The Union forever

Ashokan Center in Olivebridge hosts Civil War Days reenactments, concerts & dance this weekend

by Frances Marion Platt
May 19, 2011 11:37 AM | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Scenes from Previous Civil war days.
Poor Jay Ungar: He’s stuck with the Civil War. He can’t escape it. Even though none of the battles of the War between the States actually occurred north of the high tideline at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Jay is going to have to host Civil War Days at Ashokan and play suites of 1860s songs on his fiddle as long as he lives – all because he happened to write a nostalgic-sounding tune called “Ashokan Farewell” that documentarian Ken Burns happened to fall in love with, and that much of America now thinks of as the theme song to the Civil War.

That’s actually not such a bad thing, for the rest of us. And really, we ought not to underestimate the impact of that bloody conflict on the State of New York – especially now that its Sesquicentennial observations are starting to get underway. After all, almost 60,000 New Yorkers lost their lives in the Civil War: nearly as many as the total number of Americans killed in Vietnam. And we can expect to be reminded repeatedly over the next few years about the horrors of the Draft Riots of 1863, when the two ethnic groups at the bottom of New York City’s social pecking order – black former slaves and recent Irish immigrants – were at each other’s throats, fighting over the meager crumbs left by the upper crust.

New Yorkers can take more pride in other aspects of their role in the Civil War: Our ironworks at West Point Foundry manufactured the artillery device that may have turned the tide of the conflict, the Parrott gun. Shells fired from this rifled cannon attained a velocity hitherto unknown, enabling the Union to shatter the foundations of the Confederacy’s seafront fortifications. These structures had previously resisted all assaults, simply because they were manufactured from the amazing cement mined in Rosendale, which attained a glassy hardness even when poured underwater.

Civil War Days return to the Ashokan Center for the third year this weekend, with a lineup of activities to please everyone from a preschooler to a military history buff. Beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 21 there will be a wartime encampment featuring costumed reenactors representing the 20th New York State Militia and the 120th and 150th Volunteer Infantry Regiments. They will be engaging in the sorts of daily activities that would have been typical of a Union camp, like cleaning and repairing weapons, harness and uniforms, as well as the more exciting cavalry and infantry drills and skirmishes. These roleplayers are accustomed to responding in-character to questions from visitors, so it’s a great opportunity to indulge your historical curiosity.

There will also be historical talks and presentations throughout both days: a lecture on “The American Civil War from a Woman’s Perspective” on Saturday afternoon, for example, and one on Jefferson Davis on Sunday morning. If the kids start getting squirmy at all the talky stuff, let them try their hands at a 19th-century handicraft like tinsmithing, broommaking and blacksmithing. Or drag them off to hear some rousing period music by the Rural Felicity Fife and Drum Corps, the 77th Regimental Balladeers, the Iron Jacks and the Irish Volunteers.

On Saturday evening, you can stick around for dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Pavilion with musical accompaniment for a mere $10 per person. For an additional $15, you can stay on from 7 to 10 p.m. for a concert starring Kim and Reggie Harris and Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, then participate in square and contra dancing featuring the redoubtable Eric Hollman as caller. A special treat is in store with a performance by actress Carolyn Evans, who specializes in bringing Ulster County’s own abolitionist heroine Sojourner Truth to life.

Sunday, May 22 has been designated Armed Services Appreciation Day at Ashokan, honoring active military members, veterans and their families. The entire Ashokan Center facilities will be opened to the military members and their families with no admission charge to thank them for their sacrifices and vital contributions throughout our history. At 1 p.m. there will be a formal ceremony including presentation of the colors, singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an invocation, a visit and remarks by reenactors portraying general Ulysses S. Grant and president Abraham Lincoln, followed by closing musical selections including “Taps,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Sunday’s festivities will conclude with a 3 p.m. skirmish and an ice cream social for all – presumably including the casualties!

The daytime program runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an entry fee of $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 5 to 12; and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a fee of $5 for adults and children except for military families. Kids age 4 and under get in free both days. Saturday dinner at the pavilion is $10, and the Saturday evening concert and dance go for $15. Tickets are available at the gate. The Ashokan Center is located at 477 Beaverkill Road in Olivebridge, just off Route 28A. For the full schedule and more information, visit or call (845) 657-8333.

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