Off Beat: Re-enactor has fought on both sides of Civil War

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Fort Vancouver's Civil War "garrison" has a couple of different Union army identities, which helps when it comes to participating in battle re-enactments.

But a longtime member of the group is one up on his comrades: He's also borne arms for the Confederacy … and he didn't care much for the experience.

Steve Betschart has spent 25 years with the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry. The re-enactors portray the regiment that was organized about 150 years ago to replace the U.S. Army troops who left Fort Vancouver to fight in the Civil War.

The 1st Oregon Volunteers never faced a Confederate enemy. So, the current generation of 1st Oregon Volunteers who want to take part in Civil War re-enactments have an alternate identity. They're the 20th Maine, which played a pivotal part in the Battle of Gettysburg and is a popular role for a lot of re-enacting groups.

In Betschart's case, it also turned into a Hollywood movie role. In 1993, Betschart and thousands of other re-enactors took part in the filming of "Gettysburg." He wound up seeing the battle from both sides.

"I'd never portrayed a Confederate soldier before or since," Betschart said following a recent living-history session in Vancouver.

The combat footage featuring his Union army unit wasn't going to be filmed for a few days. His only alternative was to sit there for a week, "So I borrowed a Confederate uniform," Betschart said.

Wearing gray just didn't feel right, he said.

"At the very end, I got to be a Union soldier again."

There was another unusual aspect to his movie role, in terms of weaponry. They actually got to fix bayonets.

In re-enactments, "Fixing bayonets is a tremendous no-no," he said. "Hollywood can do things you can't do at a re-enactment."

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.