Cedar Creek

Annual re-enactment to continue despite national park rules

`They are on hallowed ground'

Battlefield Foundation to retain ownership of Middletown land

October 12, 2003|By Luciana Lopez | Luciana Lopez,SUN STAFF

The hardest part about planning this year's re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek might be convincing people that the re-enactment is really happening.

Last December, the National Park Service included the battlefield in the boundaries of the new Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.

Because other national parks don't allow re-enactments, many thought the Cedar Creek battle was done for.

But this national park is a little different, since the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, which puts on the re-enactments, will retain ownership of the land used in the events. And the Park Service has agreed to the CCBF's desire to continue the events.

The result is that the planners of this year's Cedar Creek re-enactment have found themselves not only handling the usual details of planning the event, but also devoting time to quashing rumors about the re-enactment's supposed cancellation.

"We've been fighting this rumor for I don't know how long," said Suzanne Chilson, while on the phone with a re-enactor who had called at the end of July to make sure the battle, planned for Oct. 18 and 19, wasn't called off. That call was typical of what she's heard this year, said Chilson, the executive director of the Cedar Creek Battle Foundation.

The rumors have been so pervasive that Chilson put a paragraph on the subject in the registration brochure in boldface italic to reassure visitors that, yes, there will indeed be a re-enactment this year. The CCBF will continue the battles "as we have in the past," she wrote.

The issue is especially sensitive because, unlike some events, the Cedar Creek re-enactment takes place on the actual field used in the Oct. 19, 1864, battle, where Union forces routed the Confederates and boosted Abraham Lincoln's re-election campaign.

"It's very special for the re-enactors," Chilson said. "They know they are on hallowed ground."

She added that the proceeds from the event are also crucial to the organization, because the money generated from the re-enactors and the spectators pays for, in large part, the CCBF's acquisition and preservation of land in the area.

When the CCBF began talking to the federal government last year about the new park, continuing the re-enactments was "non-negotiable," Chilson said. "We wanted to make sure that the re-enactments within the boundaries of the park would be there."

That's why the CCBF decided to keep the property rather than sell to the Park Service, Chilson added. "They [the National Park Service] don't own it, they don't have any say."

Chilson hasn't been the only one to hear the persistent whisperings.

`People are worried'

"People are worried," said Carolyn Jessup, one of the coordinators of Sutler's Row at the re-enactment, where merchants sell Civil War-related goods. She said people tell her that the Park Service plans to take over CCBF's land and then discontinue the battles -- even though that's not the case.

Greg Bair, the re-enactor who leads the Confederate forces at the annual event, has put out many such fires this year.

"We've been trying to squelch that rumor from the very get-go," Bair said. "It's a concern for the re-enactors."

He began hearing questions as far back as the December announcement of the new park. "And of course the re-enacting community is pretty widespread, so it's pretty easy to get a rumor going."

And while rumor control has been an added task this year, it hasn't replaced essentials of planning, either.

Some 5,000 expected re-enactors need firewood, portable toilets and water, all of which must be set up before re-enactment weekend. The spectators -- from 3,000 to 15,000, depending on the weather, Chilson said -- have to be taken care of, too.

Minutiae abound, like warning people not to bring dogs and making sure the 100 or so horses all have the proper veterinary clearance. Even registering the re-enactors takes time, from logging the pre-registration forms that must arrive by early August to ordering the small medals that each re-enactor must wear to prove registration.

The Cedar Creek battle does have some logistical advantages, organizers said, the biggest perhaps being the CCBF's ownership of the land.

Events that only rent their land must fit in preparations around the schedules of the landowners, but the CCBF can be more flexible because the foundation doesn't have that worry. Re-enactors can also use the creek to water their horses, Bair said, which saves the CCBF from bringing in quite so many tankers.

Any time or planning that can be saved can be a big help. The re-enactor commanders begin organizing for the next event as soon as the previous one ends, according to Bair, discussing the pros and cons of the just-completed battle.

About a month later, the commanders and the event staff talk again about what needs to be done for the event.

At later meetings, re-enactors plan the actual battle, mapping out what they can and can't do with their estimated numbers of troops. "It's a drawn out process over several months," Bair said.

Some changes likely

While Bair knows the re-enactments will continue, he does think it's possible the events will see at least a few changes.

The creation of the park opens the door for other organizations, like the National Park Service or the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which also owns land inside the park boundaries), to help out with future events, Bair said. "We could do one very nice re-enactment, giving some real nice presentations," should that happen, he noted.

But such collaborations are still hypothetical, and likely wouldn't bear fruit for years, Bair added. "I guess the bottom line is, we're just in a wait-and-see mode."

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