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October 4, 2022

‘Reality of war’

Historical Park turns into battlefield, 1860s-era camps during Civil War Days

About 50 Civil War “reenactors” spent this past weekend at San Benito County Historical Park demonstrating what life, work and combat were like in the 1860s during the war between the North and South.

The annual Civil War Days events Sept. 16-18 were co-sponsored by the National Civil War Association (NCWA) and the San Benito County Historical Society. More than 150 students and teachers attended the event’s “school day” on Sept. 16, where volunteer actors, dressed in authentic historical costume, demonstrated the customs and practices of the era, according to Scott Spence of the NCWA.

The educational presentations included a demonstration of women’s clothing from the period; soldiers’ drills; how to use signal flags; and even an artillery crew—with three cannons of varying sizes—that showed students how soldiers in the Civil War loaded and fired the weapons, Spence explained.

Docents and actors hosted a total of 12 stations portraying different aspects of life during the war between the states.

On Sept. 17 and 18, the NCWA volunteers performed a total of three Civil War battle reenactments—with just one on Sunday before rain cut the event short. Authentic Union and Confederate camps were set up and open to the public at the Historical Park in Tres Pinos, allowing spectators to “wander around and ask questions, and learn about the Civil War,” Spence said. On Sunday, events included a church service in the old school house on site, featuring hymnal songs from the Civil War era.

More than 100 people attended Civil War Days as spectators on Sept. 17-18, according to organizers.

The purpose of Civil War Days, which has visited the Tres Pinos park for 20 years, is to educate the public about a key era of American history with demonstrations and reenactments that viewers can see firsthand.

“It gives people a better appreciation if they can actually touch, feel and smell—if they can get some idea of the physical reality of the war, we do our best to portray that,” Spence said.

Volunteer actors performed a Civil War battle reenactment Sept. 18 at the San Benito County Historical Park, as part of the annual Civil War Days educational events. Photo: Chris Mora

Demonstrations also included a “sutler,” or a vendor of the Civil War period who sold items to other reenactors and the public at the Tres Pinos event; and a volunteer who portrayed the mourning process that women went through when they lost a husband during the war, Spence explained.

“America in the 1860s was almost like an alien planet,” Spence said. “If a modern American suddenly found themselves transported to that time period, they would find the customs and language very different.”

NCWA is an all-volunteer, nonprofit educational organization that hosts Civil War education events throughout northern California, said Spence, who has been involved with the organization for about eight years.

Spence said he is committed to the association’s efforts to educate people about the Civil War because he sees “parallels” in modern America to the 1860s era, “when people started believing their own narratives and not listening to the other side.”

“History is about the creation of narratives, but those narratives have to be based in fact,” Spence added.

The San Benito County Historical Society is a local nonprofit whose mission is to preserve records related to local history; promote an interest in the county’s past; and provide programs that offer educational opportunities, according to the society’s website.

Volunteer actors performed a Civil War battle reenactment Sept. 18 at the San Benito County Historical Park, as part of the annual Civil War Days educational events. Photo: Chris Mora
An “artillery crew” of National Civil War Association volunteers, pictured Sept. 18 at San Benito County Historical Park, demonstrated how the arms were loaded and fired in the 1860s. Photo: Chris Mora
An “artillery crew” of National Civil War Association volunteers, pictured Sept. 18 at San Benito County Historical Park, demonstrated how the arms were loaded and fired in the 1860s. Photo: Chris Mora
Volunteer actors performed a Civil War battle reenactment Sept. 18 at the San Benito County Historical Park, as part of the annual Civil War Days educational events. Photo: Chris Mora
Volunteer actors performed a Civil War battle reenactment Sept. 18 at the San Benito County Historical Park, as part of the annual Civil War Days educational events. Photo: Chris Mora
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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