Steven Dacus and Con Trumbull dismounted their horses and aimed their muskets to the southeast.
The two Union cavalry soldiers stood atop McPherson Ridge under the command of brazen Gen. John Buford.
Confederate soldiers were on the attack.
Dacus and Trumbull were ordered to stand their ground. They were the last bastion protecting the North from the South. Then they made history.
They fired the first shots at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Fortunately for the two Casper men, their battle was fiction based on fact. Today, Dacus and Trumbull are on their way home from re-enacting the three-day Civil War battle last weekend in Pennsylvania. The Blue-Gray Alliance-hosted event commemorated the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest engagement in the nation’s history and took place right next to the historic battlefield.
They only fired blanks. No soldiers shed blood. Their horses all survived.
The two men went with Dacus’ father and were the only participants from Wyoming. Some 10,000 other Civil War fanatics joined them, living the lives of Union and Confederate soldiers for three days. Dacus and Trumbull were in a group of more than 500 cavalrymen who re-enacted the event on horseback. They wore wool uniforms, ate hardtack on the battlefield and slept campaign-style with
sheltered halves — a tent where each man carries one half and buttons the other half together to make a full tent with another soldier.
“We were living by the bugle,” Trumbull said Tuesday during a cell phone conversation.
But the biggest enemy in 2013 for both the Yankees and the Rebels were the ticks.
The event is “for re-enactors by re-enactors,” Trumbull said. The battles took place at the same time of the day and in terrain similar to that of the actual Battle of Gettysburg.
When Trumbull, Dacus and their fellow cavalrymen left the battlefield, conversation didn’t turn to modern-day issues and the sounds of war didn’t subside. They talked about strategies and tactics: How to mount horses and when to hold the line. At night there was a constant reminder of the confrontation.
“When you crawl into the tent, you’re hearing cannon fire and musket blasts and it’s 10 p.m.,” Trumbull said. “It just added to the realism.”
Time travel is nothing new for the Casper residents. Both are volunteers at Fort Caspar. They conduct guided tours dressed as 1860s-era soldiers. Dacus started the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry group in Casper, re-enacting the same regiment that was stationed in the city during the 1860s. The 11th Ohio split from the 6th in 1862. Since the two are sister regiments, the re-enactors participated with one another on the Gettysburg battlefield.
“Most people think that Casper had nothing to do with the Civil War,” Dacus said. “But that’s not true. The 11th Ohio Cavalry was sent out west to maintain the transcontinental telegraph line so the east and west could communicate.”
It was the first trip to Gettysburg for both Dacus and Trumbull. They participated in three key parts of the three-day battle: McPherson Ridge on day one, the Battle of Hanover on day two and on the final day they re-enacted the fighting at East Cavalry Field (also known as Cress Ridge).
Dacus and Trumbull fought alongside George Custer’s 7th Michigan Brigade at East Cavalry Field. Soldiers on both sides were inches from each other. Swords and bayonets were drawn. Shots were fired at point-blank range. Custer is said to have shouted throughout the battle, “Come on, you Wolverines.”
Dacus and Trumbull charged the lines during the battle.
“We yelled things like ‘forward’ and ‘charge,’” Trumbull said.
There was little talk about the war’s raison d’etre with the other re-enactors: ending slavery.
Once a soldier was on a campaign, the reasons for fighting disappeared, Dacus said.
“The cause got lost,” he said. “They just wanted to make it to the next battle. When we were out there, we didn’t think about the politics too much. During the engagement, you’re not thinking about preserving the Union. You’re thinking about your orders and holding the lines.”
The pilgrimage to Gettysburg had been on both men’s bucket lists since they were kids. But both were ready to return to reality after three days of pseudo war.
“There’s no better feeling in the world than that first shower,” Trumbull said. “It gives you a sharp contrast of what they went through 150 years ago compared to what we have now.”
Dacus said he fell in love with the Civil War while watching “Dances with Wolves” in 1990 with his parents. He asked them what battle from what war was in the opening scene.
“I latched onto it,” he said.
Trumbull had family members who fought in the war. Growing up, the cloud of mystique intrigued him. He played with toy guns, had action figures and loved to study the intricacies of battle. He lost interest in college. But the parables of war drew him back.
“It is the story of the nation getting ripped apart and put back together again,” he said. “There are tragic stories that didn’t need to happen that we can learn from today.”