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Civil War Reenactment Returns To Knights Ferry
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Cannon fire boomed out over the Knights Ferry area throughout the weekend, as members of the American Civil War Association returned to stage reenactments on both Saturday and Sunday, March 25 and 26. Crowds turned out to view the battles from the hillside above the historic Knights Ferry covered bridge. Marg Jackson/The Leader

Cannons boomed, drummers drummed and troops scouted out strategic spots in the hills surrounding Knights Ferry over the weekend, as the American Civil War Association returned to stage skirmishes and provide a living history lesson.

Confederate and Union troops were both on hand, with camps set up on both sides of the Stanislaus River, welcoming in visitors in between the staged battles.

Saturday and Sunday, March 25 and 26, both offered mostly sunny skies and though chilly, the rain held off to allow for good crowds to turn out for the event. It marked the return of the battles for the first time since they were held in 2019.

Matthew Haskett of Turlock is a Union soldier who was glad to have the chance to return this year.

“We’re here to really honor the soldiers of the Civil War; to reenact the soldiers’ daily life, we have quite a few people here who are infantry members, we have artillery members, I’m playing the part of a bugler so I get to basically follow the colonel around and basically relay his commands in bugle form,” Haskett said.

He noted that, on the battlefield, there is too much noise and commotion to hear commands, so soldiers learn what each specific bugle call means, and follow ‘orders’ in that way, depending on what is played.

“We just really think it’s important for people to honor the men and women of the period,” he added.

Andrew Pleva of Livermore started taking part in reenactments when he was nine and now, at 41, said he still enjoys it.

“Happy to be back at it, educating the public, sharing our passion for history, making sure that the memories of these soldiers that did a horrible thing in the middle of the 19th century, that their lives are honored,” Pleva said.

On the Confederate side, Jenica Deisher of Fresno was on hand, and though not in the battles, was still a key part of the reenactment.

“I’ve been coming up for about 10 years,” Deisher said, noting that the ACWA is a family-oriented community that also includes “friends who have become like family.”

Part of what she does is provide information in the camps, as they offer a glimpse into a ‘day in the life’ of the time period.

“We show a lot of how people would live and set up camp, cook; it’s living history,” she said.

Matthew Burton of Mariposa is a six-year veteran.

“I’ve always been a history buff so, one day I got invited out to an event, and here I am,” Burton noted.

He said anyone can get involved; it just takes a little interest.

“You pretty much just go around, there’s a bunch of different units at events, as long as it’s not during a battle time you are welcome to walk through the camps, and from there you just talk to people and they’ll get you signed up, safety tested and all that.”

Tom Starr, from Novato, is a Union captain with the 20th regiment from Maine, Company G of the ACWA.

“We’ve been here for 30 years; our group’s been coming here and we always get a tremendous reception from the people, the public comes out on Saturday and Sunday to see us and walk through our camps and to learn about the history of the Civil War,” Starr pointed out. “All of us provide our own uniforms, all of us provide our own equipment … we’re living historians and we come from all over California.”

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Against a backdrop of the Stanislaus River amid the rolling hills of Knights Ferry, Confederate troops prepare to take aim at the Union soldiers, during a Sunday morning skirmish as part of the Civil War Days observance over the weekend. Marg Jackson/The Leader
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Prior to the start of a staged skirmish on Sunday morning, Union troops gather in the area adjacent to the covered bridge in Knights Ferry, with soldiers, drummers, flag bearers and more all assembling for battle. Marg Jackson/The Leader