September 5, 2010
Reenactors offer glimpse into past
By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON – Labor Day travelers used to seeing cars, cell phones and shopping centers during their end of summer journeys are seeing something unexpected at one tourist center — a scene from the Civil War.
Reenactors wearing Confederate uniforms and working in a camp like those seen during the Civil War is open for viewing today at the West Virginia Tourist Information Center. Organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, West Virginia Division, Southern Brigade Camp No. 1694–Flat Top Copperheads, the camp gives visitors an opportunity to learn more about the daily lives of Civil War soldiers.
As the name states, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, said the camp’s adjacent, Richard Lockhart. Members participate in reenactments and living histories to help educate people about life during the war. At the camp, visitors can learn how soldiers in the field lived their lives; lives that were often difficult.
For instance, Lockhart pointed out that as a captain, he would be able to afford a good uniform and equipment. Privates in the Confederate Army often had to make do with whatever they could bring with them after enlisting or find later during a campaign.
“They lived a hard life,” Lockhart said. “They often didn’t have shoes and rarely had enough to eat. Their clothes weren’t often the best.”
Sometimes after a battle, Confederates in need of shoes or clothes would take them off Union causalities, Lockhart said.
During the Civil War, Mercer County’s residents were mostly for the Confederacy. Approximately 1,100 of the county’s residents enlisted in the Confederate Army.
“And of those, 40 percent were killed in battle,” said Lockhart, who added that he is writing a book about these soldiers. He has located 400 graves representing the approximately 700 men who survived the war.
“There are 150 still left to find,” he said.
Among the equipment visitors can see is a Model 1841 Field Howitzer. Its owner, Bobby Tabor of Narrows, Va., walks over to his cannon and explains that it’s not just a showpiece: It’s a real cannon.
“It can shoot several different things: canister, shot–what most people call a cannon ball–and I can shoot a shell which will explode,” Tabor said.
He goes into the camp and picks about a cylinder made of metal and wood that’s about the size of a small coffee can. Such “canisters” contained 25 metal balls, each about an inch in diameter. It was designed to injure up to 75 people arrayed in three advancing lines. Besides the musket balls inside the canister, pieces of the canister itself added to the projectiles fired at an advancing enemy.
“In desperate need, you could shoot two canisters,” Tabor said.
One of Tabor’s friends, Clate Dolinger, 71, of Pembroke, Va. was ready to leave after giving some outdoor cooking lessons. He took a moment to go through a thick binder of details surrounding a Civil War photograph often seen in Civil War books: three Confederate soldiers who was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. The men in that photograph–Andrew Z. Blevins, Epharim Blevins–and John R. Baldwin are all Dolinger’s ancestors.
Under a nearby picnic canopy is a collection of bullets, firearms, belt buckles, glassware, knives, artillery shells and other Civil War artifacts.
“This is 31, 32 years of collecting,” said owner Blaine Hypes, 56, of Princeton. He found some of the items himself and purchased others from fellow relic hunters. The bottles and glassware alone came from Confederate and Union camps “up and down the Shenandoah Valley.”
While many of the items a person can still find today are has harmless as belt buckles and bottles–Hypes knew a Princeton man who found a Civil War bottle while digging a fence post–others are still dangerous despite their age. Hypes recalled one collector who was killed while “deactivating” a 30 pound Civil War artillery shell.
“A lot of the ordinance found in the ground is still live, still dangerous even after 150 years. That’s hard to believe, but people are still finding this stuff all the time,” he said.
Hypes looked at his collection. “Every little piece could tell you its own story if it could tell it.”
Visitors can also talk with camp members who bring Confederate generals to life: Gen. Robert E. Lee (Al Stone), Lt. Gen. James Longstreet (Jay Vogel) and Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins (John Belcher).
General Lee explained why he chose to serve with the Confederate Army. He said that he owed allegiance to the “country” of Virginia, which had chosen to join the Confederacy. Like other future Confederate generals and officers, his education at West Point had taught him that states allowed a centralized government only certain powers, and that a state had a right to secede if its citizens believed this move was necessary.
A book used at West Point, titled “The Law of Nations,” taught future generals that “the people have the right to determine how they will be governed,” General Longstreet said. And one cannot accept just certain parts of the “Law of Nations” and reject the rest, he added. It has to be accepted as a whole. Three hundred and six West Point graduates decided to serve with the Confederacy.
Members of the camp also work to show visitors the issues Confederates thought about before deciding to secede from the Union. For instance, Confederates did not make the decision to go to war in a hurried and rash manner, Gen. Jenkins said. For instance, the Jenkins plantation was along the Ohio River, a major route for military traffic if war was declared. Jenkins said that he knew if war came, the “Yankees” would soon be at his front door.