"...I cannot figure out why a reenactor would want to be involved with such a thing. But then again I have never understood the quirkiness of reenactors.” That's my opinion as well! - Jonah
By Robert Lee Hodge (America's Civil War, May 2002)
‘Who knows but again the old flags…may face each other…while the cries of victory fill a summer day.’—Berry Benson
Confederate veteran Berry Benson served in a South Carolina regiment and had fought in the ranks at Chancellorsville. He had endured hot lead and cold steel for country and cause; and if Benson wished to be interred in a cemetery on the Chancellorsville battlefield, who could argue with his wish? But what about reenactors and other modern-day Americans? Should they be accorded the same honor?
Chancellorsville Memorial Gardens (CMG) is breaking ground for a 370-acre cemetery to hold the remains of up to 350,000 Civil War enthusiasts on land that is a part of the battlefield. Two questions come to mind: Is the cemetery a threat to preservation—will it destroy battlefield land—and why would a reenactor want to be buried on an actual battlefield?
When I first heard about the proposed Civil War-themed cemetery at Chancellorsville I was shocked. My mind conjured up thoughts of burials for well-intended reenactors in faux uniforms on the ground where real Civil War soldiers bled. I reenact, myself, and I was bothered by the thought.
I already had doubts about the level of authenticity and scholarship and the overall purpose of reenacting. A reenactor cemetery on a battlefield nagged at me, and I began to wonder if it was time to wash my hands of the hobby in which I had participated for 21 years.
Some feel that what is at stake is the bulldozing of a battlefield—hallowed ground—in the guise of some sort of bastardized view of Civil War remembrance. “l find it obscene that someone wants to blatantly use hallowed ground for monetary gain” said Erik Nelson, a board member of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. “I find it even more repugnant that someone wants to pretend that reenactors are somehow on par with actual soldiers. This thing is a farce.”
CMG historian and reenactor Blaine Piper does not see it that way. He envisions an opportunity to establish a quality facility with interpretive signage, trails, kiosks, living history programs and partial restoration of the Germanna Plank Road—all designed to interpret the Battle of Chancellorsville. “We want to approach this honorably” stated Piper.
Although the property is not on core battlefield land, some of the first casualties in Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson's great and crushing flank attack of May 2, 1863, undoubtedly fell here.
While the National Park Service (NPS) did not wish to comment on the cemetery, saying that the property is outside its authorized boundary, recently retired NPS historian and well-known Civil War author Kobert K. Krick stated: “With the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors continuing to screw up the entire area with rezoning and poor planning, the cemetery does not bother me as much as the other developments of tract homing and commercial sprawl from Fredericksburg. However, if the cemetery was instead placed 800 yards northeast of where it is now, then I would be up in arms.”
Krick went on to say: “On the other hand, I cannot figure out why a reenactor would want to be involved with such a thing. But then again I have never understood the quirkiness of reenactors.”
The NPS owns about 80 percent of what is within its congressionally authorized boundary (1,600out of 2,000 acres). That boundary protects only about 60 percent of the Chancellorsville battlefield. In 1998, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Chancellorsville in the top 11 most-endangered NPS sites in America.
Joe Barreiro, director and vice president of CMG, argues that the cemetery is better than tract housing or more strip malls in the area. He contends that his proposal is the “lesser of two evils. If we find remains of soldiers, we are going to erect a monument to them.”
CMG's brochure indicates that the prices for vault liners alone, such as the “Williamsburg” model, will run close to $4,000. Personally, I think that if a reenactor wants to spend that amount of money on something Civil War—related, he or she would be better off donating the money to battlefield land acquisition and preservation.
As for any personal quirks, I'll probably continue to reenact, and when my time comes to “join the great majority” I intend to be cremated and have my ashes fired out of a 12-pounder Napoleon cannon on the anniversary of Chancellorsville. I may not find eternal rest on a battlefield, but at least I will go out with a bang. You can learn about the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust at www.cvbt.org.