For the first time in over 150 years, Union and Confederate troops returned to Stafford County.
Nearly 100 Civil War–era living historians, reenactors and impressionists from up and down the Eastern Seaboard set up camp over the weekend on the grounds of the White Oak Civil War Museum.
There, visitors got a rare, detailed look at what it was like to live, eat, laugh and survive during a war that rocked the nation from April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865.
The event—Civil War Weekend at White Oak—differed from traditional reenactments in a unique way.
Unlike reenactments that feature troops engaging each other on the battlefield, Civil War Weekend at White Oak featured numerous campsites throughout the compound that showed visitors how to fashion hardware in a 19th-century forge, treat the wounded on a battlefield, gaze at weaponry, or sing motivational sea shanties of the era.
“You can walk into this camp right now and you can get a taste of almost every aspect of what life was like during the Civil War,” said Remy Range of Spotsylvania, who, with a uniform change, portrays either a Confederate or a Union sailor.
Range operated the camp’s shipboard forge at the campsite, producing iron nails and other hardware used aboard wooden ships at sea.
Range said the event’s cadre of diverse living historians spoke about 1860s–era soldiers, sailors, women, black history and children’s history—from both Union and Confederate perspectives.
“For us, history is a passion,” said Range. “We want everyone to experience this.
“This isn’t a reenactment, this is living history,” continued Range. “There are lessons to be learned, and there are people who should not be forgotten.”
Many participants were previously involved in Yankees in Falmouth, which was held for several years at Falmouth’s Moncure Conway House.
Due to several changes in planning and logistics, the event moved to the White Oak Civil War Museum, taking on a new name and rebranded itself as a complete living history venue.
“This is an educational opportunity for any impressionists or reenactor to come here and educate people on the Civil War time period,” said Brian Eugene Withrow of Stafford, who portrayed Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
“Civil, political, military—there are no subjects that are off the table,” Withrow continued. “The whole idea is that we have opened this event up to cover a broader Civil War time period.”
As a result, the public was able to interact with an assortment of knowledgeable impressionists, who accurately portrayed President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman, and several Union generals.
Duane Randall of Stafford is a Civil War enthusiast and relic hunter, who has read countless books on the war.
Randall toured the camp Saturday and was impressed by the diversity of displays offered to visitors.
“There’s so many parts of that war that were so important to what they were doing as an army, and you never hear about it, or read about it in books,” said Randall. “For example, the settlers selling their wares over there. They followed the armies, too, and you never hear about them.”
Edward Gantt of Washington, D.C., portrayed a soldier in the U.S. Colored Troops 23rd Regiment. Those infantry troops were composed of African American enlisted men who served in the Union Army.
Gantt said he uses opportunities as a reenactor to not only tell the story of Virginia’s deeply historic Camp Casey regiment, but to also help shape America’s youth.
“I try to talk about the mood before the war, and what the war accomplished,” said Gantt. “My point to the younger crowd is that one day you’re going to be leaders. Never forget the lessons we learned the hard way.”
In addition to traditional battlefield and country living demonstrations of the period, visitors also got a taste of what a visit to the emergency room was like over 150 years ago.
Adam Brown of Stafford said his 8-year-old son, Colt, is “obsessed with the Civil War.” The Browns have attended several similar events.
Last year, Colt was attracted to the medical tent where mock field surgeries were being demonstrated.
“He loves the surgeon,” Brown said. “Last year, the surgeon let him cut an arm off.”
Brown’s son said, “There’s a lot of cool things to look at. I’m looking forward to seeing something different.”
Jason Payne of Stafford took his 13-year-old son, Clayton, to the event to get a glimpse into America’s past and to learn something new about the way of life during the Civil War years.
“He wants to learn about history, he’s learning about telegrams now and how they did that,” said Payne. “I’ll stay here today as long as he wants to.”