HUMBOLDT — This town will be alive with blue and gray uniforms and other vestiges of the Civil War this weekend for the 12th Humboldt Civil War Days.
The event recognizes Humboldt’s part in the bloodiest war ever fought by American forces — Union and Confederate — and also will bring to life broader views of the war, which ended 150 years ago Tuesday.
Eileen Robertson, who had an integral role in the historic celebration’s beginning and still is much involved, is a fount of information about Humboldt and its history. She returned to Humboldt, her birthplace and home while growing up as Eileen Wulf, in 1985 from California. She immediately immersed herself in the town and its doings.
Weaving her duties as a freshmen English teacher at Chanute’s Royster Junior High School around civic involvement, Robertson proposed and promoted the first Civil War Days in 1994. Then, it was on the downtown square, an incursion that didn’t sit well with all Humboldt residents. Some feared the new event would interfere with the town’s signature Biblesta, a celebration based on the Bible and including a parade that draws spectators literally from hundreds of miles around.
To avoid controversy the Civil War event was trotted about a mile south to a large vacant area west of Monarch Cement, owned by the company and its owner, conveniently Eileen’s father, Walter Wulf Sr.
Then, in 2003, Civil War Days found the perfect home, Camp Hunter Park at the southwest corner of Humboldt. The event now is held every three years, making 2015’s the fifth in the spacious park.
An aside: Camp Hunter is the name of many parks, in honor of Civil War Union Gen. David Hunter, known as “Black Dave” because of his advocacy to arm blacks. Among his various responsibilities was the Department of Kansas. Robertson likes to give credit to Sean McReynolds, a Humboldt dentist, for the park being named Camp Hunter while he was a city councilman.
ALL IS BEING arranged for this year’s event, in large measure through a committee led for years by Debbie Lake. She’s a jewel, says Robertson, who also is laudatory of all other members of the small but dedicated committee.
“It’s amazing how Civil War Days has tumbled along,” Robertson said, attracting for several years re-enactors who give presentations authenticity.
One piece of the puzzle that is Humboldt’s intricate history with the Civil War will be missing when fans gather over the weekend. A memorial on the downtown square marks the spot where a Confederate solider was shot and killed when rebels raided the town on Sept. 8, 1961.
“The history mystery is that until just in the last year we hadn’t been able to determine who shot the Confederate,” Robertson said. “It was John Bardford Tibbetts, who is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery,” a revelation that came from an article gleaned from the Register.
A second mystery, this one of modern times, is why each Memorial Day someone decorates Tibbetts’ grave with flowers. “We’d like to know,” Robertson said.
When re-enactments unfold, among those with a prominent part will be Mike Young, as Capt. Miller. Miller was a doctor in Humboldt and rode with Company G, Kansas 9th Cavalry, which was billeted at Camp Hunter through much of the war. Young’s participation is meaningful to Robertson: “He was one of my students when I taught English at Royster.”
ANYONE WITH even a cursory knowledge of the Civil War would think of Abraham Lincoln, newly elected Republican president when Confederate forces precipitated the war with a 34-hour-long shelling of Fort Sumter, S.C., a Union stronghold. The battle began at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, just a month after Lincoln was sworn in for his first term. Lincoln will be heard, via an actor.
An expert on the president will join others who have studied their subjects extensively to portray with unfailing accuracy Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, Frederick Douglass, a black abolitionist and statesman, and John Brown, a fervent abolitionist well known in Kansas.
They will speak on Saturday, which is the premier day for the event.
All gets underway at 9 a.m. at Camp Hunter Park. Re-enactment of events, including the raid of Humboldt, are at 11 a.m. and 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. However, hardly a minute will tick by without some form of entertainment or educational interlude.
Friday evening a dance will start at 7:30 in Humboldt High’s old gymnasium — the one connected to the school — at 1020 New York St.
Sunday, Humboldt Historical Museum, Second and Neosho streets, will open at 1 p.m., with bus tours of specific historical sites and markers throughout town also available. At 2:30 p.m. Bill Fischer, of Ft. Scott National Historic Site, will bring history alive at Riverside School, an adjunct on the museum grounds. Among his topics will be the 1st Kansas Colored Troops.