Civil War re-enactments attract history buffs of all agesFirst you hear the cannons booming. Then the acrid smell of smoke assaults your nostrils.
That's when you realize you're in a war zone. Not only that, you've been transported back in time to the 1860s and the War Between the States is under way at Fort Stevens State Park in Warrenton.
The actual war resulted in tremendous loss of life on both sides. It wreaked havoc on the countryside and tore families apart, pitting brother against brother. But the re-enactment that transformed Old Fort Stevens over Labor Day weekend does just the opposite. For spectators and participants, it's definitely a family affair.
Joe Leas, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Seaside, and his wife, Virginia, are spectators, but their grandchildren are re-enactors. Two grandsons are with the 19th Indiana Volunteers, who were in a skirmish on Saturday, said Leas, who studied history in college and attended some summer sessions at Gettysburg.
"They're in it mainly because it's something Grandma and Grandpa wanted them to do," he said. "They like history, but they'll gain their appreciation by hands-on experience. Reading about it is one thing, but when you can come and live it, that seems to be a lot better learning experience," Leas said.
The Leas' grandchildren are Matthew and Chris Senick and Annabelle and Michael Stafford, all of Seaside.
"At their age, they don't really understand it, except that for this weekend they set aside their Gameboys, their TVs and all of their electronic devices and they come out and spin their tops and learn to play the games that kids played 140 or so years ago," said Leas.
For some people, like Art Spond, Civil War re-enactment becomes an all-consuming hobby.
"Reenactment is my life," said Spond, a Salem resident, originally from Nashville, Tenn. "I dream about it. I think about it 24 hours a day. I told my wife and boys, 'when I get laid to rest, I'm going to be in my Johnny Reb uniform.'"
Spond's youngest boy, 15 year-old Eric, was with him. Both are privates in the 15th Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Eric, wearing a sack coat of gray wool, has been a re-enactor since he was five years old. His father got started in 1987, when he was in his mid-thirties. They go to 10 re-enactments a year.
"I'm a Southerner. It's my heritage," the elder Spond explained. His wife, however, stayed at home in Salem. "My wife doesn't like camping."
And you have to like camping to be a re-enactor. Tents covered just about every square foot of the grounds around Old Fort Stevens all weekend. Some were primitively furnished, others quite elaborate - with fancy furniture, dishes and decorations. There were hospital tents, boarding house tents, and tents where sutlers, who supplied provisions to the troops, had their wares on sale.
Everyone was wearing Civil War era clothing, even six-month old Lily Robinson, dressed in a one-piece nightgown like an upside-down stocking cap with sleeves. Lily and her grandma, Kathleen Robinson, of Woodburn, whose tent in the Confederate encampment is a boarding house, are southern refugees with the 9th Virginia Regiment of Cavalry.
"We're getting ready to prepare lunch to sell to people who live here in town that want to eat," said Robinson, holding Lily in her arms.
Cyndi Hawks, from Vancouver, Wash., cooks on a grander scale. "We do a mess for the entire Second Virginia (Volunteer Infantry). We cook for everybody, about 50 people," said Hawks, stirring a steaming pot of beef stew over an open fire.
"We're using regular cast-iron and the Dutch ovens that were typical of the time period," she said. "We try to replicate as best we can what they had during the time."
She said her unit is from Winchester, Va.., a city that changed hands more than 70 times during the Civil War. "The women had their men in the area, and so a lot of times they had the access to cook for them more than in other areas. There weren't a lot of women able to follow along with the camps," said Hawks, who participates with her family in four re-enactments each year.
Dixie Lee Fisher, from Battle Ground, Wash., got married in a Civil War style wedding at McIver State Park. She had plenty to do Saturday, just cooking for Sadie, 5, Junior, 4, J.P., 3, and baby Warren Lee, 7 months, and keeping them occupied at the Union encampment. The family is with 19th Indiana Volunteer Company A.
Unlike Dixie Lee Fisher, who wore a full-length, homespun dress, some of the re-enactors were all dressed up. Rebecca Jennings, her daughter Kristina, 17, and niece, April Chisman, also 17, from Salem, were wearing fancy dresses and carrying parasols while her husband was fighting on the Union side with the 1st U.S. Cavalry.
Not all re-enactors are attached to military units. Many, like Megan Hackett of Hillsboro and her husband and sons, are townsfolk. They belong to the Civilian Alliance (motto: "It's always 1863 here!") Hackett had been sewing garments for other re-enactors for three years when she decided to join them.
"I had so much fun sewing the clothes that I wanted to wear some of them," Hackett said, between stitches. "One of the hazards is I'm always sewing things at the last minute."
Park volunteers, Jack and Ila Morgan, from Kirkland, Wash., volunteer for this event and the World War II re-enactment held at Fort Stevens in July. "We're both from Alabama, we're southerners," said Ila.
For about 10 or 15 years, they were part of the Civil War Skirmish Association in Washington, which included shooting competitions as well as reenactments. "But we had the costumes and everything, and did that as a family - and the camping that went along with it - so we kind of got interested in it then."
"We were here last year, and it was so much fun we could hardly wait to come back," she said.