Love of history unifies re-enactors

Some who attended the Old Cowtown Museum' s Civil War Sampler on Saturday may have started the day with visions of rows of Union soldiers trading volleys of gunfire with rows of soldiers in gray.

Those taking part in the battle re-enactments this weekend said Civil War battles were far less organized.

"By the end it was more like the trench warfare of World War I," said Randy Downey of Yates Center. "It was a slow-moving war of attrition."

"Out here in this neck of the woods, it was a pretty vicious, neighbor-to-neighbor thing," said Brian Cox of Topeka.

Downey and Cox were among the 100 volunteers taking part in the two-day Civil War Sampler, which continues today and commemorates the war as well as the music, hairstyles and fashion of the era.

Saturday's battle re-enactment, which saw the Union troops push the out-gunned Confederate forces out of Old Town, was among the day's highlights.

Sheri Gaskins, volunteer coordinator for Old Cowtown, said soldiers wearing blue and gray on Saturday had at last one thing in common.

"We have a love of history," she said. "We don't want to ever forget where we come from.

"By doing what we're doing, we're helping to keep the past alive."

Among the volunteers was Jonathon Goering of Wichita, who was captain of the Eighth Kansas Volunteer Infantry, which fought on the Union side.

He said the participants do more than engage in battle re-enactments.

"We re-create Civil War camp life," he said. "We cook Civil War food. We socialize around a campfire, tell stories, laugh and have a good time."

Goering said he became a Union army re-enactor because Kansas was a Union state during the war.

Across the road in the Confederate camp, the lines were less clear.

Although slavery was the main issue, Downey said, it wasn't the only issue. American Indians, he said, probably would have fared better if the Confederacy had won the war.

"The right side won; slavery was the main issue," he said. "But when you really get to looking at it, it's not so cut and dried."

Both sides, he said, were responsible for some deplorable acts during the war.

"Can you imagine the colonel from McConnell Air Force Base coming in and taking over City Hall?" Downey asked. "That stuff happened."

"People were forced into some hard decisions, especially in this part of the country," Cox said.

Cox, an attorney, said it's hard to explain his fascination with the Civil War.

"Maybe I'm naive, but it's almost like it was the last 'gentlemen's war,' " he said.

"For me, it's the era," said Downey, a rancher. "It's an era that resonates with my interests."