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Civil War re-enactment reverberates with camaraderie, cannons

Sun., May 27, 2012

By the time the firing ceased, bodies littered the ground.

Puffs of smoke and the acrid odor of sulfur lingered in the air, and the cavalries’ restless horses whinnied.

Moments earlier, soldiers were frantically loading their weapons, aiming and firing, while bullets whizzed past their ears, far too close for comfort. Those struck screamed in agony and writhed on the ground, the battle continuing around them.

Their ranks decimated, the Union Army retreated. The Confederates won the day, though they wouldn’t win the war.

It was a mock battle, part of a Civil War re-enactment this weekend in Medical Lake. The soldiers are history buffs who don Civil War-era garb and fire blanks, not real bullets.

After the staged fighting ceased, the “dead” got up and returned to their encampments to rehash the battle, clean their weapons and cook over open fires.

“Most of us have a passion for history,” said Cap Caputo, who portrayed Quartermaster Sgt. OShea Bussell, a historical figure with Company F of the 20th Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry. “The Civil War was the fulcrum of American history.”

While no battles were actually fought in Washington, a territory at the time, it didn’t entirely evade the war’s reach. About 6,000 Civil War veterans are buried around the state, said R. Bruce Smith, chief bugler of the Union Army.

Further, the union’s 1st Regiment Washington Territory Volunteer Infantry was tasked with protecting communication routes to the east from American Indians and mitigating the threat of foreign invasion on the West Coast by the British and French empires. It also guarded shipping routes from Confederate privateers, who sought to intercept Union merchant vessels and seize their cargoes.

“There’s a big education component to this,” Smith said. “We don’t just come out here to shoot rifles and cannons. There is a Civil War history in this state.”

The idea of the weekend gathering is to bring history to life, have some fun doing it and teach people about the four-year war, which started 151 years ago. The 14th annual re-enactment, sponsored by the Washington Civil War Association, has been held at Riverside State Park in past years; this is the first year it’s at Deep Creek Farm.

Hundreds came out Saturday to watch and learn.

“This club is one big family,” said Pvt. Peter Jensen, with the 7th Regiment Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. “We have a lot of fun together.”

The re-enactment, which continues today and Monday, transports spectators and participants to a different time and place.

“This is the Army. We share everything – even lice,” Caputo said, placing his hat on a child’s head and handing the boy his musket. “A good soldier who’s well-trained can get three shots off in a minute.”

One of the goals of the 20th Maine, Caputo said, “is to maintain authenticity as much as possible. The uniforms, the food, the weapons, the supplies.”

Nick Adams was in character as Israel Washburn, the 29th governor of Maine.

“The Legislature sent me here to investigate the morale of the men,” Adams said. “I’m also checking in on the morals, which unfortunately isn’t high. I found the men inebriated the last two nights. The war is corrupting their morals.”

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