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HISTORY : Blue and Gray, Minus Bullets, Blood : Two Civil War groups will exchange musket volleys at Lake Casitas this weekend. Expect authenticity as well as refreshments.

March 10, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Volunteers in blue and gray, 130 years later are still fighting the Civil War, but nobody's dying anymore. Several hundred Civil War re-enactors from the Fort Tejon Historical Assn. and the Santa Barbara Civil War Council are expected on Saturday and Sunday at the campgrounds of Lake Casitas near Ojai to scare some fish as well as entertain the curious.

There'll be Yankee units marching elbow-to-elbow exchanging musketry volleys 50 yards from their Confederate counterparts; there'll be cavalry charges and artillery duels. Everything will be real except for the bullets and the blood.

There's no truth to the rumor that every fifth paying customer will qualify for a free amputation with a dull saw after two sips of brandy. Dysentery and disease, which killed more Civil War soldiers than bullets, will also be mercifully absent.

Instead, there will be parades, battalion camps and opportunities to talk to the participants. Food and beverages will be available continuously during the two-day 10 a.m.-to-dusk living history experience.

Ed Mann, the Confederate major (and lawyer) from Thousand Oaks, explained during a recent interview that war is no longer hell, but apparently, a heckuva lot of fun.

No one wants to re-enact Vietnam or World War I. What is the attraction of the Civil War?

Because it was Americans fighting Americans, so there's no bad guys. In the Civil War, there's a certain romance and pageantry among the combatants of that period, and it's extremely colorful.

Are there more Confederates or more Yankees?

There's more Confederates because I think there's more to admire in the Southern armies. They were men who were led by men who were seen as godlike. They fought so long and so hard with so little. You just can't help but marvel at those guys. But there has to be two sides, otherwise, it's not a re-enactment, but an encampment.

What do you think is the attraction of the Southern side?

I think Robert E. Lee was the finest soldier ever to wear a uniform on American soil. The war would never have happened if not for slavery, but only one out of nine Southern soldiers owned slaves. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say a state can't secede. The Union never would have formed in the first place if it was to be an indissoluble bond.

Who wins and who dies?

It's all choreographed. It's usually, "OK, you win this one, we'll win the next one."

How often does the war resume?

The Fort Tejon Historical Assn. is the largest re-enactment group in Southern California, and we meet about once a month. Fort Tejon itself is inconvenient for everyone, but it's been a good place for us. For this particular event, the FTHA will run the re-enactment on the field. Gold Coast Productions, which is promoting the event, will be contributing to the FTHA. It's a good way for all the units to find new recruits.

How much does it cost to enlist?

It depends on what side and what unit. Usually, it's around $175 to $200 for a uniform. It's hard to play softball for less than that. A jacket is around $80 to $90; a pair of pants is about $60, a hat about $20 to $25, a shirt about $25, and a pair of suspenders about $10. The shoes, called Brogans, have square toes and are sort of like modern work shoes, and cost around $75 to $90. For infantrymen, a Civil War musket, an exact reproduction of an Enfield, which are all made in Italy, costs a few hundred bucks.

Is it true that re-enactments began shortly after the war itself ended?

Probably so, but it really sprang up during the Civil War Centennial. Back then, a gray shirt from Sears was OK. The stuff that got by then wouldn't even be allowed on the field now. The authenticity standards are quite high. For myself, I was in the Army Reserve and Michael Shaara's book about Gettysburg, "The Killer Angels," was required reading. Three weeks later, "Glory" came out, and I went to check it out. If I had known about all this sooner, I would've joined 10 years ago.

Details

* WHAT: California Civil War Re-Enactors

* WHERE: Lake Casitas, Baldwin Road entrance off Highway 150 in Ojai.

* WHEN: March 12 and 13, 10 a.m. to dusk.

* HOW MUCH: Adults, $5; Children under 12, $3; seniors and students, $4

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