ARARAT, Va. — The 22nd annual J.E.B. Stuart Re-enactment and Living History encampment held at Laurel Hill means many things to its participants. The main thing is it satisfies a desire to learn something and then pass it on.
“I love history,” explained participant A.J. Cooper. “I loved learning about the North versus the South and what the South stood for. It was really the South wanting to lead its on kind of life. Re-enactments give me a chance to meet people and be involved in a great cause. It’s passing on this history.”
Cooper said some re-enactors participate in the events by taking on a personality from the 1800s.
“It’s easy to get lost in it,” added Cooper. “You really become somebody from that time period. You carry water the way they did, you live the way they live and you take on that roll. I think it’s important to feel what these soldiers felt.”
Brief conversations with re-enactors also will reveal that interest in this hobby is on the decrease. Re-enactment participant Bill Buchanan, who holds a master’s degree in history, has been involved with Civil War re-enactments since 1981. He remembered being involved in staging a battle and getting a little too close to a cannon.
“It was thundering and raining so I just didn’t take note of the sounds around me,” said Buchanan. “When the cannon fired, I must have jumped a foot in the air. I was supposed to die in that battle anyway so it worked out well.”
Buchanan attributed some of the decline in interest in re-enactments to the costs of costumes and equipment.
“It’s getting too expensive to pay for gas and uniforms and weapons,” said Buchanan. He said many of the events he has attended recently have been a little less well attended. He remembered when the hobby was so strict re-enactors used to count the stitches in the uniforms to be sure the number was authentic.
Two re-enactment participants who specialize in recreating the personas of J.E.B Stuart and his wife, Flora, are Wayne and Pam Jones.
“The number of participants at the encampment here remains level,” said Wayne Jones. “There is always an enthusiastic crowd here. For me, doing this at his home makes it more special. You roam the grounds he roamed as a child. That lends a special air. When you sleep in a tent here, you know he (Stuart) may have slept on that very ground. The more time you spend here, the more you learn the spirit of J.E.B. Stuart.”
Pam Jones said that while a great many female re-enactors choose to take on the characters of soldiers, she felt drawn to recreate Flora Stuart. Their interest has blossomed into what they do 12 months out of the year.
“Her interest was in educating her children,” said Pam Jones. “This was necessity then. There were very few schools. She began teaching at the age of 28 and even taught her grandchildren. What we do is more to teach than it is about battles and soldiers. Re-enactors identify so much with these people and their time. That is their mission. Adults and children have not learned much of this part of history in school.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.