The Civil War Impressionist Association

The Civil War Impressionist Association - Historical Portrayals, Presentations, and Displays

The following article will introduce you to the Civil War Impressionist Association (CWIA). On both days of this event you will find the CWIA encamped all around the Ellwood Manor Farm site presenting many different historical performances, presentations, and displays. To learn more about what you will encounter please continue reading.

Why We Do This

The Civil War has broad appeal because it was a defining event in our nation's history. Even after 150 years, our “internal dispute” and bloodiest conflict is personified by multifaceted subjects and social controversy that stimulate interest. Our ensembles shared immersion in Civil War studies inspires the individual portrayals and the resulting gratification in exhibiting an interpretation of this learned history to the public.

CWIA: An Ensemble of Impressions

We use the word “ensemble” because we are a “muster” of members from various Civil War themed organizations and re-enactor units that formed CWIA to avail a way to participate in a broader variety of portrayals, events, and venues besides just battle reenactments. Members hail primarily from the Mid-Atlantic States.

The ensembles participated in events at many National Park Service locations such as Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Monocacy National Battlefield, and the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania Military Park. A few of the other historic sites and venues on our resume include the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s Pry House at Antietam National Battlefield, the Railroad Station and Daniel Lady Farm in Gettysburg, White Oak Museum in Fredericksburg, Stafford Civil War Park in Stafford Virginia, the Brigandine House Museum in Culpeper Virginia, Sully Plantation in Fairfax Virginia, and Camp Geiger in White Hall Pennsylvania. Plus members participate in many smaller venues, individual lectures, and presentations.

Our ensembles members have many credits in documentaries and movies. For example, Doc Peters portrayed the assistant surgeon in the scene of the amputation of General “Stonewall” Jackson’s arm in the movie Gods and Generals and was featured in the Civil War documentary The Fighting Irish Brigade on the Smithsonian Channel.

Our Impressions

We use two presentation themes that are exceptional in affording the variety of portrayals, events, and venues we seek while also proving to be subjects of much interest by event hosts and the public. First, one of our most extensively requested and presented impression themes is of a Federal Army Field Hospital and associated functions.
Hospital tent filled with three tables and medical equipmentwith two reenactors standing facing the camera

Photo by Brian Withrow

Our Field Hospital impression is led by Chief Surgeon Colonel Pete (Doc) Peters, a long time and renowned Civil War medical reenactor. As a retired Fire & Rescue professional he’s seen his share of “real world” medical emergencies that imparts perspective to his portrayal. He heads an ensemble with an excellent reputation for presenting an informative and entertaining Civil War medical encampment. The ensemble’s feature impression is the military Chief Surgeon and his staff, Surgeon Barry Kline and Hospital Steward Chris Gingerich, talking about surgical techniques and general medical practices of the period as well as the advancements made during the war. Original medical instruments, equipment, and supplies add a dose of realism to the presentation. At event hosts discretion, demonstrations range from simple “show & tell” to graphic recreations of war-time wounds and surgical operations. Sometimes the portrayals of sick and injured soldiers/civilians/prisoners are mingled into the encampment area for added realism. At Ellwood you will encounter “general audience” talks and presentations that will be suitable for all but the most squeamish about medical matters.

The central attraction of the surgeon’s area is accompanied by a variety of portrayals of historically associated functions found at or near field hospitals, here are a few you will encounter.
Man in Union uniform stands in hospital tent behind table with bone specimens

Photo by Brian Withrow

Medical Inspector General. Impressionist Timon Linn portrays Brigadier General Joseph K. Barnes on assignment from the Army Surgeon General's office inspecting sanitary conditions at Army of the Potomac field hospitals. In addition to inspection he explains his assignment of collecting specimens for the newly established Army Medical Museum, a center for research in military medicine and surgery. In 1862, Surgeon General William Hammond directed medical officers in the field to collect "specimens of morbid anatomy together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed" and to forward them to the newly founded museum for study. Medical officers including the Museum's first curator, John Brinton, visited mid-Atlantic battlefields and solicited contributions from doctors throughout the Union Army. During and after the war, Museum staff took pictures of wounded soldiers showing effects of gunshot wounds as well as results of amputations and other surgical procedures. The information collected was published between 1870 and 1883 as The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. At Ellwood, General Barnes will display some of the collected “battle impacted” bone specimens and other items.
Man in white shirt with black vest and top hat stands in tent with embalming kit

