Civil War re-enacted at Historical Society Museum

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Somers - posted Mon., May. 20, 2013
Civil War re-enactor Jeff Lawrence of West Springfield talks shares stories of life in an encampment with Sam Teel of Somers. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Civil War re-enactor Jeff Lawrence of West Springfield talks shares stories of life in an encampment with Sam Teel of Somers. Photos by Annie Gentile.

One hundred and fifty years ago our country was embroiled in a brutal war between the states that nearly tore the nation apart. On Saturday, May 11, the Somers Historical Society paid tribute to those dark days with a Civil War History Day on the Somers Common outside the Museum on Battle Street. The commemoration featured a Civil War encampment with the re-enactment organization, Company F, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Soldiers in uniform shared information about camp life and women in period dress talked about civilian life on the home front. The presentation also included a drill and firing demonstration.

“In the summer of 1862, about a year into the war, President Lincoln put out calls to form regiments largely because the spring campaign failed,” said Mike Conlin, who portrayed an everyday private. “A lot of people stepped up to the plate to, as they said, ‘save the union.’”

Conlin said Company F was mustered into service in August of that year and their very first battle was Antietam in Maryland that September. “They suffered tremendous casualties in that battle,” he said. Conlin said it was shortly after Antietam that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which changed the trajectory of the war to one that not only was to preserve the union, but to preserve it without slavery.

What soldiers ate during the war depended largely on whether they were on a campaign covering 20 to 30 miles in a day or in an encampment for weeks, months or an entire winter. Re-enactor Bill Mellow demonstrated cooking practices with his “Hincks Mess,” named in honor of Sgt. Major William Hincks, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Gettysburg. Mellow said a typical quick meal might include coffee, salt pork and hard tack—not the most nourishing of diets. He said that, not surprisingly, many soldiers died of disease during the war, often from bacteria encountered when they stored food in running streams to keep it cold. With farms all around, runoff from animals upstream would often carry with it infection. “They just didn’t know about those things back then,” he said.

Many people might be surprised to learn that Asian Americans served in the Civil War. Irving Moy, of Wallingford, has the unique opportunity with Company F of portraying a real-life Chinese soldier named Joseph Pierce.

Sharing Pierce’s story, Moy said at the age of 10 he was sold by his father in Canton, China, for six dollars to a sea captain named Amos Peck, possibly as an opportunity for a better life. Unable to pronounce his Chinese name, the ship hands gave him the name “Joe” and he later adopted the last name Pierce after President Franklin Pierce, who was the President in 1853. Raised by the prominent Peck family in Berlin, Conn., Pierce enlisted in July of 1862, and in August was mustered into the Potomac army.

“There were more soldiers than weapons available, and many of the soldiers in the regiment never even got to fire a musket before Antietam,” said Moy. Despite the lack of training, Pierce survived Antietam and went on to fight with his regiment in Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and then finally Gettysburg, where they held their own as the focal point of Picketts Charge. As a corporal, Pierce became the highest ranked Chinese soldier to serve in the Civil War.  After the war, he married and raised a family, settling down in Meriden. Conn.

“When you think about it, God had his hand on Joseph Pierce. He participated in bloody conflicts and survived. He never succumbed to disease. He became a silver engraver which opened the door to more affluence for him,” said Moy. “He was living the American Dream long before the expression became a catch-phrase.”

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