When Civil War re-enactors clash, Union blue is a necessary evil

GRAY -- Milling in the shade before the fake bullets flew, a trio of Confederate re-enactors stood talking about that most despicable of creatures: the chicken-stealing, barn-burning Yankee.

And what it is like to, unfortunately, dress up like one.

Any Civil War re-enactment worth its weight in dark-blue sack coats and forage caps is only as good as the folks willing to don the Union colors and march into battle.

On Sunday, at Old Clinton War Days on the outskirts of Gray, in a grassy bottom below a bouldered hillside, scenes from the 1864 Battle of Griswoldville played out along Pulaski Street.

One of the men in gray joked that there is a time-honored tradition to determine which combatants will that day lower themselves and put on Northern garb.

“We rassle,” re-enactor Andy Carson said.

He was kidding, of course.

Re-enactment regiments who host such gatherings typically supply the Yankees.

Carson, 58, from down around Albany, says it could be worse.

“We’d rather pretend to be a Yankee than bring real ones down here,” he said. “At some events, you’ll be blue Saturday and gray Sunday. ... That blue’ll suck the intelligence right out of you.”

The action requires the re-enactors to bring outfits for both sides.

“Sometimes we actually have to change uniforms in the middle of a battle,” said Ric Palmer, 71, of Cleveland, Georgia. “We’ve actually changed uniforms twice in one battle.”

A re-enactor since he was 21, Palmer had a great-grandfather who served in the Confederate Army.

“And it’s funny about this hobby,” he said, “it’s hard to find Yankees down here. We’ll go to a re-enactment up North, well, they have trouble finding Yankees up there, too.”

Steven L. Smith of Byron has been helping re-enact the War Between the States for 35 years. Smith, 64, who has achieved the re-enacting rank of general, said when you first take up the pastime, you don’t much care to be on the Union side.

“But after you’ve been in it a while, you have to think of it like this: If you want to portray what really happened, both armies have to go out and fight like they really did,” Smith said. “You fight just as hard in one (uniform) as you do the other.”

That said, when his regiment goes out of state, Smith said, “We only go Confederate.”

On Sunday, entrenched among the hillside boulders with his fellow Union artillerymen, Mike Maddox, of Griffin explained the toll spending the day as a Yankee can take on a man.

“When it’s all over,” Maddox, 60, said, laughing, “we shoot ourselves.”

Which raises the question of how many times re-enactors feign death.

“Numerous,” said Lee Murdock, 68, of Gray.

And fake-dying is not without its finer points, especially when the weather’s warm.

“Always die in the shade,” Murdock said, “not in the sun, not near an ant bed.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.