- Last Updated on 04:40 PM 06/23/14
- BY Doug Ford
I discovered a number of things while marching into battle Saturday with Confederate militia at the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Battle of Staunton River Bridge. The wool is still as hot as it was 150 years ago, and the re-enactors, both north and south — are just as passionate and dedicated as ever.
I had my period civilian clothing — not costume, mind you — in order before I arrived at the campsite early in the morning.
My wool britches, with buttons instead of a zipper, were a good fit, and my muslin shirt was light and comfortable, at least before the heat and humidity took control.
My suspenders did the trick, and my kepi (cap) was just a tad tight, but my borrowed shoes were several sizes too big, forcing me to stuff socks in the toes for a tighter but almost too tight of a fit.
I took a quick tour of several campsites, one where a number of Federal re-enactors crossed over and made their acquaintances with their Confederate counterparts.
“Look, I captured them all by myself,” one Confederate re-enactor said with glee to his commanding officer.
Campfires were still glowing from the night before, where a number of soldiers were laying low waiting for the bugle call and final assembly before the battle.
Others gathered their haversacks and gear and checked their firearms before final inspection.
Then the order came, and “we” marched into battle, at least the re-enactors, who were made aware of my presence.
I followed dutifully behind trying to look as realistic as possible, despite my aching feet, but walking with a slight limp may have allowed me to fit in a little better.
The bridge and low grounds where the battle took place proved to be just as uncomfortably hot as 150 years ago, but nothing like the old men and young boys faced when they withstood numerous Federal charges that day.
Charlottesville native, U.S. Air Force veteran and veteran Confederate re-enactor Stuart Bruce was one of between 250-300 re-enactors who made the trip to Staunton River Battlefield State Park to help commemorate the “Battle of Old Men and Young Boys.”
Serving with re-enactors from the 1st Division, ANV, Bruce was one of several provosts in charge of gun safety and ordinance during the battle on Saturday.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said the 50-year-old Bruce, who has been re-enacting for 26 years.
Bruce was stationed in South Dakota while on active duty and re-enacted when he came home on leave.
Now serving with the 46th Virginia, CSA, Bruce is the descendant of two Civil War veterans, Robert and George Bruce, and he knows their stories well.
“George Bruce was killed in action at Petersburg, and Robert Bruce was on the surrender rolls at Appomattox,” he explained.
“Robert was wounded in action at Petersburg, and his unit served on the right flank at the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg.
“Robert returned home to the family homestead and brought two of his buddies with him and built the house my dad was raised in.”
The current Bruce recalls the childhood stories of his ancestors and that piqued his interest in his family’s history.
“It was very interesting, to find out where your family is and where it comes from,” he noted.
Saturday was his first time at Staunton River Battlefield Park, according to Bruce.
“I did a little research on it,” said Bruce, who has done two re-enactments so far this year, one at The Battle of the Wilderness in Spotsylvania, another sesquicentennial celebration.
He’s also done a smaller event in Charlottesville and plans to do the Battle of Bost Grist Mill in Concord, North Carolina, and Cedar Creek, near Strasburg later this year.
Bruce recalled some other hot battles in terms of temperature and drought.
“1863 Gettysburg was one of the hottest and driest years on record,” Bruce said.
“They were in an extreme drought, and by second day of battle Alabamians that were captured didn’t have a single drop of water in their canteens.
“In 1864 we had the Wilderness and original photos of forest fires. That’s because it was so dry.”
Reliving history has become a passion and duty for a lot of the re-enactors present Saturday.
“It’s a love of history. It’s a passion,” said Bob Etzler, 13th North Carolina Company B.
“Some people give it a negative connotation. I’m very proud of my Southern heritage.”
David James, 28th regiment North Carolina Infantry, said, “I liked reading and learning about all of this. We work all week so we can do this on weekends.”