Museum hosts Civil War encampment

NEGAUNEE -There were soldiers at the Michigan Iron Industry museum in Negaunee Saturday, but their clothing and weapons were from a different era.

The museum is host this weekend, as part of its annual “Iron Ore and the Civil War” event, to Battery D, 1st Michigan Light Artillery re-enactors from downstate Scottville. They have set up camp on the museum grounds to demonstrate for visitors the power of their artillery and small arms and to give kids and parents an idea of what life was like during the Civil War.

“It’s been kind of an annual event at the museum,” said Troy Henderson, historian with the Michigan Historical Center. “We typically get a few hundred people – it’s a two-day event, actually – on Saturday and Sunday. We usually get 250 people each day.”

Henderson said the event has been happening every summer for at least 15 years.

“It’s not really a re-enactment, but it’s a living history encampment,” Henderson said, “They will actually fire off a cannon and do small-arms demonstrations and cooking demonstrations … and they actually camp on the museum grounds.”

The Future Historians, a group of youths interested in history, particularly of the Upper Peninsula, were also there.

“Kids really from all over the U.P. come and learn about the history of the U.P. and they learn pastimes and games and things like that,” Henderson said. “They also have a series where, in the wintertime, I believe it’s once a month, a speaker from various topics on U.P. history will come and they gather and have training.”

Henderson said an event like this is important, because it teaches people not only about the Civil War and what it was like to live during it, but also about the contributions and sacrifices Michigan made during the war.

“In terms of this event, people can learn more about the Civil War and what life was like and camp, but also Michigan’s role in the Civil War,” Henderson said. “Michigan had 90,000 people who enlisted in the war and 14,000 who died in the war.

“In general, (I think people learn) a respect for the contribution of Michigan in the Civil War. But also learning what life was like and the hardships of the soldiers – and they talk more about what life was like for just ordinary people, as well, and how the times have really changed since then. It was a great sacrifice on the whole country. I think … kids and families can come away with a respect for that and Michigan’s role in the war and contribution to the war.”

Henderson also talked about the ways the Civil War affected the Upper Peninsula – in particular how it boosted the iron ore industry. Henderson said a combination of factors – including the war and the Union’s concomitant demand for iron, the increasing industrialization of the country and the building of the nation’s railroads – all helped to catalyze what had been, up to that point, a somewhat foundering iron mining industry.

“Prior to the Civil War, iron mining in the U.P., on the Marquette Range, was fairly new, and the companies were struggling,” Henderson said. “But after the Civil War, it really marked a turning point where the companies got on their feet and the iron industry kind of took off.”

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. His email address is