Re-enacter provides entertaining Civil War history lesson in Rushford

Civil War re-enacter Arn Kind drilled “recruits” from the audience on the proper handling of rifles at his presen- tation last week at the Rushford Legion. TCR/SCOTT BESUL
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The Civil War may have ended 153 years ago, but it came alive to Rushford residents last week.

Arn Kind, a former teacher and lifelong history buff, entertained a standing-room-only crowd at the Rushford American Legion with a two-hour program devoted to the bloody conflict. Armed with a dizzying array of facts and statistics, uniforms and equipment, rifles and even a harmonica, Kind taught Civil War history like he’d lived through it.

Kind has, in a manner 
of speaking, been there.
As a member of the First Minnesota Volunteer In
fantry Regiment, a reenactment group based out
of Ft. Snelling, Kind has immersed himself in the world of the Union soldier. The First Minnesota is so famous for its authentic depiction of the 19th century that members have appeared in several documentaries, as well as feature films such as Dances With Wolves, The Blue & the Gray, North & South, Gettysburg, and Gods & Generals.

Interestingly, the presentation started with music. Using only a harmonica, Kind ran through a principle of freedom, yet owned slaves themselves— had “swept the issue under the rug” and allowed hu- man bondage to fester in the country since its inception. “From 1618 through 1808, 550,000 slaves were brought to this country,” Kind noted. “Congress banned further importation starting in 1808, but an additional 50,000 were smuggled in illegally after the ban.”

While northerners focused on this issue, for many in the South, the battle was more about lifestyle. “The entire southern economy was based on agriculture,” Kind said. “And in the early years of the country, the northern states—who embraced industry—traded freely with the agricultural South. But tariffs on ag goods were passed in congress as more northern states were added to the union. The original seven states who seceded from the Union felt their way of life was being threatened. Virtually none of the Confederate soldiers who fought in the war even owned a slave.”

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Kind’s presentation was his encyclopedic knowledge of the daily lives of soldiers from both sides. Uniforms, tents, gear, weaponry....Kind not only had them all on hand, but shared them with the audience as he talked about their use. Though some of the items may have looked familiar to any- one with even a passing interest in the Civil War other items, such as the many versions of the Confederate flag, were truly unique. “The flag we recognize as the rebel flag, the one that continues to generate controversy today, was never the official flag of the Confederacy,” Kind said. “By the time they finally settled on a design, the war was nearly over.”

Kind’s talk also emphasized Minnesota’s contribution to the Civil War. Indeed, an infantry regiment (1,000 men) from Minnesota was the first to volunteer for duty, long before Abraham Lincoln even asked for troops. Gopher State volunteers would number over 22,000 before the war ended in 1865, and that number represented 10% of the state’s entire population, and those soldiers were well known for their bravery. “Casualties were high for Minnesota’s soldiers,” Kind said. “But for every man who died from war wounds, two would die from diseases like dysentery, mumps, measles and water-borne diseases.

And the last living Civil War vet- eran—Albert Woolson, who died in 1959 at the age of 109—was from Minnesota.”

Kind ended his program by recruiting volunteers from the audience to drill with mock rifles. There was no shortage of recruits, both young and old, who learned how to march, handle muskets, and even die with valor on the field. Kind’s soldiers were eager and obedient, and the audience clearly enjoyed watching locals perform so well. Kind’s presentation was co-sponsored by the Rushford Public Library and the Rushford Lions Club.