Battle re-enactment drawing thousands to Charles Town

June 07, 1998


Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Civil War re-enactment fan Matthew Karek had to muster a little more imagination than usual to ignore the hulking light towers surrounding the mock battle Saturday morning at Charles Town Races.

But that didn't spoil the spectacle of clashing Union and Confederate troops, said the Roanoke, Va., man, who made a day trip to Charles Town with his wife, Carol, 54, for the annual Thunder in the Valley event.

"It's going nice, reproduced quite well," said Matthew Karek, 64, who said he and his wife like to go to Civil War re-enactments whenever they can.


Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident Linda Gray said she came to the event for the first time this year because she thought it would be fun for her grandson, Christopher Arvin, 2, of Martinsburg.

While she really enjoyed the battle, the cannon fire scared the boy, said Gray, 50.

"He didn't like the noise, so we had to go inside," she said.

Afterward, the family strolled around the armies' encampments - fragrant with open wood cooking fires - and checked out the Civil War-era clothing and paraphernalia being sold in a row of sutler tents.

An estimated 2,000 people came from near and far to watch the roughly hour-long battle, played out in the infield of the racetrack, said Bill Bork Jr., marketing director for Charles Town Races.

An additional 3,000 people were expected to visit the encampments, attend a parade of both armies through downtown in the afternoon or watch Union and Confederate riders race in the Blue/Grey Classic in the evening.

Mock battles have been part of the Thunder in the Valley re-enactment event since it was started in 1996, Bork said.

Until this year, however, the fighting has taken place on the downtown streets, he said.

Organizers decided to move the battles to the racetrack this year because it seemed a "better venue," Bork said.

As in previous years, both armies and their civilian counterparts are camping out on the racetrack's front field, he said.

About 500 re-enactors signed up for the three-day event this year, he said.

It was the first year Chuck Critchfield's Union unit, the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Company A, participated in the event.

"We wanted to try something new and decided to come here. We try to support state events," said Critchfield, 43, of Clarksburg, W.Va., whose side lost the morning battle.

It was unusual fighting on the infield of a racetrack, said fellow member Mark Tennant, 46, of Fairmont, W.Va.

But it was better than the football fields he has fought on before because the bigger field gave spectators a better idea of the long range at which Civil War battles were fought, Tennant said.

Though Hagerstown re-enactor Mike Sirbaugh's unit, the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, wasn't participating in the event, he decided to come, clad in modern dress, to check out the battle.

"I like it so far a lot of room to play," said Sirbaugh, who said he and his girlfriend, Wendy Tucker, would probably be there today donning their Civil War-era garb.

Today's mock battle will be staged on the field in front of the racetrack starting at 10 a.m.

The encampment will break up at 2:30 p.m.

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