War is civil only when the guns have no bullets.
That's the case for Civil War in the Southwest, an annual re-enactment event unfolding at Picacho Peak State Park this weekend.
Armed but not dangerous Civil War enthusiasts will re-create three of the war's battles: The Feb. 21, 1862, battle at Valverde, N.M.; March 28, 1862, conflict in Glorieta, N.M.; and the reason for the location, the April 15, 1862, Battle of Picacho Pass, in which Union cavalry fought Confederate soldiers who were occupying Tucson. Three soldiers died, and three others were wounded.
More than 200 re-enactors, who will use genuine guns and powder but no bullets, are expected to participate in the choreographed festivities.
One such enthusiast is Gilbert Alonzo, a board member of the nonprofit Arizona Civil War Council who participates each year with his sons, 19-year-old Alexander and 17-year-old Adam.
"I'm just absorbed into it," Alonzo said. "It means more to me than just the enjoyment of portraying it. It's a fun way to get out with my family."
Alonzo has participated in re-enactments throughout Arizona and California. He said he's felt a deeper personal connection to the proceedings since discovering that his ancestor, Senovio Cordova, fought for the Union at Valverde.
Re-enactors study old photographs and historical records in order to get everything right. They use accurate terminology, formations, dress, weaponry and other trappings.
"We dress in period clothing, and we have tents. We try to get as close to possible to living like those people lived back in those days," Alonzo said.
The event is a carnival of sorts to celebrate Civil War-era culture. Vendors sell merchandise from the era, and there will be a fashion show as well as demonstrations of historical trivia and military procedures.
There will also be a book signing. Author Lowell F. Volk will sign his book, "Luke Taylor: Westward Bound," which is set during the Civil War.
"It's pretty well-coordinated," Alonzo said of the re-enactment. "We try to follow military command. We march and withdraw and keep a safe distance from the cannons. Skirmishers get a little closer. There's more improvisation there."
Picacho Peak State Park Manager Rob Young said the event typically draws between 3,000 and 4,000 spectators over the two days. He said visitors should keep the terrain and sun in mind.
"This is a desert-floor environment. Proper footwear for walking around the desert and seeing the sights is important," he said. "If it is sunny, use sun protection. Whether it be a hat or proper clothing, proper attire is important. And no dogs, because of the cannons."
DID YOU KNOW?
Tucson was, for a short time, part of the Confederate Territory of Arizona, which was made up of the southern halves of Arizona and New Mexico below the 34th parallel - just north of present-day Phoenix.
Delegates to conventions in Tucson and Mesilla, N.M., voted in March 1861 to secede from the United States and attach the newly formed territory to the rebelling Confederacy.
Arizona even went as far as sending a delegate to the Confederate Congress, which officially recognized the territory in early 1862. Confederate President Jefferson Davis signed the official proclamation on Feb. 14 - ironic given that 50 years later, Arizona would join the United States on the same date.
Although Confederate troops occupied Tucson, the Confederacy's ambitions in Arizona were short-lived. The bulk of the Confederate army was forced to retreat from the Western territories after its defeat at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March 1862.
Not long after the Battle of Picacho Pass, advancing Union troops reoccupied the city and raised the Stars and Stripes over Tucson.
Source: "The Civil War in the Western Territories" by Ray Colton
IF YOU GO
• What: Civil War in the Southwest.
• Where: Picacho Peak State Park, Interstate 10, Exit 219.
• When: 9:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
• Admission: $10 per vehicle with up to four passengers.
• Notes: Attendees should bring a chair, water and sunscreen. A hat is also a good idea. Food and beverages will be sold. Dogs are not allowed.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or firstname.lastname@example.org