Dawn breaks as the soldiers of the United States Infantry, First Colorado Volunteers, hoist the colors on a calm, hazy morning in 2019 at Fort Larned, Kansas (operational from 1859 to 1878). The cooks in the soldiers’ mess hall are busy fixing the morning meal of biscuits and sausage on the wood-fueled stoves while bleary-eyed reenactors from the First Colorado Volunteers line up for inspection, their eyes straining in the dull but friendly lantern light.
There is a full day ahead as the duties that soldiers faced in 1867 are the same as the ones our Colorado men must tackle today. Women of the First Colorado are also awake, starting in on the morning chores of gardening, washing, writing and mending.
This is a typical day for those involved in living history. Few here realize that a small group from the First Colorado Volunteers, the St. Elmo Chapter, call Chaffee County home.
Dr. Geoff Hunt, a retired history professor and his wife Dr. Rebecca Hunt, currently a history professor at the University of Colorado, recall that having a passion for history is just the beginning for those who delve into the world of reenactment.
Both have been involved with the First Colorado since 1986 and say they have enjoyed participating in the group with their two children as a way for the family to learn together.
The re-enactments are opportunities to participate in small garrison settings, local events and uniformed appearances at small gatherings, as well as large battle re-enactments such as Gettysburg and Shiloh. The Hunts say living and working in the same conditions as the original participants allow historians and enthusiasts to develop “a deeper understanding of the world of Civil War soldiers” and the immense impact these events have on our current social and political climate.
At the beginning of the Civil War (otherwise known as The War of the Rebellion), most federal soldiers were pulled to the eastern part of the country. There was little to no authority present in the western territories, while attacks on mail routes, confrontations with the First Nations and molestation of those traveling along roads, possibly by Confederates, was a genuine concern.
In 1861, to fill the need for a federal presence, the First and Second Colorado Infantries were formed in Colorado City, known today as Colorado Springs. In its heyday, the historic First Colorado swelled to 900 men. The volunteers that made up these infantries came from all walks of life, including the large miner population that had settled in the mountains looking for gold and other riches. Joining the Union Army promised regular meals, a free set of warm clothing and steady pay.
Along with several small skirmishes throughout Colorado and Kansas, it participated in the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March of 1862. The closest historical site to Chaffee County that guests may visit would be Fort Garland in the San Luis Valley.
A small group of First Colorado Volunteers call Chaffee County home. First Colorado Volunteers President Frank Campbell is a resident of Buena Vista and is devoted to sharing his love of history and our region with the hope of inspiring all ages to participate in living history and passing on the powerful lessons of the Civil War to future generations.
According to Campbell, research and first-hand experiences allow the members of the First Colorado to pass along what solidified the United States as a nation. You can see Fran Campbell and the other members of the St. Elmo chapter all over Chaffee County throughout the year, offering demonstrations and educational experiences.
A Civil War re-enactment camp will be set up at Buena Vista’s Gold Rush Days in August, demonstrating the life of 1860s-era civilians and soldiers.
St. Elmo members of the First Colorado are also hoping to work closely with our local school districts and historical organizations to enrich education within the county. Members also have the opportunity to travel to various sites including the incredibly well-preserved Fort Larned, Kan., Fort Garland, Fort Lupton and Four Mile Historic Park in Denver.
Those of all ages interested in becoming involved with the First Colorado Volunteers in either a military or civilian capacity should contact Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org.