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Calendar >  Civil War in Vista – A Photographer’s Paradise

Civil War in Vista – A Photographer’s Paradise

By   /  March 7, 2017  /  No Comments


Pat Murphy

March 4rd and 5th Vista, CA

President Abraham Lincoln, General Ulysses Grant, and Marshall Ward Hill Lamon were helping to bring history to life. A cast of hundreds was in Vista to recreate authentic battle scenes and bring the sights and sounds of the Civil War to life. This is an annual event that attracts history buffs and spectators to Vista’s Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum. The event also attracts cameras like bees are attracted to honey. Mathew B. Brady must have known about this phenomenon when he wrote, “My greatest aim has been to advance the art of photography and to make it what I think I have, a great and truthful medium of history.”  The Civil War reenactment in Vista was going to be great, truthful, and very well documented with photos.

From the time we walked past the ticket booth where Young Marines were volunteering, I continually saw a plethora of cameras. All makes and models. Some had attachments and others were without. However quite a few had cannon barrel appearing telephoto lens. Hundreds of cameras must have passed through the gates during the two day affair. This isn’t even counting the cell phones that a lot of people use for a camera. I use a cell phone for photo taking but next to all the professional looking cameras at this year’s Civil War reenactment, it felt like I had brought a sling shot to a gun fight.

Authentic Battles were held daily at 12 pm & 3 pm.  Visitors could take self-guided tours of the North and South Camps. Sutlers (civilian merchants who sell provisions to an army in the field or in camp) were selling Civil War souvenirs and the N’ scale model railroad, the museum gift shop and food booths added to the entertainment value. Beside the battle reenactments, attendees were able to see real live cannon fire, period costumes, historical figures, a Presidential press conference, soldiers in their camps, infantry and cavalry demonstrations, artillery demonstrations, assembly and weapons inspection, weaving & spinning demonstrations, blacksmithing demonstrations and much more during the two-day festival.

The first battle of the day had just begun when Eric and I arrived. We just did manage to catch the last shuttle cart to the battlefield. Cannons were already blazing when we got there. Men were shouting as rifles were firing and smoke drifted from the grassy green battlefield and across the bleachers filled with spectators. The spectators were all ages and all were transfixed on the battle as the Calvary came charging by. Horse hoofs thundered on the sloped battlefield as the horse soldiers ran sorties against each other. Slowly men fell to the ground and lay there unmoving as their own troops passed by them.

I spotted President Abraham Lincoln over behind the bleachers. He was passing out his “portrait” to some young kids. The kids smiled as he handed them the shiny new pennies. As I talked with President Lincoln aka Robert Broska, people came up and asked to get their picture taken with the 16th President of the United States. Cameras clicked away as I asked him if he was enjoying the great weather in Vista. When I mentioned that there was a great turn out of photographers for the event, he pointed out something I hadn’t realized. He said, “This is one of the best battlefields! See how it slopes up from the reviewing stands?” I looked and saw that because of the incline, there was a perfect view of the entire battlefield.

Watching the battle from behind the stands was the Paton Family. Jeanette Paton had sewn beautiful dress for herself and for her sister Diana Gilmore. Jeanette’s husband looked dashing in his outfit. When President Lincoln introduced himself and politely inquired which side he favored, Paton smiled and said I’m afraid I’m a Southern gentleman, Sir.” The President wasted no time returning the smile and assured Paton that he too was actually a Southern gentleman. “After all, I’m from Kentucky” he said.

After watching the battle I walked through the Confederate Camp belonging to Company E, 3rd Regiment, Confederate Engineers. The unit is an education oriented, historically accurate reenactment group. For this event they were living and breathing the time period of the Civil War as they slept in white canvas tents and ate off of tin ware. Their performance is always based on well-researched information about the original Co. E, 3rd Regiment, a unit that provided engineering, and infantry support in the Shenandoah Valley of Western Virginia.

Knots and Nails were selling uniforms, weapons, memorabilia, saddles, and a wide assortment of knifes. Author Sarah Kay Bierle was selling her book, “Blue, Gray and Crimson”. Bailey-Denton Photography was back again. They specialize in handmade photography with wet plates that produce authentic tin types. They also sell genuine mid-19th century photo cases of various size and design. They informed me that the photo case was originally developed by Mathew Brady. This was a new factoid to add to my trivia collection. They let me look under the tarp of their camera and I saw the view was upside down.

While checking out the Sutlers tents and their wares I ran into Alexis Panchèvre from the Vista Art Foundation (VAF). She told me that she has been attending this event for over 10 years. When I asked her if the charm had worn off she immediately replied,” It’s History, how could it wear off?” After visiting with Alexis I headed into the camp of the U.S. Calvary 2nd Regiment.  Ahead of me and passing the tent of Dr. Malarkey the surgeon, I spotted Jack and Lyssa Flagherty. I ignored the pile of severed limbs in front of the surgeon’s tent and hurried past to greet the Flaghertys. They were enjoying their trip into this outdoor time machine.

The Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is a non-profit corporation that collects, preserves and displays examples of mechanical ingenuity and crafts associated with the early days of the American farm and rural community. The Museum offers educational and recreational opportunities to the public through exhibits, demonstrations, activities and programs such as blacksmithing, clock repair, weaving and fiber Arts.

The always popular Rock and Gem Show returns to the AGSEM on April 7, 8, & 9. Then on June 17th & 18th and 24th & 25th, the world famous Antique Engine & Tractor Show will once again be presented. Bring your cameras to this show and don’t forget that big heavy telephoto lens.









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