“War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” --Gen. William Sherman (1864)
“War, in any case or time period, is no picnic.” --Gary Fradella (1993)
Chino real estate appraiser Gary Fradella has spent 16 years stripping the old whitewash off the war that made Sherman, Grant and Lee household names. And he doesn’t mind bearing arms to do it.
Every month, Fradella and some of the 500 fellow members of the Southern California Civil War Assn. take a leave of absence from the 20th Century to stage elaborate “show battles” that roughly trace the evolution of the War Between the States. On Saturday, the conflict moves to Irvine Regional Park as part of the park’s 96th anniversary celebration, a free public event that also features country music and dance, classic cars, an antique machinery show, crafts and children’s games.
According to Fradella, members of the Southern California Civil War Assn. approximately track the Civil War through their monthly mock battles; they repeat the cycle when they reach the end of the war. In Irvine, the action will be based on the events of September, 1863, when Confederate and Union troops were facing off in northern Georgia and southern Tennessee just a few months after the battle of Gettysburg.
Instead of trying to re-create the war’s major battles with so few men, Fradella said he and his cohorts generally portray the skirmishes between the advance forces sent out by either side. (Once a year, members travel to a major Civil War battleground in the East to join similar groups in re-enactments of famous battles. Film footage of these events has been used in such movies as “Dances With Wolves” and the upcoming “Gettysburg,” he said.)
Beginning at 1:30 p.m., the Irvine Park skirmish will involve about 150 uniformed infantrymen, as well as a small cavalry force. Guns will blast, sabers will clash and blood--or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof--will flow.
But despite the violence, Fradella stressed that his group has a peaceful intent.
“We’re not trying to glorify or glamorize war in any way,” he explained during a recent phone interview.
Instead, he said, the group’s demonstrations “represent what this country went through internally (during the Civil War), where U.S. citizens were fighting other U.S. citizens.
“We want people to see the brutality of war.”
Red is a dominant color in that picture. At 4 p.m., viewers can visit a field hospital in the Union Army’s encampment. Here, amid patient’s screams and quarts of theatrical blood, members portraying medical staff try to patch up the wounded, employing emergency procedures typical of that time, up to and including mock amputations.
The hospital demonstration is an effective way to help visitors, especially younger ones, understand the physical horrors of the war.
“Infection ran rampant, suture material was made out of horsehair, medical instruments used to operate on one man weren’t even washed before they were used on another,” said Fradella. “We try to be pretty accurate in our portrayal. We’ve had people faint on us . . . but most of the kids think it’s a blast to watch.”
Sandwiched between these two events are a women’s social gathering (“complete with hoop skirts,” promised Fradella) and guided tours of the Union and Confederate encampments in which members portraying actual Civil War characters discuss the hardships of military life. Visitors can also get a closer look at the group’s heavy artillery, which includes full scale, functioning reproductions of Parrot rifles and an original Blakely rifle.
Most of the nonprofit group’s weapons, ammunition and uniforms are purchased from the East Coast manufacturers and paid for by the members, said Fradella.
At dusk, members will leave their scripts behind to take part in an improvised “dark tactical” through a wooded area in the park. Portions of the program, including the staged battle and tactical, will be repeated starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday.
Because of the noise level, other anniversary events will be held in a separate section of the park. Musical performers are scheduled to include the Dean Dobbins Band, Smokewood, and Lillies of the West. Visitors can also watch dancing by the Cripple Creek Cloggers and the Santana Swingers, and take part in free country dance lessons for all ages. Other features include a strolling magician and a barbershop quartet, demonstrations by blacksmith Monty Haberman, carnival games and relay races.
A display of nearly 100 classic American cars from the teens to the ‘60s is planned, along with demonstrations of antique farm machinery. Hay rides and pony rides will be available at an extra charge, and food, including portions of a 96-foot taco to be assembled by the League of United Latin American Citizens, will be sold.
Park staff will be available to answer questions and share the history of the county park, which now spans 477 acres and includes a small lake, a zoo, an interpretive center and wilderness areas. The original land was once part of Don Teodosio Yorba’s original Mexican grant of Rancho Lomas de Santiago. Known in the 1850s by locals simply as “The Picnic Grounds,” the site’s original 160 acres were donated to the county by James Irvine Jr.
Irvine Regional Park 96th Anniversary.
Saturday, Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Maps and event schedules will be available at the gate.
Irvine Regional Park, 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange.
From the north, exit the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway at Chapman Avenue East. Drive 5 miles to Jamboree Road and turn left to the park entrance. From the south, exit the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at Jamboree, and drive east 7 1/2 miles to the park entrance.
Event admission is free; parking is $2.
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