Civil War re-enactors descend on Lewis County

Private farmland in Lewis County was transformed this weekend into 1864 Petersburg, Virigina, the site of a devastating battle between Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War.

About 1,000 spectators braved the heat to watch the battle action as well as all the period detail behind the lines, such as the tents, clothes and crafts from that period in time. There also were hundreds more who came to take part, including a number of teens from throughout the state inspired by U.S. history.

The weekend event was a multipronged affair, involving the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, the Washington Civil War Association and help from two local teachers: Rob Sande, who teaches history at W.F. West High School and his wife, Kelly, who teaches at Olympic Elementary.

A few years ago the two traveled to Virginia to take part in a Civil War Preservation Trust teaching workshop and came away from it moved by the deep understanding on the East Coast of what happened during the war. The Sandes decided a history lesson was in order on the West Coast, so they launched their re-enactments, beginning with the Battle of Fort Sumter -- the battle that launched the Civil War -- followed by the battles at Bull Run, Shiloh, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville.

On Sunday, Rob Sande, dressed as a Union colonel, was paired with Frank “Rusty” Starr, a longtime medical research scientist at the University of Washington who also is known as a “retired Confederate colonel” in the Washington Civil War Association. The two acted as living historians on Sunday, giving tours and explaining the details of the day.

Starr has been involved with re-enactments since the early 1970s, starting as a private in the Confederate forces and then rose through the ranks. He was dressed as a Confederate colonel on Sunday and has chosen to represent the Confederacy to honor his ancestors who died in the war, he said.

The Blue and the Gray demonstrated a typical Civil War battle in the morning, followed by one of the uglier moments of Petersburg that took place in a large blast crater.

The siege of Petersburg devolved into an early version of trench warfare. Union forces finally tunneled under enemy lines to set off a huge explosion -- which created a crater -- under Confederate battle lines, but the surprise advantage was quickly lost when the Union Army failed to immediately advance on the Confederate soldiers. By the time they did, Confederate forces had regrouped along the edge of the crater. When Union forces finally entered the crater, it was like shooting fish in a barrel, Starr said.

He estimates about 4,000 Union troops lost their lives in the crater, compared to about 1,200 Confederate soldiers.

But the Union had two things that the Confederacy did not have: a steady supply of soldiers and resources. That eventually turned the tied against the Confederacy and before long, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, began his withdrawal to Appomattox.

Matthew Lindbo, 16, of Everett took part Sunday as a private in the Union Army. He was swayed by a friend to try the re-enactments and now enjoys them for their sense of history and other activities, such as marching with the infantry.

Joey Birkland, 15, of Spokane; Connor Brown-Ciolli, 14, of Spokane; Cory Troche, 18, of Napavine; and Sam Porret, 16, of Ferndale had gathered as members of the Alabama 15th regiment. Birkland and Brown-Ciolli got involved with re-enactments through school work, but now do them for fun, while Troche and Porret enjoy history. Porret also was dressed as a provost marshall, someone who enforces the laws in camp.

Troche even carried Confederate currency in his pocket and whipped out a pipe and stuffed it full of Captain Black tobacco. Brown-Ciolli had a flask, but it was filled with Gatorade, he said.