'I'm just happy I didn't get killed' Gettysburg re-enactor shot with Civil War weapon or replica

July 07, 1998|By Eric Siegel and Sheridan Lyons | Eric Siegel and Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jamie Stiehm contributed to this article.

The Civil War really came home last weekend for Clinton Wakefield Epps.

Epps, one of thousands of re-enactors who restaged the Battle of Gettysburg on the 135th anniversary of the bloody confrontation, was in satisfactory condition yesterday after being shot in the neck last week with what authorities said was a Civil War-era revolver or replica.

The 22-year-old Charlottesville, Va., man, who was shot a little over an hour after the battle began about 4 p.m. Friday, said he was "somewhat disappointed" that he missed most of the event but expressed relief he was not more seriously injured.

"It doesn't seem that important right now," said Epps of the three-day event, which was billed as the biggest-ever Civil War re-enactment. "I'm just happy I didn't get killed."

As Epps recovered from his wound at the York, Pa., Hospital, Pennsylvania State Police continued to investigate the shooting. Police had not determined whether the shooting was intentional.

"I don't think we've come to a conclusion one way or another," said Sgt. Patrick Gebhart, a criminal investigation supervisor in the Gettysburg barracks. "We are conducting interviews of all the members of the different units who were fighting at the time."

Reenactor enthusiasts described the shooting as an accident and an aberration. The event's safety standards required that there be no ammunition at the site "for any reason," according to a posting on the event's World Wide Web site.

"All weapons are inspected and all unit commanders inspect the weapons, and this one either was not inspected or was grabbed after inspection," said Randy Phiel, an organizer and operations manager for the Gettysburg 135th Anniversary Committee Inc. "That's why it's called an accident."

But one veteran re-enactor from Maryland who was present at the Gettysburg event said revolvers, carried by men impersonating officers, are frequently overlooked in inspections.

"I'm totally shocked by this, that someone would be malicious enough to put a projectile into a revolver," said David Morse of Lanham, who has re-enacted Civil War battles for 20 years.

"It's the first I've heard of something like this happening," he said. "What worries me most is the reflection that's going to be made on all because of the actions of one."

Police officials in Pennsylvania and Maryland said they, too, could recall no similar incidents.

But Capt. Gregory M. Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman, said, "It points to the seriousness of the situation any time firearms are used."

Epps, who has been taking part in re-enactments since he was 13, was playing an infantryman with the 7th Virginia Regiment. Part of a "Confederate skirmish line," he got ahead of his fellow troops and found himself surrounded by Union infantry and cavalry when he felt himself get hit in the neck.

Spitting up blood and unable to speak, he gestured for help. "The first couple of people didn't think I was hit," he said.

He eventually attracted some attention and was taken off the mock battlefield on a stretcher to a field station, and flown by helicopter to the hospital.

The bullet entered the left side of his neck and was lodged in the right side, missing "all things critical," said York Hospital spokesman Barry Sparks.

Epps said he thought the shooting was "probably an accident" but said if it was intentional, he didn't think he was the target. "I don't think I've made anybody that mad," he said.

Epps, who said he plans to enter graduate school in ecology at the University of California at Berkeley for the fall semester, said he thinks his days of playing soldier are coming to an end.

"I'd been planning to get out of it anyway," he said. "I don't think I'll be doing much more."

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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