Civil War reenactors take aim at history

Civil War reenactors take aim at history
In this June 23, 2012, photo, members of the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Co. B Civil War re-enactors perform a shooting drill at Fort Hoskins Historic Park in Rural Benton County, Ore. The group is preparing for a larger battle reenactment next weekend at Willamette Mission State Park near Keizer. (AP Photo/The Corvallis Gazette-Times, Andy Cripe)

FORT HOSKINS, Ore. (AP) — Think people can't feel relaxed after three days in the bloodiest war in American history?

John Baker, a Salem real estate broker and sergeant of the 116th Pennsylvania volunteer infantry, said a weekend of his unique hobby — Civil War reenacting — is refreshing.

Baker and members of his regiment set up an encampment on a Friday night and ran military drills throughout the day on Saturday at Fort Hoskins Historic Park.

It's a chance, said Capt. Kevin Burton, for civilians to gain the "soldier's experience."

"It's an opportunity for anyone to put on a uniform and get their feet wet," Burton said.

And he meant it literally. The diary pages of soldiers who slept on the ground of Fort Hoskins, a military post built for monitoring Confederate activity in the Willamette Valley, indicate rain was a reccurring theme.

Pointing to the ground under his leather boots, Baker said, "This is where enlisted men's quarters were. They were writing diary entries here in 1864 ... We're actually on the ground where they were drilling."

Reenactors, who are history buffs by nature, have access to more than just weather patterns in old journal entries — also emotional and physical suffering.

The ability to bring to life one of the country's defining events is why Baker has been reenacting for 14 years.

"We're linked here," Baker said. "I've had flashes where there's nothing modern in my 'viewscape.'"

He described an instance in which his view of the rebel army was obscured by smoke from fired muskets, and when the smoke cleared to reveal the enemy lines, "the hair stood up on the back of my neck."

For Cole Cochrane of Pedee, a reenactor since age 12 and now a sergeant for the 116th Pennsylvania, such moments influenced his decision to join the Oregon National Guard.

Almost all reenactors in the 116th Pennsylvania have served in some sort of military unit. Though they aim to follow the same procedures and regulations as soldiers of the Civil War, the atmosphere, Cochrane joked, is slightly more laid back than the National Guard.

"Though I have been made to do pushups," he said.

The 116th Pennsylvania was happy Saturday to welcome their newest member, 13-year-old Colton Evers from St. Paul.

Evers, whose interest in the Civil War period was piqued by movies and his grandfather's war stories, was led through military commands and procedures so he is prepared for the larger-scale reenactments the unit participates in throughout the summer.

Among those procedures is the art of dying in front of an audience. According to Baker, there are many creative dying methods, and some soldiers use those methods several times in a single battle.

"You recycle," he said. "Soldiers can die numerous times."

It takes a certain type of person to dress in four layers of period garb and avoid all things modern for a weekend.

"I never understood the Civil War until I started reenacting," said Cpl. Mark Stevens of Dallas, who has taken his love and understanding for the war into schools. "It brings it alive for the kids."

Study of the war and the period, Stevens added, blurs the line between simply pretending and reliving history.

"Through reading, you find a way to weave it into history," Baker said. "I've been killed a couple times and lived to tell the tale."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press