CAPE MAY — The Confederate soldiers who fought a battle with Union forces at Historic Cold Spring Village’s annual Civil War Weekend came mostly from northern states, but they understood the soldiers they were portraying and felt a deep empathy for them.
Harry Sundstrom Jr., of Cape May, portrayed the leader of the 1st Maryland Artillery of the Confederate States of America, but sometimes his group turns to the Union side and portrays the 1st Maryland Light Artillery U.S.A.
“I can sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic or Dixie with equal enthusiasm,” Sundstrom said, quoting a line from the film “The Outlaw Josie Wales.”
But the ability to do justice to both sides comes from understanding both, and seeing the soldiers as a historian sees them, not judging them from today’s perspective, he said.
“We are all historians, whether we have degrees or not,” Sundstrom said. “We try to portray what the life and battle was like day to day in the Civil War period.”
Clark Van Buskirk, of Phillipsburg in Warren County, portrays Major Beck of the 44th Regiment of Georgia Company C of the Army of Northern Virginia.
“The Confederate soldiers, like the Union soldiers, both were led by the newspapers and politicians in their states,” Van Buskirk said.
“The average soldier of the time was under the impression his state was under attack from the North,” said Van Buskirk, who has ancestors who fought on both sides. They defended their homeland, he said.
The questions of the day were not just about slavery, he said, but about constitutional issues such as, “Should all power reside in Washington, D.C., or should the power the Constitution gave to the states go to the states?”
After more than 20 years of studying the Civil War period and states’ rights issues, Van Buskirk said, he switched from portraying a Union soldier to portraying a Confederate major.
“I decided I’d rather be a Confederate, because they were right,” he said — not about slavery but about refusing to give up their states’ power.
Carol Cappuccio, of Ventnor, said she was motivated to attend the weekend as a spectator because of the recent controversies over Confederate monuments to Gen. Robert E. Lee and others, and the demands by some that they be taken down.
“They were all soldiers at the end of the day,” Cappuccio said of Union and Confederate troops, “and 620,000 died.”
She disagrees with removing statues, she said, because they are part of our history.
Kenneth Doran, of Easton, Pennsylvania, portrayed Sgt. Bishop, a small farmer from Clark County, Georgia, who fought alongside other poor farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters and others who were far from wealthy.
Each member of his reenactment group portrays a real individual and learns about that person’s life, he said.
Barbara Kosh, of Egg Harbor City, was in a period hoop dress she made, portraying a camp follower who had lost her farm and so traveled with the troops of the 19th Virginia Company K, helping to feed and nurse them. She was there with granddaughters Aniela DeMarco, 7, of Little Egg Harbor Township, and Rylie Kosh, 11, of Pemberton Township, both also in handmade period dresses.
“Kids were always sitting on pins and needles worried about what was happening to their fathers, uncles and granddads,” Rylie said of Civil War-era children.
Sundstrom doubted Civil War soldiers would have ever thought about how they would be portrayed or memorialized in statutes long after they were dead. But he doesn’t like the attacks on the memorials today.
“I’m hurt … that groups want to destroy history, wipe it out and eliminate it,” Sundstrom said. “If you forget history you are doomed to repeat it, and I don’t want to repeat any part of this war.”