Civil War Re-Enactors Bring History To Life At Camp Ford
Almost 148 years ago, William Parker and Mary June Goodson's ancestors were on opposite sides of a conflict that divided a country and drastically changed its history.
Parker's great-great-great-grandfather was a Union prisoner of war at Camp Ford, a Civil War prison camp north of Tyler, and Ms. Goodson's great-great-grandfather was a Confederate prison guard.
Now, they are Civil War era re-enactors, and on Saturday and Sunday they were two of about 100 re-enactors at a yearly event at Camp Ford that included historical skirmishes, demonstrations of period clothing, toys and firearms, and the firing of two cannons at the top of each hour.
It's common for re-enactors to share stories, and when the two spoke, they realized they had a connection.
"It is just so unreal. I met him and he said his relative was here at the same time as mine," Ms. Goodson said. "I think that's so neat."
Parker came from Wisconsin to participate as a Union soldier, and when he arrived he said he felt an instant connection to his great-great-great-grandfather, Charles Bockman, because he was seeing what Bockman saw.
"I had a feeling of, oh, this is where he was, this is the ground he stood on," said Parker, a 28-year-old from Wisconsin Falls, Wis.
This year's event attracted more than 1,200 people from East Texas and other states, said Reta Brand, president of the Emma Sansom Chapter 31 Texas Society Order of the Confederate Rose.
Greg Wheeler, a 56-year-old from Tyler, was one of those who attended the event. A self-described lover of history, he said he was glad to see the re-enactors showing people what life looked like during the Civil War.
"I appreciate that people come out here and give life to history," Wheeler said.
Remembering and connecting to history are parts of the reasons why the annual event is held at Camp Ford, Mrs. Brand said.
"It's a good way to learn about the history of Camp Ford, the 1860s time period, period dress, how the prisoners lived in a Civil War prison camp, and what life was like then in the United States," she said.
At its peak, Camp Ford held as many as 6,000 Union prisoners during the war and although conditions were bad towards the end of the war, it still had the lowest fatality rate of prison camps in the north and the south, said Dennis Brand, Sons of Confederate Veterans 1st Lieutenant Commander.
It's important for East Texans to remember what the camp was, Brand said.
"We're not trying to refight the war, but to honor our southern ancestors," he said. "They didn't get a lot of honor."