The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

April 24, 2013

Living history

By HOWARD BALABAN
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — War is coming to Medina.

This weekend, as part of an overall initiative to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Genesee Community College is bringing Civil War Encampment to its Medina Campus.

Adam Tabelski, honorary chair for the event, said he believes the event to be the first of its kind in Medina. Plus, it will give everyone a unique sense of history.

“You can read about war in books, or if you’re lucky enough you can travel a considerable distance to see historical places,” he said. “With this, the war is being brought to life in our backyard.”

All of the events scheduled for the weekend are set to take place at GCC Medina Campus Center. The only one that will not is the coinciding parade, which will be held in the downtown area on Saturday morning starting at 10 a.m.

The parade route begins at St. Mary’s Church on Eagle Street and proceeds to Main Street. From there is will head south toward Park Street. According to information provided by GCC, the parade route is the same one used by Medina Company D of the 28th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment when it left to join the Union’s cause in 1861. 

There will be a brief delay during the parade when it reaches the intersection of Main Street and Center Street. At that time, Medina resident Mary Zimmerman Robinson, representing the women of Medina from years ago, will present a sword to the reenactor portraying the regiment’s commanding officer, Capt. Erwin Bowen.

Robinson’s participation is made unique because she is presenting Bowen’s actual sword. She is Bowen’s great-great-granddaughter.

Robinson said she has been interested in the Civil War since she was young, and her interest deepened as she researched her family’s history. 

“I wanted to understand more about the journey (Erwin) had,” Robinson said. She recalled visiting her son in Virginia and retracing some of her ancestor’s footsteps. 

She learned all she could about Bowen. At one point during the war, in 1862, he was named provost marshall in Harrisonburg, Va. She said he endeared himself to the citizens in such a manner that when they learned he was captured several months later, those same citizens petitioned Confederate President Jefferson Davis for his release. He then made his way back up north, was transferred to a different division, and was eventually issued his discharge in 1864 as a lieutenant colonel.

Robinson said some of her research involved old Medina newspaper articles and of course old family letters and pictures. She also has kept family heirlooms like Bowen’s military-issued sword and the field map he carried into battle. 

Some of her family’s artifacts will be on display at the GCC Medina Campus throughout the weekend. She said, “It’s cool that Medina takes an interest in its history.” She added there is more history still to be discovered. 

“There are still (descendants) of the 28th Infantry living in this area,” she said, noting that she was hopeful more would follow in her footsteps and “start digging” into their respective family’s past.

And the past will surely be alive this weekend. According to information provided by GCC, starting at 4 p.m. Friday visitors are welcome to view various Civil War exhibits at the Medina Campus. The exhibits include Civil War dioramas, artifacts from a New York Infantry unit, medical tools from the era, children’s activities, and more. Additionally, there will be ongoing demonstrations of blacksmithing, candle-making, and mortuary arts. 

A number of presentations, talks, and concerts are also scheduled. There are also two battle reenactments planned (2 to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) . Saturday night a Victorian Cotillion is planned from 7 to 10 p.m., with children’s activities coinciding with the event to make it easier for parents to attend.

Tabelski said City Fiddle, a Buffalo-based band, will provide the music at the cotillion. The event is open to the public, and he said attendees are “welcome to attend in period-specific clothing.”

As for the rest of the weekend’s festivities, Tabelski said it is a way for the community learn about its history.

“It’s important for the community to know that Civil War history wasn’t just in Virginia or Georgia or some place far away,” he said. “It touched every community, north and south.”