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Re-enactor didn't want to be a Yankee

Liberty lore

POSTED: February 3, 2014 11:30 p.m.

Each year, on the Saturday of the third weekend in March, the Sons of Confederate Veterans host a Civil War re-enactment in Tattnall County near Manassas at Fort Wallace Wood, between Reidsville and Claxton on Highway 280.
They will recreate the battle of Manassas, Va., on March 15. Visitors can tour the campground and see how soldiers lived and worked. The gates open at 5 a.m., and the battle between the Confederates and the Yankees will be fought at 2 p.m. For more information, call Tommy Wallace at 912-557-6649.
Many people participate in this each year, and some follow re-enactments all over the country. Some of the Staffords from Long County used to participate in such re-enactments.
Kenny Fussell wrote about his experience at Manassas in his book, “Chico’s Monkey Farm,” which was published in 2002. Fussell is from Liberty County, has been a county commissioner, owner of a furniture store and is a bondsman. He is an excellent writer and gave me permission to use his “adventures.” He describes his day at Manassas in great detail:
“On a trip to Reidsville on business a few years ago, I noticed a flier for a Civil War re-enactment to be held in the small town of Manassas, Ga. I mentioned to my friend that I would enjoy seeing the event, and that it might make a good story for an article. He explained that he, himself, was a re-enactor and would be glad to show me around.
“The morning of the battle, a cold Saturday morning, I arrived early and met my friend. He gave me a brief tour and then introduced me to the group’s commander, a large man with a gray beard, who was a school teacher in civilian life. I told him how much I enjoyed the tour and was headed off to find a seat and watch the battle.
“‘I have a better idea,’ he exclaimed. ‘How would you like to fight in a battle?’
“‘Fight?’ I said. ‘I’m not really prepared. I mean, I don’t even have a uniform.’
“‘No problem,’ he said. ‘We have one that’ll fit you.’
“‘But, I don’t have a gun,’ I protested.
“‘Got one of them, too,’ he said.
“I was escorted to the quartermaster, who sized me up and tossed me a dark-blue coat and pair of faded gray pants.
“‘What’s this?’ I asked.
“‘Your uniform, son.’
“‘It’s blue!’
“‘Right!’
“‘But, I don’t want to be a Yankee!’
“‘Son, that’s the way it works. One day you’re for the North, and the next day you’re for the South.’
“‘But, I only have one day, and I don’t want to be a Yankee!’
“After several tense moments, I was given a butternut-colored jacket and pants, a floppy brown hat and a pair of brogan shoes. The pants were a couple of sizes too big, but a piece of rope fixed that, and the shoes fit with the help of an old newspaper. With a rifle and powdered sack, I was set.
“Once I was dressed, the officer in charge said I had to get a few shooting lessons, and he put me with someone who knew the ropes. That someone turned out to be Dirty George, a 15-year veteran of re-enacting.
“Most re-enactors fall into two classes. The first is the guys with the Winnebagos, satellite dishes and gas grills. The others, whom they call ‘hardcore,’ are the ones like George who only eat the kinds of food that the soldiers would have eaten in 1863, the ones who sleep out on the dirt with only a straw bed and blanket and the ones who don’t bathe. George explained that in the Civil War, the Southerners were short on supplies and seldom took baths. He himself hadn’t bathed in weeks and had never washed his uniform. I would learn later that George was a systems analyst and lived in a $400,000 home in Atlanta.
“George gave me a too-brief lesson in firing my rifle.
“‘Using your teeth, you must tear a paper pouch filled with black powder. The trick is not to bite off too much so you don’t get a mouthful of powder.’
“I immediately realized that I didn’t know the trick yet. Clearly not amused at my ineptness, George continued.
“‘You pour the powder down the barrel, and then using a ramrod, you force a cotton wad and shell down the barrel. In this case, you leave out the shell and … be sure to remove the rod. Several people in the heat of battle forget this. Then when the rifle is fired, the rod sails through the air, sticking some unsuspecting bank president.’
“Next came a full formation. Ragtag rows of weekend warriors in ill-fitting uniforms road-marched to our position, where we rested and had a meal. Most went to their air-conditioned campers and had a beer and a steak. Several offered to feed me, but I decided to try the traditional meal of hard tack (a kind of corn bread) and dried beans cooked over an open fire. The hard tack was just that — hard! The beans cooked in a blackened kettle would, as they say, stick to your ribs.
“I took time to remove my brogans and check my feet, which were already hurting from the poorly fitting shoes. I started to complain about my feet and food, but realized I had no gripe, having been in the Army only a couple of hours. I remember reading about soldiers in the Southern army being without shoes through the winter months and how the men had eaten grass to fill an empty stomach.
“After the noon meal, we had another formation and were given our orders. The enemy would be advancing on our position within an hour. We were to dig in and hold as long as possible.
“George showed me how to pick up pieces of logs and limbs. He moved the pieces around again and again, trying to get them just right. He explained that even a small limb could divert a bullet and save a man’s life. About then, I was thinking to myself that, surely, he realizes they won’t be shooting real bullets, but just in case, I added another layer of wood.
“Without warning, the air exploded as the Union cannons came to bear on our position. We scrambled for cover and looked out through the powder smoke to see the Union forces advancing.
“‘Load your weapons!’ the commander shouted.
“I scrambled to load carefully, remembering the steps George had taught me. As they came nearer, the order came to fire at will. I did as I was told, over and over again. In my excitement, I used up all of my ammo in the first few minutes. The smoke mixed with sweat and burned my eyes.
“The jacket that had been comfortable in the cool morning air was, in the heat of the day, like an oven. The weight of the rifle started to wear on me. My mouth was dry and tasted like copper. I began to understand just how bad even re-enacted war really is.
“About that time, I heard the Yankee officers shout, ‘Fix bayonets!’ A bayonet is a knife that hooks to the end of a rifle used to stab the enemy — in this case, me. I peeked over my woodpile to see just how close the guy, who just the day before could have been a real-estate agent, was to me.
“Being already in a heightened state of anxiety, I was startled when George let out a rebel yell and jumped the fence, charging into the blue lines. Before I knew it, I was on my feet and running beside him.
“I’d like to tell you we turned the tide and won the battle. The fact is, according to the script, the North wins on Saturday and the South wins on Sunday. I did, however, come away a winner for having spent a day with these nice folks.
“For many, this is a lifestyle. They say they do it to honor their ancestors and to understand the hardships they went through. Whatever their reasons, the numbers seem to be increasing. According to the men in charge, however, at least in this part of the country, few people want to be on the side of the North. Maybe they dressed better than we did, but I STILL DON’T WANT TO BE A YANKEE!”
Thanks, Kenny, for sharing your Civil War re-enactment with us all!

 

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