Reenactors prepare for battle

By Ryan Cornell

MIDDLETOWN — Each October, the quiet hamlet of Middletown triples in size, from about 1,297 to more than 4,000, thanks to the tent city that springs up overnight for the reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek.

The reenactment attracts people from every profession and region of the U.S. John Marriott, a pest control worker from Perkasie, Pa., was darting in and out of the tents on Sutler’s Row with his father, Jack Marriott, on Friday afternoon. The two reenactors were dressed in Union garb.

This year marks Jack Marriott’s first Cedar Creek reenactment, and he said he had been dragged to the site by his son, who goes to eight to 10 reenactments a year.

“It’s all about getting away from reality,” John Marriott said.

Up the hill, reenactors sat around the Confederate camp of the Third Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia and caught up while throwing out the occasional Yankee crack.

“To be honest, they’re probably getting ready to go to bed right now,” one of the leaders joked. “It’s going to get dark in about an hour.”

The actual Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E. Lee from 1862 to the end of the war, consisted of 19 different companies from Norfolk to Maryland and a few in North Carolina, according to Charles Harrell.

Harrell, a first sergeant who grew up in Springfield, said reenactors can compete this weekend in a shooting competition, which will test who can load and fire a rifle the fastest, and a cooking competition, in which hardtack is a required ingredient.

“We try our best to be 100 percent authentic,” he said. “But we’re older and fatter than what they would’ve been.”

He said the average age of a soldier in Gen. Lee’s army would’ve been around 19, compared to the average age of most reenactors, which hovers around 40. Harrell, who is nearing 50, said he started reenacting when he was 16 years old.

“I’ll take a hit, wait till the action passes and sneak back into line,” he said. “We can’t reproduce blood and guts, but we can use the tactics they did.”

He said reenacting is as much about history as it is about socializing with his fellow compatriots.

Shannon Newton has been reenacting the battle for 19 years. He manufactures cell phone equipment at his main job, but when it comes to Cedar Creek weekend, his job shifts to serving as the company’s quartermaster.

“Seeing all the people I’ve come to know, it’s almost like a big family,” he said. “We can depend on each other.”

Bill Graham III, 66, of Madison County, took off his gray woolen hat and used it to mop up the sweat accumulating on his forehead. He said the most common question non-reenactors ask him is if he gets hot in his full uniform, which includes a heavy jacket and long trousers.

“When I get home, my wife has to wash out this shirt for a month to get the stains out of it,” he said, lifting up his jacket to reveal a white shirt underneath, still seemingly crisp.

He said he prefers the heat, especially the 65-degree weather predicted for tomorrow, to the reenactments of previous years, where it’s been windy and raining all weekend.

Harrell said their clothing might make them sweaty, but it’s as historically correct as possible.

“We go through great lengths to make sure our clothing is authentic,” he said. “There’s no polyester. Everything is wool or cotton or a cotton blend.” He added that the buttons on his uniform are made out of materials such as bone, metal or wood instead of plastic.

Graham is a major, coming from the 7th Virginia Company A. He said he worked as a tax auditor for the state of Virginia for 38 years and has been reenacting for the past 25 years. He said he’s also been known to pick a few notes on the banjo, but hasn’t strummed much since he moved up in the ranks from a captain.

He said he’s constantly amazed by what the soldiers who fought in the battle 149 years ago had to go through.

“They marched 20 to 25 miles a day, their shoes were worn out, had no water and they were underfed,” Graham said. “How in the world did they do it?”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com