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Back to the battlefields

Don’t call them costumes and, please, do not call them actors. The folks in Civil War gear this weekend in Nevada City are living historians wearing “historical clothing that is correct to the period.”

So says Lizzie Lowrie, the 56-year-old Grass Valley historical seamstress who is site coordinator for the Civil War reenactments taking place this weekend at Pioneer Park in Nevada City.

Along with other volunteer members of the American Civil War Association, anywhere from 200 to 400 of them, Lowrie plans to camp out at the park, where the group will dress and cook and war like they did in the the mid-1800s.



The public is invited to walk through the camps and ask questions 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.

You’ll see both sides of that conflict, especially when they come together to fight skirmishes, scheduled for 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. on Sunday.




The guns: Yes, they’re real rifles, and the sound you’ll hear is black powder igniting, a potentially dangerous bit of the operation for the shooters.

No problem for the audience, though, as no balls will be used. And that canon. Is that real? A real replica, for sure, and it, too, fires black powder. Skirmishes last anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.

The period clothing, which Lowrie will demonstrate on Saturday at the bandshell at 2 p.m., is more than just historically accurate; seems that the economics of cloth figured big-time into why the war started in the first place, and Lowrie can go on and on about this all the facts and figures relating to this. Her fashion show will be informative, having something for both genders and all ages.

It includes officer uniforms with their challenging-to-make gold braid that indicate rank and a demonstration of what women in those days wore, starting with undergarments.

Women of the day, in fact, figure into Lowrie’s personal goals. She feels it is “very important” to educate modern day folk about how women took over the running of homesteads and family businesses when their men left for war.

“It was a big step toward women’s emancipation,” she says, sounding mighty proud of the bygone sisterhood.

Precise replication is what the American Civil War Association is all about, not just an approximation.

That’s why you’ll see no major battles. “We can’t possibly do Gettysburg because, for one, we don’t have the geography,” says Lowrie.

Also, you’ll not see a Confederate using a Springfield (MA) rifle. That was for the Union troops. The South imported Enfields from England.

A little less precise, perhaps, is what you’ll see the campers eating. Hopefully, nothing from the diet of the soldiers back then, which was “horrible” according to Lowrie: Hard tack, salt pork, corn meal if Confederate and flour if Union. While the North had better food (better transport and more money), whatever they could find found its way into a communal pot.

In the final analysis, education is the passionate goal of all living historians – that and gun safety and the horrors of war. “We try to show what war means,” says Lowrie, how people get hurt and killed. “Most soldiers died from drug addiction and infection from wounds; they didn’t know about germs then.” She’s hoping a doctor with the tools of the day will be present at the weekend camp.

On which side of the conflict does Lowrie stand? Don’t get her started. After pointing out that her ancestors from Ireland and Scotland “probably settled in the South,” the curly headed redhead says flatly, “I’m a diehard Confederate,” thus joining the ranks of the “copperheads” – a name given to those with such leanings who resided in Nevada and Sonoma counties, “two counties that had a large population with Confederate leanings.” They apparently resented what they saw as the North’s high handedness, especially in terms of taxing the cloth trade. Defiantly, Lowrie says, “No one has any business squashing someone’s way of life.”

In the long run, though, the copperheads were to be disappointed. And the irony? Gold from their home state of California helped finance the Union’s ultimate victory.

To contact Prospector Editor Pam Jung, e-mail pjung@theunion.com or call 477-4232.


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