Downtown Front Royal to host battle reenactment

The sounds of brother fighting brother will blaze through the streets of downtown Front Royal on Saturday.

The Warren Heritage Society will be working with the town to host the first Front Royal Civil War Weekend, which will feature a reenactment of the Battle of Front Royal on Saturday afternoon.

Patrick Farris, executive director of the society, said people commemorated the battle in the late 19th century with flower strewing ceremonies. He said he’s been offering a battlefield tour on the battle’s May 23 anniversary since 2011. This year, Farris said the commemoration is taking the next step by holding a full-on reenactment of the battle.

“We’re very excited about doing this because it’s the first time we’ve ever attempted anything like this,” he said.

He said there was one reenactment of the battle in ’60s, held on the Randolph-Macon Academy campus most likely for the centennial year. Farris said this year’s event would be notable in the fact that it’s held in an active town setting – where he said the majority of the battle was fought – as opposed to an open field.

“I am not aware of any other standing reenactments anywhere that use a downtown area,” he said. “One reason for this is the logistical issues that anybody could guess at.”

Farris said that the reenactment wasn’t planned for the weekend before May 23 this year because the Wine & Craft Festival would have occurred downtown at the same time. He said two other people were instrumental in setting up the event: Steve Burke, Front Royal town manager, and Doug Bechtel, part of the 8th Virginia Infantry reenactor group.

The Battle of Front Royal occurred on May 23, 1862, when Confederate forces in the Valley Campaign fought Union troops stationed in the town. Farris said the two forces had a unique connection: the 1st Maryland Infantry of the Confederate States Army had split from the Union 1st Regiment Maryland Volunteer Infantry during the war.

“About half the men stayed loyal to the Union, the other half became loyal to the Confederacy, but yet they kept their unit designation,” he said. “This is one of the only battles in the Civil War and U.S. history where you have a unit with the same designation that’s fighting each other.”

While he said the entire Civil War tends to evoke the “brother fighting brother” mantra, one Confederate soldier actually took his brother as a prisoner after his army emerged victorious.

“The Battle of Front Royal, it takes that cliché that is very often used to refer to the Civil War…it’s a true application of that notion,” he said.

At the Saturday reenactment, Union troops will have set up camp at the Warren County Courthouse on Main Street, while Confederate forces will be based at the society’s Ivy Lodge museum on Chester Street. Both streets will be closed off to traffic during the event.

Farris said those gathering downtown to observe the free event can see standalone demonstrations from the displays at either camp before the battle. Spectators are advised to keep to the sidewalks for safety and not to interfere with the reenactment.

Besides the battle, the society will host living history demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Live musical performances will provide some entertainment Saturday morning and afternoon at the museum and at the downtown gazebo.

Although Saturday’s event won’t be quite as chaotic as the actual battle was for safety reasons, Farris said the demonstration will have plenty of symbolic value.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this reenactment…is it’s our duty to keep this history alive and in the minds of people,” he said.

IF YOU GO:

• When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

• Where: At the Warren Heritage Society’s Ivy Lodge and around downtown Front Royal.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

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