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The Civil War: They make history come alive

April 10, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel Editor
  • Andrew Garcia at the Picacho Peak State Park Civil War reenactment
Andrew Garcia at the Picacho Peak State Park Civil War reenactment (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles…)

Our Travel section turns its attention this weekend to the greatest of all conflicts on U.S. soil, with stories that cover a geographic spectrum.

As an Easterner by birth and a Midwesterner by roots, I had little knowledge of the role the West played in the conflict. Thanks to three men, I learned more about the Civil War and California’s contribution, and I came to appreciate the courage of all who served.

When I spotted Andrew Garcia in the reenactment camp at Picacho Peak State Park, about 45 miles from Tucson, I instantly understood the seriousness with which the reenactors see their role. He had told me, in an email before I came to Arizona, that he became interested in reenacting during the 1976 bicentennial.

“I saw and read about all the events that were being done back East, but I noticed little being done out here in the Southwest,” he said.
His research showed he had a relative who fought in the 1st New Mexico Volunteers, so he helped form a reenacting unit called Company A, 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry. He moved to Arizona about 10 years ago, he said.

"I knew about the Civil War in the area, and also reconnected to other reenactors I had served with earlier," he said. "We formed up Company B, 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry.”

This hobby can be expensive. A recent Business Week article estimated the cost of outfitting oneself at $1,000, not including rifle, but Garcia thinks you can do it for less than  that. “Naturally, the higher the quality and more authentic the item, the higher the price,” he said.

I can’t speak to the quality of his garb, but I can say this: You have to want to do this. (See Garcia pictured above.) He wore a dark blue wool sack coat and lighter blue pants. It was about 90 degrees. The uniform must have been like a mini-sauna in the Sonoran Desert, but I heard no complaints. Some of the guys had Gatorade in their tankards, even though the drink didn’t come along until more than 100 years later. No one was going to quibble with them about period correctness.

Even the horses looked hot, but they weren’t complaining either. Rodney Preuss was mounted on Monty (or Montie as he sometimes spells it) and was playing Lt. James Barrett, who was killed at Picacho.

Before the reenactment began, Preuss and his men let spectators ask questions. One youngster was alarmed when one of the horses (mostly quarterhorses and some Morgans) let 'er rip while questions were being answered, but as Preuss noted, “What goes in has to come out.”

The horses ate 10 pounds of grain a day and drank 5 gallons of water  and covered about 20 miles a day. (At 4 miles per gallon, they weren’t quite as efficient as Hummers.)

I asked Preuss about equine casualties, and he explained that it was more common for cavalry to dismount and fight on the ground, minimizing the danger to their horses. Tactics changed in this war, he explained.

And thanks to Andrew Masich, people know more about the war in the West. Masich is the author of  “The Civil War in Arizona: The Story of the California Volunteers, 1861-1865.”

He developed a fascination for the war when he was a 10-year-old after discovering a Civil War-era bullet in a trunk in his grandma’s bat-filled attic in his native New York.  “By the time I was 14, I had a museum in my bedroom,” he said. He even had a brochure of his bedroom/museum. He also visited Civil War sites. When the family moved to Arizona when he was 16,  he asked, “Where is the Civil War?”

The book was something “I chipped away at over many years,” he said.

When you read it, the elegant prose will give you a new appreciation for the history and for the people and a new respect for the place.

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