Ready for battle
For Shardon and Karen Lewis, the Civil War isn't something that just happened, it's something that happens every year
Boring textbooks, old photos, and smelly museums - that's how most people think about history.
Shardon and Karen Lewis of Eagle Creek, however, look at history differently. Rather, they live history a bit differently.
Both Shardon and Karen are part of the Northwest Civil War Council (NWCWC), a group that reenacts Civil War battles across Oregon and sometimes in Washington.
Shardon's development towards becoming a re-enactor began during his childhood as a fascination with horses.
Growing up in Parkrose, a farm and mill town, Shardon didn't have any animals of his own, but became obsessed with horses while watching shows such as 'Rin-Tin-Tin' and films like the John Ford Cavalry series.
Coincidentally, Shardon's formative years also coincided with the Civil War Centennial, which brought war-themed television and cinematic content into his life.
Between his interest in the Civil War and love of horses, his fascination with the cavalry was a natural one. At age 11, Shardon began formal instruction in riding and horsemanship, instruction that would take him all the way to England in 1973 at the British Horse Society Schools.
Having graduated from Oregon State earlier in the year, Shardon traveled overseas to learn more about stable management and to earn his assistant instructor certification.
After returning home to Oregon, Shardon became a professional instructor and trainer in Silverton. Eventually, however, politics throughout the industry burnt him out, and so he returned to Oregon State to study towards becoming a teacher.
After time spent teaching all over the state, Shardon relocated to the Portland area, where he has now taught at Grant High School for the past three years.
While horses remained part of his life throughout his teaching career, it was in 1994 that Shardon was first introduced to a Civil War Reenactment.
Life as a re-enactor
With an interest in history since childhood, Shardon was invited to his first reenactment in July of 1994 - a day that would seriously alter the rest of his life.
'I was up in the area and a friend of mine told me about it, so we went to it and I was instantly hooked,' he said. 'It was a grand show.'
Just hours after seeing his first battle, Shardon joined the U.S. First Cavalry 'A' Company. At the time, the NWCWC confederates had six riders in their cavalry unit, but the union had just two - Shardon was the third.
'I've always had a favoritism towards federal cavalry,' he said. 'Even prior to joining I had put together a 'Westward Expansion' uniform.
'It's an expensive hobby to get started in, but I've been with the same unit ever since.'
Upon joining, Shardon started at the rank of Private before being promoted to Corporal and then promoted up to First Lieutenant, skipping over three ranks. With a bigger title, however, came more responsibility, and so Shardon eventually moved back into the role of Private, but only for a short time.
Once back to life as a Private, Shardon was part of a group that started the Northwest Cavalry Association (NCA), where he was immediately promoted to Field Commander with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
'The NCA grew out of the NWCWC and we formulated rules and assessments that they have adopted to test riders and horses for readiness,' he said. 'Ultimately, we make the recommendation on whether or not the horse should go on the field.'
After three years as Field Commander, Shardon once again craved the simplicity of life as a Private. For the second time, however, it wasn't meant to be, as he was given the role he currently holds of Quartermaster Sergeant.
Aside from all these roles, his life as a reenactor also provided him with one other title: husband.
Just after beginning his time with the NWCWC, Shardon found Karen at a reenactment, and the two began a relationship that was intertwined with their lives as re-enactors.
'I met Karen and we courted long-distance, seeing each other at reenactments,' Shardon said. 'Eventually we married in 1999 and had a Civil War wedding at the Willamette Mission reenactment with President Lincoln in attendance, who even signed our guestbook.'
Living in Klamath Falls at the time, Shardon left his teaching job and moved to Portland to be closer to Karen and her job in Clackamas.
'Neither of us like apartment or suburban living,' he said. 'So as soon as possible, we started the process of purchasing the property we now have, which is a small farm in Eagle Creek.'
So while Shardon takes the field as part of the cavalry, Karen transforms into a housewife back in camp - teaching younger women everything they need to do to become a proper head of the house.
Among the things she teachers are sewing, quilting, cooking, cleaning and how to host a tea.
'She is one of the primary sources for civilians,' Shardon said. 'She has been at it 17 years, so she is quite the source of information.'
'Civilians' are re-enactors who choose not to play the role of soldiers, but can serve in any other walk of life - including grocers, artists or housewives.
While Shardon admits that any vacation time that he and Karen receive is typically spent on something involving a Civil War, they do their best not to let it take over their life completely.
'History is a strong part of our interest and life,' he said. 'But while in some ways it did take over, in others it hasn't - we try to balance it.'
Battle of a lifetime
Among the trips that Shardon has made as a reenactor was a trip to Gettysburg that he'll never forget. The purpose of the trip was the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, in which thousands of people were assembling for the reenactment.
Among the most memorable moments was Pickett's Charge, which was done with the actual number of soldiers who took part in the initial battle.
'Those five days at Gettysburg were incredible,' he said. 'We had 35,000 on the battlefield unofficially, with 500 mounted cavalry and I was one of them.
'By the end, men on both sides were in tears because it was just so real, so incredible.'
This realness is what draws people like Shardon and Karen in year after year, the idea that through participation they could lose themselves in where they are.
'There is that transcendental moment when you shift back, and that is what re-enactors hope for,' he said. 'Just for a moment they aren't in this time zone, but are 135-150 years in the past.'
While some re-enactors take their time warp so seriously that they won't interact with any visitors to the battle, the teacher in Shardon makes him a bit different.
'My favorite part is being on a field on horseback, but at other times I love talking to people, educating them about guns and what some people went through,' he said. 'I've had a life-long fascination with how things worked in the past, and how some unusual things occurred that changed the outcomes of people's plans.'
One example he gave of an unusual occurrence was the discovery during the Civil War of General Lee's battle plans. While a courier was taking his plans to another commander, they were dropped on the battle plans and found with a cigar wrapped inside of them, giving the union a heads-up on what Lee's plans were.
Another was at the Battle of Gettysburg - where Shardon is sure the Confederates would have won if not for a slight mix-up in the cavalry unit of Jeb Stewart.
Stewart, Shardon says, came upon a group of union cavalry where he wasn't expecting to, forcing him to retreat. The problem was, Lee was attacking the front and center of the Union forces under the expectation that Stewart's unit would support them by attacking the Union from behind.
When Stewart didn't appear, Lee was in trouble.
'It's just little things like that,' he said. 'All these tremendous plans that should have worked, but don't.'
For more information on the NWCWC, visit NWCWC.org. The group is holding their annual reenactment at Milo McIver State Park later this year in October.