If you go
What: Civil War Encampment. Local re-enactors will gather to put on demonstrations about life during the war
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 16
Where: Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch, 1215 Roberts Ave.
Information: (239) 658-2466
Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo
NAPLES — Now is their time.
Although the battles and skirmishes play out almost every weekend around the country, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War will launch the biggest wave of re-enactments ever. Although re-enacting has been around as long as Renaissance fairs, the push to relive America’s deadliest war has only popped up in the past half-century.
Today, 150 years later, as we begin to reflect on the Battle of Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War on April 12, 1861, re-enactors will play a key role by giving us a three-dimensional portrait of what we’ve only seen in history books.
Here are some of their stories.
David Southall, 65, Naples
David Southall’s office at the Collier County Museum is an armory. Black powder muskets and pistols occupy any space they can find among the clutter. On his desk is a working replica of a British pistol predating flintlocks. It has to be wound up before firing. In a green metal cabinet, various models of rifles sit ready for action.
As the museum’s director, Southall uses the weapons as props for the various re-enactments the group hosts each year. Last month, during Old Florida Festival on the museum’s campus near the Collier County Courthouse, it seemed like every 10 minutes another re-enactor would pop into his doorway looking for a gun.
“Guns were a very important piece of technology,” Southall says, slipping into professor mode. “Guns gave ordinary people the ability to resist tyranny.”
In many ways, these guns bring Southall back to the early 1960s, when, as a high school student in Buffalo, he participated in a re-enactment of a battle at Fort Niagra in the War of 1812. He had seen a living history presentation at the fort.
“I just got really interested,” he says. “Boring history began to be real. It was about real people and real places.”
So he made his own Union “outfit” and set off to be a re-enactor. Eventually he helped form a group dedicated to portraying the 44th New York Rifles, a 90-man unit out of Buffalo.
When they went out to find guns, they realized they could get their hands on many of the original weapons of the period. Being only a couple of generations removed from the war itself, those old guns were plentiful.
“Back then at the hardware store you’d find 15 or 20 old muskets,” he says. “They were cheap.”
Now, re-enacting can be an expensive hobby. It’s not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars on replica uniforms. If you want a full-scale working replica of a cannon, you are going to be out between $5,000 and $30,000.
“Maybe hobby is the wrong word for it, more like avocation,” Southall says. “People can get really into looking for authentic-to-period pieces. It can be pretty expensive.”
This is the last of several stories in a Scripps Howard News Service and Naples Daily News team report about the upcoming 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. For full coverage, pick up copies of the Daily News on Sunday and Monday.
But in the early 1960s, $40 would buy you a nice musket. So Southall wrangled up enough money to buy 40 guns for his group to participate at the centennial of the battle at Gettysburg in 1963. He’s been in love with them from that moment. He’s become a certified expert in black powder weapons, teaching local re-enactors to properly use the equipment and to even train others.
As the re-enactors come by to grab guns for Old Florida Festival, he gives them a quick safety reminder. Not that he needs to, really.
“I trained all of these people myself,” he says.
Jon Heiland, 18, Naples
Jon Heiland isn’t like most of the other re-enactors.
Sure, he’s a history buff. Yes, he got started as a way to satisfy his curiosity in history.
But unlike most re-enactors, he was born in the 1990s. A common concern around re-enactment camps is the lack of interest in the hobby from the younger generations. Some fathers drag their sons along, but there aren’t a lot of people younger than 40 who don’t have a family connection.
Heiland got started two years ago when a friend formed a history club at Barron Collier High School and volunteered the group to take part in the Old Florida Festival. It was like opening a door into a whole new world.
“You aren’t re-enacting. You are reliving,” he says. “I get really anxious. I mean, you are in the middle of a battle. It’s not ‘Call of Duty’ where you are playing a game. There aren’t live rounds, but you are right in the middle of the action.”
A love of details also draws Heiland to re-enacting.
“A lot of re-enactors are really strict, so you will look really foolish if you aren’t historically accurate,” he says.
The pressure to be accepted inspires you to try harder to get the details right, which, in turn, takes you to new levels of understanding.
“Some people will find actual people in the war,” Heiland says. “They’ll learn everything they can about them. Read their diaries. You are really being that soldier.”
Heiland usually plays a Union soldier, though not because of any connection to either side. Many re-enactors choose sides based on family or geographic ties. But Heiland likes they idea of playing a role few know about.
“People don’t realize that there were quite a few union soldiers in Florida during the war,” he says.
Lou Stickles, 66, Marco Island
Lou Stickles got his first taste of re-enacting not at a Civil War gathering, but during a celebration of America’s bicentennial.
“They were playing baroque music and everyone was wearing colonial outfits,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is pretty neat.’ ”
He really got into the Civil War in the 1980s, when he went to Gettysburg and started exploring the battlegrounds around his metro Washington, D.C., home.
When he moved to Marco in the late ’80s, he started learning about the local history and realized people, especially kids, didn’t know the history of their own backyard. Working with the Collier County Museum, Stickles in the past five years has started outreach programs that teach high school students about the history through re-enacting.
“If you don’t know what the past is about, how are you going to avoid making the same mistakes?” he says. “Many of these kids don’t know about the Apollo missions. How are they going to know anything about the Civil War?”
Stickles enjoys re-enacting so much that he’s willing to play whatever role is needed. Although he is part of a regiment for big battles, when he goes to smaller local battles he’s willing to play Union or Confederate soldiers.
He understands that a lot of people from the North find playing a Confederate a bit unseemly. Isn’t it just saying you support slavery?
“The war wasn’t about slavery,” he says. “That was only a small part of it. It was about economics and the South feeling like they were paying more than their fair share.”