The Battle for Port Gamble | Kitsap Week

Members of the Washington Civil War Association will reenact a Civil War battle at Port Gamble this weekend. The event features military encampments, portrayals of 1860s civilian life and visits from President Lincoln. - Washington Civil War Association
Members of the Washington Civil War Association will reenact a Civil War battle at Port Gamble this weekend. The event features military encampments, portrayals of 1860s civilian life and visits from President Lincoln.
— image credit: Washington Civil War Association

PORT GAMBLE — There was never a Battle for Port Gamble, like the one being portrayed this weekend in this historic lumber mill town. But the battlefield action would strike a sensitive chord with Port Gamble residents of the day. In many ways, the Civil War never seemed that far from home.

Many Port Gamble residents in 1861-65 were from Maine and likely had relatives in Union uniforms; some 70,000 men from Maine served in the U.S. military during the War between the States.

Andrew Pope and William Talbot, the San Francisco-based owners of the mill at Port Gamble, were worried enough about Confederate sea raiders that they balked on sending their most valuable schooners out to sea, Port Gamble general manager Shana Smith said. Pope and Talbot also “worked tirelessly” to elect Union candidates to San Francisco public offices, she said.

Port Gamble residents would have been interested in news accounts of the Battle of Portland Harbor on June 27, 1863, when a Union cutter and two steamers engaged in battle with Confederate raiders sailing stolen Northern ships off the Maine shore.

Port Gamble residents likely followed news accounts of events 41 nautical miles north, on San Juan Island, which was occupied by U.S. and British troops over a territory dispute spurred by the vague international boundaries outlined in the Oregon Treaty of 1846. Perhaps Port Gamble residents theorized about Britain’s claim on the islands if the South prevailed in the war. And when Port Gamble residents read of the 16th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s service at Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, they likely recalled that only two years earlier Confederate Major Gen. George Pickett had been commander of the U.S. Army camp on San Juan Island.

Port Gamble residents were likely aware that Civil War battles were being fought in towns that looked just like theirs. Howard Struve, co-coordinator of the Battle for Port Gamble and a reenactor, said Port Gamble — built in 1853 — lends an air of authenticity to this weekend’s events.

“Port Gamble has natural beauty and is a historic town,” said Struve, who portrays a U.S. Marine Corps captain. “It’s a town you would have seen in the 1860s; it has that period look to it. I’ve gone back to the East Coast for two reenactments, and what we have in Port Gamble is very unique.”

Some 600 of 900 members of Washington Civil War Association will  participate in this weekend’s events: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a reenactment battle at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a reenactment battle at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The battle is a reenactment of an actual battle:  the Battle of Rich Mountain, July 11, 1861, in what was then Randolph County, Va. The battle resulted in 46 Union deaths and 300 Confederate deaths.

There will be camps of Union and Confederate Army, Navy, Marines, engineers and civilians — all in period clothing, with period equipment and period personas. Visitors can see what it was like in a camp hospital, hear period music, bargain with the sutler — a civilian merchant who sold provisions to the army in the field — and watch a magic lantern show and a period fashion show. A street dance is scheduled Saturday, 7:30-10 p.m.

A reenactor portraying President Lincoln will give an address Saturday, 10:15 a.m. in front of the pavilion; and at 2 p.m. in front of the post office. The president will give the address again on Sunday, 10:15 a.m. and 1 p.m., in front of the post office.

The Washington Civil War Association is committed to honoring ancestors, Northern and Southern, who fought in or lived during the American Civil War. The association sponsors battle reenactments, living-history encampments, and school programs.

Anna Flores of Seattle portrays a Southern wife who lives in a Mason-Dixon township. Her husband portrays a soldier with a Confederate artillery unit.

She and other women “portray the daily lives of ladies left behind,” she said. “They had to keep the households going, sometimes by getting a side job.”

Flores is committed to presenting an authentic picture of 1860s home life, even setting up a “home” using period furnishings and dishes that she transports in a 5 by 8 trailer.

Flores, whose ancestors include Union and Confederate soldiers, said it was difficult for Southern women to keep food on the table during the war. They had to contend with inflation, blockades and destruction of livestock by Northern troops. She said she hopes visitors come away from the weekend’s events with appreciation for what life was like for Southern women during the war.

Struve echoed that sentiment. “They’ll hopefully come away with a renewed sense of what it was like to be in the Civil War. A soldier’s life was very tough, but it was tough for civilians too ... and hopefully they’ll understand the losses. There were tremendous losses on both sides.”

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