Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Civil War Re-enactment at Roaring Camp
Trip Date: May 30, 2004
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: May 31, 2004

Four people showed up for the Civil War re-enactment at Roaring Camp on Sunday, May 30 during the Memorial Day weekend; only one of them a camera club member. The gathering was apropos, since Memorial Day was originally the day set aside to remember the horrendous blood bath that was the American Civil War. The event was a wonderful opportunity to get some interesting people photos—like shooting blue and gray fish in a barrel. (Please excuse the mixed metaphors.)

Our group strolled through the tent camps and looked at and talked with those who put on military uniforms or period costumes and squatted for a week in order to present their part of the reconstructive performance of an event that happened 140 years ago and thousands of miles away.

Arriving early in the morning we had a very good chance to shoot pictures at our leisure and seek out the subjects that we wanted. The battle itself was an excellent photo opportunity, but the best people studies present themselves between the two staged battles of the day. In order to get good battle shots we claimed two bales of hay directly behind the yellow tape boundary at the center of the spectators’ gallery. Having to wait as much as an hour to claim this good camera position, we rested as the noonday sun cast its harsh shadows and the heat of the day increased our threshold of discomfort. The sound of cannon punctuated the start the show and we watched a “typical” period skirmish transpire before our eyes. The climax played out right in front of us as the blue-clad Feds pushed the rag-tag Rebs back and the whole confrontation ended in a rather ambiguous conclusion—I was thankful to be spared the usual tiresome Hollywood ending we have become so accustomed to these days.

The verdant background scenery of the Santa Cruz mountains with vintage steam engines chugging through at regular intervals heightened the experience to a seemingly realistic height. Another re-enactment was going on simultaneously at Ardenwood Historic park in Fremont, but we were very glad we drove the extra miles to attend this one. Participants made sure to inform us that the “other” clan of civil war enthusiasts were taking part in the Ardenwood event. Regardless of which party we were unwittingly supporting we were quite happy we came.

One of the young participant’s mother made a good point about the history lesson her musket-toting offspring was getting: He’s learned that no one particular side was entirely “right” in this most terrible of civil wars. The biggest conflict evident to me was not the rivalry between the Blue and the Gray, but the rivalry between the hard-core participants and the so-called “Farbs,” those who are considered less than authentic in their interpretation and dress. Usually one could distinguish between the Foamers and the Farbs by initiating a conversation—having to shake the “Foamers” off of your leg in order to escape. When photographing an event, it pays not to be trapped in a conversation for too long.

The consensus our group achieved, as we sipped some therapeutic, cool suds in nearby Felton, was that this event was well worth our time on this the first hectic leisure weekend of the summer season.

© 2004 S.R. Hinrichs