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Muzzles Loaded for a Mock Civil War Battle in Huntington Beach


Spend time with Carl Clink, and you start to believe that the best way to approach history is feet first. And if your boots get a little muddy, all the better.

Clink's favorite corner of history is the American Civil War. He reads about it (he has finished more than 350 books on the subject) and has seen countless Civil War videos and films. Through his connections in the film industry (he is a movie carpenter by trade and a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild), he also has helped bring it to life: He consulted and helped create props for the Arts and Entertainment channel's "Civil War Journal" series and appeared with his younger brother as an extra in the feature film "Gettysburg."

But his interest goes way beyond that. Frequently on weekends, the 34-year-old Huntington Beach resident trades his shorts and pager for a wool uniform and rifle to become Pvt. Clink of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, fighting for the Union cause in the Civil War.

He is, he says, a "historical re-enactor," a pastime that has attracted tens of thousands of practitioners around the world. This weekend, he is inviting a few hundred of them to take part in a Living History of the American Civil War, two days of mock battles, encampment visits, weaponry demonstrations and period music, in Huntington Beach's Central Park.

The event, co-sponsored by the Huntington Beach Historical Society and the city of Huntington Beach, will be free to spectators. For a small fee, the historical society also is offering guided tours of an exhibit of Civil War artifacts at its nearby Newland House museum through July 3.

The Living History of the American Civil War starts Saturday at 10 a.m. with tours of the Union and Confederate encampments, where visitors can chat with re-enactors as they maintain their weapons, drill, prepare food over a campfire and perform other activities typical to a Civil War soldier's day.

At 1:30 p.m., the Rebs and the Yanks will square off in a mock battle (don't worry, Mom; they'll be firing blanks). At 2:30, soldiers from both sides will present up-close demonstrations of period weapons including the single-shot muzzle-loading rifle, which Clink says revolutionized warfare because of its ability to fire one-ounce lead balls up to 750 feet--700 feet farther than its predecessor, the smooth bore musket.

Saturday's activities continue with a mock battle at 4 p.m. and will conclude with a twilight concert of period music by the Band of the California Battalion.

Sunday begins with a nondenominational battlefield church service at 8 a.m., followed at 9 by encampment tours and, at 11, the first battle of the day. There'll be a weaponry demonstration at noon; the closing battle starts at 2.

On both days, children can try rope-making and can watch a blacksmith at work. Sutlers (traveling merchants who followed the troops) will be on hand selling Civil War memorabilia, and the Cottonwood String Band will perform.

California native Clink says he was bitten by the Civil War bug as a teenager growing up in Pennsylvania. In addition to a huge library, he has amassed a large collection of uniforms, weapons and artifacts, many of which are on view at Newland House.

When he isn't taking part in a reenactment (which take place a few times a year at such sites as Irvine Regional Park and Oak Glen in San Bernardino County), he often can be found portraying Pvt. Clink for middle school students, giving "first person" accounts of a Civil War soldier's life.

He coordinated a living history event in 1993 for the historical society and, depending on how successful he is this year, would like to stage similar events annually.

He refers to himself as a "living historian" ("I hate the term 'Civil War buff' . . . it sounds like I need to get a life!") and says his presentations and events such as the one this weekend can be excellent ways to teach people about the hardships and triumphs faced by Union and Confederate soldiers from 1861 to 1865.

"Not every re-enactor is into the authenticity the way my unit is," he says, "but most of us want people we meet to fully experience what it was like to be a soldier. When you go into an encampment and talk to the soldiers, some of them immediately will pull you into their characters. If you ask [one] what he does for a living, he'll say, 'I'm a farmer.' He is totally in character."

Clink's unit, which draws members from Monterey to San Diego, is based on the original 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a group Clink describes as highly dedicated to religion and the families left behind. Like other re-enactors, Clink learned about these real Civil War soldiers by reading their diaries.

Visitors who make the trek to the 98-year-old Newland House can do the same. Photocopies of the Civil War writings of Wallace M. Moore, an enlisted man with the Pennsylvania Bucktail unit, will be available along with vintage photographs, weapons and other artifacts.

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