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Wauconda woman relives history in Civil War reenactments

McGregor's Battery fires 12-pound field howitzer nicknamed 'Julie” during last year’s Civil War Days Wauconda. |  Courtesy photo

McGregor's Battery fires a 12-pound field howitzer nicknamed "Julie,” during last year’s Civil War Days in Wauconda. | Courtesy photo

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Civil War Days set for July 13-14

The crack of gunfire and the boom of cannons will ring out this weekend at the Lake County Forest Preserves’ 22nd annual Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve at one of largest Civil War reenactments in northern Illinois.

The event at Fairfield Road and Route 176 is expected to draw over 600 reenactors from seven states, and 5,000 visitors from Illinois and surrounding areas. It features infantry, cavalry and artillery reenactors, as well as musicians, sutlers, historical figures and civilians.

Hours are Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 14, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and visitors of all ages are invited to explore the military and civilian camps to learn about life in the 1860s. The event culminates each day with a narrated battle reenactment, Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. These one-hour battles feature artillery, cavalry and infantry reenactors.

In the civilian camps and Civil War shops, visitors can meet blacksmiths, quilters, tin smiths and other historical figures from the era. In the military camps, reenactors bring to life activities such as pay day, weapon checks, mail call and drills. The event culminates each day with a narrated battle reenactment, Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. These one-hour battles feature artillery, cavalry and infantry reenactors.

While exploring the grounds, you can also meet historical figures including Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Generals Lee, Jackson, Custer, Grant and Sherman. Kids can enjoy period crafts, games, magic shows, and a scavenger hunt.

The cost is $10, $5 for youth ages 4 to 17 and children 3 and under are free. Download and bring discount admission coupons, or purchase advance tickets online and the coupon will be automatically applied. Tickets include parking and free admission to the Museum. o dogs except service animals at the event. For more information call (847) 968-3400 or visit

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Updated: August 12, 2013 6:38AM

Traci Smith of Wauconda, who has been reenacting Civil War battles since 2006, got hooked on the concept during one of her hometown’s Civil War Days while walking through one of the encampments.

“I came through and asked some questions,” she said, “and if you express enough interest, they try to recruit you. They offer to have you borrow clothing and set you up, so you can try it out,” she said.

She didn’t bite at first, but they noticed she was wearing a baseball cap with a horse on it and a couple of years later they saw her again with the hat and asked her if she rode. She told them she does, but not regularly anymore. One of the men who owns some of the horses took her on a trail ride and she was deemed “qualified enough to ride.”

Her first reenactment was on a horse named Bandit who also was attending his first. She didn’t feel comfortable with firearms yet, so she carried the flag and rode with the calvary. “He was not fond of the gunfire, but he behaved himself,” she said, explaining that being with the other horses kicked in the herd mentality where the other horses were OK so Bandit didn’t bolt or anything.

Her first piece of equipment was calvary boots, “those were expensive because they are tall boots,” she said and now she has clothing, a tent, she’s on her second saber because the first got bent beyond repair and replica sidearms she got at the Dixie Gunworks in Tennesse.

“Our unit has two branches, cavalry and artillery. The 9th Virginia Cavalry operated with McGregor’s Battery attached during parts of their campaigns, those are the two units we portray. I am part of the cavalry but for events where we don’t bring the horses, we all pitch in on the cannons,” she said.

Some units are very hard core, everything has to be 1860 or else. “They eat hardtack and salt pork all weekend and sleep under the stars,” she said, adding her unit will allow some creature comforts, as long as it is hidden from visitors’ view. Her sister, Sarah, used to join reenactors as a civilian woman in period dresses and when she died Smith inherited them. She used to make her own dresses, but I don’t have that talent,” she said laughing.

How authentic is it that a woman is fighting? “They’ve documented about 400 women made into the ranks,” she said, on both sides of the conflict. Usually they weren’t discovered until a medical condition required taking off their uniform. Being a rebel enactor is a little easier too because the uniform standards aren’t so tight because the southern army wasn’t as well equipped. She has blue pants she would have recovered from the battle field, but it also allows her to throw on a blue coat and become a union soldier when organizers ask if anyone can “galvanize” and switch sides because the numbers aren’t right.

“I love the history and I love the camaraderie,” she said of reenacting. “You get to share your craziness and share history with the public,” said Smith. “We have a good group and the camaraderie around the campground is just great,” she said. On the confederate side you might learn about state rights and on the union side you will probably hear about the war ending slavery.

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