Bitten by the Civil War bug at the Tinker Homestead Encampment

Bitten by the Civil War bug at the Tinker Homestead Encampment

[Recreation of “Rebel Veterans furl the Stars and Bars for the last time before starting for home” from The Golden Book of the Civil War: “Monroe Wildcats” representing the 1st Tennessee Dismounted Cavalry. Tinker Homestead and Farm Museum 8/6/16]


All illustrations and captions from The Golden Book of the Civil War: Adapted for Young Readers from the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War with an Introduction by Bruce Catton (11th Printing, 1970)

I first was bitten by the Civil War bug back in elementary school when I discovered The Golden Book of the Civil War. The illustrated history is adapted for young readers from The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. Written by Charles Flato (who was once a member of the Communist Party and maybe a Soviet spy) with an introduction Bruce Catton, the volume provides a carefully researched and broad overview of the war.


Eleventh Printing, 1970.

The American Heritage series was renowned for its collection of pictorial maps by David Greenspan. Greenspan’s full-color maps combined an artist’s vision with the cartographer’s discipline. The reader sees battlefields from the perspective of aerial photographs provided by the U.S. High Altitude Photography Program, conveying — back in 1960 — battlefield topography in a way rarely available to the Civil War historian.


Pictorial map of the battle of The Wilderness where Rochester’s greatest soldier, General Elwell Otis was wounded. Apparently, the side bar scene description covers the area where Otis would have been. (see Celebrating the 120th Otis Day and finding the site of the General’s farmhouse in Gates)

The maps, along with photographs, historically accurate illustrations and epic paintings fueled my boyhood imagination. So I took the book to the 13th annual Tinker Homestead and Farm Museum’s “Civil War Days” at the Tinker Nature Park in Henrietta.

The weekend featured the Excelsior Brigade’s Fife and Drum, a presentation on what Union and Confederate soldiers ate for “sweet delights” as well as medicinal, roots, plants and confectioneries of the period, a period wedding, songs and stories of the Underground Railroad, medical demonstrations, an evening dance with City Fiddle, a period church service, a Ladies Dress Show and Tea, and re-enacted battles Saturday and Sunday.


I was hardly alone in my boyhood fascination with The Golden Book of the Civil War. Warren Tole first read the book in his elementary school library (found soon after under his Christmas tree). Poring over every page, Warren examined the pictorial maps with a magnifying glass. The book was the Civil War bug that bit Warren for life. He still has the well-turned volume in his basement-turned-Civil War library.

with book

Warren Tole representing the 1st Tennessee Dismounted Cavalry

One of Warren’s favorite epic paintings was of Lee’s defeated soldiers furling the Confederate flag for the last time after Appomattox — the picture recreated above.  The painting holds a two-fold meaning. On the one hand, Warren felt the pathos of the men who had fought so long for the Great Lost Cause. On the other hand,  the furling signified the preservation of the Union.


“This painting shows the Confederate high tide at Gettysburg, with troops surging through the Union line” Chuck Smeltzer was involved in the re-enactment for the movie Gettysburg.

Warren’s parents also took him to Gettysburg.  In the museum Cyclorama, Warren saw Confederate General Lewis Armistead’s futile breakthrough at The Angle, as well as the recently reopened Electric Map. The family took the car audio tour, now the podcast tour. On our family visit to Gettysburg, I proudly brought home an authentic musket ball to show my friends that now lies somewhere on the bottom of the creek on Roby Drive.


“Nearly 32,000 prisoners were held in the 26-acre stockade at Andersonville, Georgia.” Chuck Smeltzer was involved in the re-enactment for a documentary on the prison.

A longtime reenactor who appeared in the North and South miniseries , Glory, Gettysburg, and a documentary on the Andersonville Prison, Chuck Smeltzer pointed to several illustrations in the book. For episode 6 (March 1865 – April 1865) of North and South, Chuck traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to recreate the siege of Petersburg.

St Petersburg

“Part of the Confederate entrenchments around Petersburg. The sharpened stakes at the left in the background were used as infantry obstacles.” Chuck Smeltzer was involved in the re-enactment for the mini-series North and South

Chuck said the illustrations, epic paintings and pictorial maps in the Golden Book are decent realist representations of the war. But, as Chuck added, with all movies images and novels, the problem is always the same when it comes to battles: how can you capture chaos?cannon

And how can you really re-enact the horror (and exultation) of war when the muskets and cannons at the Tinker Homestead don’t shoot real bullets and balls?


Cover painting: “General Hooker (on white horse at left center) drove the Confederates from Lookout Mountain. The victory, while dramatic, was not as great as it seemed; the Rebels were outnumbered six to one.” Office of Military History, Department of the Army  (l-r) Tom Enedy, Orton Begner and Will Huther. Will is dressed as a Zouave.

Representing the 28th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company E, Tom Enedy, Orton Begner and Will Huther, provided more background on several Golden Book paintings. The cannons fired by Hooker’s men at Lookout Mountain were not unlike the ones at the encampment.

