During the 125th anniversary of the “War between the States” (WBTS) I was bitten by the reenacting bug and have been a reenactor ever since. I started as a “fresh fish” not knowing anything about soldiering and suffered the pranks and humiliations of the more experienced soldiers charged in training me to be combat ready in the art of 19th century warefare.
Today I am proud to have worked my way through the ranks to become the 1st Lieutenant of the 6th North Carolina State Troops who earned the sobriquet “The Bloody Sixth” for their courageous service to The Confederate states and North Carolina during the war.
As a historian and genealogist I am often asked what it is like to be a reenactor at the heart of these thrilling Civil War events. Words alone cannot describe the experience. Being in the field as a reenactor lets you experience first hand the joys and hardships that our ancestors faced. It helps you form a special bond across the centuries that make their words more meaningful. When they write about a long dusty march making them tired and thirsty, anyone can easily form that mental picture, but a reenactor can feel the weariness in their bones. Their throat becomes parched as they read and their mental picture is one where they personally stand beside the writer, surrounded by reenactor friends because they have experienced what the writer has written about on so many occasions.
I have laid under a scorching sun on a hot July afternoon on the battlefield of Gettysburg watching the legs of my comrades stepping over my prone body as I pretend to be wounded during a battle. There is no shade, no breeze as I lie in a sweat drenched wool uniform, surrounded by “dead” and “wounded” comrades. The still air rattles with the staccato bursts of musketry fire marking the moving line of the battle raging nearby. The thunderous sounds of horses hoofs furiously pulling a canon into position nearby makes me realize the battle is far from over. Suddenly a boom nearly lifts me off the ground as a cannon firing nearby vibrates the ground. The acrid black powder smoke covers the field with a cloud causing the dead and wounded to cough violently. All these sensory inputs burn themselves into my brain to give me a deeper appreciation of the fear and suffering experienced by a real wounded soldier laying in a field far from home.
I have led my troops into an attack only to watch my battle line melt before my eyes as the concentrated musket fire of the enemy troops scattered the ground with my friends. I have felt the anger and frustration welling in my breast and hot angry tears blurring my vision, knowing the good men the “died” that day, even though deep down I knew this is all pretend. It helps me to better understand the sorrow and bitterness felt by the veterans who wrote about their boyhood experiences half a lifetime latter, still lamenting the loss of a comrade or a wound they carried with the throughout their life.
I got the idea to write my experiences during the sesquicentennial reenactments from my friend and fellow reenactor Tom, who plans to write his own blog.
Please join me on a four years journey as we commemorate the war between the states and honor the memory of the ancestors who served, whether they wore Blue or Gray.
Rick Walton is a reenactor and living historian from Raleigh, North Carolina. When he is not reenacting, he conducts historical and genealogical research for his small business, Archive Research Associates.
He is lecturer and writer who eagerly shares his knowledge of 19th century life whether as a soldier or civilian. He has portrayed 19th century North Carolina Governors on numerous occasions at the N.C. State Capitol. He regularly portrays Civil War era soldiers throughout the south-east. He is available as a researcher for historical or Genealogical projects and as a living historian for school talks, speaking engagements and special events.