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A canon is fired Saturday during a Living History Days event at Hanley Farm. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Perspectives of the past

Moments after Chayton Smith extolled the virtues of the Sharps carbine over the muzzleloader rifles that preceded it, his second misfire became a teachable moment. 

On Civil War battlefields, a misfire was a common occurrence that opened a window of opportunity for the enemy, Cascade Civil War Society President Hugh Simpson said. A second misfire often meant certain death.

"We got a dead soldier over here," joked Simpson, after Smith's replica weapon fired with a muted thud. "Oh, it's terrible."

A field outside Hanley Farm took on the flavor of the 1860s Saturday as history enthusiasts and curious locals learned about nuances and obscure facts from the deadliest war in American history. 

For example, Smith, 13, dressed in a gray Confederate uniform, would not have looked out of place at the time of the war, his father Greg Smith said.

"There were a lot of men his age, 10 years and up," Greg Smith said. Good teeth, good fingers and the ability to carry a weapon were the sole requirements to join on either side. Chayton Smith said some enlistments would write the number 18 on a piece of paper in their shoes so they could say half-truthfully that they were "over 18."

Greg Smith said Hanley Farm, founded in 1857, supplied produce, meat and eggs, primarily to Northern soldiers during the war.

"People don't realize we were actually a state during the Civil War," Greg Smith said.

Pam Smith of Central Point, not related to Greg or Chayton, has adopted the persona of a widowed Tennessean Confederate nurse focused on battlefield triage. She said nurses in the South drew on home remedies because medicines used in the North weren't as available.

"We try to let people know we (women) did more than just run around and wear dresses," Pam Smith said.

Unmarried women weren't allowed to be nurses, because the work was considered "indecent," said McKenzie VanDelden of Rogue River, who was wearing a green, period-correct dress she made. VanDelden personified the life of women on the homefront of the war effort, which included knitting socks and bandages for soldiers.

"Knitting socks was, like, the cool thing to do," VanDelden said. She said she joined roughly two years ago because of her interest in history, and because of the opportunity to make her own costumes.

Carrying a rifle, three pistols, three knives, a bullwhip and a tomahawk, Rick Two Bears of Medford explores the roles of Native Americans in the war. Many were scouts and skirmishers, and many worked alone, so they needed to be prepared for any situation, Two Bears said. Just as the war divided families, it also divided tribes, he said.

Two Bears, who's originally from Mississippi, said two of his grandfathers fought for the Confederate army, along with a third ancestor on his family tree. All three survived, and Two Bears has reproductions of the amnesty oaths they signed when the war ended.

Greg and Chayton Smith, of Medford, have reenacted Confederate roles for the past three years. Greg said he joined to get a better understanding of what led up to the war. History looks back at the war as solely about slavery, Greg Smith said, and certainly slavery was the catalyst, but the South's viewpoint included frustrations over rising taxes, a growing federal government and a divide in attitudes between Northern and Southern states. To Confederate sympathizers, Greg Smith said, the federal government resembled the British government before them.

In the three years since Chayton Smith first expressed interest in the hobby, the Smiths have spent thousands on costumes and replica weapons. Chayton has been thoroughly trained on gun safety, Greg Smith said, and although they enjoy using and learning about the weapons used in the war, it's the enthusiastic people who keep them coming back.

Jim Kingerly of Gold Beach, who has been reenacting for 26 years, set up an authentic campsite on the farm with canvas tent, cot and throw rug. He said he still learns new facets about the war. But what keeps him involved are the people from all walks of life who take on historical personas.

"Everyone just melts together," Kingerly said.

Living History Days will continue Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hanley Farm, 1053 Hanley Road, Central Point. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children. Hanley House tours are $3. All proceeds benefit Southern Oregon Historical Society. Call 541-773-6536 or see www.sohs.org. For information about the club, see www.cascadecws.com.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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