It’s doubtful that Nathan Jennings’ knowledge of the Civil War can be matched by many his age .
Last weekend, he camped out at LakeWatch Plantation in a field with friends and kin for Franklin County Civil War Days. They slept under makeshift tents and wore uniforms fit for a soldier.
“I do it for the fun and to educate people,” the Rocky Mount teen said. “How many people do you know who actually get to do this?”
Nathan started participating in re-enactments about two years ago, and at 14 , he’s not far from the age of some Civil War soldiers, especially those fighting toward the end of the war. Nathan, along with his two younger brothers, Richard and Jacob, and their mother, Kim Jennings-Valerga, participated in the weekend events.
On Sept. 7, Nathan and his friend Matthew Furr, 14, sat on the lawn of Gen. Jubal A. Early’s homeplace and talked about how to get authentic-looking wooden canteens for future Civil War re-enactments. The next day, he could be seen leading a group of boys in formation for drills.
Nathan said his sense of duty and seriousness about history was inherited from his uncle, Doug Camper, a Civil War re-enactor for 23 years.
Most re-enactors are Camper’s age and older, which will create problems for both authenticity and the future of Civil War re-enactments if young people keep losing interest.
Camper said this event had fewer re-enactors than in previous years, but the volunteers made it work, although some had to change coats mid-battle to play the opposition. Camper said despite luring his nephews into his favorite hobby, recruitment of all ages is difficult, in part because of the equipment expense; a brand-new replica of a Civil War-era rifle can cost $1,000.
He said re-enactors take their roles seriously .
“It’s about learning the history and teaching the history,” Camper said.
David Palmer of Boutetourt County, who played Gen. Robert E. Lee during the event, said that for many children, watching living-history re-enactments could be their only exposure to the Civil War.
“It does concern me,” he said. “So many people are so ignorant of our history. That’s why we do what we do.”
Palmer said participants sat around the campfire at the encampments and discussed politics and social issues .
Having enough participation on the battlefield is one thing, but the re-enactments wouldn’t be complete without the women of the Order of the Confederate Rose in their Civil War-era dresses. Paula Meador of Roanoke said that unlike the men’s groups, members don’t have to prove lineage to participate.
“You just have to love the South,” she said.
Ditty Speed of Wirtz chimed in, “And we do love the South.”
Both locals and visitors attended the Civil War Days, which included vendors and a view of battle re-enactments complete with loud cannons and rifles. The spirit of the South could be heard after the battle on Saturday when a Confederate soldier yelled out to a large crowd of spectators, “Virginia!”
Curtis and Brandi Cornell of Moneta said it was their first time attending a Civil War re-enactment. They brought their daughter Ashtyn, 9, and her friend, Emily Newman, 10, who enjoyed seeing the horses used by the cavalry.
“I thought it was a good way to learn about it,” Emily said.