For Civil War Reenactors, 150th Anniversary Is a Quiet Occasion

The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War is on Tuesday. But for reenactors and others who bring the battle scenes to life on a regular basis, commemorating the 150 years since the first shot of the Civil War was fired in Fort Sumter the day will pass quietly.

Rich Fetzer, 59, from Mahopac, in Putnam County, said he and friends with whom he does reenactments will get together over drinks to talk about what they've done in the past and make plans for future events.

Fetzer has done hundreds of reenactments, mostly with the 150th New York regiment. He started participating in reenactments in 1994, after seeing one in Gettysburg with his then 8-year-old son.

"I can’t watch this," he recalled thinking. "I have to be a part of this."

One of the people he has reenacted with since 1996 is Eugene Bender, who will also be at their meeting in the local pub Tuesday.

Bender, 62, from Elmsford in Westchester County, lost his eyesight as a child and has reenacted various Civil War battles two to three times a year between 1995 and 2000. Afterward, he focused more on doing improvisations of disabled veterans, bringing attention to the sometimes forgotten population.

Bender said his love for reenactment has never abated: "Civil War defines us — what it means to be an American," he said. "Both the good and the bad."

People like Bender and Fetzer, as well as historians, educators and descendants of Union soldiers have been brought together into a grass roots committee called the New York Sesquicentennial Committee. "The motivation to get together was lack of funding from New York State," said Lance Ingmire, 60, chair of the committee.

On Tuesday, some of the members will gather for a small commemorative ceremony in Sand Lake, but events and exhibits are planned for the rest of the year around the state. The committee also has an official New York State pin. Asked what the process was to make it official, Ingmire replied the process was less than strenuous.

"It's the only one," he said. "I'm not gonna call it unofficial."