Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Civil War comes alive at range

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Dennis Rhoden normally wears the uniform of a maintenance supervisor at the H-Power plant, but yesterday he put on a forest-green Civil War outfit from the first U.S. sniper regiment and fired a replica of a .54-caliber, 1859 Sharp's breech loader rifle.

Carter Lam, 11, takes aim with an 1853 Springfield Rifle, with the help of Colin Chang of the Hawai'i Historic Arms Association, at the Koko Head rifle range. The group has conducted a Civil War memorial shoot at the shooting complex for the past eight years.

Jeffrey Wang prepares cartridges for his Gatling gun. The weapon, a 28-shot replica, was one of the biggest draws in yesterday's event, which also included muskets, percussion revolvers and a cannon.

Jeffrey Wang fires his Model 1862 Gatling gun at the Koko Head rifle range during the Civil War memorial shoot. The Gatling gun fires lead balls that are loaded by hand into black powder cartridges.

Photos by Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

Rhoden's uniform was designed as a primitive form of camouflage by Union forces and yesterday it provided one of hundreds of bits of Civil War trivia passed down by Rhoden and a dozen other members of the Hawai'i Historic Arms Association to about 100 people at the Koko Head Shooting rifle complex.

For the past eight years, members of the Hawai'i Historic Arms Association have commemorated the Battle of Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, by letting others fire their replica and authentic Civil War muskets, breech loaders and percussion revolvers, and sample food such as hardtack, cornbread and stew.

This year, while American soldiers are fighting battles in foreign lands, yesterday's event also offered broader lessons about all wars, said group member Dr. Max Cooper.

"Compared to the Civil War, our losses in the Middle East have been very small," Cooper said. "But the connection would be that war is to be avoided."

Most of the guns the group provided yesterday are exact replicas. But a few were originals made in England with walnut stocks and are now worth thousands of dollars.

Yesterday's commemoration also included a replica of a 28-shot Gatling gun that took four men to carry to the firing range, and a nonfiring cannon that still made plenty of noise.

The members of the Hawai'i Historic Arms Association who came yesterday included doctors, salesmen, lawyers, schoolteachers, actors, a retired judge and others dressed up in Union and Confederate uniforms to provide insight about the Civil War.

Anesthesiologist Jeffrey Wang, who brought the Gatling gun, wore a pair of buckskin boots and a blousy shirt, with a tin cup and a bed roll strapped to his back by a piece of twine. The only sign of allegiance was the Union cap on Wang's head.

"I represent the irregular army," Wang said. "A lot of guys didn't have uniforms. They just showed up and got a hat."

Retired Family Court Judge Darryl Y.C. Choy flew Confederate and Union flags from his personal collection and passed out literature about the little-known Asians, Hawaiians and hapas who served in the Civil War, mostly as stewards, cooks and pursers on Navy ships.

But the real draw was hardly the jaw-breaking hardtack. It was the opportunity to fire weapons designed for combat more than a century ago.

"It was heavier than I thought," 15-year-old Tess Satsuma said after shooting an 1861 Springfield rifle. "Carrying that around would be really hard."

Byron Wong, an ophthalmologist, said, "I actually hit the target."

But Wong's wife, Shirley, said, "I think I only hit the side of the mountain."

Salesman Paul MacKeeby, a member of the Hawai'i Historic Arms Association, donates his time, rifles, ammunition and gun powder to people such as Tess and the Wongs to give them a "chance to shoot a part of our history."

But for MacKeeby, 62, the fun of yesterday's event is far more basic.

"I'm just an old man who loves to feel like a kid."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8085.