Sunday, October 06, 2002

'Battle of Perryville' brings war home to re-enactors

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PERRYVILLE, Ky. - While others were spooked by the ghostly battlegrounds, Bernie O'Bryan's tired soul was rejuvenated by sleeping under the stars and discussing astronomy with another man in blue.

Civil War buffs dressed as Union soldiers advance on the Confederate side in a re-enactment of the Battle of Perryville.
(Mike Simons photos)
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Confederate 'soldiers' fire.
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Martin Aubuchon of St. Louis takes a smoking break.
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        The rest left him calm Saturday as he stood at the base of central Kentucky's rolling hills and saw thousands of blue-suited soldiers like him.

        They kept their minds clear to hear their officers' orders amidst the chaos and confusion of volleying musket and cannon fire.

        Droves of gray-shirted cavalrymen appeared over a hill and Mr. O'Bryan, 50, grabbed a camera hidden in his uniform. It was a matter of Civil War history.

        More than 5,000 Civil War buffs came from across the nation and several foreign countries to participate this weekend in Kentucky's largest re-enactment of the Battle of Perryville. Many were from the North/South Alliance, a large re-enactment group that chose Perryville as site of its 2002 national gathering.

        The 140th anniversary of the battle, considered a horrific bloodbath that killed more than 7,500 soldiers, was marked on the real battlegrounds, about two hours south of Cincinnati. Three staged battles, including a 2 p.m. re-enactment today, were expected to draw more than 25,000 spectators.

        “The size is inspiring. You can see the difficulties - just the confusion that they'd (endure). That's something you just can't get from history books,” said Mr. O'Bryan, a Covington businessman who has spent a decade participating in Civil War re-enactments.

  • What: Battle of Perryville 2002 National Re-enactment.
  • When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today.
  • Where: Perryville Battlefield State Historical Site, about a two-hour drive from Cincinnati.
  • Events: Civil War music, encampments, artillery, cavalry saber competition, "'living histories.”
  • Admission: $10, $5 children 6-12.Parking is available two miles from the battlefield; shuttles run continuously.
  • Information: (859) 332-8631.
        Thousands of spectators watched as the Civil War aficionados dressed in period clothing set up camp, participated in drill maneuvers, cooked over campfires and, in the shoulder-to-shoulder fashion, went to war.

        The Battle of Perryville's annual re-enactments usually draw less than a thousand Union and Confederate soldiers.

        “It feels like you're back in time. It feels like you're in an actual battle,” said Robert Flora, 10, of Lexington, who camped at the battlegrounds Friday night with his father, Sam.

        Robert sat around the campfire, where it seemed that the ghosts of soldiers past haunted the hills. Eerie noises floated through the treetops, and he sometimes felt inexplicable brushes against his head. But when he swirled around, there was nothing to see.

        “You either feel like that you are losing your mind or that there are ghosts,” said Robert, dressed in a Confederate uniform, complete with a musket and haversack.

        Coy Anderson, 57, of Waynesboro, Tenn., performs as a captain with the 48th Tennessee Company.

        On Saturday, he chewed tobacco while talking about the men that his family lost to the Civil War. Today, he will wage mock war on the grounds where one of them died. More than 40,000 men were involved in the battle that lasted five hours on Oct. 8, 1862.

        “It gets to me to know that I'm walking on the same ground that they walked on, fought on,” he said, his voice weary from a restless nap on the ground. This “brings it close to home for me.”

        African-Americans and women such as Charlie Warden, 44, of Longview, Texas, also participated in the re-enactments. Mrs. Warden works as a nurse and played the same role over the weekend, wearing period clothing. For the mock Battle of Perryville, she treated cuts and bruises, reminding herself of the war's devastation.

        She talked about her two sons as she stoked a campfire to warm a water kettle.

        “These battles are just a fraction of what the original ones were. The best part, believe it or not, is the smoke and the smell of gunpowder. Those were boys out there. You know how scared they were.”

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