DOVER — For the first time in five years, the 2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry — a group of Civil War re-enactors — is setting up camp on the Green as part of the Dover Days Festival.
“We are out here every year to teach people about what life was like for soldiers during the Civil War, but we don’t do the actual camp every year,” said Bill Purdy, captain and decade-long member of the 2nd Delaware.
He and other group members were on the Green Friday setting up tents, campfires and a communal area for the weekend.
Bill Garton of Smyrna was hammering stakes in the ground for a canvas tent he was setting up for the camp.
“I’ve just always enjoyed living history and my great-great-grandfather was in the Civil War. I even have his sword with me,” he said.
Mr. Garton isn’t the only member who can trace his lineage back to the war, fought from 1861 to 1865. Glenn Layton of Wyoming first joined the 2nd Delaware in 1996 with his son and found out a year later from a cousin that his great-great-grandfather was in the war.
“When I joined, I knew a decent amount about the Civil War. But it was mainly because I like camping and I thought it would be fun for my son and I to do together. But when I found out we were descendants of soldiers, I got even more interested,” he said.
Mr. Layton soon headed to his cousin’s home to see some belongings of his ancestor.
“I went to her house and saw his enlistment papers and some other artifacts she had and it piqued my curiosity,” he said.
The discovery led him to get involved in genealogy to see if he had any other relatives who fought in the Civil War. Since beginning research, he has found at least 10 relatives.
“I think that if people took the time to look, they might be surprised to see they are descendants of Civil War soldiers,” he said.
As Mr. Layton became more involved in the 2nd Delaware and the Civil War, he began taking time at each battlefield the group visits to learn more about the history.
“I always make it a point to visit the local museums and we take tours of the battlefields to get a lay of the land and more information,” he said.
But members like Mr. Garton prefer a more traditional approach to history.
“I’ve picked up information here and there but I really like to read about it. I have tons of Civil War books and they’re all really interesting,” he said.
No matter how the information is acquired, the members of the 2nd Delaware need to be familiar with the history to accurately answer any questions of the public.
“You can’t just join to join,” Mr. Purdy said. “We have various tests to make sure our members are knowledgeable and we also do weapons training because all the weapons we carry are real.”
Only members older than 16 are allowed to carry weapons and must go through training with Mr. Purdy. He’s a former firearms instructor and law enforcement officer.
“We are a group of people that come from all different walks of life and have all kinds of different professions, but when it comes down to it, we are mostly history buffs that like having a good time together,” Mr. Purdy said.
As historical re-enactors, the 2nd Delaware members are paying tribute to an important unit from the Civil War. Mr. Purdy said the unit participated in almost every famous battle of the Civil War and even earned itself the nickname “The Crazy Delawares.”
“They were the only unit in the Battle of Antietam to push through Confederate lines, and even when they were surrounded, they kept moving forward. When they returned, the New York regiment said they were crazy for doing it,” he said.
The 2nd Delaware members don’t only represent the unit of their namesake, they also represent the spirit and lives of the 12,284 Delawareans who fought for the Union cause.
“It’s our responsibility to carry on the history of those who fought and make that history available to the public which is exactly what we’re going to be doing here the next couple of days,” Mr. Purdy said.
The 2nd Delaware Regiment will be set up on the Green until Sunday and will host candlelight tours and play Civil War era music tonight, starting at 7:30 p.m.