News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Civil War Weekend is here
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
Big battle re-enactments are showy and spectacular, and they can be great fun.
But for my money, the best experiences come when one gets to talk with Civil War re-enactors up close, in small groups.
Most of the people into the hobby these days are devoted to accuracy in their portrayals, from their clothing’s buttons and stitches to their knowledge of battlefield tactics and soldiers’ and civilians’ biographies. That really shines through when you can talk with them one on one.
Great opportunities to gain that intimate understanding come this weekend in the town of Orange, which is re-enacting the Battle of Orange Courthouse, and at James Madison’s Montpelier, hosting a three-day Civil War Weekend. Montpelier’s extravaganza immerses guests in the life of Gen. McGowan’s South Carolina Brigade, which encamped at Montpelier over the winter of 1863–1864 to rest and refit between the battles of Gettysburg and the Wilderness.
Visitors can enjoy a Saturday evening candlelight tour of the soldiers’ camp, a ladies fashion show on the Montpelier grounds, tactical demonstrations, a faux battle on Sunday, and the estate’s popular Civil War Trail and Gilmore Farm Walking Tour.
The tour tells the story of a former Montpelier slave following emancipation, on the farm he carved out near the fourth president’s estate. At the South Carolinians’ camp, you can watch re-enactors use Civil War-era tools and techniques to rebuild the log huts occupied by McGowan’s troops.
Montpelier Civil War Weekend is part of the “Blue and the Gray in Orange,” climaxed at 10:30 a.m. Saturday by a cavalry engagement in downtown Orange. Infantry and cavalry re-enactors will march up Orange’s Main Street and skirmish in front of the 1859 courthouse, just as the soldiers did in early August 150 years ago.
Come early and stake out a spot between the courthouse and the Holladay House, the best place from which to watch the action.
Living-history events will continue up the street and at Veterans Park on Newton Street, where Orange County historian Frank Walker—dressed in a replica of his grandfather’s Civil War uniform—will tell tales.
There will be military drill demonstrations, period music, homemade lemonade (from Gen. A.P. Hill’s wife’s recipe) and fried chicken (from the Cooper family or Gordonsville), and commemorative ribbons worn by ladies wearing 1860s-style dresses.
WANT TO GO?
Civil War Weekend: Friday through Sunday, enjoy dress parades, skirmishes and camp life where Gen. Samuel McGowan’s South Carolinians spent the winter of 1863–1864. montpelier; 540/672-2728. Free, with regular admission to estate.
Civil War Trail & Gilmore Farm Walking Tour: At 2 p.m. Saturday, see farm and home of George Gilmore, born a slave at Montpelier, followed by a walk through the Confederate winter encampment site.
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029