Michael Eckers will be appearing at the Fillmore County History Center as Henry Sibley, the first governor of Minnesota, on Saturday, Oct. 19. He will share information about local soldiers from the Civil War and their contributions to the war effort.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Michael Eckers will be appearing at the Fillmore County History Center as Henry Sibley, the first governor of Minnesota, on Saturday, Oct. 19. He will share information about local soldiers from the Civil War and their contributions to the war effort. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Michael Eckers puts the Civil War under your fingernails.

"Some of my relatives fought in the American Civil War - from Iowa and Wisconsin - and I've heard their stories since I was very young," Eckers explained. "It happens I am the 14th consecutive generation in my family that has served in defending our homes here, dating back to the King Phillip War before the U.S. was the U.S. I also had a great history teacher back in junior high that inspired me to believe that 'it isn't history if it's not under your fingernails.'"

Civil War history interpreter Eckers will appear as Henry Sibley, first governor of Minnesota and commander of the Dakota Expeditions of 1862 and 1863 at the Fillmore County History Center (FCHC) on Saturday, Oct. 19.

He related how he became fascinated with history, be it Civil War or World War I or World War II history.

"My family first moved to Minnesota in 1842 or so along with the Winnebago Indians to Long Prairie, up near Fort Ripley. That was seven years before we became a territory," Eckers said. "My great-great-grandfather knew men like Henry Sibley, Alexander Ramsey and Franklin Steele."

Eckers currently lives in Owatonna but grew up in St. Louis Park as a "city kid."

He has studied American history for more than 40 years and has written six books. He is retired from a career in the Postal Service, spent four years in the Navy at the end of Vietnam and loves to share his growing knowledge of the nation's history.

Eckers is known to appear in full Union brigadier general's or colonel's uniform and speak about the contributions local Civil War contemporaries made to the war's progress, quite often telling about how an individual experienced the unrest.

He noted, "I enjoy sharing personal stories about life during a time of crisis - both in the front lines and back home. A civil war, by definition, becomes one where everybody is involved. Domestic sibling rivalry becomes something akin to 'sizzling riflery,' as I like to say."

Eckers explained that he tries to bring local stories into his presentations and uses references to those who may have fought from the area he is speaking in.

"Personal stories about real people - brothers against brothers, fathers against sons - these are issues that engage and become very intimate. Statistics about battles, casualties, costs of war, this information can be easily obtained from everyday places like the Internet," he said. "I like to present more personal tidbits that grab you and won't let go without more thought."

Eckers could speak on just about any subject involving the 1860s in American history, and especially Minnesota.

"Normally I focus on Minnesotans when I speak in our state, as this begins that connection with the local history I mentioned earlier," he explained. "I've portrayed several different soldiers, from a very young sharpshooter from Steele County to a major general named J.B. Sanborn who graces the rotunda of the State Capitol in St. Paul. Often the character enhances the presentation, and sometimes it actually distracts from the message."

His uniform, weaponry and artifacts usually enrich his interpretation of Union Civil War history. "I bring an assortment of 'my toys,' as I call them, and usually a couple of original artifacts - weapons, daily life things, et cetera," Eckers explained. "To schools, I often bring food and other things that students find interesting. I also 'dress the part,' appearing as a Union colonel or brigadier general. This alone causes many questions about the uniform and gear I'm wearing."

Eckers is glad to take questions from the audience.

"To answer all of my own has taken more than 40 years and I haven't thought of all of them yet," he admitted. Eckers also said he relishes "the challenge of keeping all ages engaged."

From sharing information about ancestry, which interests the older audience members to Civil War iPods and gaming systems, which fascinates the younger ones, Eckers continues to strive to present information about something old in a new way.

"I guarantee every person that comes ready to learn will take away something new about something old," he said.

Director Debra Richardson is pleased to have Eckers present his program at the Fillmore County History Center.

"This is Michael's encore with us, since he presented a well-received and popular program two years ago as we opened our series of Civil War programs to commemorate the 150th anniversary," Richardson added. "This time, he'll focus on the unique contributions that Fillmore County brought to the conflict. He'll be bringing home the battles of 1863 as they relate to our hometown boys in blue. Michael always comes dressed for success - in full uniform. His presentations are both informative and entertaining. As Michael likes to say: 'History is something to look forward to...'."

Richardson promises the main take-away will be just how important and immense the contributions of the local soldiers were to the success and resolution of the Civil War. She said one old soldier from Fillmore County recalled the Civil War as being "the war between relatives."

The program, which will last approximately one hour, is the final of the museum's 2013 Civil War series, but Richardson promised more engaging presentations for the coming season.

"To get us through the long winter ahead, we're sharing a teaser for our first event of 2014: Independent historian and author Curtis Dahlin will be bringing his program in late April," Richardson said. "Dahlin will draw material from his numerous books to present information on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota. Dahlin is the author of 'The Dakota Uprising: A Pictorial History'."

Until then, history devotees will be satisfied to know that Eckers will have copies of his books to sign and sell, and that everyone is invited to stay for coffee following the program.

Richardson said the history center will honor the volunteer of the year and celebrate the contributions of all its volunteers over this past year.

FCHC's annual meeting and elections will follow coffee hour, at which point interested persons may choose to join the museum's roster of supporters.

"This is also our traditional time of year to recruit new membership, so please consider joining our group in support of local history and programs such as this one," Richardson concluded. "See membership secretary Bernie Finke for details on membership levels."

Eckers will speak at the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 1 p.m. The program is open to the public.

For more information on the program, call the Fillmore County History Center at (507) 268-4449 or log on to Eckers's website at www.michaeleckers.com.