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Debbie Croft: Civil War Days are coming

Debbie Croft

Las Mariposas Civil War Days occurs every year in April at Long’s Mariposa Ranch. This event has earned the reputation of being the most authentic re-enactment in the western United States. It’s living history from one of America’s most memorable time periods.

Virginia Gen. Robert E. Lee preferred the excitement of wartime strategy to the boredom of farming. He distinguished himself as a more-than-competent soldier in battles during the Mexican-American War. His father was an officer in the Revolutionary War.

Both Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant were students at West Point.

During his years in service, Grant was assigned to a few remote Army posts on the West Coast. After leading the North to victory in 1865, he became a national hero. He eventually won the presidential election, becoming the nation’s 18th president.

Division over slavery tore the state of California in two as well. The northern part of the state supported the North, while the southern part supported the South. More than 17,000 Californians served as soldiers in the conflict. Lucrative gold mines and pro-Union businessmen helped finance the successful war effort in the North.

Opinions for and against re-enacting tend to be as strong as opinions for and against war itself. Attempts at re-enacting battles date back to the 11th century and England’s Battle of Hastings.

Re-enactors invest time and money to travel to events and equip themselves to play a part of their choice. Some portray famous individuals, while others prefer obscurity.

Whether Democrat or Republican, many re-enactors participate in an effort to make history their own. Rather than leaving history on the pages of books or in a classroom, they study the people and time period to authentically represent a piece of their heritage. In re-enacting, some identify more closely with ancestors who were involved in conflict. Many just want to honor those whose lives were sacrificed for our freedom.

Long’s Mariposa Ranch is part of John C. Fremont’s original Las Mariposas Land Grant, which included more than 40,000 acres. The Sierra Nevada foothill terrain is similar to landscape in the eastern United States, providing a more realistic backdrop for the battles. Smoke, muzzle flashes and artillery fire contribute to a more lifelike experience for re-enactors and visitors.

This year marks the eighth annual event. Today is Educational Day, and re-enactment activities are open to school groups that preregistered. On Saturday and Sundayevents are open to the public. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for kids ages 5-17. Parking is free. Food and beverages will be available for purchase from local nonprofit organizations. Civil War-era vendors will also be on site.

Special highlights on this year’s schedule include two daytime battles and an evening battle Saturday; dessert and dancing by lantern glow Saturday evening; and a special Palm Sunday worship service Sunday morning, with a children’s Easter egg hunt to follow.

Demonstrations, presentations, children’s activities, brigade drills and a fashion show will take place. An Abraham Lincoln re-enactor will recite the Gettysburg Address. Guided tours of all the camps will be given, providing the opportunity to see how Confederate and Federal soldiers lived during the military campaign.

In the town of Longville, civilians and sutlers (merchants) will answer questions and inform visitors of how the war affected townspeople near the battlefields. Some re-enactors have genuine 19th-century artifacts on display. Medical personnel will talk about primitive hygiene and medical-surgical procedures popular in the period.

For more information go to www.thecivilwardays.com, or call Dianne Fritz at (209) 769-1451.

Las Mariposas Civil War Group partners with the American Civil War Association in educating the public about historic events and people of the Civil War era. Go to www.acwa.org for details.

Additional details about the Civil War can be found at www.history.com, www.parks.ca.gov, in Time Magazine, on the History Channel and in Jeff Shaara’s books “The Killer Angels,” “Gods and Generals” and “The Last Full Measure.”

Or, you can just come to Long’s Mariposa Ranch this weekend and experience it all firsthand.

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