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Civil War still booming at Yuma park
The battle for the Yuma Quartermaster Depot (QMD) between the Confederacy and the Union continues Sunday during the first Civil War Days re-enactment presented by the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.
On Saturday, elements of Rebels and Yankees squared off on the grassy green hills during two pitched skirmishes, with the Federals taking the field in the morning and the Rebels in the afternoon.
A detachment of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment fought on foot against a detachment of the 8th Alabama Emerald Guard, as well as a group of Texans for supremacy on the field as Rebel artillery exchanged barrages with their Union counterparts.
"This is a great venue, a wonderful place," said Lt. Col. William Schurmann, 1st Company, 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
"What we are doing is using the field as much as possible and getting a lot of shooting in to demonstrate the weapons and what the artillery can do."
The re-enactors come from units based in California and Arizona. Many said they participate to bring honor to those who fought and died in the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil.
According to civilwarhome.com, an estimated 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, which exceeds the nation's loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.
According to Sam Couchman, a foot soldier in the 8th Alabama (CSA), many died because of the mix of outdated tactics with modern warfare.
"Even though it seems rather foolish, it was the tactics of the day and they didn't know any better so they did their duty," he said.
"You fought along with somebody who became your brother, and you wouldn't desert them. Whatever they were ordered to do, they did, and hoped for the best."
One of the deadliest weapons in the war was the cannon.
"The closer you get, the worse it is," said 1st Sgt. Luther Evans of Moody's Battery (CSA), which held the heights at QMD.
"At Gettysburg when the 10th Alabama hit the stone wall, the Federals had four (cannons) with triple canister and they let off. The Federal report was that all that was left of them was a pink mist."
The soldiers of the time faced certain death because the didn't want to let each other down, Evans said.
"When people joined up back then, the whole town joined up, not just one or two people. If you ran and went home and survived, you were branded a coward forever. Everybody else stayed and died or was wounded. It was an honor to stay with your friends and die."
Over on the Federal side, Lt. Anthony Variz, Battery D Fifth Artillery (USA), gave orders as his men swabbed out, loaded and fired their cannons at the enemy.
"Today we have a total of eight cannons on the field, four on each side, so we had a pretty good artillery barrage going," Variz said, noting cannons cost quite a bit of money to purchase for re-enactment.
"Mine are rifled and the tubes are about $10,000 apiece. The carriages are about $9,000, so it is about 20 grand per cannon."
Variz is actually a descendent of Confederates but said he became a Federal because of the lack of Yankees on the modern battle field.
"For some reason, Confederate re-enacting is more popular by far, like two to one. I guess it is just more fun to be the Rebel. I started by joining a Confederate artillery unit, and then because of the imbalance of the Confederacy to the Federals, we always found ourselves (switching sides). You can't do a decent re-enactment and show what it looks like if you don't have good numbers on both sides, so I took the hit for the team against my ancestry."
For Couchman, who participates alongside his son, Thomas, becoming a Confederate was inevitable.
"In our area we had an artillery unit that was Confederate, so they developed an infantry unit to back them up. If they would have been Federal, we would be Federals. Confederates are a little bit easier to do in some ways because you have a lot of independence with your uniform. Union is just straight blue and it is not as individualist as the Confederates."
The main difference between the re-enactment and the actual war is the lack of bullets. All re-enactors, including the cannon, use black powder blanks, and when they "die" on the field, they can get back up after all is said and done and go home.
"I get killed at least twice a weekend, but we get to get back up again," Schurmann said.
"We really try to preserve what it was like at the time and honor that. It is a little expensive to get into, but we have a great group of people. This is very therapeutic."
Civil War Days continues Sunday at QMD, 201 N. 4th Ave., from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $10.
• 8 a.m. - Gates open to public; admission $10
• 8:45 a.m. - Post colors
• 9 a.m. - Church service
• 10 a.m. - Spencer & Jackson Minstrel Show
• 10:30 a.m. - Close camps and muster
• 11 a.m. - Battle
• 12:30 p.m. - Jackson Minstrel Show
• 1 p.m. - Close camps and muster; artillery demonstration (Union & CS Artillery)
• 1:30 p.m. - Battle
• 2 p.m. - Gates close