What did you do last weekend? Chances are you did not sleep on the ground, in a small canvas tent, and awake to a bugle playing reveille. Your morning coffee was probably not a handful of grounds thrown into a pot of water boiled over an open fire. You did not pull on your woolen uniform, pick up your black-powder musket and go to battle.
Unless you are a member of the Arizona Civil War Council, a group originally formed to “honor and perpetuate the memory of that company which served at Fort McDowell, Arizona Territory, from November 1883 to July 1886.”
The group, formed in 1983, has expanded over the years and now participates in reenactments of battles from 1836 through the Spanish-American war.
The battle itself is always interesting, fought primarily with black-powder, single-shot muzzle loaded rifles. Civil War reenactors like to brag about how quickly they could rip open a packet of black powder, ram it down the muzzle, add the lead ball, tamp it all down with a wad of paper, aim and shoot. Quite a process—good soldiers can do it in less than a minute.
I was directed to the person in charge: Commanding Officer Dave Kampf, a retired commercial artist who worked for the Arizona Republic for 26 years, describes his troops as “rabid historians, firearms enthusiasts, and collectors.” History was Dave’s favorite subject in high school, and he started reenacting in 1973. He moved to Arizona in 1979 and has participated in Civil War encampments at Pioneer Living History Museum every year since. Dave was more than happy to answer any questions and motioned me to a camp chair in the shade. He sat across from me, pulled fact sheets out of a case, and encouraged questions.
He told me Company D’s members range in age from teenagers to 70-year-olds. The members speak to schools and civic groups, provide color guards for ceremonial events, and have participated in national events all over the country. “By combat and blood the war fused the nation together,” Dave says.
I was especially interested in talking to the younger participants, since they were definitely in the minority. Women were even harder to find, but I came across Katherine Kaufman and her daughter Ruby over near the town jail. Katherine says her husband joined Company D three years ago. He encouraged their daughter Ruby’s participation as part of her home schooling, and it soon became a family affair. Now Ruby has developed her own love of reenacting and history. She’s done her research and is looking forward to getting a new dress. She’s having her grandmother make one that buttons in the front. “Because I’m now of child-bearing age,” she says with a laugh. Ruby is fourteen.
Over at the encampment, 17-year-old Devon Ross was headed toward his tent to change into a Spanish-American uniform, but he stopped to chat for a few minutes. “I’ve been reenacting since I was five years old. My grandparents got me into it.” He started out doing errands around the camp. “I worked my way up to Corporal,” he says with well-deserved pride. Devon considers himself a history buff, with a particular love of the Civil War era. He says his participation in reenacting and the knowledge he’s acquired regarding firearms and being a soldier helped influence him to join the real military. He’ll be attending training this summer and will go into the U.S. Army when he finishes high school.
Many people have an interest in history, but something else calls certain people to immerse themselves deeply in the first-hand experience. They’ll say it’s academic; they are history buffs. But I think there is more to it. This is the first of a series of essays that will explore what that might be.