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Friday, September 16, 2011

Battle watch at LakeWatch

Civil War re-enactors will invade Smith Mountain Lake to create a battle that never happened.

Members of the 60th Virginia Volunteers took part in a re-enactment during the dedication of the Jubal Early farm office on Virginia 116 last year.

Courtesy of Phil Sheridan

Members of the 60th Virginia Volunteers took part in a re-enactment during the dedication of the Jubal Early farm office on Virginia 116 last year.

Re-enactors will portray several well-known historical figures including David Palmer of Botetourt County as Gen. Robert E. Lee (left) and Michael Sipes of Pennysylvania as Gen. Jubal Early during Franklin County Civil War Days.

Courtesy of Phil Sheridan

Re-enactors will portray several well-known historical figures including David Palmer of Botetourt County as Gen. Robert E. Lee (left) and Michael Sipes of Pennysylvania as Gen. Jubal Early during Franklin County Civil War Days.

Civil War re-enactors will camp on a field across Virginia 122 from LakeWatch Plantation throughout the weekend.

Courtesy of Phil Sheridan

Civil War re-enactors will camp on a field across Virginia 122 from LakeWatch Plantation throughout the weekend.

Frank Chrzanowski (right) tends to a piece of artillery during a Civil War demonstration during the Blue Ridge Brawl fishing tournament held last year at the lake.

Courtesy of Debra Weir

Frank Chrzanowski (right) tends to a piece of artillery during a Civil War demonstration during the Blue Ridge Brawl fishing tournament held last year at the lake.

Civil War re-enactors portray a Confederate cavalry during last year's Blue Ridge Brawl fishing tournament held at the lake.

Courtesy of Debra Weir

Civil War re-enactors portray a Confederate cavalry during last year's Blue Ridge Brawl fishing tournament held at the lake.

The South and the North will rise again this weekend at Smith Mountain Lake. Today through Sunday, re-enactors, including some well-known lake-area residents, will battle it out during Franklin County Civil War Days.

Frank Chrzanowski of Hardy, branch manager of HomeTown Bank in Moneta, and Moneta's Phil Sheridan, president of Bald Knob Artists, will be among those dressed in period costumes as war is waged on the mock battlefield across Virginia 122 from LakeWatch Plantation.

Sheridan, chairman of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, said the re-enactment has been scheduled to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (1861-1865).

Chrzanowski and Sheridan aren't newcomers to the battlefield. They've been donning both Union and Confederate - yes, both - attire for years. Chrzanowski said re-enactors typically own both uniforms because they may need to portray a particular side during an event if one side isn't properly represented.

"If you come to an event and 500 Confederates come and 15 Yankees come, it's not much of an event," he said.

During the weekend's three-day battle, some re-enactors may play both, arming cannons for the North on Saturday while riding in the cavalry for the South on Sunday.

Sheridan said being a re-enactor is not about picking a team; it's about portraying history as it happened. For large-scale historic re-enactments at, for example, Appomattox, participants study the actual battles to ensure everything is done to the letter.

"We stick to the script," said Chrzanowski.

This weekend's event, however, won't be a literal portrayal of a particular battle. Unlike Appomattox, Gettysburg or Antietam, there were no battles fought on local soil.

"Since Franklin County didn't have a battle that was noted in the Civil War history, we're creating a battle," said Debra Weir, Franklin County's tourism/special events manager. "The re-enactors have free reign to be as creative as possible."

For spectators, that means the culmination of each day's battle will be a surprise, she said.

"The Union could win on Saturday and the Confederacy could win on Sunday," said Weir. "It will be an altogether different battle."

She said the Franklin County Civil War 150 Committee, of which she is a member, is interested to see how many people attend the event, because it's the first time, that members know of, that a re-enactment of this scale has taken place on county soil.

Weir has high hopes that the event will generate a lot of traffic and tourism dollars for Franklin County. Her expectations were bolstered when staff realized the original site, Franklin County Recreational Park in Rocky Mount, wasn't big enough to handle the number of re-enactors who expressed interest.

By the end of August, almost 100 people had either registered or verbally confirmed to participate. Weir said re-enactors can register any day of the event for $10, so they're not sure just how large the battles will be.

Chrzanowski said people who want to participate in the event but do not have the appropriate attire or weaponry are welcome; re-enactors always have extra equipment they're willing to lend for the day.

When not fighting on the battlefield, re-enactors will be on hand at various stations where visitors can learn about, for example, blacksmithing, the flags of the war and slavery. Re-enactors also will mingle with the crowd and talk with visitors about what life was like for a Civil War soldier.

In addition to re-enactors portraying everyday soldiers, visitors will have a chance to interact with the likes of Franklin County native Gen. Jubal Early portrayed by Michael Sipes of Pennsylvania, David Palmer of Botetourt County as Gen. Robert E. Lee and Phil McGourty of Missouri as Jefferson Davis.

Weir said the planning committee didn't seek these men out; the re-enactors made the first move, having heard about the event in re-enactment circles. Chrzanowski said the people who run in the re-enactment crowd look forward to these events all year.

"People will come in early because they want to do it as long as they can," he said. "As soon as you put that uniform on, you feel it."

Depending on which side a re-enactor is portraying, that uniform could be easy or difficult to get into, said Sheridan. Confederate soldiers' attire wasn't always uniform, he said, some wore everyday clothing. Union uniforms, however, were multi-layered and the regulations surrounding them were strictly enforced. Sheridan said getting dressed to portray a Northern soldier takes longer.

The time male re-enactors spend getting dressed, however, pales in comparison to their female counterparts, said Chrzanowski. When his wife, Cheryl, participates in events, he said he helps her with the many layers, including pantaloons, over-the-knee stockings, shift, corset, corset cover, blouse and hooped skirt. Her accessories include gloves, hair net, hat and parasol.

But being a re-enactor is not only about putting on the appropriate attire and, when the event requires it, studying the battle formations, said Sheridan. Participants have to live their characters from sunup to sundown. You wouldn't, or shouldn't, find a re-enactor talking on a cellphone, he said.

"If you bring up a subject that's beyond the scope of the time period, they don't know anything about that," said Sheridan.

Tell a re-enactor you live at Smith Mountain Lake, for example, and he or she would be puzzled because the lake wasn't created until about 100 years after the Civil War. People from Roanoke will say they're from Big Lick, the city's former name, and those from Bedford will cite Liberty as their home turf.

Chrzanowski said sticking to the appropriate period at all times requires discipline, but added that it's important to maintain the authenticity so visitors can feel as if they've traveled back in time and are experiencing the people and events firsthand.

In addition to the battles scheduled for Franklin County Civil War Days, there are events and demonstrations spread across the 80-acre site to allow visitors a peek at how things were done 150 years ago.

On Saturday, a dinner and barn dance will culminate the day's activities. It is the only part of the three-day event that is not free; tickets are available in advance or at the door for $5. Lone Ivy Band, a musical ensemble of Civil War re-enactors from Patrick County, will provide entertainment.

Weir said many of the re-enactors will take part in the dinner and dance, allowing visitors a chance to break bread or cut a rug with, for example, Jubal Early. Civil War-period dances will be taught during the event.

Weir said visitors are encouraged, but not required, to wear period attire to the dinner and dance. For visitors who don't have something in their closets, re-enactors portraying sutlers, merchants who peddled their wares near Civil War battlefields, will be selling the gamut throughout the day.

But be warned: Chrzanowski said stepping into the shoes of a Civil War-era resident can be addictive. All it takes, he said, is a love of history and that first taste of portraying part of it.

For more information call the Franklin County Tourism Office at 493-9293 or visit visitfranklincountyva.org.