Blue and Gray battle in courthouse fields
This time Spotsylvania’s war is truly civil
BY CATHY JETT
Dressed in period costume, historian John Cummings aimed his Nikon at Confederate re-enactors yesterday and waited for the Battle of Harris Farm to begin.
At 2 p.m. sharp, their cannons roared to life, firing blanks at Union re-enactors stationed on the opposite end of the field at Spotsylvania Courthouse Village.
About 5,000 spectators, Cummings included, began snapping away with cell phones, digital cameras and camcorders. They watched smoke from the black powder billow across the field and Union troops line up to charge Confederate forces who’d dug in for the fight.
The choreographed drama, actually a vignette from the last day of the 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, included a flanking maneuver by Confederates who’d slipped through the woods, and the "deaths" of several bluecoats–including one who had his ammunition and boots "stolen" by a comrade.
It ended with a Union soldier blowing taps, Rebel yells from the Confederates and applause from the crowd.
"Hopefully, this will put the war in front of the general public, and they will have a better idea of what it was like," said Cummings, who lives in Spotsylvania and is writing a book about the county’s history.
Highlighting the prominent role Spotsylvania played as a Civil War battleground is the basic idea behind the Battles of Spotsylvania 2010 Civil War Re-enactment and Bluegrass for Battlefields Benefit Concert. The event continues at 10:15 a.m. today.
It’s also the Spotsylvania Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee’s prelude to even bigger re-enactments that it plans to hold each year through the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 2014.
"We think we’ve laid a foundation for better events in the future," said Jack Blalock, a committee member who organized the family-friendly weekend.
He had help from Long-street’s Corps, which played the Confederate role, and the Army of Northern Virginia, whose re-enactors switched sides to portray the Union forces. Dave Cornett of Longstreet’s Corps, who was commander for the event, toured the site nine months ago, developed the choreography for the re-enactment and, along with Jake Jennette, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, worked out the logistics.
"No insult to [the organizers], but they didn’t really know the nuts and bolts of a re-enactment," Jennette said. "Now they’ve been through a small one, and they can go as big as they want."
Besides the re-enactments, today’s event includes walking tours with National Park Service historians, sutlers selling period items, a Civil War encampment, displays by various organizations including the new Civil War Civilians of Spotsylvania, and programs on topics as varied as field hospitals, female spies and 19th-century fashions.
There was also a trio of races early yesterday morning that drew 155 entrants, and the bluegrass concert, which kicked off at 6 o’clock last night despite a storm earlier in the afternoon. It had drawn about 100 people by 7:30 p.m., about half as many as had been expected.
"It could still happen," said Rachel DeLooze, Spotsylvania’s tourism coordinator. "People are slowly making their way over here."
Proceeds from the concert will go toward battlefield preservation. Spotsylvania has saved 500 acres of battlefields in the past seven years, and is trying to ramp up heritage tourism in the county, Supervisor Henry "Hap" Connors Jr. said during yesterday’s welcome ceremony.
Spotsylvania was a major battlefield during the Civil War, and one of the most fought-over areas in the country, National Park Service historian Greg Mertz told about 50 people during a lecture yesterday.
People at yesterday’s event got a look at scenes from some of those engagements at Elzie Kelley’s War in Miniatures booth. The home-repair and maintenance man, who used to put his fingers in Salem Church’s bullet holes as a boy, makes detailed Civil War dioramas that have been displayed at the church, Spotsylvania Towne Centre and other area locations.
"I love coming out here and getting a reaction from people," he said. "I feel if I can get someone into history, I’ve done my share."
Copyright 2010, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.