Some people golf in their spare time, and others may fish, but James “Al” Harris likes to spend his weekends re-enacting battles of the Civil War and the Texas Revolution.
As a kid, Harris remembers the day in 1962, when his father took him to the 100th anniversary event of the Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh. At just 10 years old, Harris said he watched the re-enactors bring the battle to life and thought, “I want to do that.”
Fifty years later, Harris, 61, got his chance.
“I’ve always been a history nut,” said Harris, a division chief in the U.S. Army Operational Test Command’s Mission Command Test Directorate. He joined the command in 1992 after retiring from the Army as a major.
On family vacations, he said he would drag his family to battlefields across the country.
While his wife, Gloria, doesn’t participate in the re-enactments, she does get involved in the other events associated with them, such as balls and dinners, donning a hoop dress from the time period.
To participate in the Civil War battles, Harris said he just needed a costume and the right weapon. He carries a blue coat and a gray coat with him, ready for whichever side he’s needed on.
Texas battles are a little more exclusive, he said.
“You need a persona,” Harris said.
Last month he was accepted to participate in the anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of San Jacinto as James Harris, a wanderer by way of Alabama and Mississippi. The transition lenses in his glasses almost got him booted; he had to conduct the re-enactment without them.
“I’ve got to get some period glasses for next time,” he said, laughing.
The Battle of San Jacinto has been one of his favorites, Harris said, because he got to meet descendants of both Davy Crockett and Sam Houston.
A former Boy Scout troop leader, Harris said he also enjoys sharing history with the schoolchildren who often come out to re-enactments.
“Working with the youngsters is fun,” said the Mississippi native. “I love talking about the way it used to be.”
Some kids, he said, have trouble grasping the concept of a time without cellphones and instant communication.
The weekend of May 17-19, Harris will get the opportunity to share his passion for history with Central Texas at the Battle of Temple Junction, hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans at Bend O’ The River Ranch in Temple.
After that, Harris plans to look for those period-correct glasses, because there’s a big re-enactment he has his sights set on for next year — the Battle of the Alamo.