PASCO — Sitting beneath an oil painting depicting him as a Civil War-era Union officer, Pasco resident Glen Allison acknowledged that Washington — much less the Northwest — had little if any role in the conflict.
There are some ties. Confederate Gen. George Pickett was based in the San Juan Islands during a dispute with Great Britain before the war, Allison said. Fort Stevens, at the mouth of the Columbia River, was built during the war to guard against potential raids.
Allison, 62, a longtime reenactor and Pasco High School history teacher, will participate in an event at Columbia Park this weekend. There is value in what he and others do when they wear period uniforms, use reproduction weapons and eat the food that was available to soldiers at that time, he said.
“I like teaching about history, but I love teaching about how life was like,” he said.
Organizers are still finalizing details of the scheduled reenactment, part of the library district’s presentation of Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War, a traveling exhibit on display at the Kennewick branch on Union Street.
It’s not certain exactly how many people will participate, officials said. However, there is buzz about the event in the community.
“Even the park staff working with us is thrilled,” said Elissa Burnley, community engagement specialist with Mid-Columbia Libraries. “It’s different and new.”
Allison became involved in Civil War reenactments in 1990, noting it was a natural fit with his other hobbies.
He was already participating in other role-playing activities, such as the medieval-themed Society for Creative Anachronism, when a friend insisted he attend a Civil War reenactment. He was hooked, he said.
“The sight of it, the pageantry, but this was American,” Allison said.
He helped form a Union infantry unit, the Seventh Wisconsin. He has also served as a Confederate but prefers to be a Yank, adding “they did win, you know.”
The Civil War isn’t the only era Allison helps re-create. He was at a Lewis & Clark-themed event on a recent weekend on the Oregon Coast. His personal museum fills a room in his home’s basement, with U.S. military uniforms and gear from the Revolution to Operation Desert Storm, along with paraphernalia and countless collectibles.
But Civil War activities have taken up a lot of his interest. He went back east years ago to take part in a Battle of Gettysburg reenactment with tens of thousands of other participants. He served for four years as the commanding Union officer for the Washington Civil War Association, the group putting on the event in Columbia Park. The oil painting hanging in his living room is a commemoration of that service.
Allison also helped organize the only other Civil War reenactment he knows to have been arranged in the Tri-Cities, at Pasco’s Mark Twain Elementary School in the mid-1990s.
Allison’s son was in the fifth grade at the time and studying the period, he said. Dozens of reenactors demonstrated what life was like during the war and staged a mock battle.
“The Union army was defending the swings and the Confederates the merry-go-round,” Allison said.
‘Some history has snuck in’
The library district was required to provide promotion for the Lincoln exhibit in exchange for it to come to the Tri-Cities, Burnley said.
Officials considered doing a smaller reenactment at the Union Street location, “but then we decided to go big or go home,” she said.
The free, two-day event will offer a mock battle and various demonstrations, ranging from infantry, cavalry and artillery units to cooking, camp life and even a fashion show. A cannon is being brought down from Ritzville and several horses will be on hand as cavalry units.
Illustrating civilian and military life is important, said Rich Bright, the state association president and a Union cavalryman. It’s even more important now that science, math and technology are getting more attention in schools and history becomes sidelined.
“The kids get to see some really cool stuff and before you know it, some history has snuck in,” he said.
Organizers had hoped to bring 100 to 150 reenactors together for the event, but Bright said there might be only 50 to 100 people participating.
He and Allison said the primary issue is location. Most of the state’s reenactors live on the west side of the Cascades and aren’t always eager to head east for events.
The Tri-Cities also isn’t a regular site for a reenactment, so reenactors aren’t used to visiting the area. And school is starting soon, which hampers travel for others.
“I think the skirmish will be kind of light,” Bright said of the mock battle.
Not all is lost, though. Bright knows of some reenactors who already plan to attend, he said. There are also reenactors based in Yakima and Spokane who could show up,. Another event in Union Gap several weeks ago drew between 350 to 400 reenactors and thousands of spectators.
And if any spectators at the Columbia Park event want to try their hand, organizers said they are always looking for more members.
“If you do it right, you can get a real feel for what those soldiers suffered through,” Allison said.
If you go
What: Civil War reenactment
When: From 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bandshell in Columbia Park
Details: For times of specific events, go to www.midcolumbialibraries.org