Blue & the Gray

Sassafras Tea Festival features Civil War living history events

Event marks its 151st anniversary of
the end of the Civil War

VERNON, Ind. (April 2016) – The Vernon Greys are a unique group of Civil War living history interpreters. They portray a part of Indiana history that many people know nothing about, the Indiana Legion, which eventually became the Indiana National Guard.
“We participate in events such as Civil War battle reenactments, living history encampments, educational presentations and parades. We travel all over the state of Indiana as well as forays into Kentucky, Tennessee and possibly this year to Michigan,” said member Terry Furgason, 9th Indiana Legion (Vernon Greys) & 6th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

Photo provided

Re-enactors are pictured above from previous years’ Civil War Living History events in Vernon, Ind. The annual festival features battle re-enactments and demonstrations.

The Vernon Greys were organized in 2007 to represent Company A, 9th Regiment (Jennings) of the Indiana Legion, the home guard. In 2012 the unit joined the 6th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry (the first Regiment formed in Indiana at the start of the Civil War) to represent Company B from Jennings County.
Members of the group feel, “the importance of representing our ancestors and telling their stories,” Furgason said. “We have researched our original group with documents from Indy, from first-hand information.”
He cautioned, “Do not let the grey uniform fool you. We are Union since all units from Indiana in the early war wore grey uniforms. We wear blue as the 6th Indiana.”
The unit will be camped in Vernon, Ind. during the 53rd Sassafras Tea Festival, set for April 23-24. A large Civil War-era encampment will be erected on the Jennings County Courthouse lawn and around town.
Demonstrations such as blacksmithing, run weaving, quilting, spinning, period music and horsemanship will be ongoing. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, with the Civil War camp opening to the public at 9 a.m.
“The battles that take place at the park are loosely scripted around historical battles, but no “battle” occurred in Jennings County or any other county in Indiana,” said Furgason. He will portray Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace, who came to Vernon during John Hunt Morgan’s Raid.
“We saw some skirmishes with the Raiders (and even captured some of them), but the battle was avoided when Morgan changed his mind about attacking and retreated to Ohio where he was captured.”
Begun in 1961 in Vernon as a spring get-together for the community, the Sassafras Tea Festival has gained in popularity over the years. It was expanded to include Civil War Living History and has become one of the most popular events around.
“Sassafras tea and cookies were served at the museum and roots were bundled and sold at the first festival,” said Chris Asher, festival chair and director of the Jennings County Historical Society. For over half a century, the historical society and community volunteers have celebrated the history of the tiny, historic town with a two-day festival every April.
Asher said that in 1992, “the historical society expanded the tea festival to include Civil War Living History and the huge bake sale of fresh homemade pies and breads.” The sale of baked goods raises money for the Jennings County Historical Society, which runs a museum located across from the courthouse.
“Quickly, the event became very popular and now over 6,000 attendees pour into the town of Vernon for the two-day event,” Asher said. “Over 700 pies are made fresh at the museum and sold throughout the weekend.”
As if that wasn’t enough to tempt your taste buds, hot meals consisting of ham and beans, cornbread, chicken and noodles, vegetable soup and a bounty of desserts are cooked fresh and served in the museum’s dining room.
The museum is located at 134 E. Brown St. in the North American House, and the building also serves as headquarters for the Jennings County Historical Society. It was originally built as an inn for stagecoach stops in 1838. When stagecoach lines were replaced by the railroad, the building continued to serve as an inn and now relates the history of the town through its many artifacts and various programs that are offered annually.
A special addition to the schedule of events is an Underground Railroad Tour at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and again at 3 p.m. Sunday, beginning at the museum. “Many locations in Vernon have evidence of being part of the Underground Railroad with tunnels, hidden compartments in basements and attics. The tour guides tell the story of Jennings County’s Underground Railroad connections and walk from place to place in Vernon,” said Asher.
A Blue-Grey Ball is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday at the Vernon Gym. The ball is free and open to the public
Free cookies, sassafras tea and museum tours will be given throughout the weekend. “Sassafras tea is made from the roots of sassafras trees and it is a spring time tradition for the historical society,” according to Asher.
“As you can see, we have something for everyone, and the event has been endorsed as a Jennings County Bicentennial Legacy Event, of which we are very proud,” said Asher.

• For more information, call the Jennings County Historical Society at (812) 346-8989 or visit www.jenningscounty.org.

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