NEW BEDFORD — Bits of Civil War history downtown don’t normally come to life like they did Sunday during the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park’s Civil War Living History Day.
“It’s a story that needs to be told,” said Steven Paschal who was playing Corporal James Henry Gooding.
The Living History Day with a Civil War lieutenant’s tent, medals of honor of two local men, artifacts and reenactors was, at that scale, the first of its kind from the National Historical Park.
“We thought that it would be appropriate to kick off the summer … and celebrate the July fourth weekend,” said Park Ranger Mark Mello.
Paschal, like Gooding, is a writer and was introduced to the 54th Regiment as a kid, he said, and has been a reenactor for about 10 years.
“You don’t just do this unless you have a feeling for it,” he said, maintaining it's more than simply wearing the uniform.
“It’s always been a spiritual thing for me. It seems like something I was supposed to do,” he said to a small group of people after a performance with prop rifles beside Ray Bartlett.
Bartlett said he and Paschal were from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Company A out of Hyde Park, near Camp Meigs where members of the 54th actually trained.
Bartlett has been reenacting for about five years and said, “This is my way of giving back,” noting he asks kids to put themselves in the brave shoes of those before them.
Park Ranger Rufai Shardow was dressed in plain wool pants and a coat as a private, recruiting men, women and kids for the 54th Regiment. Luckily, he was in the shade on the hot day, noting back then, there was only one uniform for all seasons.
Shortly after 1 p.m., he enlisted about 30 people so far ranging from age five to 64.
He called out for people to sign up. “We want to end slavery, so it’s a good cause,” he told two African American women.
After signing up, Shardow stamped a piece of paper to make it official and saluted them.
Mello played a second lieutenant in the union army at Potomac as a topographical engineer, or a map maker.
It was a “very important job, very dangerous job,” he said, adding he would travel with armed cavalry soldiers.
Abbie Namestnik, 28, of Brooklyn was visiting New Bedford with her friend Kate Lande, 27, of Providence. They took a trip to the New Bedford Whaling Museum before checking out the living history day, they said.
“My husband and I frequent Civil War sites,” Lande said, after she enlisted, noting she learned many who fought came from New Bedford.
Namestnik said she was “particularly moved by the fact that people would stand here ready to fight.”
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