Pa. re-enactment hailed as a success

October 15, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - They won't see a profit, but the handful of organizers of last weekend's re-enactment of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's 1862 raid of Mercersburg may break even, Jerry Ross, chief organizer of the two-day event, said Monday.

It was the rain that kept patrons away, especially on Saturday when most of the events took place, Ross said.

"We had about 1,200 people on the (Public) Square Saturday but we had expected about 2,000," he said. "Newspapers, even the Internet, predicted rain for the day and that kept people away."

A Connecticut couple, Peter and Carlisle Sibley, drove seven hours through the rain to get to Mercersburg from where they were staying in New York state, Ross said.


"They heard about the event through the Internet," Ross said. "They said it was the best small Civil War event they ever attended. They even went to the Remembrance Ball in period clothes."

Ross said the ball, held at Mercersburg Academy, was one of the celebration's most successful events.

"There were 75 couples there," Ross said. "Most were in period attire. There were a lot of Confederate uniforms at the ball because Stuart's raid was really a Confederate event."

The re-enactment celebrated the 140th anniversary of Stuart's raid through Pennsylvania to steal horses, food and supplies in October 1862, nearly a year before the Battle of Gettysburg.

The flamboyant Rebel Cavalry officer came through Mercersburg on his way to Chambersburg and points north. On their way into town, Stuart's troops rode by the house on Pa. 75 outside Mercersburg owned by William Smith, Ross's great-great-grandfather and a union loyalist. The Confederates ripped Smith's Union flag off his front porch as they rode by.

Ross owns the house today and set up a re-enactment of the flag event. Rebel re-enactors tore down the reproduction of the 1862 flag that he flew from the same front porch.

Ross said one of the most poignant events was the memorial service at Union Zion Cemetery in Mercersburg, the burial ground of nearly 40 black soldiers from the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiment, which fought for the Union side.

Ross said members of Mercersburg's black community, which goes back before the Civil War, were showing old photographs of ancestors who fought in the regiments.

Ross said no tax money was involved in the event. The celebration was paid for with ticket sales, donations from local businesses and residents, and a state grant.

"It costs a lot of money to put on a re-enactment, even a small one like this," Ross said. "We spent $2,000 on portable toilets alone. It cost $50 each for the three cannons that the re-enactors brought with them. We had to pay $25 for each of the 45 horses they used."

Ross said he and his four fellow organizers - Tom Steiger, Liza Main, Betty Stenger and George Nalley - are too worn out at the moment to think about making the re-enactment an annual event.

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