By John Fulton
A first sergeant from the Civil War recently recounted his experiences at a meeting of the Vicksburg Historical Society. Steve Russio, local historian for the Portage District Library, portrayed a sergeant who enlisted after Abraham Lincoln called for troops.
Wearing the uniform of a Union soldier, Russio told of his experiences to a hometown audience as if it were 1865, the year he returned home.
The facts of the war came alive as Russio wove together the stories of many historical figures in his presentation. He told about camp life and how troops entertained themselves for sometimes months at a time between battles.
“Much of camp life was abysmal boredom followed by a few days of intense battlefield operations,” Russio said. “Sometimes the Union soldiers were so close to the Confederate troops that they could hurl insults back and forth. Sometimes they even traded supplies.”
Russio’s character discussed the weapons they used and the training they received. “The training was precise and was often necessary to avoid deadly discharges or losing fingers during the loading procedure,” he said.
The infantrymen typically walked everywhere they went and carried a pack that weighed around 40 pounds and a gun that weighed 10 pounds. Russio’s first sergeant character “enlisted because he was a proud Michigander and felt that slavery was wrong. Others joined for the adventure, the pay and the uniform.”
Most people, whether from the North or the South, thought the war would be over quickly.
Russio also discussed Kalamazoo’s participation in the Civil War, politics of the day and social issues of the times. Kalamazoo hosted musters for the troops at the race track and fairgrounds located in Washington Square at the time. Kalamazoo also raised funds to support the war effort.