Eye on KELOLAND: ‘Backyard Battlefield:’ Renli creates small-sized Civil War battleground

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Civil War has erupted inside Dave Renli’s backyard man-cave.

“Most people go, you got a lot of time on your hands, don’t you,” Renli said.

Renli travels the country taking part in Civil War re-enactments. The pandemic has put a pause to those historical gatherings. So this hand-painted battlefield pitting the North versus the South serves as a kind of surrogate Civil War.


“You’re kind of stuck around the house and not as social as I normally am, so painting a few figures turned into painting dozens of figures, which turned into gee, how can I get them stacked so they can be placed on a board,” Renli said.

Fellow re-enactor Robin Duncan is impressed by Renli’s Civil War recreation.

“It certainly depicts history, and history that I think a lot of people brush over,” Duncan said

But when Renli brushes over history, it involves adding painstaking detail to each of hundreds of soldiers.

“After you’ve painted the uniform, then you can come back in and touch up the belts and you know, the pistol, the boots,” Renli said.

Renli became interested in the Civil War while he was studying at the National Fire Academy near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, back in the 1990’s

“And one of the books that was used in some of the classes was a book called “The Killer Angels”, it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Civil War and it got me interested and since I was eight miles away, I would spend time out on the battlefield,” Renli said

Renli wants to march his tiny troops beyond his Sioux Falls home as part of a traveling display to give kids a hands-on lesson in Civil War history.

“I have 200 pre-painted, or partially painted figures that the kids will get a few of them to play with and they can dab on the paint where they need to,” Renli sai

An elaborate tribute to those who fought and died during the Civil War, created during the pandemic, captures a moment in time that resonates today.

“It’s not just a story we get to sit around a campfire and talk about. But it impacted real lives, just like the pandemic is today, this will be history at some point, so it needs to be preserved,” Duncan said

The Civil War in miniature: Dave Renli’s artistic accomplishment shows that a conflict that ended slavery and preserved the union more than a century and a half ago, was no small feat.

“This is just a little board, there’s just over 400 to 500 soldiers on that. But when you think of battles that had (200,00) people at them, it was massive,” Renli said

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