By Gary Weiand
Sunday, August 1, 2004 10:05 PM MDT
Two history teachers from Lake Havasu City turned the clocks back 140 years last weekend when they helped recreate a Civil War encampment at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Jim Lusk and his son-in-law Brian Zemojtel were excited about the event because their Civil War reenactment unit, the Confederacy’s 21st Georgia Infantry Regiment, was granted access to the park, which is almost never available because it is considered sacred ground, they said.
Although the unit usually participates in re-enactments of Civil War battles, the Gettysburg campground was different, they said, a living history, in which spectators ask questions and receive responses totally in character – unaware of who will win the coming battle.
"You get to live in the 19th century for a weekend," Zemojtel said before the pair left for Gettysburg. "Everything is lit by candles and lanterns. We’ll actually be camping out amongst the ghosts and the monuments of the battlefield."
According to Lusk, camp conditions are intended to be as authentic as possible. No modern artifacts may be visible. Some absolutists revert entirely to the past, but Lusk said he is more flexible, putting coolers inside wooden crates painted to look like ammunition boxes, for example.
Lusk said that he began participating in Civil War re-enactments in 1987 in New York, before moving here in 1996. He chose to join the Confederacy because Virgil S. Lusk, his great-great-great-uncle, served in the North Carolina Cavalry. Virgil’s horse was shot out from under him in 1863. Captured, he spent two years in a federal prison-of-war camp, later writing his reminiscences. Lusk said that his family remained in North Carolina until after World War II.
"I was the first one born in the North," he said.
Many towns request generic battle demonstrations, but the unit also participates in recreations of famous battles, which run in five-year cycles, with 1861 battles recreated in 2001, for example, and 1864 in 2004. In 2006 they will return to 1861, he said.
According to Lusk, formations perform as they did in the battle. Participants purchase replicas of the era’s clothing, weapons and supplies. Though there is no live ammunition, each round of cannon fire can use 1.5 pounds of powder, the bayonets are real, and one man was severely injured when a pistol discharged right in his face, he said.
Lusk said that people often ask how participants know when to fall. It’s not choreographed, beyond an officer explaining that there should be losses at particular points. Individuals decide on their own – because their guns are overheated, or they want to give new members a chance to advance, or because they’re out of ammunition, he said.
According to Lusk, reenactments are a big-time operation. He said that in 1988 8,000 men recreated Gen. George S. Pickett’s charge during the Battle of Gettysburg in front of 88,000 spectators. He said that movies – like "Glory," "Gettysburg," and "Gods and Generals" – often use Civil War reenactment units for their footage.
"It’s cheaper for movie companies to make donations to battlefield preservation funds than to hire actors, and they come trained," he said.
Lusk said that he taught history in New York before moving to the city in 1996. Zemojtel formerly taught history at Thunderbolt Middle School and now teaches it at Lake Havasu City High School; Zemojtel has also taught a course on the Civil War at the Lake Havasu City campus of Mohave Community College, he said.
Lusk said that there are hundreds of independent reenactment units across the nation. Members of the 21st pay $25 dues for insurance, purchase their own equipment and pay their own travel expenses. Most members live further east, and he would like to start a new unit here, Lusk said.
Anyone interested in Civil war re-enactments – or just conversation – should call Lusk at 453-4924, or Zemojtel at 854-1477.
© 2004 River City Newspapers