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‘Civil War Days’

Preston Plantation provides
unique setting for living history

Totten honors ancestors
with Civil War portrayal

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

BEDFORD, Ky. (June 2010) – As a child, the history surrounding the Civil War time period always interested Mike Totten. As an adult, he is able to live out that history through re-enacting in many local events centering on the Civil War.
Seven years ago Totten found a unit he liked, the 19th Virginia, and became involved in re-enacting as a way “to teach and keep history alive,” he said.
He had also become interested in researching his family tree and discovered two ancestors who were Union generals in the Civil War. Both were engineers, and both were Yankees, said Totten. When it comes to the later fact, Totten states “they were just misled.”

Mike Totten

Photo by Don Ward

Mike Totten of
Madison, Ind., enjoys
re-enacting at period
Civil War events.

Typically from April through November, Totten attends one re-enactment per month. This keeps him on the road a lot, but he enjoys what he does.
Totten will take part in this year’s “Civil War Days at Preston Plantation” on June 5-6 in Bedford. He said he likes the “authenticity of the event” best; the fact that no modern amenities are to be found makes it easier to place oneself in the 19th century mindset.
Preston Plantation is in “a very pristine location,” Totten said. At night, barges passing by on the river are the only sound you’ll hear, said the Illinois native. Cannons echoing through the valley breaks the daytime quiet, placing spectators back in time and in the midst of the war.
This free event has been held at Preston Plantation since 2000. It is located north of the Trimble County power plant off of Hwy. 1838. Cannon demonstrations will be given, mock battles will be fought between the Blue and the Gray, parlor games will be played and food vendors will be on site. Visitors are encouraged to talk with the re-enactors and visit their campsites to learn more about Trimble County history.
Saturday’s battle begins at 1:30 p.m.; Sunday’s battle begins at 1 p.m.
“We were looking for a venue to show off Trimble County,” said Pam Venard, owner of Preston Plantation along with her husband, Paul. They created “Civil War Days at Preston Plantation” and rely solely on donations to make the event happen.
In the early to mid-1800s, the large plantation was known as Norfolk Farm. Owner Robert Wickliffe (“Old Duke”) sold the farm to his daughter Mary Howard Wickliffe Preston for $1 in 1850. “Mary’s sister was best friends with Mary Todd Lincoln,” said Venard.
The original plantation was divided into 24 plots in 1902 and sold on the courthouse steps. “We have owned two plots since 1980,” said Venard. Her husband’s mother owned the land before the Venards bought it from her. They hope to preserve the land as a living history museum.
It makes the perfect setting for a weekend of exploring the Civil War era. “It’s always a fun time,” said Totten, 56.
A 24-hour tactical will be observed by the participating re-enactors from 10 a.m. Saturday morning until 10 a.m. Sunday morning, Totten said. Certain areas will be designated for re-enactors only, when battles occur each day.
“In most re-enacting, you see European-style warfare,” said Totten. At this event, visitors will view a mix of European and guerrilla warfare. “It will be surprising and fun for everyone.”
Totten was raised in Columbus, Ind., and now lives in Madison. In addition to stitching his own period clothing and tents, he sews clothes for other re-enactors as well. He often dresses as a private and as the company’s chaplain.
What he likes best about re-enacting is the fact that “it changes a lot from event to event,” he said. He enjoys the camaraderie experienced at some events, and the interaction with spectators. “It’s interesting to look at the guy standing next to you and realize what a soldier must have felt and seen.”
Totten participates in re-enactments “not just for the smoke and fire.” To him, it’s about more than firing a gun or discharging a loud cannon. It has to do with honoring individuals from the past who have fought for this country and freedom for all.
Totten is already planning for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War next year. There will be many national events taking place, he said. He has considered getting into the 1812 time-period, but for right now is happy to recreate the years 1861-1865.

• For more information about “Civil War Days at Preston Plantation,” contact the Venards at (502) 268-5858.

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