We looked at the pictorial map of the battle of The Wilderness where Rochester’s greatest soldier, General Elwell Otis was wounded. Apparently, the side bar scene description covers the area where Otis would have been. (see Celebrating the first Otis Day (June 15th) with the General’s sword at its new home: the Military Society of Rochester)

camp life

“Conditions at the Confederate camp at Corinth, Mississippi were not quite as shown in the picture. Many soldiers died here of disease.”

Looking at the Confederate camp at Cornith, Mississippi, they could tell it was early in the war because the sibley tents still had plentiful canvas. And the camp could only be in the South as several slaves are pictured. They noted that for many of the men — south and north — life in the camps was noticeably better than at home: more food and often more pay.


Re-creation of the “Conditions at the Confederate camp at Corinth” from The Golden Book of the Civil War: “Monroe Wildcats” representing the 1st Tennessee Dismounted Cavalry. Tinker Homestead and Farm Museum 8/6/16

Like Chuck, the three have done filmed re-enactments. Perhaps the most memorable was the Battle of the Crater near Petersburg, Virginia. The explosion in the crater was tremendous and all alongside were pyrotechnic displays drawing thousands of spectators.


“Charging Confederates drive Yankees from huge crater. It was formed by exploding powder in a tunnel that was dug under the Rebel line around Petersburg” Commonwealth Club, Richmond

mother son

Robert and Brenda Napoli

Speaking of spectators, I learned from Brenda Natoli (representing the 28th NY from Canandaigua) that idle wanderers in the encampment like me are  called “tats.”

Brenda’s “impression” (the term reenactors use to describe their assigned role) was a camp cook whose husband and son served in the regiment. The husband had been killed so Brenda remained in camp to vigilantly and watch over her son, played by her real life son, Robert.

An avid reenactor who first performed in the battle of Fort Ontario in Oswego two years ago, Robert explained the impression was partially based on I Shall Be Near You , Erin Lyndsay McCabe’s novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband, inspired by the letters of a female soldier.

cook 1So Brenda was not surprised that this straggling tat arrived too late for her vitals. But — as he was dressed in Union blue — she did give a peach for his troubles.cook 2

Brenda explained how women would come and go into the camps hired as cooks. Because of the heat, Brenda was dressed in man’s uniform rather than a full skirt. Cooks would fold their skirts as high as possible to avoid catching on fire. While the cooks were stationed in the rear, the job was dangerous. If the camp was overrun, a female cook might be given a gun and told to hold her ground. If captured, the cook would be forced to work for the other side.winslow homer

drummed out

“As punishment for stealing from a wounded friend, this Union soldier is being drummed out of camp.”

There were quite a few women reenactors.  Serving with the 1st Tennessee Dismounted Cavalry, Julie said young women joined both armies, concealing their gender by hoping to pass as teen age boys.  If revealed, the women would be drummed out of the army — or worse.

2 reb girls

Julie (center) and another Rebel dressed as a male soldier (right).

As a Yankee tat, I did get in a bit of trouble with one of the Wildcat’s associates, Katie Gaisser. I accused Katie of playing the role of Belle Boyd who was jailed twice as a Rebel spy.  Like Scarlett herself, Katie slapped me down as a damn Yankee.

rebel spy

“Belle Boyd was twice jailed as a Rebel”

rebel girl

“You must be Belle Boyd who I read about in The Golden Book of the Civil War as a boy.”


girl slapping

“Take that you foolish, straggling Yankee tat!” In the background is one of the bridesmaids from the wedding, now the sister in law of the groom.

Like Brenda and Robert, the encampment attracts across the generations. I met the “Monroe Wildcats” representing also the 1st Tennessee Dismounted Cavalry.  In their teens and very early 20s, the young men had met at a re-enactment class at the Genesee Country Village & Museum.

Since then, the Wildcats have been to re-enactments all over the Northeast. One member has a thriving online business making and selling period war clothes and accessories. The Wildcats were pleased to recreate — as best they could on short notice — two scenes from The Golden Book.



Jessie and Jennifer Parks were married in a period ceremony before the battle.

In a juxtaposition of love and death, before the battle Jessie and Jennifer Parks were married in a period ceremony . They met as members of Moody’s Battery.

The battle itself — from 1861 early the war — was full of smoke and theatrics, drawing lots of tats and paparazzi.  The sight of Union and Confederate dead was a solemn reminder of the price and horror of actual war.

union preparing

Union soldiers preparing to charge.

union dead

Rebel counterattack leaves several Union dead.


rebels preparing

Rebels preparing defenses.

rebel helping

Helping and moving Confederate wounded and dead.

rebel killed at Spotsylvania

“A Rebel killed in an attack at Spotsylvania”

Ultimately, the battles are not the focal point of the encampment weekend. While the campers are keen Civil War buffs, they most relish the camaraderie and sharing their love of history. So check out next year’s 14th annual Tinker Homestead and Farm Museum’s “Civil War Day”. Make your wedding plans early. Be there at reveille for the best vitals. And if you are a Yankee, don’t call a Rebel girl a spy.




Once more into the breech on the banks of Lake Riley

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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