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Reactivated Civil War regiment a summer staple at Lincoln Tomb

Published Sunday, August 07, 2005

As the sun sets behind the giant trees surrounding Abraham Lincoln's Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, a group of men dressed in dark-blue wool military uniforms load their rifles in unison and fire to the fourth beat of a drum.

The group reloads and waits for the drum signal again. After three volleys, some in the group fire a Civil War cannon, and three of the blue-clad soldiers step forward to lower the American and regimental flags that blow in the slight wind that swirls around the tomb.

The American flag, folded into a perfect triangle, is not just taken down for the evening. Rather, it is given to one of the hundreds of families that typically attend the weekly retreat ceremony conducted at the tomb by the 114th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry Reactivated.

"We reflect an image of the city by doing this type of ceremony," said Don Ferricks, who has participated in the ritual for 23 years. "It brings tourists and shows the pride and dedication the people of Springfield have, to come out every week."

The original 114th Illinois Regiment was organized at Springfield's Camp Butler in the fall of 1862. The unit fought in the Civil War until 1865 and then was disbanded.

But the 114th was "reactivated" as a Civil War re-enactment unit in 1969.The flag lowering and retreat, conducted at 7 p.m. every Tuesday from June 7 until Aug. 30, is the unit's best-known regular activity.

"I'm fascinated every time I come out here," said Dave Manion, a nine-year participant. "I'm struck by the pride we have and really appreciate the history."

The ceremony and retreat include songs played with a drum and bugle, marching and military configurations, and the lowering of the flag over the tomb. The members of the 114th wear copies of Civil War uniforms and fire blank cartridges from replica rifles.

Throughout the ceremony, the regiment marches to orders from 1st Lt. Shawn McLane, who has been involved with the 114th since he was 14 years old.

"I've always had an interest in the Civil War," McLane said. "My dad brought me out here (to see the ceremony) and I've been doing it ever since."

Though the regiment's routine generally is similar to the original, parts of it have changed over the years, said Bob Graham, a charter member and colonel of the regiment. The event previously took place at Lincoln's Home National Historic Site, but federal law changed so that gunpowder was not allowed in national parks and historic sites.

The regiment also used to give away Illinois state flags rather than the American flag.

"We got to thinking that people from Kansas or Arkansas wouldn't really care about having an Illinois flag. So we decided to give away American flags so no matter where they're from, they can use it," Graham said.

Members of the unit said giving the flag away is one of the most special parts of the ceremony.

"When an old veteran gets a flag, you can see a tear in his eye," Ferricks said. "That really means something."

Graham said the regiment has about 30 men on its roster, including six charter members who still are participating. Many of the men were in the military or have family who are, and two members have ancestors who were in the original 114th Regiment.

Their participation in the unit, and their interest in Civil War events, led several to be cast as soldiers for battle scenes in TV miniseries "North and South"(1985) and the movie "Glory"(1989).

"It was an experience I'll never forget," Graham said. "It's really different if you've never been behind the scenes. It was unimaginable."

The 114th also does outreach programs in local schools to teach children the history of the original regiment and its involvement in the Civil War, as well as perform private salutes at the graves of servicemen who have passed away.

Although regiment participation is strictly voluntary, members said their performance each week is done not only for personal enjoyment, but also in remembrance of those who have fought for American ideals.

"It helps to keep our heritage alive and the memory of soldiers from Illinois and from Springfield," McLane said.

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