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Keeping History Alive : Up to 400 participants re-enact Civil War battles once a month April through October at Fort Tejon Historic Park.

September 17, 1993|REBECCA HOWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Rebecca Howard is a regular contributor to The Times.

FORT TEJON HISTORIC PARK — The life and battles of Union and Confederate soldiers could have been destined only for the history books after the war ended in 1865, but Civil War enthusiasts have kept history alive with battle re-enactments and re-creations of camp life, such as those at Fort Tejon Historic Park on the third Sunday of the month from April through October.

Donning authentic reproductions of blue or gray uniforms and sporting weapons identical to those used by soldiers during the Civil War, 300 to 400 participants re-enact historic battles, such as the Battle of Shiloh or Bull Run.

"These are much smaller than the actual battles," said David Cotton, public relations director of the Fort Tejon Historical Assn. Real battles engaged up to 75,000 soldiers.

Three different stages of the mock battles, each lasting about 30 to 45 minutes, occur throughout the day. Battles are choreographed, but the actual event requires improvisations by re-enactors, who fire real guns loaded with blank rounds and wield bayonets in the Napoleonic-style of fighting, where the opposing sides got quite close to each other on the battleground.

In between battles, guided tours through re-created Civil War camps are provided. It's in these living histories that re-enactors give talks in first person that recount a soldier's life. Visitors can also get a closer look at the painstaking authenticity that the re-enactors have established, from their socks to the stitching in their uniforms to the foods they eat, such as hardtack, a cracker-type bread.

"Sometimes I have an upset stomach from a weekend of eating salt pork," said Sean Malis, a Lakewood resident who plays a Union soldier and has participated in the re-enactments since 1988. Malis is also a part of the dragoon program that takes place on the first Sunday of each month year-round at Fort Tejon, where re-enactors spend the weekend re-creating a garrison of the fort as it actually was in the 1850s.

"I take on the persona of someone who was alive back then," Malis said. "I like trying to show what it was like."

Fort Tejon, first established by the U. S. Army in 1854 to protect early California settlers, is now a 200-acre park with restored buildings and displays of military memorabilia. The battles and living histories have taken place at the park for 15 years. Occasionally, other Civil War historical groups from around the area join the events.

Heath Hammond, 26, of North Hollywood began as a cadet in the mock battles at Fort Tejon when he was just 13, following his older brother into the program. At first, it was the allure of shooting guns and playing war that drew him to the activity. Now Hammond says he enjoys educating people through the living histories and has found himself learning about the history of the country and his family. Hammond's great-great-grandfather served in the 100th Pennsylvania regiment during the war.

"I've done a lot of research on the life of a soldier. I've read diaries and letters. I want to be as authentic as possible," Hammond said.

Re-creating an authentic Union or Confederate soldier can be an expensive hobby, said Cotton, who portrays a Confederate surgeon and has participated in mock bullet extractions and amputations at the campsites.

A complete outfit, available from various manufacturers, can cost $1,000 or more. A uniform averages about $300; guns range from $400 to $500, Cotton said. For his particular role, he had to buy amputation knives and bone saws.

Dale Himebaugh of Burbank, who plays a Confederate captain, said that he has always been a student of the Civil War, and that his great-great-grandfather served in a Texas regiment.

"I work as a sales associate for an aerospace company, and I always tell people re-enacting is like getting out of the 20th Century and going off in a time machine," he said.

Himebaugh has been involved in re-enactments for 15 years, traveling to other events in the South, and said even the life of an imitation soldier can be rough.

"You have to be willing to be uncomfortable. At some of the re-enactments back East, you travel for 10 miles a day with what you can carry on your back. You use bayonets to open canned food because, while there was canned food, there were no can openers. You can't even carry ballpoint pens," he said.

Rick Rowell, a Woodland Hills free-lance photographer, has participated in the re-enactments at Fort Tejon for three years, becoming interested in the hobby after a lifelong interest in the Civil War.

Most of the teaching of the Civil War in schools seems to be "glossed over," Rowell said, which is why he enjoys educating the public, particularly children. "Kids need more history about the Civil War--the causes, why it was fought and how this country changed because of it.

"If people think it's just playing army, well, in a sense it is," Rowell added. "But with any hobby I do, I try to become more proficient at it. With the living history, the public looks at you from head to toe. I want to be as correct as possible."

For the public and re-enactors, this may be the closest glimpse they'll get of the war between the North and South.

Where and When What: Civil War battle re-enactments and living history performances at Fort Tejon Historic Park. Location: Fort Tejon Historic Park, 3201 Fort Tejon Road, off the Golden State Freeway three miles north of Lebec. Hours: Battles scheduled at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 17. Guided camp tours are available after the first and second battles. Price: $3 adults, $2 children. No food services. Call: (805) 248-6692.

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