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Living a Civil War existence

September 23, 2004 1:10 am

DINWIDDIE--When it opens for business here next spring, the Civil War Adventure Camp at Pamplin Historical Park will give visitors a unique feel for the conflict.

It will do that by having them live it as a soldier for a day, in an encampment where the mattresses are lumpy, the evening stew is served from an iron kettle and the fire in the stove may be cold, come morning.

The new addition to the park, which features the nationally recognized National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, is aimed at giving visitors more than just a description of what life was like for a typical foot soldier in the war.

Instead, it will drop them directly into a Civil War existence on a new, 422-acre corner of the park where they'll be asked to shed both their modern clothes and sensibilities.

"They'll enter a building that looks like a 19th-century barn with a locker facility where they'll leave the 21st century behind," said A. Wilson Greene, executive director at Pamplin Park. "Waiting for them in a locker with their name on it will be a Civil War uniform and all the proper accoutrements for a soldier of the period."

Greene, who previously lived in Fredericksburg, working here for the National Park Service and director of a Civil War preservation group, said the "recruits" will be fully immersed in a Civil War experience from 3:30 one afternoon until 10 a.m. the next day.

"They'll leave all cell phones, candy bars and modern conveniences behind," Greene said. "They'll muster in the camp and be assigned to either a tent, a hut or a spot in the barracks."

Greene said that participants in the camp will be exposed to many facets of Civil War life, in which some will be dressed as Confederate soldiers, some as Union troops.

The uniformed officers in the camp will be park rangers who will give the campers exposure to facets of camp life ranging from music to medicine to the chores shared in the camp.

"They'll even be issued Civil War scrip when they first arrived, and have access to period goods in a unit store," he said.

Greene said that after a full evening meal, complete with fruit cobbler and camp coffee, the recruits would probably turn in early.

"If it's September or May, the heat or cold won't be a big issue," said Greene. "But on the really hot or cold days, visitors will see what it was like to experience the elements the way the Civil War soldier did."

Visitors will start the next morning to the sound of a bugle, possibly followed by a short march and muster.

"Along the way, they might find someone along the trail taking pot shots at them," Greene said. "That's an experience that very quickly puts you into a soldier's shoes."

After breakfast, the participants might take part in drills or a mock battle. Depending on age, the would-be soldiers might test-fire weapons or simply carry a mock-up of a Civil War weapon.

While most facets of the experience will be of the Civil War period, safety and hygiene aren't among them.

Modern bathrooms will be available, and park rangers will have access to modern first aid and communication.

The park, which hasn't publicly announced the new attraction, expects that schools and Scout troops will make up a large part of the Adventure Camp participants.

But they also hope to draw business groups, which might use the experience as a team-building exercise.

Individuals or small groups won't be shut out. There will be specific dates when they can sign on to the Civil War experience.

Greene said that while the educational aspect of the camp is important, the park hopes it will also be a major draw.

"If you can offer something else nobody's doing--and to my knowledge, this isn't being offered anywhere else--it puts you on the radar," said Greene.

He said a constant challenge is competing with bus groups that bring students and others to Williamsburg and Washington. Pamplin Park, Greene said, wants to be more than a side trip that brings those visitors but seldom sees them stay overnight.

Greene noted that aside from the Civil War Soldier museum, the park also offers museums and displays interpreting a period plantation, slave quarters and a Civil War battle fought on and near the spot back in April of 1865.

Also in the works for the park: a new, edgy movie that will try to accurately portray the savagery of war, and a new education center and 250-seat theater where the film will eventually be seen.

The park is funded by a foundation established by the Pamplin family, which has ancestral roots on the property and elsewhere in Dinwiddie County.

For more information, go to or call 877/PAMPLIN.

To reach ROB HEDELT: 540/374-5415

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