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Civil War re-enactors hold first day of training Site provides glimpse of life 150 years ago

Some are history buffs obsessed with the Civil War.

Others just like guns.

Some are third- or fourth-generation battlefield re-enactors.

And still others love the camaraderie, the sense of family or the adrenaline rush that comes with the battle.

And maybe, just maybe, some of them are chasing a bit of their childhood.

The 49th New York Volunteer Infantry, the re-enactors of Civil War battles and daily life in the mid-19th Century, held the first day of a training/recruiting weekend Saturday behind the Hull Family Home & Farmstead in Lancaster.

A walk behind the Genesee Street home provided a real glimpse of life 150 years ago: Tents were set up. Re-enactors dressed in military uniforms or period clothes. People tended to the fire or prepared open-hearth meals. And others cleaned or fired their muskets.

A few discussed the lure of re-enacting life from the Civil War era.

"This is an opportunity for a big kid to play war in the backyard with his friends," said David Ahrens, 29, of Lakeview. "Only this is a much bigger backyard and a lot more friends."

Mike Merta, 46, a Buffalo chef, put it another way:

"It's basically like going on a fishing trip, except instead of fishing, you're re-enacting the Civil War," he said.

The 49th New York Infantry has about 85 members from Western New York, southern Ontario, western Pennsylvania and Ohio. This year, they're trying to stay true to the battles that took place exactly 150 years ago, in 1861.

They do more than fight battles. They offer firing demonstrations, marching drills, dress parades, latrine and canteen details and other ways of life for Civil War soldiers and their families.

Then there are the battlefield re-enactments.

While they wear the blue of the federal army in most large battles, some members have to don Confederacy gray at times.

"People tell me I look better in blue, although I'd rather go gray," said Guy Gane III, 31, of Elma, an actor and model. "It's more fun playing the villain. I've even played John Wilkes Booth a few times."

Gane's father was a re-enactor.

"Ever since I was a little boy, for some reason I've been obsessed with the Civil War," he said. "It's just a passion for me. I absolutely love this time period."

Ahrens, a home-care aide with People Inc., is a third-generation war re-enactor, so he started when he was 7 or 8 years old.

"The whole family joined up, and I tagged along with them," he said. "I couldn't wait until I was old enough to pick up a gun and join the guys."

Ahrens revels in educating the public about the Civil War era. That includes a nonromanticized glimpse of a soldier's life, from battles to boredom.

"People have said the Civil War was 90 percent boredom and 10 percent pure terror," he said.

Laurie Laning, 52, a North East, Pa., resident formerly from Derby, started with old cookbooks, open-hearth cooking and teaching herself how to spin wool, before migrating to the Civil War group.

"When I go to re-enactments, it's like my Brigadoon, the town that comes to life once [every 100 years]," she said.

Her husband, Lewis Laning, said his love of history brought him into the hobby.

"But once I got into it, I saw the old-fashioned regard for one another," he said. "That's what I saw in my parents and grandparents, how they treated their friends and neighbors. We take care of one another. It's something that's somewhat lacking in this day and age."

Lewis Laning cited the 135th anniversary of Gettysburg in 1998, with some 32,000 participants. He was a federal soldier who took a hit and lay "dead" on the battlefield during a re-enactment of Pickett's Charge.

"To watch that many men walk by me, battalion after battalion, that was the most real feeling I've ever had re-enacting," he said. "I felt I was back there."

Ahrens also mentioned the adrenaline rush in battle.

"For me, it's hearing the Rebel yell, a high-pitched howl from the other side of the battlefield," he said. "It sends shivers up my spine."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com