Harpers Ferry park visitors treated to Christmas past

December 02, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - A delay at the post office didn't seem so bad compared to the Civil War-era mail obstacles Brian Vazzano described Saturday at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Soldiers' mail and packages were subject to search and seizure by Army officers, he said.

Someone reading their mail for sensitive information or for signs of disloyalty could report soldiers, who, in turn, might be arrested.

On a whim, the same censors might confiscate a picture of a pretty woman if it were tucked into a letter, said Vazzano, portraying a mailman with the 34th Massachusetts regiment.

Vazzano, a Baltimore resident, guided spectators through re-enactments of other parts of the mail-delivery process, from officers intercepting bottles of alcohol to infantrymen glad to get a fresh pair of socks.


Re-enactors talked Saturday about other aspects of Civil War life during an event called "Prospects of Peace: A Soldier's Prayer 1864."

The event continues at the park today.

Inside a large tent, Sue Cornbower of Bethlehem, Pa., and Dulcie White of Woolrich, Pa., showed children how to make Christmas ornaments of that era.

When it came to supplies, "they wouldn't have had much," Cornbower said.

On the other end of the tent, Jackie Fitzgerald of Warrenton, Va., demonstrated how to create a cornucopia tree ornament.

Each cone-shaped design might have held a few pieces of candy or trinkets.

"The gifts weren't under the tree," Fitzgerald said. "They were on the tree."

Outside, John Hicks of Johnstown, Pa., portrayed a recruiter with the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry eager to bring in new soldiers.

A sign near his tent read: "Our President, Loyal & True, Men of the Union, Volunteer Today! The Rebellion Must Be Stopped! The Union Now & Forever."

Dave Winkler of Martinsburg, W.Va., watched as his boys strolled over and pretended to enlist.

Hicks had Matthew, 10, and Ryan, 8, sit and sign a document, then gave them recruitment posters as souvenirs.

Jack, 2, emulated his older brothers and signed up to fight, too.

Although Hicks joked with the boys that they'd have to come back in 30 days for their military assignments, he said later that recruits would be sent right away to a place such as Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, Pa.

They'd go through drills long enough that "everything would be second nature to them," he said.

After Vazzano's presentation about the mail of 1864, he invited people to stop at Soldiers Rest, a meal and rations station, to write and send real letters to real U.S. soldiers serving abroad.

Kathy Franco of Lovettsville, Va., wrote words for her 5-year-old daughter Katherine to sign:

"Thank you for saving us and keeping our planet safe."

If you go ...

What: "Prospects of Peace: A Soldier's Prayer 1864"

When: Today, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

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