For many Oregonians, the “Civil War” means a helmeted clash between Ducks and Beavers. Members of the Northwest Civil War Council, though, prefer the real thing. In their Prussian blues and field grays, the 1,000-plus local practitioners of the booming national historical reenactment movement spend weekends living (and “dying”) like it’s 1863: sleeping on cots, cooking over open fires, and pretending to fight. 

As the organization prepares for a year marking the 150th anniversary of epochal battles like Gettysburg and Chickamauga, here’s how Oregon’s Bob Olin and Susie Grassl—friend and foe—relive the pain and glory of that long-ago conflict.

 

SUSIE GRASSL The Union (left)

Hometown  Sandy

Ancestral Link  Her great-great-grandfather was a Union civilian engineer. 

Why She Reenacts  “To get a feel for what those guys 150 years ago went through: the sheer terror of being on a battlefield and never knowing if you’re going to see another day."

Battlefield Role  Grassl acts as either a member of the Second US Artillery or the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry; in her signature skirmishing tactic, she and a “battle buddy” advance in leapfrog-like fashion.

Retro Pastime  Sitting around the campfire after the battle, listening to bagpipes and violins, and singing traditional songs

Trade Secret  Grassl uses waterproof mascara to paint on a black mustache.

 

BOB OLIN The Confederacy (right)

Hometown  Independence

Ancestral Link  His great-great-grandfather fought with the 13th Wisconsin Infantry.

Why He Reenacts  “For the brotherhood. These people do really become like family, even though we may ‘fight’ on opposite sides.”

Battlefield Role  As a member of First Louisiana Special Battalion Company B, he totes a .44 Remington and a sword. (The real unit comprised primarily Irish dockworkers from New Orleans.)

Retro Pastime  Smoking cigars and reading poems from Lays of Ancient Rome

Trade Secret  After taking a “hit” to the stomach, Olin takes a swig of red Gatorade from his canteen and pretends to vomit blood.