man is a good historian of the open, visible, signal, and public life of the nations, if he is not, at the same time to a certain extent the historian of their deeper and hidden life; and no man is a good historian of the interior if he does not know how to be, whenever there is need, the historian of the exterior.  The history of morals and ideas penetrates the history of the events, and vice versa…  Since true history deals with everything, the true historian deals with everything.”  (Hugo, Les Miserables, page 984, emphasis by yours truly).

In other words, historians can’t just look at the easy stuff like “oh there was a Civil War in America in 1861-1865.”  They need to honestly consider why.  And the answers are not always easy…they are vast and varied…and changing.  (Just as a reminder the changing views of how historians look at and teach history is called “historiography” – how’s that for a big word?)

Miss Sarah and President Davis (re-enactor) at the Moorpark Civil War Re-enactment, 2012

Miss Sarah and President Davis (re-enactor) at the Moorpark Civil War Re-enactment, 2012

If we are going to be honest with ourselves and with others, we must always tell the truth.  And there is no exception for historians.  We must “deal with everything” – the ideas, the religion, the society, the government, the individuals.  That is history.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Huntington Beach Civil War Re-enactment is next weekend. Can’t wait to spend some time with my living history friends! (Don’t worry, I’ll post the last article on WWI before “time traveling”…)

Living History in King’s Canyon National Park

Recently, I spent a week camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains – King’s Canyon National Park, to be precise. These mountains are one of my favorite places, but until recently I’d always been a little disappointed by the “lack of history.”

Well, this trip I attended a living history presentation by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson. She did an outstanding job portraying Viola Kanawyer, an early pioneer to the canyon.

Viola Kanawyer, portrayed by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson

Viola Kanawyer, portrayed by Park Ranger Phyllis Wilson

Viola, also called “Auntie Vi”, came to King’s Canyon in the 1880’s with her husband who was experimenting with copper mining. Vi was a hospitable woman and she invited travelers to stay with the family. She could hunt and fish better than any man in the region and, best of all, she was a great cook. Auntie Vi’s apricot, apple, and berry pies were canyon famous. Naturalist John Muir enjoyed visiting the Kanawyers and brought his friends to eat at the cabin.

In 1896 the Kanawyers opened Camp Kanawyer, which eventually consisted of a general store, post office, and two story hotel. Mr. Kanawyers opened a packing business (copper mining just wasn’t that profitable) and brought people into the canyon for “adventurous vacationing.” When Mr. Kanawyer died in 1908, Vi continued running the camp for nine years and it was a successful enterprise.

Ranger Wilson, who was doing the living history presentation, concluded by reminding us that Viola Kanawyer did not know the importance of her actions. Decades later, politicians wanted to make Kings Canyon into a water reservoir dam, and leading the fight against it were people who had visited the beautiful canyon and stayed at Camp Kanawyer. We don’t know how our simple day to day actions may provide the influence or opportunity for great effects.

After the presentation, we took a short walk and saw the overgrown ruins of Camp Kanawyer.

Ryder Cabin, near original Camp Kanawyer

Ryder Cabin, near original Camp Kanawyer

I’m very glad I was able to attend this living history program. It gave me a new appreciation for the early pioneers in King’s Canyon.

Your Historian,
Miss Sarah

P.S. Have you been to Kings Canyon or another National Park? If, so what was your favorite thing? I like the hiking and hope to do some longer hikes the next time I go back to the mountains.