Pres. Lincoln visits Kempton Civil War Days

President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by descendant Ralph Lincoln, gives his Gettysburg Address at the Kempton Civil War Days on May 20.
President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by descendant Ralph Lincoln, gives his Gettysburg Address at the Kempton Civil War Days on May 20. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media
Civil War Days was held at WK&S Railroad in Kempton May 20. President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by descendant Ralph Lincoln, talks to the Alden family during the Lincoln Express train ride.
Civil War Days was held at WK&S Railroad in Kempton May 20. President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by descendant Ralph Lincoln, talks to the Alden family during the Lincoln Express train ride. Lisa Mitchell - Digital First Media

President Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by descendant Ralph Lincoln, made a Presidential appearance at the Kempton Civil War Days on May 20.

Lincoln arrived with Presidential fanfare on a train at WK&S Railroad in Kempton and was greeted by a band playing Civil War era music and families eager to meet the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln was also greeted by General Ulysses S. Grant, portrayed by Ken Serfass.

Families had the opportunity to ride the rails with the President on the Lincoln Express. Afterward, Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.

Loretta Alden of Kempton brought her family to the Civil War Days on May 20. Her grandchildren, who are homeschooled, are studying the Civil War.

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“It helps to cement their studies that they’re doing at home. They have a connection to what they have learned,” said Alden.

In particular, they were studying about President Lincoln and actually had the opportunity to talk to him while riding the Lincoln Express.

Wanamaker, Kempton and Southern Railroad or WK& S Railroad teamed up with the Albany Township Historical Society and Kempton Community Center to host the two-day event featuring living history of the Civil War.

“The purpose of today is to raise money to bring steam back to the WK&S. Steam is a major attraction. That’s what people want to ride behind, a steam engine,” said WK&S treasurer Linda Hartman.

She said that their steam engine needs to be renovated and inspected.

This was the first time hosting the Civil War Days. Hartman explained that the Civil War Days came about last summer after Hartman met living historian Ken Serfass who portrays General Ulysses S. Grant, who at the time was visiting WK&S. He wanted to help the Railroad get back on its feet.

“We had an embezzlement that had taken place where basically all of our money had been stolen,” said Hartman. “So he said as a child he would ride the train here. That was his goal (to help the Railroad get back on its feet) and this is what he does. It’s his passion and what he does throughout the entire year.”

Hartman loved the idea and soon Kempton Community Center and Albany Township Historical Society joined in sponsorship of the event.

“We discovered that the Community Center was interested in doing something along the line of a Civil War re-enactment and the gentleman with (Serfass) was from Albany Township Historical Society. We decided that the three groups were going to work together.”

Lucy Muth, President of the Albany Township Historical Society, said all three groups are located nearby one another.

“It’s a unique situation for a community to have those groups all contiguous and working together,” said Muth.

The Historical Society sponsored a presentation by Ken Serfass as General Ulysses S. Grant about activities of the railroad during the Civil War.

History jumped off the pages of the history books as living historians portrayed life of the Civil War in encampments and on the train. Attendees could experience the Civil War through the memories of the soldiers, spies and politicians who lived during the 1800s during presentations.

Living historian John Voris of Chester County portrayed the President’s secretary John G. Nicolay.

“I hope they get a great train ride and also supporting the Railroad. That is something I and other living historians do. We go and donate our time and what we know about the Civil War to tell the public,” said Voris.

“I think the lesson we need to learn from this is to not make the same mistakes and have this happen again to the country,” added General Ulysses S. Grant, portrayed by Ken Serfass.

Lancaster County author Joel A. Moore of Narvon, who wrote the Civil War series, ‘Journey Into Darkness,’ set up camp with drummer boy, Johnny Clem, and other boys of the Civil War at the event.

Moore said Tammy Wunderlich and her sons, Paul [who portrayed Sergeant John Lincoln Clem], James [Johnny’s confederate friend from when he was captured by the Confederates], and Andy [whose grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and whose hat he wore], had an outstanding time. They were the only ones to camp overnight throughout the event.

“We have all worked previously with President Lincoln and General Grant, and enjoyed meeting General and Mrs. Lee on Sunday,” said Moore. “The boys also had the opportunity to ride in the engine cab on Sunday.”

On Saturday, Paul helped Moore with a presentation about the real boys of the Civil War while his mother and brothers rode the train with Lincoln.

“We also enjoyed private time with Lincoln on Friday as he was visiting with me as we set up camp. We all went to dinner together after the camp was set.”

During the course of the weekend, he said Lincoln, Grant, Lee, and Secretary Nicolay gathered for a discussion with an audience of visitors. Mrs. Lee added some comments of her own from the audience.

He said Lincoln made a private presentation to an audience at another time, sharing his family history from his uncle’s farmstead neighboring the Boones in Birdsboro, intermarrying with the Boones, and traveling south then to Kentucky with the Boones.

“On Sunday, General and Mrs. Lee spoke to an audience about their experiences, including the loss of their beloved Arlington.”

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.