Battle Day: Re-enactors bring Civil War back to life

Published on Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:18 - Written by Kelly Gooch

Reta Brand did not initially enjoy dressing in Civil War period clothing.

Growing up, she said she loved the movie “Gone With the Wind,” but once she started dressing in the period attire, she didn’t think it was great, with the tight corset and multiple layers.

But now the 71-year-old re-enactor, who is part of United Daughters of the Confederacy and Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose, “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

“It’s fascinating to me, and I look forward to every event we do. I still love the dresses,” she said, adding she has a closet full of them.

She said she also has fun watching children at re-enactments.

“They’re just fascinated by the clothes, the toys, the guns — everything. They just love it. They’re just in awe,” she said.

“And that’s very rewarding to know that we can let the youngsters know that there is something like this because … most of them don’t get the correct story as far as Confederate history.”

Mrs. Brand and other re-enactors were set to participate in a living history event Saturday, giving the public an inside look into what things were like during the Civil War. The event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Camp Ford Historic Park.

Norma Holley, 71, is part of United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Texas Society Order of Confederate Rose.

Mrs. Holley, originally from Waco, said she was fortunate growing up to have four living great-grandmothers, three of whom were daughters of Confederate soldiers.

“Basically, I’ve known all my life” (about having Confederate ancestors), she said. “I’ve always been a history buff, so it was a very important part of my life growing up.”

Mrs. Holley said she and her husband, Johnnie Holley, Texas Division Commander, Sons of Confederate Veterans, did a lot of traveling, as he was in the military, and did not get involved in re-enacting until after they retired.

When they moved to Tyler, they found out about the Sons of Confederate Veterans and did genealogical research for her husband to join the group, Mrs. Holley said.

At the same time, about 1999, she said she decided to do her own genealogical research, and joined United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Then in 2003, she said, she was instrumental in starting a chapter of Order of Confederate Rose, a sister organization to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As far as what made her want to re-enact, she said it was “just being around it,” and the fact that “it looked like fun.”

“It (also) was a way to remember and try to see things in the light as our ancestors saw them — the world as they knew it — and portray that, and to teach the younger generation the real history of that period,” Mrs. Holley said.

She said “there’s no way to know” how many re-enactments she’s done, but she, along with other members of groups, such as Order of Confederate Rose, United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans, not only do re-enactments but also memorial services, marker dedications, funerals, portrayals at the Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum in Tyler and living histories at schools.

As far as her role, she said it depends on what the needs are.

She said she does a program on women’s clothing, and does a program on death and mourning practices of the period.

She said she also does a program on toys that the children would have had at the time.

At Camp Ford, she has served at the greeting area.

Holley, 72, is more involved in the battle portion of re-enactment.

Holley said there have been some “close calls” while going all across Louisiana and Texas — some guys have been injured — but overall it’s a safe activity.

And given that the battle re-enactments typically involve hundreds of people carrying muskets, swords and cannons, he said he is surprised more participants aren’t hurt.

He said they work hard at training cannoneers and horse riders because the horse and cannon are likely the most dangerous jobs in the field.

Mrs. Brand’s husband, native East Texan Dennis Brand, 71, serves as the commander of the Captain James P. Douglas Camp in Tyler.

He said he has always knew he had Confederate ancestors, and is proud of it and loves for younger people to see what actually took place, as well as period-correct uniforms.

Holley said a lot of the young people who get involved in re-enacting do so because they like make believe.

“It’s a release from the everyday world. You get to go out (and) just kind of play,” he said.

He said it’s also “an excuse to get dirty.”

Weather also is a factor.

Mrs. Holley recalled a time about three years ago when storms came, and by the time everything was over, her skirt weighed more than 40 pounds because it was soaked.

She said there also have been times where they’ve had to battle temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

Holley said there are wonderful families involved in re-enactments, which teach children family values.

“The kids get a much better … education of what the world was like, what it is like and what values they need to work on in their life. They make friends. They learn how to get along with people,” he said.

For those who want to be involved in re-enactment, he said, “The first thing you have to have is a good attitude and be able to listen.”

He said the best way to go about it is to come to a re-enactment, look at what everyone is doing, and then, once they want to do find someone who is doing it, introduce themselves and say, “I want to get into it.”

“They’ll bring you in, train you. They’ll watch you. They’ll help you get your equipment, tell you how to do it,” Holley said.

But “you can’t just walk up and say, ‘I want to play.’ You have to be assigned to a unit.”

“Everybody’s out there together, and nobody wants to get hurt,” he added.