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Civil War history of Utah's Fort Douglas comes alive

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 5:13 a.m. MDT

Greg Allen demonstrates firing his riffle at Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Greg Allen demonstrates firing his riffle at Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — About the only inauthentic parts of Civil War reenactor Kris Larson's uniform as a 1st Sergeant in the Union Army's 1st California Infantry were the bulky casts bound with Velcro on both of his feet.

Sitting next to a pup tent in his heavy blue wool uniform at Saturday's Fort Douglas Day encampment, the Tooele computer expert said the diabetes that damaged his feet wasn't going to keep him from helping commemorate veterans, past and present.

"If you think about it, there's no such thing as a time machine. To get a real feel for history, you have to live it," he said, describing how he was able to experience the same overheating from wearing wool and strain from hoisting a 10-pound musket.

Larson, one of dozens of men and women dressed in gear from wars dating back to Roman times at the display, said he was headed to Gettysburg for a reenactment of the famous Civil War battle in Pennsylvania as a Confederate solider.

William Jones, left, and Thomas Jones relax at Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. Behind them is Caleb Gray playing guitar. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) William Jones, left, and Thomas Jones relax at Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. Behind them is Caleb Gray playing guitar. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"I only do Yankees up here," he said, in deference to Fort Douglas being founded in 1862 as a Union Army outpost above Salt Lake City as nearby, Carter Lovinggood, 15, of American Fork, portrayed a young recruit assigned to drum.

Lovinggood said most of his friends think his three years as a reenactor are "really cool but I have a couple of people who think it's the nerdiest thing on the planet" before jumping up to tap out a marching tune for the families touring the enacampment.

For 6-year-old Charlie Sue Holdaway, watching the reenactors fire muskets and cannons and hearing Lovinggood helped make the history on display much more real. "I really like it. It's really fun," she said. "I heard drums and stuff."

Her grandfather, Bob Nayles, director of the fort's military museum, said the purpose of the event is to help immerse visitors in what soldiers of the past experienced as they camped between battles.

Val Halford, left, and Greg Allen attend Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Val Halford, left, and Greg Allen attend Fort Douglas Day in Salt Lake City on Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

"You can study all you want," said Nayles, who was dressed as General Patrick Edward Connor, the Irish-born founder of Fort Douglas. "You don't know what history is like until you feel it."

Besides the encampment, the free event featured special museum displays, vintage miliary vehicles that attracted children eager to honk their horns from behind the wheel, and the Wasatch Scottish Bagpipers.

Ricky Xing, an engineering major at the University of Utah from China, took it all in for a history class.

"I think it's very exciting," Xing said. "They play the Civil War and it can help me to know the Civil War."

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