You wouldn't know it based on what's alive in the popular imagination, but Long Island actually has a significant Civil War history.
In the war's early days, Camp Winfield Scott -- located on the Hempstead Plains in what is now Garden City -- was a training site for soldiers from the 3rd New Hampshire Volunteers and the 8th Maine Infantry Regiment.
To celebrate Long Island's Civil War legacy, the Company H 119th New York Volunteers Historical Association will resurrect Camp Scott at Old Bethpage Village Restoration with a living history re-enactment this weekend. It will offer visitors the chance to walk around the grounds and observe a detailed portrait of what life was like for soldiers on the cusp of combat.
"What we'll be doing is showing how the soldiers learned to be soldiers," says Jim McKenna, Old Bethpage Village Restoration's site director.
Attendees will be presented with a comprehensive overview of the training process at Camp Scott. The real Camp Scott soldiers spent about 20 days learning military basics, such as the drilling process and the ways their weapons worked, before being sent to the front.
Some of the about 50 participating re-enactors, dressed in authentic period uniforms, will resurrect those drills and bayonet exercises, fire their muskets and perform field maneuvers. Lucky visitors might get to join in as well.
"If there are some willing participants in the crowd, a lot of times we'll have somebody drill kids with wooden rifles," says event coordinator/Company H re-enactor Rob Weber, 51, of Farmingdale, a lieutenant in the field. Not to worry: The "weapons" aren't real.
Beyond military exercises, the re-enactors will offer a wide-ranging depiction of the many facets of life at Camp Scott. Spend some time at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration this weekend, and you'll hear traditional Civil War music and watch the camp inspection process. You'll see church services, as well as the recruitment of new volunteers.
It's a rare chance to observe a camp from the beginning of the war, when things were new to everyone. Participants will painstakingly reflect the general uncertainty of the early 1861 period, when enlisted men and officers were getting a feel for the burgeoning conflict.
The soldiers will be cooking, too, but you might want to bring your own food to camp. The Civil War diet of hardtack (saltless hard biscuits or crackers) and salted meats could wreak havoc on your digestive system.
"You can come down and try the food. I dare you to," Weber says, laughing. "Typically, people say, 'You're not going to eat that, are you?'"
Long Island and the war
At the end of the day, the living history promises a wide-ranging glimpse at the underrated, important role Long Island played in the defining conflict of American history. You'll learn a lot about this seminal training camp, McKenna says, and the men whose lives were irrevocably altered there.
The most important message of all, according to Weber and McKenna: The Civil War does not belong exclusively to Southerners.
They hope that staging Camp Scott concurrent to the 150th anniversary of the 1861 start of the war will help stress that to visitors, emphasizing the essential need to look toward that shared past to better understand the present and the future.
Camp Scott Civil War re-enactment
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Old Bethpage
INFO 516-572-8400, nassaucountyny.gov/parks
ADMISSION $10 ($7 ages 5-12)