The History of the ACWSA

The History of
The American Civil War Shooting Assn.
20 Year Anniversary

Gary Van Kauwenbergh, 8/15/2019

This year American Civil War Shooting Assn. (ACWSA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary.  This brief history of our organization commemorates the occasion. The ACWSA did not invent the sport of skirmishing, and to understand its story, you need to trace its roots back through other skirmishing organizations. 

I started skirmishing 38 years ago in 1981 with a loose confederation of teams centered northwest of Minneapolis, MN.  They had no dues, no central governance, and no written rules or by-laws, but that doesn’t mean it was a small group.  The last time I was there, there were 36 mortars on the firing line, and the cannons had to shoot in two shifts – and their safety record was as just as good as anyone’s. Each team in the group just hosted and ran their own skirmishes.  Our 8th Wisconsin team also started with that group, and Papa John Fritche still shoots with them.

The N-SSA probably didn’t invent skirmishing either, but they are the largest and oldest skirmish organization in existence today, and our eldest ancestor.  The N-SSA formed 69 years ago in 1950 and is centered around its range in Winchester, Virginia.  It now has 13 regions, and the majority of its nearly 3,000 members live east of the Mississippi River.  It is very centralized with well-established rules and by-laws.

Sometime before 1980, a number of N-SSA teams from Wisconsin and Illinois split off from the N-SSA and formed the Old Northwest Territory (ONT) region in yet another group called the Civil War Skirmish Association (CWSA).  The membership of CWSA that the ONT joined lived west of the Mississippi river and was evenly divided by the Rocky Mountains.  The CWSA had 33 teams in five regions; the ONT region, two regions in California, one in the Pacific Northwest, and another in the Missouri-Iowa area.  Where the N-SSA was highly centralized with well-established rules and by-laws, the CWSA was decentralized and had less rules.

The Old Northwest Territory became more and more involved at the national level with the CWSA after Gary Van Kauwenbergh succeeded Tony Tissicino as ONT commander in the early 90’s.  ONT teams attended CWSA Grand National skirmishes in 1993 in Iowa, in 1996 in Missouri, and in 1997 in California to earn the right to host the 1998 CWSA Grand Nationals in Lake Mills, WI.  Stephen Sherry succeeded Gary as ONT Commander so he could concentrate on being 1998 Grand National Skirmish Director.  

The ONT successfully hosted a well-organized Grand National skirmish, but the more the ONT became involved with the management of the CWSA, the more we realized the organization had problems.  Their skirmish rules and by-laws were paper documents that had never been computerized nor updated although years of changes had been made to them during meetings.  They were incorporated under the laws of California, and a 501(c)(3) organization, but were in bad status with both IRS and the California Secretary of State because of delinquent filings. At that time, accurate membership rosters needed to be on file with our insurance company, and while the CWSA always paid their insurance bills, the membership roster was years out of date.  The ONT also wanted by-law changes to allow ladies to shoot in period feminine dress, but couldn’t garner enough votes.   

Frustrated that we couldn’t get cooperation to change any of those situations, we decided it would be easier to form our own organization.  The split was neither dramatic nor bitter – we just let them know we were going and didn’t renew our membership.  All the regions of the CWSA eventually did the same thing, and it no longer exists.

1999, after nearly 20 years of affiliation with the CWSA, and just a year after we hosted the CWSA Grand National Skirmish our Wisconsin/Illinois teams left the organization to form the American Civil War Shooting Assn (ACWSA). We wanted maximum fun, minimal frustration, simple, up-to-date rules and by-laws, and control of our own future. 

We elected Les Knutsen Commander, Daniel Christiansen Deputy Commander, Jan Hicks Adjutant, Steve Immekus Paymaster, and appointed Rick Reiner IG and Gary Van Kauwenbergh JAG.  The founding member teams of the ACWSA were: the 1st US Sharpshooters, 2nd Wisconsin, 6th Wisconsin, 7th Wisconsin, 8th Wisconsin, 10th Illinois, 15th Wisconsin, 29th Wisconsin, 46th Illinois. 56th Virginia, 66th North Carolina, and the Iron Brigade Guard.

The rules and by-laws of our new organization allowed ladies to skirmish in feminine period dress, and for what became known as Friendship skirmishes, where we could have joint skirmishes with other organizations like the N-SSA.  Filings with the insurance company, the IRS and Wisconsin Secretary of State were under our control.   

In 2001, the Wisconsin Secretary of State accepted the ACWSA’s Articles of Incorporation.  Application for 501(c)(3) status was first filed in 2010, but not granted until JAG Dan Graff completed the process in 2014.

The ACWSA web site was originally created by 1USSS member Jim Boullion.  Jim turned it over to Gary Van Kauwenbergh who eventually revamped it, and still maintains it today.

In 2009 the ACWSA membership doubled when teams from Michigan joined the organization. They were: 1st Michigan, 1st South Carolina, 15th Virginia Cavalry, Dygerts Co. of the 16 Michigan, 18th Indiana Battery, 2nd Texas Sharpshooters, 4th Michigan, 7th Wisconsin Infantry, 8th Arkansas, 8th Michigan Cavalry. Loomis’ Battery, Quantrill’s Missouri Partisans, and Richmond Percell’s Battery.  The organization split into two regions after the Michigan teams joined with Daniel Gibson their first regional commander.

The ACWSA held its first National competition in 2016 at Bristol, Indiana.  In 2019, our 20th anniversary year, the ACWSA has 156 members and 16 teams: 83 members are located in Michigan on 10 teams, and 73 members in Wisconsin on 6 teams. 


The History of the ACWSA