Doug McComas still remembers the day he was first inspired to don the blue uniform of the Union Army.
The 53-year-old Jackson resident, who is a psychotherapist by day, was attending the Jackson Civil War Muster at Cascades Park in 2002.
“I have a son who’s now a 26-year-old man who at one point was a 14-year-old boy who sat on that hill with me at one point and said, ‘Dad, this is awesome. We’ve got to do this together,’ ” says McComas, who is president and first sergeant of the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company B. “I’ve been involved ever since.”
The muster itself will celebrate its 30th anniversary this weekend. The free event has become the largest and longest-running Civil War re-enactment in the Midwest, restaging different battles each year. There isn’t a lot of competition in the area; the vast majority of re-enactments from the period take place nearer the actual frontlines of the war in the South.
But that doesn’t stop Jackson organizers from putting on a massive show, attracting 35,000 to 40,000 visitors and 1,200 to 1,500 re-enactors. Michigan, Ohio and Indiana are most heavily represented among the re-enactors, but people have come from as far away as Florida and Montana in years past. This year they’ll stage parts of the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of the Wilderness, both decisive conflicts as the Union wore down the Confederate Army in 1864. Using weaponry that in some cases dates back to the actual war, re-enactors fight without rehearsal.
“Obviously, we have the benefit of knowing history and knowing what was going to happen, but ultimately you take the orders from the people above you and follow those as safely as possible in an attempt to re-create what was going on,” McComas says.
However, the battles are just one element among a plethora of festivities at Cascades Park this weekend.
“We’ve got so many things going on that appeal to so many different types of people,” says Kim Conant, president of the Jackson Civil War Society. “Some people don’t give a hoot about the battle, so they’ll come Saturday night to the military ball.”
That event features period music and dance, with dancers decked out in what McComas describes as “Civil War finery.” Another attraction is the mock village of Jacksonburg, where costumed “townspeople” will re-enact historical speeches and chat about the period with visitors. The muster will also feature a variety of musical performances and a retail area offering a variety of period-related products.
McComas says the expansive Cascades Park, with its high hill overlooking the battlefield area, is an ideal site for the event.
“It is one of the best places to view a Civil War re-enactment, in my 12 years of re-enacting, that you’ll ever find,” he says.
And after a long season of events elsewhere around the country, the muster gives local re-enactors a way to send summer out with a bang.
“This is our kind of end-of-the-season homecoming in Michigan,” McComas says.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Jackson Civil War Muster
8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday
1401 S. Brown, Jackson