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Call me superstitious, but I feel unlucky whenever a cannon is pointed directly at me. So I felt glad when they turned this one downfield, where the Southern army was massing it’s forces—all twenty of them, from what I could judge. Granted, it wasn’t much of a massing, but it’s hard to muster up Confederate troops these days. Union troops, too, for that matter. Nevertheless, between the two sides there looked to be enough players to make a skirmish, though the presence of the cannon suggested that it might be a short one.

Lisa and I were at historic Bowen’s Mills in northern Barry County, where a Civil War battle reenactment was about to commence. For the past couple of hours since our arrival, the Union platoon had been hanging about near the village green as visitors strolled through the grounds, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Cider Days Festival.

I’ve known about Bowen’s Mills for years, but I had never taken the time to explore it. Man, what I was missing! There is far more to the place than I ever imagined. With its active mill that produces everything from buckwheat flour to apple cider; its historic buildings dating as far back as 1840; its arts and entertainment center for weddings and social events; its animal farm with sheep, chickens, Percherons, and an old Tom turkey that loves to be petted; and more, this is a destination location, a wonderful place to put on your calendar and make an afternoon of.

In the encampment on the periphery of the battlefield, numerous men and women in period attire created an atmosphere of authenticity as they plied their crafts. From tent to tent, you could see demonstrations of everything from old cookware and campfire meals to prototype sewing machines and handmade garments.

By and by, the Union platoon filed into position up by the old gristmill. Hats came off, a dedicatory prayer was said, three salvos were fired into the air, and then the troops marched into position in anticipation of battle.

They didn’t have long to wait. In short order, a small cloud of children fled screaming from the old schoolhouse at the far end of the village, announcing the arrival of the Confederate army. Then the shooting commenced.

I was impressed by the quantity of lead that flew. I was even more impressed by the low mortality rate, but that was just wisdom. With the limited number of soldiers on hand, each side had to conserve on the dying or there’d have been no one left to fight by the time the action moved upfield in front of the audience. The result was that both sides whanged away at each other for quite a while without anyone scoring a hit. It was some petrifyingly poor shooting; they’d have inflicted as much damage on each other playing Parcheesi. Even the cannon, which went off suddenly with a bone-gelling blast, produced no effect other than possibly, in some of the onlookers, an intense longing for a change of underwear.

By and by, though, the conflict shifted to directly in front of us, and at that point a Union soldier finally took a ball. It killed him instantly, from all appearances, though not so thoroughly that he didn’t manage to pull his hat over his face a few minutes later to shield his eyes from the sun. It’s not easy being a corpse.

Shortly after, a rebel soldier went down, sprawled spread-eagle on the ground, his fingers twitching. Now we were getting somewhere. A young Union troop was next, and this guy really went the extra mile. He’d brought with him a little cap of red dye that he could chomp down on, and…well, you get the picture. The carnage was underway.

While I’m poking a bit of gentle fun at some of the humorous points in this drama, let me say plainly that it was superbly done, offering a fascinating taste of the Civil War battlefield. The engagement was well-scripted, the actors put their hearts into their roles while at the same time clearly having fun, and I enjoyed the show immensely. The Union army eventually drove away the invaders and the village was saved, which was what we’d all been hoping for. Then, as the smoke cleared—there was a lot of smoke—the casualties miraculously picked themselves up off the ground, the crowd clapped and cheered, the troops took a bow, and everyone was happy.

Barry County has some beautiful jewels tucked away in its rural setting, and Bowen’s Mills is one of them. If you live anywhere within a hundred miles, don’t be like me and wait half your life before you discover it. Hop in the car and go. And bring your camera. You’ll be making some memories that you’ll want to revisit.






Written by Dave.