Civil War Top 100

This article is copyight The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and was originally published on Sunday, March 25, 2007.

Want to Enlist in the Civil War?


FOXBORO - The 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is looking for a few good men.

And not just good men. The job description specifies Civil War buffs of military bearing who don't mind marching long distances, sleeping on hay or wearing woolen uniforms and carrying heavy period rifles into re-created battles.

"It's a life-changing experience," says Attleboro's Tom Higgins, 48, recruiting sergeant for the re-created Civil War unit comprised of about 50 re-enactors from throughout New England. "It gives you a personal perspective of what a Civil War soldier went through."

The historical 28th was formed in late 1861 in response to President Lincoln's call for volunteers. Members, many of them from Irish extraction, fought with and alongside the Army of the Potomac's Irish Brigade. The regiment, originally made up of about 1,000 officers and men, was one of the war's bloodiest losing more than 390 soldiers to battle or disease.

The re-created unit is made up of a variety of Civil War re-enactors from a wide range of backgrounds. The 28th participates in anywhere from 6-10 "missions" a year including regimental meetings, training sessions and encampments. While on the march, military re-enactors hew to a historically accurate line wearing period garb, sleeping in Union Army style tents and cooking over fires.

Several of the 28th's men come from southeastern Massachusetts, and an annual meeting is held at Foxboro's GAR Hall.

Higgins said a lifelong interest in history and a chance encounter with a historical exhibit in 1998 detailing Massachusetts' Civil War heritage galvanized him to become a Civil War re-enactor.

"I've had other hobbies, but nothing else has lasted like this," said Higgins who said he draws a sense of participating in living history by portraying the life of an enlisted man. Being in an Irish-American unit is particularly appealing to Higgins, whose great-great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland in the mid-1800s.

Higgins has participated in a large number of marches, encampments and battle re-creations, many of them in Virginia and the Carolinas where much of the heavy fighting occurred. Re-enactors invest an average $1,000 apiece to outfit themselves with authentic uniforms, equipment and a reproduction Civil War rifle.

While re-enactors learn what life was like for Civil War soldiers, eating hardscrabble food, carrying heavy military gear and sleeping on the ground, they also learn a lot about themselves.

"These people in the 19th Century were a lot hardier than us," says Paul Irish of Millbury, who plays a captain in the 28th. "We're softer than they were. They had to put up with a lot of hardship."

World War II veteran Don French of Dighton, whose grandfather fought in the Civil War, said that participating in re-creations of actual battles provides a unique understanding of the courage required of soldiers on both sides.

"Standing there watching that wave of grey coming at you and knowing you'll only be able to load and fire your rifle maybe a couple of times in a minute, you get a feeling for what they were up against," he said.

The 28th is one of several northeastern re-enactor units which often join together for "engagements" on anniversaries of major battles. The regiment is scheduled to participate in major re-creations next September surrounding the battles of Antietam and South Mountain.

Like most Civil War groups, the 28th actively recruits re-enactors to fill its ranks. Although the bloody combat of the real Civil War is long since over, re-enactor units face a problem their forbears never contemplated, Higgins said. "The Civil War lasted four years," he said. "The re-created 28th has been around for more than 20 years. Over that period of time people get older, retire, move. We have to attract new members."

Rick Foster can be reached at 508-236-0428 or


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