"It was America's bloodiest era," says University of Houston history professor Eric Walther of the Civil War. "More Americans were killed at the hands of other Americans than in any other wars in history combined." Texas wasn't even on the winning side of the bloodshed; in fact, our state was so heavily Confederate that Unionist governor Sam Houston was forced from office in 1861. So why would anyone here want to re-create this section of our not-so-illustrious past?
"This was a fascinating subject to us," says Bill Gibson, a computer company supervisor who conceived the Civil War Weekend to raise money for the Civil War Museum in Old Town Spring. "Just the size and scope of it and how it affected the direction of our country." Plus, Gibson and his friends get to play historical G.I. Joe. On November 20, more than 600 civilians from all over Texas and the South will be transformed into soldiers for 48 hours. In Woodstock-esque fashion, they'll eat, sleep and "fight" in a huge dirt field. And, according to Gibson, they never break character. That doesn't sound too pleasant, but he assures that all re-enactors are cordial to both guests and each other: "People are in it because they enjoy each other's company."
The tents will be pitched and the dust will be kicked at Liendo Plantation, built in 1853 to be a training camp during the war. According to the Gulf States Living History Association, good ol' Union General George Armstrong Custer even paid the plot a visit after the war and was ordered by the government to incinerate it upon departure. For whatever reason, he didn't. The 1,000-acre plantation has since been inherited by Will Detering, a Hempstead restaurant owner.
Aside from the gunpowder and testosterone, the weekend will include "folk-life demonstrations" (you know, spinning, weaving, quilting and blacksmithing) plus old-school baseball games and "popular music of the 1860s": bagpipes, drums and fifes.
Professor Walther needn't worry about the Civil War Weekend being too historically accurate. The once-a-day battle scenes at Liendo won't look anything like the bloody film Glory. They're usually choreographed, and there is never any hand-to-hand simulation. Improvised field battles aren't exactly gruesome either. For example, when the outcome is not predetermined, "sometimes [the leader] will say, 'Everybody born in January, take a hit on the next shot,' " says Gibson.
The soldiers get their practice performing for students and at similar festivals. There's even a group of nomadic people, called "sutlers," who make a living by selling re-enactor props. A pretty decent Civil War cavalry getup sans firearm costs about $150. But since this is the Civil War in Texas, the firearms attract the most attention. Gibson carries an authentic 1816 Springfield rifle that was used in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Onlookers often ask to hold it. "No," he says, "but I'll show it to you."
The Civil War Weekend is Saturday and Sunday, November 20 and 21, at Liendo Plantation, south of FM 1488 on Wyatt Chapel Road in Hempstead. Battles will be performed at 2 p.m., and other demonstrations will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and students ages seven to 12. Call (409)826-3126 or (877)468-6767 for more info.