Robert G. Jordan, of Atlanta, Ind., has been a Civil War reenactor with the 1st Wisconsin Light Artillery Unit for 20 years. He has participated in Civil War Days
at Conner Prairie for many years, and will return this weekend to fight for the Union. Civil War Days runs May 18 & 19.
Question: How did you first get involved in reenactments? What drew you to this?
Answer: What drew me to this was a love of history. It's something I'm very passionate about. Being able to share that information with the public is something I've always really enjoyed.
Q. What role do you play?
A. On the field I am Cpl. Jordan. The corporal is in command of the gun and what is going on there. The command to prepare the gun, loading and firing all come from the corporal.
Q. How do you prepare for reenactments?
A. Reenactors spend years collecting things. Anyone can go to a sutler and get the things you need to get started. Most of the people you meet are people that have been doing this for years. It's what they love not just on the field but off it as well. A little knowledge of what you’re doing is always a good thing. You can't just walk out onto a battlefield and hope to know what to do. Like with anything, training is involved. We drill and practice multiple times to make sure everyone knows what they need to do and when.
Q. How would you describe the sounds, feelings, emotions, visuals, etc., while you are on the field during reeanctments?
A. There isn't live ammo flying around but the sounds, smells and emotions are there. Black powder hanging in the air. Soldiers dropping around you while your "enemy" advances at you. The heat... the heat. Reenactors enjoy the same kind of uniforms they had back then, wool. Most reenactments take place during the late spring and summer. Mix that with all that goes on during a battle and it feels very real.
Q. How often to you participate in reenactments?
A. My wife, Gayle, and I usually attend 5 or 6 events with our unit a year. This includes both local and national events. Reenactments and Living Histories are held often and in numerous places. This year is the 150th anniversary of The Battle of Gettysburg. We won't be missing it.
Q. What do you enjoy about being a reenactor?
A. I enjoy sharing my passion for history with people and I enjoy the family bond I have with my unit. We've all been together so long we really are family in so many ways.
Q. Why would you encourage the public to attend Civil War Days and to watch the reenactment?
A. Conner Prairie is always a fun event with great crowds. There's lots to see and check out. Seeing where we've come from and what our ancestors fought for is important in any day and age. People forget how it was before computers and TVs. They really get their eyes opened when they see how we live, cook, clean and fight. Hopefully, the public gains an appreciation for what it is we do and learn something about our country's past.
Posted: 5/16/2013 5:10:46 PM
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Nathan Allen - Historic Trades Manager
As a kid growing up in southwest Missouri, Civil War history was all around. Although some of the battles of the Western Theater of the war are not as widely known by most folks, they were still significant. Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Mine Creek, Newtonia. Not to mention the many skirmishes that took place, the bushwhacking, and various guerrilla groups such as Quantrill’s Raiders. It was a hotbed of activity, and continued to be so some time after the war, sprouting such famous old-west characters as Wild Bill Hickok, Frank and Jesse James and the Youngers.
I had the opportunity to visit these historic sites as a grade school student. A field trip to Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in third grade. Family trips to Pea Ridge and Newtonia. Although I enjoyed these trips, reading the signage, walking the fields, being in the buildings and seeing the displays in the visitor’s centers did not give me a sense of what the battle looked liked, felt like and smelled like. Standing on the porch of Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge, I tried to pretend this was my home and there were troops in and about. I tried to imagine there was commotion and noise of horses, wagons and cannon being moved. But, no matter how I tried, what I heard was quiet. What I saw was green grass and trees. And what I felt was the hot Arkansas sun hitting my face (not what the troops felt those cold early March days of the battle).
Flash forward to May 2008. At that point I had worked at Conner Prairie, and specifically Prairietown
, for 13 years. This was my home, so to speak. The houses, gardens, fences and friendly faces of my friends and co-workers were familiar to me as I put away my broad axe and other hewing tools that I had been using to prepare beams for the new McClure Carpenter Shop. A good day’s work on the Prairie. Tomorrow was another day.
One day in May, when I walked into Prairietown, my Prairietown, it was occupied. A Federal command tent was in the Golden Eagle lot. Pup tents were everywhere. Troops had cabbaged onto firewood chopped from the beams I was hewing. Mounted cavalry was trotting down River Road. To be honest, I was set aback a bit. My memory jumped back to the fourth-grade kid standing on that porch at Pea Ridge. So, that is kind of what it would have felt like to have your home occupied by troops in the Civil War, I thought.
