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Called to battle

WLHS sophomore Cole Bateman is a Civil War re-enactor


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Cole Bateman wears the colorful uniform, called a zouave, that gives his unit its nickname.Cole Bateman has an unusual hobby. About five times a year he assumes a dead man’s identity, dresses in a colorful uniform and goes out to fight — usually to die — on a field of battle in front of avid spectators.

A sophomore at West Linn High School, Cole has been a member of the Northwest Civil War Council since he was in the sixth grade.

A history buff from an early age, Cole was always interested in re-enactments, he said. One day, he read about an upcoming battle and asked his parents, Jim and Michelle Bateman, to take him.

“He’d set it all up himself,” Jim Bateman said. “Michelle and I said OK ... and we went out to Astoria.”

“As soon as we saw a re-enactment they knew I’d be hooked,” Cole said. “They weren’t surprised. They knew I had such a love of history.”

Cole spends about five weekends each year camping with his unit, the 1st Louisiana Battalion, known as the Zouaves. Although he started his re-enacting career with the Union army, the switch to the south was an easy one.

“The north is a lot more military: ‘Polish your brass,’” Cole said. “The south is a little less military. There’s a lot more interpretation with what you wear and your persona.”

In uniform, Cole becomes Cpl. William Kelly, a real Civil War soldier and dock worker from New Orleans who is in his 20s.

“Most of our people were Irish immigrants,” Cole said.

As a Zouave, Cole wears a colorful uniform that’s modeled after the uniform the French army wore during the Crimean War. The uniform features baggy trousers, a short jacket and a red hat. When he is re-enacting a skirmish or battle, Cole sleeps in a half tent and limits his possessions to a change of clothes, a gum blanket and a wool blanket for sleeping in.

“I like living as they would have,” he said. “When it was cold, they were cold. ... Even for a weekend it feels like a lot, but they lived that way for five years.”

When he is in character, Cole eats the same type of food that the real Cpl. Kelly would have eaten, mostly salt pork, bacon, cornbread and hardtack — he makes his own from flour and water. His uniform doesn’t fit him right, but that too is typical of the period, he said.

“Uniforms came in two sizes: too big and too small,” he said. “None of the gear fit the guys right. My uniform doesn’t fit me perfectly. That’s just how it is.”

During battles, the re-enactors stay in character as much as possible. Each night includes the types of entertainment that would have been available to soldiers in the field. Occasionally there’s a dance, but normally it means just a campfire, maybe someone playing an instrument. Cole stays in character then too, often sitting around the campfire and writing a letter home.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Cole Bateman lives in this tent when he is re-enacting a skirmish.“He’s such a history buff, and that’s why he enjoys it,” Cole’s father said. “He has such an eye for detail. What would the soldier have experienced back in the day? That’s what he tries to replicate.”

That keen eye for detail can have side effects.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Cole Bateman recently has started participating in a World War II re-enactment group.“I can’t watch a movie or play a video game without spotting ... something inaccurate,” Cole said. “I have to stop and make sure the flag has the right number of stars on it.”

Cole spends about five weekends each summer on Civil War re-enactment activities in places like Astoria, Sisters, Lebanon and Salem. In the off season, he participates in a few company drills and a couple of parades, including the Portland Rose Festival’s Starlight Parade.

“Everyone does it for their own reasons, but I’ve always enjoyed the history,” he said. “It seems like every weekend I learn something new.”

The Northwest Civil War Council welcomes new members. Information is posted on the group’s website at nwcwc.org.

“There are a lot of older guys who have been doing it for a long time,” Cole said. “We look at my captain. He’s 63 and he’s been doing it since he was a kid.”

Adding younger members would ensure that Cole can continue to enjoy his hobby while he dreams for a career in history or as the curator of a museum back East or in the South.

“We’re just happy he found a fun thing to do,” Cole’s mother, Michelle, said.

Kate Hoots can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 112. Follow her on Twitter, @CommuniKater.




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