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Hitchcock a Civil War enthusiast

by Evan Weiner

When the on-ice battles are done, Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock gets involved in off-ice battles as a Civil War re-enactor.
The summer is a quiet time for hockey people. Players, coaches, scouts and general managers spend time relaxing and pursuing activities they can't during the season -- like participating in United States Civil War re-enactment battles.

Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, a Canadian, is a Civil War buff and has taken part in re-enactment battles. It was a summer activity which took him away from the rink and taught him a little about American history.

"I really started when I was with the Flyers," said Hitchcock, who was a Philadelphia assistant coach from 1990-93 and the team's head coach from 2002-06. "Some of the people, retired army people, had worked with the Flyers in their ticket sales and got me up to Gettysburg one weekend and I really fell in love with the area and I really fell in love with the Civil War re-enactors there. So I got involved and I have been involved since 1991."

The Civil War re-enactors will be in Gettysburg, Pa., for the Fourth of July weekend this year. Among the events occurring in Gettysburg will be two battles per day, with participants staying in either Union or Confederate camps.

It sounds like a fun time, but as Hitchcock can tell you, there is far more to the re-enactments than just people running around on battlefields pretending to be Union or Confederate soldiers.

"I made a point every summer of going to at least one re-enactment and participating," Hitchcock said. "Being like everyone else, getting shot, getting back up and going home on Monday morning. I think you have to get involved from the ground floor. It is joining a regiment, it is participating in the history of the regiment itself. It is participating in the social atmosphere throughout the year. If the regiment is traveling or you want to participate in one of the re-enactments, it is really just getting involved.

"I am not involved like the Americans from the emotional issue, but from the social issue I enjoy it. It is a great chance to go back in time and look at things from a different perspective. I know talking to people who are reliving history and I think there are some real valuable lessons for everybody."

Hitchcock became acquainted with just how real the re-enactments are in his second re-enactment in Richmond, Ky., in 1992. The Battle of Richmond took place Aug. 29-30, 1862, and it is argued by historians that the Confederates scored their biggest victory of the Civil War on the Richmond battlefield, capturing 4,000 Union troops

"It was really bad. We were sleeping in tents where there was about a foot and a half of water flowing through it," said Hitchcock of that re-enactment. "They talked about roughing it, but I was kind of hunting around there one day looking for the Holiday Inn, but they were all filled. For me, it was really an opportunity to see what life was like back there and see if you can live in those times, and I would find it very difficult.

"In the Battle of Richmond, I was laying in the mud for about an hour. The battle itself was about 90 minutes and I was down early and it was raining, it was a very tough day."

Hitchcock was dead on the battlefield, but he found out that "dead" in re-enactments doesn't mean much. You can always rejoin the battle.

"If you go down early enough, you can sneak in the back way," he laughed. "I am not sure you can, but a lot of guys do it. It's a fun time and it's good because everybody goes back from the food you cook to what you eat to the way you talk."

Hitchcock said that people actually talk differently during the re-enactments.

"I got the Canadian accent but (the re-enactors) miss a lot of syllables and they miss a lot of words. It is amazing," he said. "They get around the campfires at night and stuff like that, there is no language that I know of that they speak. If you speak the normal language English that is spoken now, it is unacceptable. You have to go back in time in every aspect of your life. I have learned how to eat, but I haven't learned how to cook. Everything is natural, everything is over the open fire and everything, the brews are homemade."

Hitchcock was a Union soldier, but he had offers to switch sides after he started coaching the Dallas Stars, as the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy wanted him on their side. But Hitchcock remained with the Union side.

The re-enactments never differ from year to year, and the re-enactors are told what to do to make the battles authentic.

"A lot of the re-enactments are scripted," he said. "What you do, a lot of them, you stage a part of a battle or part of a campaign. You know what percent is going down in your regiment and it is not fully scripted but if you are in the lower end of the scale as far as the regiment goes, then you usually go down real early."

In the beginning of his re-enactment days, Hitchcock was gone quickly.

"I didn't earn my stripes yet," he laughed.

Hitchcock is a high-profile NHL coach, but he was able to blend in at the re-enactments.

"This was different. Nobody knew who I was, there were a few people who did, but they don't care. I was just another soldier in the battle," he said. "I enjoy listening to these people."

Hitchcock, oddly enough, coaches a hockey team that is named in honor of Ohio's role in the War Between the States. On Nov. 11, 1997, four and a half months after the NHL granted Columbus an expansion franchise, Columbus team officials announced that the name of the franchise would be the Blue Jackets and would celebrate patriotism, pride and the rich Civil War history in the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus. Ohio contributed more of its population to the Union Army than any other state, and many of the uniforms worn by the Union soldiers were manufactured in Columbus.

Somehow it is fitting that a Civil War buff and re-enactor coaches a team called the Blue Jackets.


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