ARARAT, Va. — Now in its 20th year, the annual J.E.B. Stuart Civil War Reenactment and Living History weekend drew its largest crowd to date this weekend.
Ronnie Haynes, vice president of the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust, said around 2,000 people visited the reenactment on Saturday. He expected 500 to 600 to visit on Sunday before the day was done.
“I think this is the best reenactment yet as far as attendance goes,” Haynes remarked yesterday.
He said attendance was probably higher than usual due to the beautiful weather and the fact that it was the 20th reenactment. There were also more reenactors than in previous years. Around 400 people donned traditional Civil War-era garb to participate in the event. Forty of these people brought horses to take part in the reenactment. There were around half a dozen pieces of artillery there, Haynes said.
“We’re just appreciative of everybody’s support,” Haynes remarked.
Another attraction this year was the replica of the H.L. Hunley, the first combat submarine in history to sink an enemy warship. This was the first time in several years that the submarine was on display at the encampment. Haynes said this was one of the biggest attractions this year.
John Dangerfield brought the Hunley replica. He takes the life-size replica to many different locations throughout the nation during the year. Last week, he took the replica to a few schools and then brought it to the encampment.
“It always gets positive reactions,” Dangerfield remarked.
The real Hunley submarine successfully attacked the U.S.S. Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864, and then sank along with its eight-man crew. It was the first submarine in maritime history to successfully sink a ship during battle. In 2000, the original submarine was recovered. It is now on display in Charleston, S.C., where crews are working to fully restore it. Dangerfield pointed out that many people will never get the chance to go see the original, so his replica brings the history to them.
“It’s scary looking at it,” said encampment attendee Darlene Foster. “It’s so small.”
Dangerfield laughed later when he explained that his replica is actually four inches taller and four inches wider than the original.
Of the submarine, Dangerfield said, “It’s not something people usually equate with the Civil War ... But more and more people are realizing that we had submarines during the war.”
In addition to the submarine and other food and merchandise vendors at the encampment location in Ararat, several living history events took place throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. Gates opened both days at 9 a.m. On Saturday, there was an infantry demonstration at 10 a.m., a period fashion show at 11 a.m. and music at 11:30 a.m. A memorial service was held at 4:30 p.m., lantern tour at 7 p.m. and period dance at 8 p.m. On Sunday, there was gospel music at 9 and 11 a.m. and a church service at 10 a.m. A cavalry demonstration took place at 11:30 a.m. Gates closed at 4 p.m. after the final battle.
The biggest reenactment events of the weekend were probably the battles. Prior to each battle, a Council of War was held. On Saturday at 1 p.m., reenactors squared off in the Cavalry Battle of Brandy Station. The Battle of Dranesville took place at 3 p.m. On Sunday, participants acted out the Battle of Stoney Ridge and Longstreet’s Flank Attack starting at 2 p.m. Each battle was complete with reenactors on horseback and people using cannons and rifles. The reenactors followed a script for each of the battles. Large crowds lined the roped off field where the battles took place.
Sharon and Greg Murphy visited the encampment on Saturday and Sunday before heading back to Illinois. While planning a trip to Williamsburg, Va., they read online about the J.E.B. Stuart event. Being history buffs, the couple decided to come down to watch the battle reenactments.
“I’ve always wanted to see one,” said Sharon Murphy.
Sunday morning, Sharon said, “The battle yesterday was impressive. Very realistic.”
Greg said, “The people have been friendly.”
The couple said they might come back again in the future. Sharon loved the battle. Greg’s favorite part was the war council that took place before each battle.
“The reenactors are very involved in becoming their people,” Sharon noted.
They said the only thing they will do different next time is remember to bring a few chairs to sit on.
Reenactment regiments from neighboring states come to participate in the events each year. The events are held at Laurel Hill, the birthplace of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart was a commander of cavalry for the Army of Northern Virginia. The preservation trust group works to preserve the homeplace and the history of Stuart. The location is included on the Virginia Landmark Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Haynes said it is the only location dedicated to Stuart that he knows of.
Haynes believes the efforts of his organization are important, because it preserves history and honors J.E.B. Stuart. He said the annual reenactment will live on for years to come.
“This is our 20th year, and we’re going to keep going with it.”
Contact Meghann Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.