That is the cool thing about a place like Conner Prairie. Although we can never truly recreate history, we can create environments, settings and scenarios to put our guests into situations where they can think and talk and ask questions about the past, and what it means today. This is exactly what we have in store for Civil War Days on May 18th and 19th.
There are so many rich stories to tell about Indiana’s connection to the war. Of course we’ll have the soldiers with their drilling, cannon firing, cavalry practice and infantry tactics. A battle reenactment is a must (we’ve got some new tricks up our sleeve for the battle this year). But what about the impact of the war on the Hoosier homefront? Was everyone in agreement on the war? If you were for the Union, what did you think about the draft? Could you be both for the Confederacy and from Indiana? What are a butternut and a copperhead? Why is that woman wearing all black and can’t leave her house to socialize with her friends and family? What did it take to be a nurse in the war?
We will actually be transporting Prairietown 27 years into the future, to May 1863, to help you experience these questions. And, I’m sure prompt many more.
Civil War Days: May 18 & 19. View the entire weekend's event schedule here.
Posted: 5/14/2013 8:53:12 AM
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My family and I moved to Indiana a little over three years ago just before Mother's Day. I had been taking our youngest son to play in Discovery Station and Animal Encounters Barn while I waited for my older children to get out of school and had absolutely fallen in love with the place.
When Mother's Day arrived, my husband asked if there was anything special I'd like to do. I quickly said I wanted to take everyone to Conner Prairie. At first my husband seemed a bit skeptical and reminded me that Mother's Day was about me, not the kids. I simply said that if it was my day then I should get what I wanted, and I wanted to go to Conner Prairie. It didn't take long for him to see why I loved it. Fast forward to 2013 and we will be celebrating our 4th Mother's Day at Conner Prairie. My husband knows that it is my happy place, and that if he ever wants to make my day a little cheerier, all he has to do is say, Let's go to Conner Prairie.
But Conner Prairie is especially extraordinary for me on Mother's Day. As a mother of five, I don't get to spend a lot of time doing things that I like. There isn't much "me time" and there certainly isn't very much quiet time. But I get to have all of that, including the quiet time during every trip to Conner Prairie. All five of my kids love Conner Prairie, so they all stay entertained and happy all day. And when kids are happy, Momma's happy! Our children range in ages from 14 years old to 18 months old and every single one of them stays occupied all day.
Once we get outside to the outdoor grounds my heart flutters and a huge smile comes across my face. It's so peaceful and removed from our everyday modern world. The smell of the fires in the fireplaces is one of my favorite smells in the world. It instantly makes me feel less stressed. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on staff is what really makes this place so magical. I forget that I live in 2013. I get to have the simplicity of living a much less hectic life. As a mom I love to see my kids running in the dirt roads chasing hoops with a stick. Truth be told, I have become a master at keeping those hoops rolling down the road. There are stilts to walks on and other fun games. You get to have some good ole fashioned fun. It's great to be able to let your guard down and just play for a little while. Once I get a bit winded from all the laughing and running I'll sit and let another family have a turn. For me, it's just as fun to see other moms and their families play together.
Every family should come and experience the fun at Conner Prairie. And moms don't forget to laugh, play, learn and get dirty while you are there. Trust me you'll feel awesome!
Please visit Nicole's blog.
Find more information on Mother's Day activities at Conner Prairie.
Posted: 5/10/2013 6:43:14 PM
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Sharon Marshall - Conner Prairie Volunteer
It's National Volunteer Week: April 21 - 27!
It’s spring, and that means we have just participated in our annual Volunteer Welcome Back Retreat! Usually held near the end of March, it’s a great way to get caught up with friends, meet new volunteers, and hear what’s new from Conner Prairie staff and even the president and CEO, Ellen Rosenthal. The Volunteer Managers, Jody and Arlene, are so good about making sure we’re all comfortable and trained in any areas in which we’re placed, and I love the options they give us to volunteer in so many different areas. I’m looking forward to giving tours of the Conner House, seeing the new baby animals in the barn, and welcoming visitors who arrive at Prairietown. This year, it’s the “Year of Nature,” and that means new exhibits in the Welcome Center as well as a Nature Walk, a TreeHouses exhibit and a Bioblitz
Summer will bring more new programs to review in the Monthly Volunteer Newsletter and see which ones I might be able to sign up for. There’s Symphony on the Prairie
– can’t beat the venue and the music with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I usually sign up for one or two concerts to help with distributing lawn chairs. In return, I receive two SOP tickets to use later—nice! I know some of my fellow volunteers really enjoy working the Craft Corner or Conner Prairie Store indoors, or the gardens and grounds outdoors through the summer. There’s even a group of craftsmen who continue to use their skills and trades as carpenters and blacksmiths.
