Civil War re-enactors invade Spring Mountain state park

It’s one of those subjects that still touches nerves nearly a century and a half later – in classroom discussions, in the conspicuous positioning of Confederate flags in public places, in the lyrics of classic rock ‘n’ roll songs from Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"I hope Neil Young will remember," Lynyrd Skynyrd cranks it out. "Southern man don’t need him around anyhow."

It’s the Civil War.

What are reasons for fighting it again? The opinions still vary.

Confederates refer to it as "The War of Northern Aggression" or "Mr. Lincoln’s War."

The Union calls it, "The War between the States."

The fact is – and this is a real fact – there are way too many people who know way too much about the Civil War for their own good. So much so it makes the head spin, at least among those not versed in the particulars.

We’re talking information overload.

They know everything down to the battle formations, the exact orders delivered, or neglected, by the colonels, the dates, the times, the locations, the tactics.

Some, of course, have master’s and doctorate degrees, and they tend to make a living off reciting it all.

Then there are those who showed up Saturday at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in Red Rock Canyon for the seventh-annual Civil War Days in the Battle Born State, brought to you by the Southern Nevada Living History Association.

It was a costume party that doubled as a theatrical production true to its re-enactment billing.

And it never could have been pulled off without the sort of hard-core history buffs who exist out there in the hinterlands. They could sit in as a worthy substitute teacher for any Civil War history class in high school on any day of the week.

They’re the sort of folks who’ve been reading up on the Civil War since the days of the hard-cover encyclopedias and now have Google at their fingertips to feed their addictions, which started at an early age and have yet to cease.

"They help us out tremendously. The whole purpose is to remember our history, for history’s sake, and to remember it all in a very real and ‘living’ manner," said Jason Coffee, president of the historical association.

"We’re here to show what it was like to be a guy on the bottom, a rank-and-file soldier, somebody like myself, a captain, who might not have made the history books."

Dressed in Confederate and Union garb, a good chunk of the troupe came from as far as Southern California to set up camps, pitch tents and re-enact famous Civil War battles. They brought out the bayonets and fired off volleys from rifles as they stood shoulder to shoulder. It’s a battle formation all but perfected by Napoleon but more commonly associated with the American Revolution.

But what was so fascinating, once the smoke cleared, wasn’t the re-enactment so much as the wealth of knowledge among the traveling troupe – the plumbers, the janitors, the warehouse workers, the retired Army privates, the unemployed and the underemployed, all of whom found their way to the park to put on the two-day show.

There’s even some history connected with Nevada, which became a state because of the war, but where not a single big battle was fought during the war.

"Nevada’s state constitution was lost by the courier, and another one had to be drafted, then telegraphed all the way to Washington, D.C.," said Scott Elkins, an assistant manager at a Las Vegas warehouse by day but who poses as a Confederate when called upon.

"And you know what?" he continued. "Nevada’s state constitution ended up being the most expensive telegraph as far as the history of telegraphs go."

Whether that’s an actual fact or a repeated piece of fiction, we shall leave up to the fact-checking masses. But this much everybody on hand could agree upon: The Civil War was a complex war, fought partly to free the slaves, yes; but also waged for economic reasons that centered on tax equality and states’ rights – a timeless argument that persists to the current day.

"You had the North, which was industrialized, and then you had the South, which was agrarian," Coffee pointed out. "And what you had in the Civil War was a vying of power between the two."

No need for a spoiler alert here. The North won, hands down.

And the state of Nevada was born during it. Nevada is its only child. And for what reason? So that the U.S. government, via Congress, would be able to ratify the 13th Amendment of the Constitution. Namely, the abolition of slavery.

It needed Nevada’s votes for such a ratification, not its silver, which is one of the biggest myths perpetuated in the history of Nevada’s statehood, according to historian Guy Rocha.

Nevada is celebrating the 148th anniversary of its founding. Although the observed day was Friday, statehood actually happened on Oct. 31, which happens to fall on Halloween.

Kind of fitting, given all the costumes at Saturday’s event.

Contact reporter Tom Ragan at tragan@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

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