A glimpse into history
Area residents got a glimpse last weekend into what the lives of Civil War recruits were like.
A Civil War Encampment was held at Waupaca’s South Park in conjunction with “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War,” a national traveling exhibit that is on display through Sept. 25 in the Waupaca Area Public Library’s Exhibit Room.
The encampment began Friday, Sept. 10, in the park and ended Sunday.
On Saturday morning, it included a moment of silence for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in this country and also the playing of “Taps” and shooting of a cannon before activities moved downtown to the gazebo on the city’s square.
There, Kim Heltemes, the commander of Old Abe Camp No. 8, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, gave a recruitment speech that was followed by those in attendance being able to have a brief physical examination for enlistment.
In the lobby between the Waupaca Area Public Library and City Hall, members of the Waupaca Area Historical Society held a pie social.
In addition to Old Abe Camp No. 8, McAllister’s Battery, 1st Illinois Company D, also took part in the Civil War Encampment.
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War was created by Union veterans to represent their interests.
Heltemes said it is not required that someone have an ancestor who was in the Civil War, although many of the members – he is among them – do.
Their work includes using cemetery records to search for unmarked and unreadable graves of Civil War veterans.
“Then, we order new headstones through the VA (Veterans Affairs). We get a crew together of several members and will install the headstones,” he said. “We work with the cemetery people. We work with the county veterans service officer. We are here to honor our ancestors who helped to save the Union. We can help in their final resting place.”
Fourteen of Heltemes’ ancestors were in the Civil War. He also has ancestors who were in the American Revolution. “My family helped Paul Revere that night,” he said.
Through education efforts, graveyard restoration and speaking at events, members of the group work to honor all Civil War veterans.
Heltemes, of Pine River, said there are about 12 members in Old Abe Camp No. 8, and they do several encampments a year.
“It’s a living history. We try to educate people on the way of life at that time,” he said. “Everything we do is based on historical. We try to portray it as accurately as we can.”
Such organizations have been around for some time and were started by Civil War veterans, Heltemes said.
Waupaca recruits were members of a Grand Army of the Republic post in town, he said, explaining that the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War started through the Grand Army.
Heltemes said that at least once a month, he receives a phone call from someone asking for help in finding the grave of a friend or family member.
“Ninety percent of the time, we’re able to,” he said. “Often, we end up getting a headstone and doing a funeral service for them.”
Randy Novak, of Oshkosh, was also among those participating in last weekend’s encampment, and he said that when the Grand Army Republic started a group for Civil War veterans, it was the first group to represent the common soldier.
He, too, has ancestors who were in the Civil War.
“The pages and documentation were handed down to me. A lot of us are fourth-generation members,” Novak said.