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Confederacy, Union set to wage war

PORT GAMBLE — In one week, Port Gamble will look like it was taken over by Civil War soldiers and civilians — and that won’t be far from truth.

Members of the Washington Civil War Association will be invading the old mill town June 25-26 with reenactment battles and encampments and playing their parts to the fullest extent — from the weapons in their hands to the hardtack they bring to eat.

The event will represent when Union soldiers took over a Confederate town in South Carolina on June 21, 1862 during the war, said WCWA member and event organizer Howard Struve.

The engagements are typically planned out, as the battalion commanders will communicate to each other what kind of show they want to put on, Struve said.

Sometimes they take on a form of a full scale battle and other times it’s just “skirmishes,” he said, explaining that’s what both sides engaged in as they traveled from one town to another. But for the WCWA, they determine what they are going to do based on the lay of the land on which they are camping for the weekend.

While some Civil War fights had thousands of soldiers and volunteers, the WCWA will have approximately 100 soldiers on both sides of the field. They will camp out —  Confederates on the ridge east of the cemetery, Union in the grass bowl south of the cemetery — with canvas tents, uniforms, weapons, blankets and food. While some bring modern food, others will go to the extreme and do what Struve calls “campaigning” — eat food similar to what was available in the mid-1860s. Hard tack, coffee, maybe some sweet potatoes, corn on the cob and salted pork and ration it out for themselves over the course of the weekend. Some will also bring period camp stoves.

“We try to portray not only those who were on the campaign... from point A to point B, but also a Garrison camp where women and children would be involved,” he said.

Women and children will be dressed like their ancestral counterparts as well with kids playing with period toys and women tending to their quilting and weaving.

The event will start at 9 a.m. with the formation of each brigade on Saturday morning, called a parade, when the units will be presented before the commanding officer, who will put them through a small manual of arms and maybe a weapons inspection. A battle between the two units will commence on the field at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday, which will be in the large open green space behind the Port Gamble Trading Company.

While witnessing the live action of a Civil War battle will be entertaining, Struve recommends viewers to check out the hospital demonstration afterward in the respective camps. There, the “surgeons” will explain what happens post-battle in their camps while also trying to treat “injured” soldiers. Injuries include a sliver stuck in a hand, bullet wounds and facial burns — all of which are fake, but extremely realistic, Struve said.

“At times, it gets pretty exciting,” he added. “I highly recommend going to it. I’ve seen many young children look and their faces go ‘eww.’”

Aside from the battles and injuries, there will be demonstrations from the calvary, artillery, and infantry on how each unit uses their weapons and engages in fighting. There will also be a fashion show, where both civilians and soldiers show off what the textiles were like at the time. Visitors will have a chance to witness commanding officers choosing their soldiers during a recruiting scenario. And if visitors watch and listen closely enough, they’ll be able to hear soldiers and civilians discussing issues of the day - of 1862, that is.

What makes the event fun, Struve said, is the fact that the cavalry, artillery and infantry are all on the same field at the same time with the smoke, gunpowder, noise and the two armies engaging in battle. The weapons used are replicas of the common rifles at the time, Springfields and Enfields, creating smoke and a very realistic sound. Other members, such as officers, may carry pistols. The Navy, which played a major role in the war, unbeknownst to some, Struve said, will display replicas of artillery pieces that would have been on a navy ship, such as a boat howitzer.

Struve said he is excited to have the event take place in Port Gamble because of the makeup of the town’s architecture.

“We’re going to try and use the town because it has a really great backdrop,” he said, noting it’s nice to have the East Coast-style homes as part of the environment. “It’s kind of unusual to have buildings that look period-like.”

Note: Look for Josh Farley and Tiffany Royal’s corresponding pieces in the June 29 issue of the Herald of their experiences on the front lines as imbedded Civil War journalists.

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