Man Who Shot Another in Civil War Re-enactment Pleads Guilty

By RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Published: June 26, 2009

With an apology and tears, North and South made peace again this week in a Virginia courtroom, ending the baffling case of a Bronx-born, costumed Yankee cavalryman wounded by a rebel’s bullet in an all-too-vivid Civil War re-enactment last year.

The victim, Thomas Lord, now 74, was shot in the back on Sept. 27 during a filmed restaging — supposedly with blank cartridges — of an 1864 skirmish in the trenches around Suffolk, Va. He has recovered.

A suspect, Josh O. Silva, 29, of Norfolk, Va., who had swelled the Confederate ranks as an unofficial walk-on, was later identified with the help of film footage and indicted in January on a charge of reckless handling of a firearm — an 1860 Army Colt pistol — which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

On Wednesday in Isle of Wight Circuit Court, a contrite Mr. Silva, a laid-off government employee, pleaded guilty to the charge on the condition that if he paid Mr. Lord $1,200 in restitution and attended a firearms-safety course by September, the charge would be dismissed, clearing his record, Wayne Farmer, the Isle of Wight County attorney and prosecutor said on Thursday.

“He was clearly scared to death,” Mr. Farmer said in a phone interview. He called the shooting unintentional but faulted Mr. Silva and the event’s organizers for violating the cardinal rule of re-enactments: no live ammunition. Mr. Silva’s pistol had been recently fired and retained a live round in the chamber.

“Mr. Lord could have been killed,” he said.

No one answered the telephone at Mr. Silva’s Norfolk home on Thursday.

Mr. Lord, a Bronx native and a retired New York City police officer who now lives in Suffolk, Va., said he was largely satisfied. “He came over to me outside court with tears in his eyes,” Mr. Lord said in a telephone interview. “He was very apologetic.”

“I’m a Mason,” he added. “We’re a brotherhood of men.” Still, he said, he intended to proceed with a civil suit against Mr. Silva. And he was contemptuous of the sheriff’s investigation, which he said, “went off on a tear that I had been shot by an errant hunter.”

As for the .44-caliber ball that struck him, Mr. Lord said he was awaiting its return by investigators. “I’ll probably put it in a frame with a little of the publicity,” he said.

He has not been scared away from re-enactments. “I’ve been to two since,” he said. But the guns used were harmless, he said, loaded only with 20 grains of black powder and Cream of Wheat, for the convincing puff of smoke.

Mr. Farmer sounded happy to put the case behind him. “The hostilities are at an end,” he said. “If it’s the second time, I hope it’s the last time.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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