When family time means ‘man the artillery’

John Davison, 67, of Cabin John, Maryland, stands alongside a cannon at Cedar Creek Battlefield on Friday afternoon in Middletown. Davison will join his Confederate soldiers today in celebration of the 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – David and Susan Judy prepare for their weekend family reunion by setting up camp and unloading their artillery gun on the Cedar Creek battlefield near Middletown.

The Arthur, West Virginia, couple have participated in reenactments for more than 15 years and have cultivated a close circle of friends from hitting battles around the mid-Atlantic area year round.

“It’s a homecoming every time,” Susan Judy said. “I see these people more than I see my family!”

Elaine Condono and her daughters travel up to West Virginia from Florida to meet her parents and accompany them to Middletown to set up for the battle. Along with friends Jay Schroeder and Jake Cobb, they join the other families in the artillery camp and set up their 10-pound parrott gun for the artillery demonstrations and reenactments of both the Battle of Second Kernstown, which they’ll win, and the Battle of Cedar Creek, which they’ll lose.

This year, there’ll be about 25 guns on the battlefield with teams of five to seven soldiers manning them. Representing McClanahan’s Battery, Susan Judy said their group can end up swapping out members to fill out teams that are lacking a soldier or two.

Confederate reenactor Ted Crockett , 70, of Lynchburg, stands outside his tent at Cedar Creek Battlefield on Friday afternoon. Crockett plans to join his Confederate comrades when they battle northern forces today during the 151st Anniversary Battle of Cedar Creek. Rich Cooley/Daily

“All of us train on all of the positions, but we always find things we like better,” she said. “I get the biggest charge out of pulling the lanyard, so that’s my job.”

Back home, the Judys own around seven guns, having traveled as far as Montana to get them. Among them are a garrison gun, cadet gun, gatling gun and two mountain howitzers – used frequently in the battles around western Virginia.

To brush up on safety and techniques, the reenactors will attend artillery school at various locations across the East Coast every two years. During the battle, the team needs to work in tandem to make sure they perform the right sequence of preparations and operate the gun safely. Susan Judy said that while troops in the Civil War may have fired off two rounds per minute, current safety precautions make the process about three minutes long.

“Our lives – and the lack of injuries – are in each other’s hands,” she said.

They’ve served other roles on the battlefield, too – Susan Judy has played bugle and fife with the infantry and Condono, as a field doctor,  has performed first aid on a soldier with a skull injury at Cedar Creek.

Confederate gunner Jay Schroeder, of Petersburg, West Virginia, sits in his wheelchair under the Confederate flag at Cedar Creek Battlefield in Middletown on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“People can get seriously hurt…there’s usually at least one broken leg,” she said. “In the summertime, when we’re doing other events, (there’s) heatstroke, heat exhaustion.”

“And you know what people do when they heal? They come back and they do it again,” she said.

Susan Judy, Condono and her daughters will also switch things up later on when they trade out of their soldier’s uniforms for a fancy period dress to go dancing at the reenactor’s ball on Saturday.

The battles aren’t only a fun reunion, they’re a chance to pay homage to the past. David Judy can trace his family history to Civil War soldiers, and Schroeder’s ancestors served in McClanahan’s Battery itself.

“The main thing is to have fun but also teach history at the same time,” Schroeder said. “It’s always been our goal to teach somebody something every weekend that we’re out.”

These particular battles offer a rather unique opportunity of reenacting on the actual historic battleground, and the meaning isn’t lost on the Judys.

“This is the culmination of a season’s hard work shooting Yankees,” Susan Judy laughed. “It gives you a feeling that yes, people walked over here on this land and bled here and died here.”

“It’s a way of honoring their memory,” Condono added.

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