Photo by Brian Withrow

Civilian Embalming Surgeon. Portrayed by impressionists Ralph Aitkin, he provides an informative yet respectful insight into the techniques of embalming. Demand for the practice grew significantly during the Civil War when there was a need to preserve the dead for a long journey home. When the embalming was complete, the body was placed, along personal belongings, in a wooden box usually lined with zinc. A civilian embalming surgeon would often “set up shop” near field hospitals. Early fees for embalming were $50 for an officer, $25 for an enlisted man, but as demand increased, those figures rose to $80 and $30. Making far more in this “private practice” than military surgeons, distain and rivalry between these practitioners grew. Doc Peters and Surgeon Aitkin will sometimes do a play act on this historic tension to the amusement of spectators. At Ellwood Surgeon Aitkin will discuss his practice, and if roused, you might witness a spat with a military surgeon or provost marshal.
Two women in period dresses and hats speak with a family in a tent labeled "Hospital Cook"

Photo by Brian Withrow

Hospital Commissary. Impressionists Pauline Zamorski and Julie Sedlock portray women camp followers sanctioned by the United States Sanitary Commission for hire to prepare commissary rations for the hospital’s staff and patients. Unlike the common practice in military units where cooking responsibilities were often rotated among the men, officers like our surgeons received an allowance to purchase supplies from the Brigade Commissary and could hire civilians to cook their meals. At Elwood our ladies will present a perspective on women in the Victorian era and the impact of the war. They’ll discuss food preference and preparation of the period including cooking over a campfire or hearth. They also present a display of foods and brands common for the time period, many you will likely recognize.
Our second presentation theme is our rapidly growing and popular portfolio of notable person impressions including President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Major Generals Philip Sheridan & George McClellan, and the already mentioned Army Surgeon General Joseph Barnes. At Ellwood we are honored to present the Field Headquarters of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.
Reenactor dressed in Union general's uniform with hat smoking a cigar

Photo by Andie Williams

Impressionists Brian Withrow and a supporting cast present a program entitled, Origins of the end of the American Civil War. Brian portrays Ulysses S. Grant in 1864-65 from the period of his appointment to the rank of Lieutenant General to the end of the war. He is often accompanied by portrayals of members of General Grant’s staff and other General officers. At Ellwood you will encounter a reproduction of General Grant’s field headquarters camp as it appeared in the Eastern Theater during the Overland Campaign as documented in historic photographs and witness descriptions. You will meet staff officers and learn about their duties including notable persons such as Grant’s Chief of Staff John A. Rawlins… and don’t be surprised if visiting Generals such as Philip Sheridan are seen in camp. The goal is to leave an audience with not only an understanding of U.S. Grant the man, but also the formulation of the “grand strategy plan” and the resulting operational execution that led to the end of the war. The Battle of the Wilderness is his first encounter with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and is the opening salvo of a series of bloody battles to come.
Man in general's uniform and hat leaning against pole of tent

Photo courtesy of the Confederation of Union Generals

And… CWIA is pleased to be joined by Confederation of Union Generals impressionist Patrick Dunigan portraying Major General Gouverneur K. Warren. Patrick has been a regular at Ellwood Manor since the home served as the 5th Corps Headquarters under General Warren’s command during the Battle of the Wilderness. Before the 1864 Overland Campaign General Warren was best known for his actions on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg on 2 July 1863 where he initiated the defense of Little Round Top. Recognizing the importance of this critical undefended position on the left flank of the Federal Army, his placement of troops there helped save the day. However his reputation began to diminish in 1864 and was severely tarnished by General Sheridan at the Battle of Five Forks in 1865. Ulysses Grant in his Personal Memoir described Warren as, “a man of fine intelligence, great earnestness, quick perception, and could make his dispositions as quickly as any officer, under difficulties where he was forced to act. But I had before discovered a defect which was beyond his control, which was very prejudicial to his usefulness in emergencies like the one just before us.” At Ellwood, maybe you will witness an occasion of General Grant and Warren in conversation and see if you perceive what “defect” Grant had in mind.

Last updated: April 16, 2018

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