E.V. re-enactors relive a simpler, bloodier era - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

E.V. re-enactors relive a simpler, bloodier era

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Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2008 2:08 am | Updated: 8:58 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Don Jolly has never been shot at, but he has eaten hardtack.As a Civil War re-enactor, the 49-year-old Mesa man gets a taste of the hardships of war.

Though the fear of a bloody death isn't replicated, camp life in the 19th century is, including the crunch of molar-busting biscuits, the itch of a heavy wool uniform and the smell of black powder.

"It's one thing to read about it, or to see a show about it, but things come alive and you start seeing how it was," Jolly says. "Not only the fighting, but the marching and being deprived of the comforts we take for granted."

Privation breeds respect for his forefathers, says Jolly, who will be re-enacting the war's westernmost battle this weekend at Picacho Peak State Park.

"It's kind of like a spiritual experience because you're sleeping on the ground, don't have good food, it's hot," he says. "Then you go home and you've got a soft bed, a shower, good food you can cook in the microwave - life is easy."

Civil War re-enactment is a bigger hobby in the East, where events are staged regularly on the sites where the battles were fought, says Jolly, but the hobby has grown in Arizona as retirees bring their blue and gray uniforms with them. At Picacho Peak, there will be more men in uniform for this re-enactment than actually fought in the battle.

Mark Bond, 45, from Gilbert started the hobby in Maryland, where he grew up.

Just like Jolly, Bond's ancestors were Confederates, but he's a Union man. Re-enacting, Bond takes the role of an artillery man alongside his mountain howitzer, a cannon designed to be pulled by one horse through steep terrain. A cannon like his runs about $13,000, says Bond: Add $1,000 for each of the replica uniforms he has, and his hobby is an expensive one.

For him, the chance to step back in time is well worth the cost - and the time spent sleeping on a pile of hay and eating crunchy biscuits.

"No one's got cell phones with them, they're not jumping on their laptops," he said. "It's a great chance to breathe, to jump back into the 19th century."

The Battle of Picacho Pass

During the Civil War, Arizona was controlled by Confederate and Union forces, with Confederate forces based in Tucson and the Federal troops from California stationed in Yuma. After most Federal troops left Arizona to fight in the East, Confederates moved in, exploring a route to the Pacific that would get around the Union naval blockade of the Atlantic that kept them from buying European supplies. Arizonans got close with the Confederates, who helped suppress the local American Indians that had been raiding settlements since the Federal troops left. Wary of Confederate plans to circumvent the blockade, the Union made a move to southern Arizona. On April 15, 1862, 12 Union cavalry troopers and one scout, commanded by Lt. James Barrett, were conducting a sweep of the Picacho Pass area, looking for Confederates seen nearby. Barrett was under orders not to engage the Confederates, but to wait for more troops to show up, but he disobeyed his orders and captured three enemy soldiers. Unfortunately, seven more Confederate soldiers appeared, and a battle erupted. Barrett and two of his men were killed and three others wounded in the fighting, which lasted an hour and a half. The battle, a draw, is considered the most western battle in the Civil War.

Sources: militaryhistoryonline.com, Arizona State Parks

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