Civil War reenactment hosted by Explore Park on July 14
VINTON–The crowd who attended Vinton’s 4th of July Celebration at the Vinton War Memorial were treated to a Civil War skirmish by the 60th Virginia Infantry Company K on the hill above the monument during the course of the evening.
“Union forces have been spotted in the area of Gish’s Mill (Vinton) and must be driven off,” said their Facebook communication prior to the skirmish.
Doug Camper, commanding officer of the troop, and his fellow reenactors formed their unit three years ago on July 4, 2009, at the Vinton celebration. After being part of another reenactment group in Patrick County, they decided that they needed to develop a local unit for the Roanoke area.
They chose to establish the 60th Virginia Infantry Company K because the original troop actually served in the Roanoke area during the War Between the States and marched with General Jubal Early.
The unit will be making another local appearance on July 14, this time at Virginia’s Explore Park from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
“We are always looking for activities and events to promote Explore Park”, said Debbie Pitts, Executive Director of the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority. “Explore Park has a background in historical reenactments from different periods of history so the Civil War presentation fits in well.”
The troop will stage a living history demonstration, reenacting a day in the Roanoke Valley in 1864 as a band of Confederate forces helps secure Salem and the Roanoke Valley from Union troops after the Battle of Hanging Rock.
The Confederates had turned back the advance of Federal forces led by David Hunter at Lynchburg. Led by General Jubal Early, they pursued Hunter’s army to Salem where the Battle of Hanging Rock took place.
At Explore Park, the company will set up camp, do roll and pay calls, perform drill and rifle demonstrations, and answer questions from the public. They will set up a simple campsite, as troops on the move would, not setting up tentage, but a company fly– a piece of canvas that covers 4 to 8 soldiers.
The demonstration will be on the lawn of Brugh Tavern, with several showings of the documentary “Hunter’s Raid: the Battle for Lynchburg” in the nearby Blue Ridge Visitor Center, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Camper actually worked as an extra in the documentary.
Camper grew up in Roanoke, works part-time in Vinton, and has ancestors from Botetourt County who fought in the Civil War.
Camper’s great great-grandfather, Joel Craft, served with the 60th Virginia Infantry Company K from 1861-1864. Another ancestor, George Washington Camper, also fought for the Confederates and participated, or “stacked arms” in the surrender at Appomatox. There are also Union soldiers on his family tree.
Camper was always a history buff. His parents fueled his interest with trips to battlefields when he was a child. In 1987, he watched a Civil War reenactment on a farm near Vinton which involved 30 to 40 soldiers. He was so enamored of the experience that he got in touch with a local reenactor to find out how to join a troop while he was still a student in middle school.
Camper has continued his involvement with reenactments and living history demonstrations for over 20 years. It’s a family-oriented pastime. Even his nephew Nathan is part of the troop.
The troop generally does a reenactment or demonstration once each month. There are currently 8 members of the group and they are always eager to recruit more members who share their passion for history.
Generally they appear locally, but sometimes the unit travels to large reenactments, such as the one they are scheduled to attend in Sharpsburg, Maryland in September. Reenactors will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, remembered as the bloodiest day in American history, where 23,000 casualties occurred. In 2002, twenty-three thousand reenactors attended that event with 100,000 spectators.
It isn’t cheap to become a reenactor. Participants pay their own way, purchasing their own uniforms and ammunition, in addition to paying travel expenses. The biggest cost is the purchase of weapons, which can cost several hundred dollars.
Camper funds his pastime by working part-time at Kroger in Vinton in the meat department. His full-time job is with Packaging Corporation of America, located near Hollins University, where General Early and his troops were encamped during 1864.
Camper has researched not just the history of the war but the history of uniforms and weaponry, attempting to make the demonstrations as authentic as possible.
Confederates wore many different types of uniforms, in various fabrics, colors and designs, which would seem to make differentiating those on your side difficult in the course of battle.
“If the uniform wasn’t dark blue, it was Confederate,” said Camper.
At times, reenactors must be prepared to “galvanize”, which means to don the uniform of the opposing side in case there are not enough soldiers representing both sides to stage a skirmish.
At the 4th of July battle in Vinton, Camper chose to fight without shoes.
“Often the Confederate soldiers went without shoes, especially in summer,” said Camper. “Some didn’t have shoes, especially later in the war when supplies were hard to come by; and some didn’t want to wear out their shoes marching. Sometimes they went without shoes by choice, sometimes by necessity.”
Kroger, Lotz Funeral Home, PCA, and Boy Scout Troop 584 from Bonsack are helping to sponsor the Explore Park event. Scouts will be running the concessions, selling water and snacks to earn community service hours.
Some members of the scout troop, which is affiliated with Bonsack United Methodist Church, have completed Eagle Scout projects at Explore Park, such as constructing an information kiosk, planter boxes, picnic tables, wooden trash can holders, and a bridge.
“Our troop has used Explore Park for several camping trips and we just want to give back to the park,” said Scoutmaster Curtis Altice.
There is no admission charge for the living history demonstration, although donations are welcomed to support Explore Park and future educational programs. More information on Saturday’s schedule is available at www.explorepark.org.