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Civil War re-enactors seek new recruits
RELATED: Fredericksburg: 150 years later
BY KEVIN KIRKLAND
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Confederate Gen. Greg Stull has met the enemy and he is 6-year-old Severn Welsh of Loudoun County.
Actually, Severn isn’t old enough to take part in re-enactments. Still last Saturday’s “Fire on the Rappahannock,” marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, was the second one he had attended this year.
“He just loves it,” said Jacquelynn Hollman, smiling at her son in a Union private’s cap.
Despite his current quarters in Northern Virginia, “he’s a Yankee,” she said.
After four battalions of Confederate re-enactors had finished decimating the Union Army’s Irish Brigade, Severn was pumping Stull about the minimum-age required to dress in period costume and rush into the teeth of mostly middle-aged musket fire.
He was clearly dismayed when Stull, who was portraying Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood of Texas, told him he had to be at least 12 to be a Civil War drummer.
Despite living in Bernville, Pa., Stull normally portrays Confederate Gen. Leonidas Polk of Tennessee as a member of Lee’s Lieutenants. His wife, Sherri, who was in period costume as a civilian last weekend, sometimes plays the part of a soldier on a cannon crew.
“Today I fought for the Confederates but most of the time, I’m Union,” she said.
Civil War re-enacting knows no gender or geographical boundaries and with so many 150th anniversaries coming up in the next few years, commemorative events are expected to draw thousands of spectators.
Next spring will bring the re-enactment of the Chancellorsville Campaign in Spotsylvania, the cavalry Battle of Brandy Station in Culpeper and Gettysburg. The year after that will mark the 150th of the Battle of Wilderness in Orange and Spotsylvania counties and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Longtime enthusiasts hope these commemorations will pump new blood into their blue and gray ranks, which are getting grayer every year.
“I’m close to 60 and that’s 30 years too old to be a soldier,” said Michael Schaffner of Arlington, who helped to organize the Fredericksburg re-enactment.
About 1,100 re-enactors registered to take part. Although some didn’t show, they were covered by others who showed up in uniform and managed to sneak into the ranks for some of the three main events: the pontoon bridge river crossing of the Rappahannock, fighting on Sophia and Hanover streets, and the finale, Marye’s Heights.
That morning, first-year re-enactors Karin and Karina Mendoza of King George County portrayed Fredericksburg women who resisted Union troops looting homes on Sophia Street.
The mother and daughter, both wearing hoop skirts, enjoyed the repartee with soldiers, who arrested two of their cohorts for refusing to relinquish their sidearms.
“They searched us but they didn’t find this,” said Karina, 18, fishing a black vial bearing a skull and crossbones out of her petticoat.
“It’s just water,” she explained, laughing.
Her younger brother Douglas, 13, has been taking part in re-enactments for five years, even though he is only 12. Dressed in a Confederate cavalry uniform, he has a business card that identifies him as a Pvt. Mendoza, Civil War Re-enactor.
Last weekend, he got to portray Gen. Pickett’s aide de camp.
“I like all wars but mainly this one,” he told a reporter. When asked why, he answered: “The Napoleonic tactics.”
Young soldiers like Douglas give Schaffner hope that the hobby will survive the war’s 150th anniversary, after which many baby boomers will likely hang up their boots.
Schaffner started 12 years ago, after a friend of his brother’s told him about it.
“I thought, some day I’ll try that. Then I realized, some day better be today if I want to wear wool in summer.”
Kevin Kirkland, an editor at the Pittsburgh Post–Gazette, worked at The Free Lance–Star in the late 1980s and was sometimes asked if he was related to Sgt. Kirkland. He’s not. He returned to Fredericksburg to cover the re-enactment. Contact him at kkirk land@post–gazette.com.