Re-enactors battle beat, other troops at Pa. event

August 15, 2005|by DON AINES

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - On a Sunday of wring-your-shirt-out heat and humidity, approximately 300 Union and Confederate re-enactors battled the summer swelter and each other at Renfrew Museum and Park as more than 200 spectators watched.

It was the second weekend clash between the North and South, the first being a re-enactment of the May 1863 battle of Chancellorsville, Va., on Saturday. It could have also been the last after 25 years of re-enactments at Renfrew.

For 14 of those years, the event has been hosted by Co. F of the 139th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers and Donald Biesecker of Waynesboro, a unit member, has been in charge of the event.


"I kind of got drafted into doing the groundwork," he said Sunday. With Parkinson's disease, however, he said he now needs help. A couple from Hershey, Pa., has agreed to take over the paperwork for 2006, although he still will be in charge of selecting the battle to re-enact and entertainment.

The battles he selects are ones compatible with the topography of the park. The stone wall at Renfrew stood in for a similar feature at Chancellorsville, he said.

"I want to see everybody getting some ice and drinking some water right now," one Confederate officer said at the conclusion of Sunday's mock battle. The re-enactors, clad in drenched wool or heavy cotton uniforms and laden with haversacks and rifles, readily complied with the order.

Biesecker said three re-enactors were treated for heat-related problems over the weekend.

"I brought half a dozen" soldiers, said Capt. Mike Kiss of Co. A of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves. "With gas prices and the heat, it was hard to get people out."

Still, Kiss estimated each side mustered about 100 soldiers for Sunday's fight, along with wives, girlfriends and children playing their own roles as camp followers and auxiliaries. At least one soldier, however, was a woman.

"In our unit, we don't have women" in combat roles, said Dan Davies of Hanover, Pa. Captain of Co. B of the 24th North Carolina, Davies said his unit brought 15 riflemen and about eight family members.

As units advanced across the field of the 107-acre park, one could see boys and middle-aged men clad in blue and gray. Davies said re-enactors have to be 16 to carry a rifle, but children as young as 13 can participate as military musicians.

Sipping from a tin cup full of Gatorade after the battle, Davies said those in the encampments try to keep as close to the realities of life in the 1860s as possible. All cooking is done over campfires; even the pies are baked in Dutch ovens.

It is not an inexpensive pursuit. Davies said outfitting one soldier in authentic period uniforms and gear can cost $1,000 or more, including a .58-caliber Enfield or Springfield rifle.

"I can't stay away from guns," Davies, a retired Marine and former Philadelphia police officer, said when asked why he has been a re-enactor since 1988. From March to December, he is a weekend warrior, fighting battles from another century.

Cookie Motter of Harrisburg, Pa., portrays a vivandiere with Co. A of the 22nd North Carolina.

"It's a Civil War EMT, basically," she said. Vivandieres usually were the spouses or daughters of officers, whose role included tending to the wounded and bartering for food, she said.

The units at the weekend encampment are based on actual Union and Confederate companies and regiments that fought in the Civil War, according to Tim Anderson, a sergeant major with the 22nd.

"We're not just out here to burn powder," Anderson said. "We believe heritage is the lifeblood of a country."

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