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A bucolic Duncans Mills pasture ringed by redwood-carpeted hillsides turned historically deadly Sunday as Civil War "soldiers" battled for ground.

Confederate and United States flags snapped in the strong breeze while a company of rebels in mismatched uniforms and the navy-blue-clad Yankees advanced on each other.

It all went on amidst calvary soldiers wheeling on horseback, rebel yells, screams from the wounded and smoke building from volleys of musket fire (without bullets) and thunderous cannon blasts.

"Give 'em hell, Johnny reb! Give 'em hell," shouted a woman sitting in a shaded gallery set up along the field that was filled with several hundred people.

"This is fabulous. The scenery is great. The soldiers are terrific," said another viewer, Janis Herbert. The self-described Civil War enthusiast had traveled from Folsom for the day.

"Did you see the one soldier die? He keeled over so dramatically, everyone was clapping," Herbert said, "...all in the spirit of honor."

This weekend was the 14th annual Civil War Days, held each year in Freezeout Flat near the Russian River. The field is owned by the Casini family, who run a popular nearby campground.

It typically is home to grazing cattle. But for this weekend it was a step back in time with a battlefield, tented civilian town and camps set up for the two sides.

The event helps to educate the public about the pivotal war in American history, said event coordinator Ted Miljevich of Saratoga.

Before and after the battles, the public can wander through the town and camps, learning about any number of era-related things, from the working of a telegraph machine to how far a cannonball can fly.

About 3,000 people come to watch throughout the two days and this year about 500 re-enactors were participating, Miljevich said.

That's down from as many as 1,000 volunteers some years who have helped staff the armies or play any number of civilian roles. The drop could be due in part to the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg this year drawing fans to Pennsylvania, he said.

The vast majority of volunteers at the Duncans Mills event are from out of the area. They use the weekend to mix history with some time at the ocean and along the Russian River, said Miljevich.

He estimated about 10 percent of the Civil War actors are from Sonoma County.

One local volunteer was Tom Reinacher. On Sunday, the 15-year-old Santa Rosa teen wore a rebel uniform.

"I'm in the 7th Virginia Infantry," Reinacher said, explaining that during the battle he'd fought as a rifleman with the lowly rank of private.

"I was burning powder at the Yankees," he said.

"It's great to do living history and live in the moment of the Civil War. Next year I'd like to try out the Yankee side."

Jack Budge, 13, one day to be on the field instead of watching — "As soon as I can join up."

"The horses, the army, the cannons. It's almost real," Budge said.

Sunday the youth was clad in his Yankee uniform, including navy-blue wool jacket, cap, canteen, pistol and musket. His cap held the brass harp hat pin of an Irish brigade.

The San Leandro boy and his family have been coming to the Sonoma County event for about six years, said dad Chris Budge. The family tradition includes a stop at a Duncans Mills bakery, then the history, then a trip to the nearby ocean.

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"It's a blast. They really do a good job," Chris Budge said.

Spencer Matticola, 9, of Santa Rosa, has a Union uniform he's used for Halloween, but Sunday he wore a new Confederate cap.

Absorbed in the battle scenes and talking strategy with his mother, the event clearly was adding to his already impressive knowledge of the era.

"I like it because I like history," said the Albert Biella Elementary School student.

Holly Matticola said it was the family's first time to such a re-enactment and they would return.

"I feel like I'm watching history," she said.

But next year they'll bring ear plugs.

"Oh yeah," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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