Civil War salute
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Shown are some of close to 40 members of the 81st Pa. Volunteer Infantry Regiment who gathered at the Tamaqua train station on Saturday for their annual banquet. The event was hosted by Bill and Sheri Beltz of the Restaurant at the Station.
The pages of the calendar were turned back 140 years on Saturday night in Tamaqua.
It was the right thing to do, said members of the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company K. And Tamaqua's restored 1874 train depot was the perfect place to do it.
"The atmosphere is good here," said Brian Dunningan, Eckley. "My wife and I have eaten here and we felt this was a good place for the 81st."
Dunnigan, a re-enactor for over 20 years, is a member of the Pa. Volunteer Infantry (PVI) and the United States Sharpshooters. PVI members honor the original Civil War regiment while the Sharpshooters' members pay homage to an 1860s group raised in response to a proposal by Hiram Berdan, a noted inventor and first class target shooter. Dunnigan can trace his family lineage to a direct connection with the PVI.
"My great-great uncle was a member of the 81st," said Dunnigan, a popular lecturer on topics such as mining, unionism, and other heritage-related topics. A native of West Hazleton, Dunnigan also is involved with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 3, Hazleton. Dunnigan and 35 other PVI members spent Saturday celebrating all things Civil War.
PVI archivist Ted Dombroski, Hazleton, pointed out another reason why Tamaqua was a good choice for the group's annual banquet the PVI's Congressional of Honor awardee was a local man.
"He was Thomas Robinson of Tamaqua, a coal miner," said Dombroski, a re-enactor for over 15 years. "He was an Irishman who stood 6 feet 3 inches. He captured a Confederate flag at Spotsylvania in hand-to-hand combat."
According to historical accounts, Private Robinson was a member of Company H.
"He enlisted in Summit Hill," said Dombroski.
Robinson was born in Ireland. His act of bravery on the Spotsylvania battlefield resulted in his receipt of the Congressional medal on May 12, 1864.
The 81st PVI also included Company G, with recruits from Mauch Chunk, and Company I, with men from Lehighton, and other companies from various locations.
The original Company K was based in Eckley. Today, reenactors come from a wide region.
Before the banquet, a business meeting took place. But first, Captain Scott Kuchta of Huntington Mills, gathered many of the unit for a group photo in front of the depot. According to Kuchta, 38 of the original 100 men of Company K were from Eckley, with the remainder from Summit Hill, Mauch Chunk, Hazleton, Weatherly and other towns. Three additional companies came from Carbon County and another six from Philadelphia.
Members take pride in their role of recreating Company K with authenticity and devotion to the era. It can be an expensive hobby. One wool outfit and accessories can cost $2,500. Members take part in battle re-enactments, parades and social gatherings. Many research the individual lives and stories of the original infantry. At Eckley, Company K volunteers have cleaned the cemetery and performed other chores at the group's base of operations.
The unit was hosted in Tamaqua by Bill and Sheri Beltz in the Restaurant at the Station, where period music was played as members arrived. Then, as the program began, special Civil War-era tunes were coordinated by PVI member Mark Regulski of Nanticoke, who works as a DJ.
"I just love to go back in time," said Barbara Kundrik, Freeland, dressed in an elaborate gathered-bodice period outfit in black with a ruffled, burgundy, brocade jacket and ball gown skirt.
Tom Curney, Drums, a re-enactor since 1989, said members share a common interest.
"We're all into antiques and collectibles."
Dombroski said he was glad to finally have a chance to visit the depot where its feel of the late 1800s is a good fit for Company K.
"This is my first time here," said Dombroski. "My wife and I heard about it. The atmosphere here is right."
With the call for three-year regiments by President Abraham Lincoln, a veteran of the Mexican War named James Miller, began recruiting for the 81st PVI in August of 1861. On the 10th of October, the regiment proceeded to Washington and went into camp at Kendall Green. Here the regiment would be placed into the first Brigade, first Division, of the Second Army Corps, where it would remain for the rest of the war.
According to historical accounts, the regiment was superbly drilled during its first months as part of the Army of the Potomac, battling Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, until Lee's surrender in 1865.