Loading up for the Battle of Costa Mesa

Disguised as men, female soldiers slung revolvers and fired cannons alongside their male counterparts in 1861.

This is just one of many truths to discover this weekend at the fourth annual Battle of Costa Mesa, a Civil War reenactment event in Costa Mesa's Fairview Park on Saturday and Sunday.

Transforming the quiet grasslands off Placentia Avenue, more than 350 blue- and gray-clad participants will ignite a historic scene of foot soldiers, cavalry, smoking guns and North vs. South political rhetoric.

"I get a lot of flak from even the reenactment soldiers," said Anna Schurmann, an Escondido resident who will become Sgt. George of the 2nd Kentucky Calvary, a disguised female soldier with a lot of grit and gumption.

"I go out as a soldier to remind people that this happened," she said. "Women were simply not expected to fight, but they did! So when you saw pants, you thought 'male,' and everything after that was simple. Difficult if you were found out, but I'm involved to tell that part of the story too, as much as anything else."

Her role falls well beyond the scope of traditional ways women served in the Civil War, many of which will still be represented this weekend by those who followed their husbands and sons to battle and assisted on the caretaking front. Lending to that will be "the biggest period Lady's Tea this side of the Mississippi" at 2 p.m. Saturday, event organizers said.

"It's not that I don't appreciate the women reenactors," she said. "The nurses and spies and cooks all had an important role. But you couldn't get me in those petticoats if you put a gun to my head."

Her husband, Bill Schurmann, a Vietnam-era Marine who has participated in historical reenactments since the late 1990s, credits his wife's disguised female character for the operation moving smoothly.

"Regimental Quartermaster Sgt. George makes the camp go, follows regiments and sets the duty roster," he said. "He has a very important role."

Schurmann, playing the lieutenant colonel cavalry brigade commander of the Union Army of the West, travels the country with his wife for similar events. He noted with pride that his unit was "the only regular unit in the Union Army of the West. Most units were volunteers. My men enlisted!"

Event co-founder Scott Peca, playing a brigade commander with the Confederate 2nd Kentucky Regiment, said the festivities will be even bigger than last year. The Costa Mesa resident added that there will a weaponry museum, an active military hospital and live period music from the Armory Band, led by Bruce Carver.

"The goal is to give the students and families of Newport-Mesa [Unified] School District and the neighboring districts a chance to experience the Civil War beyond their textbooks," Peca said.

Equipped with bustling military campsites, broiling cook fires and sprawling battlefields for the Northern and Southern armies alike, this event's goal is to make the spectators feel like they stepped into a time machine and woke up in the 1860s, event organizers said.

William Truman Peck, a World War II veteran with a long list of accolades in the historical reenactment sector, will be in attendance as President Lincoln. He will deliver the Gettysburg Address from the battlefield, followed by comments on the war, slavery and other issues of the time.

"It's always a pleasure to be involved in an event portraying Abraham Lincoln," Peck wrote in an email. "It brings to the audience a history most have never experienced. When I am through talking to an individual or group, I want them to leave with a feeling that they have actually been talking to the real 'Lincoln' of years ago. They will hopefully have a better understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and how this country became so great after that war."

Andy Webb, a Marine Corps graduate and event co-founder, said the weekend provides a forum for local groups to exhibit their own historical knowledge on the subject. Formerly a 20-year Huntington Beach resident, Webb now lives in Riverside, but doesn't mind the drive west for the weekend.

"It becomes a community event where people can interact with each other outside of text messaging," he said. "And it gives us frustrated history buffs a chance to show off what we know, to give people a slice of history that they can touch, smell, feel, hold in their hand, so that it becomes real for them."

"I'm particularly fascinated by history and the human ability not to learn from it," he continued. "Particularly the human condition and how it translates in history, how the culture of the time accented the failings of all people involved, North and South."

Presenting the event are the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, the American Civil War Society and the Union Army of the West, in conjunction with the city of Costa Mesa and the Cost Mesa Historical Society.

Each day, two battles will transpire at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit 2ndkycav.org.

As the event's coordinators point out, freedom may come at a price, but the entire weekend's events can be enjoyed by the public free of charge.


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