Tracy men defend Confederacy now and then

By Lori Gilbert
Record Staff Writer
March 16, 2010

Bob Preston and Chris Bowman each grew up in diversified areas of California and hold no sympathy for Southerners who lost their slaves after the American Civil War.

The two residents of Tracy can trace their family roots to the South, though, and when they re-enact battles with the American Civil War Association, they proudly sport the gray of the rebel army.

"We try to get rid of the misconceptions," said Bowman, 47, who serves as lieutenant colonel of the Confederate army. "The lay person is not aware of what was going on in the Civil War. They think if you were a Southerner, you must have been a slave owner, but 98 percent of all slaves were owned by less than 5 percent of the population. Most of the people fighting in the Civil War were farmers. They worked their own crops and had their own little farms."

Civil War Re-enactment

What: Two-day program with Civil War battle re-enactments, people in period dress demonstrating practices of the day.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with battles at 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday. A non-denominational church service is 9 a.m. Sunday.

Where: Stanislaus River Park, Knights Ferry, off Highway 108 east of Oakdale.

Admission: Free, but $5-per-carload donation is requested.

Information: www.acwa.org or e-mail chrisbowman19@hotmail.com

Those who re-enact the Civil war are engineers like Bowman, or retired law enforcement officers like Preston, 50. They’re also teachers, students, lawyers, doctors and people from just about every other walk of life. They’re liberal and conservative, black and white.

The Northern California-based American Civil War Association will recreate the Civil War era, including four battle re-enactments, Saturday and Sunday at Stanislaus River Park in Knight’s Ferry, off Highway 108 east of Oakdale.

With the Confederate Army on one side of the park’s covered bridge and the Union Army on the other, the two-day re-enactment will feature participants in period clothing demonstrating practices of the day, from cooking and sewing to gun cleaning and shooting. They’ll answer visitor’s questions and provide a glimpse of an enduring era in American history.

The battle re-enactments feature men in wool uniforms of the day firing blanks from guns that are reproductions of the era’s weapons.

"I believe people think it’s a bunch of yahoos running around with guns," said Bowman, who joined the organization about 10 years ago after studying his family genealogy and learning of his Southern roots. "It couldn’t be further from the truth. Every member of ACWA must complete safety training and take tests. It’s closely supervised. The biggest thing is for everyone to go home in one piece."

That’s been the case since the club was formed in 1994.

"These are real guns. They have the ability to hurt someone even if you’re firing blanks," Preston said. "We are very safety conscious."

It’s safe for the whole family, the two say.

"My wife, my children and my grandchildren are involved," Bowman said.

What members share is a love of history and a desire to share it with others through re-enactments and visits with those who attend the events.

"We call it camping with theater," Bowman said.

This weekend’s event, one of several held monthly from March through October, is organized by Preston, who also serves as the club’s treasurer. The battle re-enactment, as with its other monthly programs, draws the biggest crowd.

"We can never duplicate what actually happened, the carnage, bloodshed and misery that was the American Civil War," Bowman said.

"We can only give the public a glimpse of what it might have been like, with cannons and smoke and what seems to be utter chaos."

Although the landscape prevents re-enactment of any specific battle, the fights are meant to be realistic with a scripted winner.

Entry to the event is free, although the nonprofit organization asks for a donation of $5 per carload.

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