As part of New York's River To River Festival, the Governor's Island at the southern tip of Manhattan hosted the annual Civil War Weekend. It is a living lesson in a tumultuous chapter of American history where re-enactment, music and demonstrations brought back to life some of what occurred during the war between 1861-1865. This is an opportunity I simply could not miss. I've been here last year on another festival event but for the first time, I brought my friends Jenny, Jackie, Minette and Rene with me for a moment of living history.
Governor's Island has played a big role in anything that involved war. Because of its strategic location in the New York harbor, it was used primarily for military purposes. For more than 200 years, it became a military facility after the British snatched it from the Dutch colonizers and ultimately into the hands of Americans who fortified the island. Starting with the Revolutionary War, the Governor's Island took part in the War of 1812 where it served as a base for artillery and infantry troops, the Civil War where it was used as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers, and during both World Wars I & II where it became a supply base for ground and air forces.
The open space next to Fort Jay looked like a movie set when we stumbled upon it. Called the Soldier's Camp, there were rows of bivouacs with a Union flag in the center and men wearing uniforms of a bygone era. Some were playing music, some were cleaning their rifles and some were just lazing around, presumably exhausted after a long day at the battlefield. All I can mutter was, how spartan their living conditions then during that time! But hats off to these men of the Union: they sacrificed their lives in the war against the pro-slavery Confederates.
There were other Civil War-related activities throughout the day but we found the Cannon demonstrations to be the highlight. In the center of this open field was a brass cannon, shining in all its polished grandeur from the mid-1800s. It took a while for the soldiers to prep the old thing or perhaps, there really was a lot of ritual involved in this ancient killing machine that we thought they'd be dead before they could even fire. Nevertheless, the cannon still fired a big bang and blowed a whole lot of smoke. No one of course got killed today but when I think about one of America's deadliest war, I'm relieved at the fact that slavery is long gone and that the United States is still a United States.