Thunder in the Valley kicks off this weekend

June 03, 1999

Thunder in the ValleyBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Organizers of the fourth annual Thunder in the Valley Civil War re-enactment in Charles Town predict this weekend's event will be the largest yet.

About 600 re-enactors have registered to participate, and that number could swell to 700, said Bob Pratt, one of the organizers.

Re-enactors, sutlers and other participants will set up tents in a large field behind the Charles Town Races for the event, which runs today through Sunday.


"This whole thing will be blanketed in canvas," Pratt said, surveying the field, where re-enactors began setting up Thursday afternoon.

Control of Charles Town changed hands 18 times during the Civil War, and there was heavy troop movement in the area during the conflict, primarily along what is now U.S. 340, according to Pratt.

Thunder in the Valley will re-enact an invasion of Charles Town by Confederate Gen. John Imboden.

Imboden was part of a Confederate force retreating to Richmond, Va., from Gettysburg, Pa., in July 1863.

Imboden took over Charles Town, resulting in the capture of more than 400 federal troops, according to Pratt. Like many of the war's battles, Imboden's invasion was a ghastly sight, according to Pratt.

A cannon was fired through the front entrance of City Hall, cutting off the lower legs of a Union officer standing in front of the building, Pratt said.

For the re-enactment, re-enactors in federal uniform will be scattered around Washington and Congress streets, particularly in the area of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Then Pratt, playing the part of a Confederate battlefield commander, will fire a cannon on Washington Street near the area of the Charles Town Library and ask the Union troops to surrender.

"Of course I know the answer will be no. Then all hell will break loose," Pratt said.

Among the artillery being used for the downtown re-enactment are 10 cannons. All the cannons, which will be displayed on Washington and Congress streets, will be fired, Pratt said.

"You'll see smoke, noise, cannons going off. It's going to get real down there," said Pratt.

During a recent Charles Town City Council meeting, the proposed cannon blasts drew concern from some people, who were worried that glass in downtown buildings might break, and the buildings would be looted.

In response, Pratt agreed to reduce the charge in the cannons to 10 ounces. Charges can sometimes weigh up to three pounds, he said.

Imboden's invasion will be re-created on Saturday at 2 p.m. and again on Sunday at 3 p.m.

The three-day event will include a 25-unit wagon train which will snake its way from Washington County to the track and a military ball Saturday night.

Parts of the re-enactment will be filmed and photographed for use in a folk life project being organized by the Library of Congress.

The Local Legacies effort includes documenting unique cultural events as part of the Library of Congress' bicentennial, which is next year.

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