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Re-enactors armed with live ammo--that takes Gaul

July 20, 1998

Tim RowlandLES PETITE ROUNDTOPPES, Pa. - Herald-Mail photographer Kevin Gilbert has this idea for a novel where the President of the United States is assassinated while viewing a Civil War re-enactment.

Since everyone in the field is firing a weapon, how do you know who did it?

That script developed a disturbing plausibility this month, when a mounted French re-enactor - in what may be the first gallop-by shooting this century - plugged a fellow fighter through the neck with a minie ball during a restaging of La Guerre du Gettysburg.

About a year ago, I got ahold of some rules and regulations prior to the 135th anniversary Antietam re-enactment and got a real hoot out of the clause that specifically prohibited the use of live ammunition on the battlefield.

As if that would ever happen, I said.

But that was before old LaSalle here apparently failed to check his pistol, which did indeed contain a live round in the chamber.

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Personally, if I were in charge of writing the rules for Civil War re-enactors I believe I would require them to use live ammunition (just to make things more interesting), but so far no one has ever called and offered me the job.

At the risk of sounding like Jesse Helms, I would also ban foreigners from participating in the proceedings. That is, after all, why we call it a "civil" war, and not the Franco-Hoopie Engagement of 1861.

I knew this would happen if we signed NAFTA. Pretty soon all the good-paying American re-enactor jobs will be taken over by foreigners, probably Venezuelans, and instead of Antietam we'll be treated to El Dos Battle of Rio Chica on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

The re-enactor in question has been sent back to France after a hefty fine and a couple days in the local Bastille.

That's justice, I suppose, but you have to wonder about the chilling effect this is going to have on Tri-State area tourism. Word gets around, and if Europeans who want to come here on holiday, do some outlet shopping and shoot a few Yankees are treated like common criminals ... well, just think what it will do to our room-tax receipts.

I mean, first Louise Woodward, now this.

"I don't want to return to the United States," the re-enactor told the Associated Press. Oh, sure. Seems to me a little garcon by the name of Napoleon was saying the same thing about France itself a couple of centuries ago in order to save his own hide.

It wasn't but a couple of years later that the Parisian newspapers were screaming in fear about the "Corsican Usurper" as he slaughtered his way back into the capital.

Better post this chap's picture at the airports.

As for the re-enactor who was shot, thankfully he is going to be fine. Which is certainly lucky, since he was shot in the neck at a distance of about 15 feet.

This, however, makes you wonder how anyone was able to kill anyone in the real Civil War. It seems as if it would have been exactly like the movie "Face Off." Six hundred thousand spent rounds, nobody dead.

But of course medicine has advanced since then. If this had been a real battlefield wound, the poor fellow probably would have had his head amputated at the neck with a hacksaw and would have spent the rest of his days selling UNICEF return-address labels on the streets of New York City.

Understandably, the Civil War re-enactment community is taking steps to ensure that this type of accident never happens again. I'm not sure our sense of realism is going to be heightened by the entire Army of the Potomac going one-by-one through a metal detector before they are allowed on the field of battle, but I guess one has to make compromises.

And the French better not make any jokes about it, unless they want us to come over and start re-enacting Waterloo.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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