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Civil War comes to life with Lodi-area 'soldiers'

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Posted: Friday, August 19, 2005 10:00 pm

It's the first three days of July 1863 in a small town called Gettysburg, Pa. It's the most pivotal battle of the Civil War, with up to 50,000 soldiers losing their lives.

Some familiar names from Lodi and Galt are there, at least in spirit.

In fact, they dress up in Civil War gear (Union Army, of course) and fire off a cannon, which Lodi Real Estate broker Harry Webb keeps on his Lockeford ranch.

Called the 2nd U.S. Battery A, Webb and his crew live out their fantasy several times a year by participating in Civil War re-enactments throughout Northern California.

"It's a real adrenaline rush," said Chris Sanford, a "private" for the Union Army when he isn't a Galt police officer. "It's something different," he added of the role.

The unit has joined other Civil War re-enacters from throughout Northern California at Civil War events in Red Bluff, McCloud, Visalia, Oroville, Fremont and an area between the Pacheco Pass and Gilroy. They may head to Fresno in October and Ventura County later in the year.

Webb especially enjoyed McCloud because the group got to fight the Confederates right through the main street of town instead of the open fields that dominate most events. The Confederates retreated right out of McCloud on a steam train.

This was the McCloud game plan prior to the event:

"On Saturday, based on orders found wrapped around two cigars, Confederate forces will occupy McCloud by 8 a.m. Yanks will attack town at 9:45, and once again, our re-enacting skills will be put to the test as we battle through Main Street.

"We fill fight three railroad battles Saturday and be back in time to rest up and have dinner before our wonderful street dance that begins at 7:30 p.m."

Chris Sanford and his son, C.J., prepare a replica Civil War cannon for a demonstration Aug. 13. (Ryan Harris/News-Sentinel)

Up to 350 people participate in the Civil War re-enactments, said Rick LaPorta, an Acampo resident who works with Webb at Century 21 Real Estate in Lodi. Crowds of up to 3,000 people show up to watch them.

Webb had hoped to introduce the concept in Galt in June, but the event was canceled because the unusually wet winter caused thistles to grow so high the property they had in mind was unusable, Webb said.

They will try again next year.

"It's living history, and that's our purpose -- to educate people," Webb said.

His 3,000-pound cannon is the centerpiece of his unit. The group hauls it no matter where the Civil War event might be.

Bud Ike, of Hanford, covers his ear after Harry Webb's cannon fires. Behind Ike, from left, are C.J. Sanford, Matt Ellis and Joel Cole. (Courtesy photo)

The four wheels carrying the cannon are a full 5 feet in diameter. The gun weighs 880 pounds and will shoot off a 12-pound cannonball more than a mile, Webb says. It goes 800 to 900 mph and fires at a rate of 1,200 feet per second.

During a battle, the unit will fire five to 10 cannonballs an hour over the course of several hours.

"That's $10 a shot, so we like to make it last," Webb said.

Webb, a 30-year Lodi police veteran until he retired in 2000 and is now in real estate, is typically decked out in a Navy blue captain's outfit, a wool coat that extends almost to his knees. He also sports a black Hardee hat with an insignia identifying him as a Second U.S. Battery A member and special eagle buttons.

Sanford wears a woolen shell jacket with eagle buttons.

"I don't know how they fought in these," he said. "They're miserable, as far as the heat goes."

C.J. Sanford, 15, prepares an 1863 replica of a 6-pound artillery rifle. Sanford has participated in several re-enactments as an artillery man for the 2nd U.S. Battery A. (Ryan Harris/News-Sentinel)

Ann Poser is kiddingly known as the unit's "cross dresser." She'll portray a male soldier named Private Marty, wearing a Navy blue jacket with red piping and what is known as a "forage cap," which when turned upside down can be used to forage for eggs and other items.

When she's not portraying a soldier, Poser plays "Lady Ann," a classy townsperson wearing a long dress and carrying a parasol and fan.

Other local participants include Cpl. Mark Crews who is also a Galt police officer, Sgt. Matt Ellis of Lodi and Private Joel Clark of Antioch.

LaPorta is also an active participant, but not in the same unit. He is a battery captain in a unit from Redding, where his father, Don, is a major.

It was LaPorta, a 10-year Civil War actor, who urged Webb to join the Civil War gig four years ago.

"(Webb) got me into real estate; I got him into the Civil War," LaPorta explained.

Ann Poser portrays a townswoman at one the Battle of Gettysburg during a recentevent in McCloud. (Courtesy photo)

Sanford has known Webb since the age of 10, when Webb worked at Lodi police with Sanford's late father, Russ Hendricks. After Webb retired from Lodi police, he took a position two days a week patrolling Galt's flea market, and that's when he told Sanford he wanted to start up a local Civil War unit. Sanford joined a little more than a year ago.

LaPorta said Civil War actors share a common bond, yet Civil War actors have a variety of personalities.

"You've got the historian types; you've got the get-out-of-the-house type; you've got the 'We're still fighting the war' type; and you've got the social type," LaPorta said.

So just who wins these Civil War battles?

"We win one battle; the Confederates win the next," Webb said, matter of factly.

For more information on the umbrella organization, Re-enactors of the American Civil War, see the organization's Web site, http://www.racw.org.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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