Fall — a favorite time of year for Hoosier fourth graders to visit the Prairie. They absolutely love the Lenape Camp, Prairietown and the Civil War Journey. I’m always so impressed and amazed with the Interpreter Staff, who seamlessly move from 21st-century to 19th-century as they depict a different kind of lifestyle for the students. Another important program we as volunteers will be involved with will be Follow the North Star — I’m proud to be part of this well-respected and popular program. Then there’s Headless Horseman — a Conner Prairie tradition, where there’s so much for volunteers to see and do!
Winter’s here and although many outdoor activities wind down, there’s still preschool and school programs indoors, as well as the Gingerbread House exhibits—one of my favorites. And there’s nothing like the sight of candles along the snow-banked paths leading visitors through Conner Prairie by Candlelight and to Hearthside Suppers during these winter days. The “Volunteer Year” is celebrated and many are recognized at the Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon. It’s at these functions that as a volunteer I feel respected and my input and skills valued for what I can contribute to such an important and educational component of our community.
To volunteer at Conner Prairie, please contact Jody Thomas at 317.776.6000 ext. 264 or for more information log on to http://connerprairie.org/Join-And-Support/Volunteer.aspx
Posted: 4/22/2013 2:04:17 PM
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Bill Friel - Interpreter and Team Leader of Civil War Journey
I am 30 years old and still have an imagination.
Somehow, working here and seeing all the families that come here on a daily basis have brought forth my “Imagination Renaissance.” I have worked occasional hours in the Discovery Station
and have seen children work and play there. It is inspiring to see them imagining that they are running trains on the wooden train tracks, selling merchandise in the store or cooking meals in the kitchen.
We lose our imagination somewhere. We all have one when we are children, but somehow it gets lost in translation, lost when we reach adulthood. Let me tell you how I know that my imagination is back.
I primarily work at the Civil War Journey
here at Conner Prairie, and one day we accidentally came up with the idea of charging the tree line. OK, that sounds nuts. What we (John Mortell, volunteer Aaron Parker, Andrew Barge and myself) envisioned is that there were Confederates in the tree line and by charging it we would somehow “scare” them off. The first time we did this activity, we lined up shoulder-to-shoulder with our muskets at our shoulders. We put bayonets on and marched to the trees. Suddenly one of us would yell “Chhaaarrggge!” and we would sprint to the tree line. We would yell as if it were real! Guests would join in, and they would charge, scream and yell as if they too were defending Indiana from Confederate soldiers.
I was quite familiar with this activity as a child. When I was 10 and playing with toy guns out in the woods in my backyard I would use my imagination in the same way. Twenty years later, I am in costume, carrying reproduction firearms, yelling and huzzahing as if I were actually a Civil War soldier. It’s like I am playing war just like I did when I was 10.
In some small way I am experiencing what Civil War soldiers might have experienced, minus the actual carnage, death and disease of war. It has given me a greater appreciation of what soldiers and civilians had to live through in the 19th century, but it has given me a greater appreciation of the lives of modern soldiers fighting in the wars today. So thank you, soldiers, for what you really have to do. To those soldiers who long ago served our country, thank you so much for what you did have to do.
Of course, I am a self-proclaimed history nerd and a Civil War zealot. Being an interpreter and historian is a lot more than researching, reading or learning from others; it is important to “get in the moment.” Putting on a costume and working the same way that they did back in the 19th century is part of that too. We can read books and watch documentaries, but what we want to provide for you are activities that are engaging, educational and entertaining for you. That is what we here at Conner Prairie want for our guests. We want you to be one of us! We want you to scream and yell (hopefully when you are outside as opposed to inside!) and play with us. So come on out to Conner Prairie and to the Civil War Journey, and have your own “Imagination Renaissance.”
Posted: 4/17/2013 4:35:45 PM
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Why a Soldier Returns to Civil War Days
See, Feel, Smell the Civil War
Our Mother’s Day Tradition is Conner Prairie
A Year in the Life of a Conner Prairie Volunteer