As smoke drifts through the clumps of off-white canvas tents strung up in the forest, Union soldier Mike Inman walks through an enemy camp. He looks at a group of Confederate soldiers and says, “When I wear gray, I get a rash.”
Hearing this, one of the Confederate soldiers draws his sword halfway out of the sheath and replies, “We got things for rashes. We can scrape them right off.”
The men smile at each other and share a laugh. It’s not the 1860s when the country fought the bloody Civil War. It’s a reenactment, and things are more lighthearted than any newcomer would guess.
Inman was one of about 300 actors at the state’s largest reenactment, hosted by the Washington Civil War Association. Taking place Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Cheney, the group camps out day and night for almost a week, and guests come to watch battles and learn about the gritty camp life during the Civil War. The cost is $5, and ages 5 or younger get in free.
The plot of wooded and hilly land for the reenactment takes up about 15 to 20 acres and includes a battleground and various campsites for shops, medical tents, telegraphs, chaplains, horses and more.
Inman, a retired firefighter, works as the event coordinator, which is in its 20th year in the Spokane area.
“We try to make it as proper as possible,” he said.
Accuracy from the era is considered for everything from the tin plates of roasted potatoes and the wooden muskets leaning in tripods, to the music of fifes, snare drums and bugles.
They are lenient on a few things though, such as food.
“We don’t much cater to hardtack and salt pork,” he said.
However, there are a few cooks making dishes traditional to the 1800s, like biscuits and gravy made in Dutch ovens.
Ray Carbo, wearing a long blue overcoat and a matching blue slouch hat, acted as a chaplain for the armies.
“Where else can you, as an adult, be a child? We’re out here shooting guns,” Carbo said.
Keith Deaton strolled around the campsites and turned many heads dressed as Abraham Lincoln, complete with a top hat, chin beard and all. He’s been acting as Lincoln for 30 years, he said, and used to teach history in the Tri-Cities. He’s quick with a quip, a fact or story about Lincoln.
“We’re presenting history and bringing it back to life,” he said.
The actors live scattered around the Pacific Northwest, Inman said, including British Columbia, but all come together for the reenactments. Most of them are highly knowledgeable about Civil War life, and are eager to answer any questions.
The main show – the battle – lasts about half an hour, and shows sophisticated tactics with infantry, artillery and cavalry.
Confederate and Union soldiers first square up. Cannons bang and plumes of smoke burst from the barrel. Muskets crack and horses charge through the field. Soldiers scream, drop to the ground and medics rush to them.
“It was really cool,” said 12-year-old Holden Skinner.
Saturday was Skinner’s first experience at a reenactment, and he watched how crude medical practices were carried out after the battles.
“I like how they found bullets in bodies. They stuck their finger in the wounds and felt around.”
Inman said the best thing about the reenactments is getting to go back in time for a little bit.
“My relatives fought in the Confederacy,” he said. “Maybe I can experience what they went through.”
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