Civil War battle to descend on Costa Mesa

COSTA MESA — "Bodies" will line the normally tranquil trails of Fairview Park. The stench of gunpowder and the sounds of "dying" men will fill the air.

This weekend marks the third annual Battle of Costa Mesa, hosted by the American Civil War Society, at the park at 2501 Placentia Ave.

In addition, Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ft. Sumter, the site of the first battle in the Civil War.

"There are times when I really get into my character," said Scott Peca, a Costa Mesa resident who will play a brigade commander with the Confederate 2nd Kentucky Regiment in the Civil War battle re-enactment planned for Saturday and Sunday. "I fade into being a lieutenant colonel; this is my brigade, these are my boys, this is my fight."

Though the period dress and acting can make observers feel like they are revisiting the War Between the States, previous re-enactments have shown that you can count on a car horn or airplane overhead to quickly ground the event to the present era, said Peca, 56.

"My goal for the last three years is for the Battle of Costa Mesa to bring to the public a hands-on museum," Peca said.

"It's a chance to step back in time to experience what it was like in the Civil War," he added. "For students to be able to walk up and touch a musket and see how food was prepared back then, it is a chance for them to see what they're reading in history books."

Although choosing to represent a member of the Confederate cavalry may seem an odd choice for some, Peca is immensely proud of his heritage and the lessons taught by retelling elements of the war.

He has family ties that connect him to John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate general whose aggressive strategies earned him the nickname "Thunderbolt of the South."

The general was the leader of Morgan's Raid, a Confederate attack into the Northern states of Ohio and Indiana in the summer of 1863 that resulted in Morgan's imprisonment and subsequent escape from the Ohio Penitentiary.

Stories like Morgan's and other Civil War facts are now largely forgotten, Peca said.

"One of the reasons why we do what we do is to educate the public on what happened," Peca said. "For example, not many people realize today that we had two fully functional governments in the U.S. at that time."

The Battle of Costa Mesa will not only serve as a living example of the horrors of the war, but attendees will also see what life was like off the battlefield. In addition to watching or participating in the battle, guests can walk though the soldiers' encampments, attend a ladies' tea or a period-authentic baseball game, or listen to a re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.

"A lot of the women would follow their husbands and sons to war," said Robyn Lemke, 43, of Huntington Beach. "A lot of the women would go ahead and dress as men and fight alongside their husbands. Of course, they were arrested if found out."

Lemke, who is organizing the ladies' tea, got swept up in the excitement of re-enactments shortly after meeting her husband, Peter LaMirand, 48, who plays a soldier in the Union's 2nd Cavalry.

Lemke and LaMirand have camping supplies, all authentic reproductions, which they will set up and sleep in alongside other participants to make up the Union camp from Friday night to Sunday at Fairview Park.

"You get up Saturday morning, and you're in the 1860s," LaMirand said. "The drums will start beating, you put your uniforms on, form up for morning muster, raise the flag and then the parents and their kids arrive and the day really begins."

Once the battle starts — which will repeat twice daily — the excitement in the air is palpable. However, more than a fun event, the well-rounded depiction of life on and off the battlefield also serves as a reminder that both sides fought with equal passion over what they thought was right, Peca said.

"Who knows? Had things turned out differently, we might have been singing 'Dixie' instead of 'God Bless America,'" Peca said.

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