published Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Local re-enactors set to ‘defend’ Fort Sumter


by Andy Johns

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga.—Three days before he headed to South Carolina for the Fort Sumter Civil War re-enactment, Dalton resident Joseph Collins still had buttons to stitch, pants to sew and a mustache to wax.

Even an event 150 years in the making takes a lot of last-minute preparation to pull off.

Collins will be among two dozen re-enactors from the Chattanooga area headed to Charleston Harbor to recreate the attack that started the war.

In April of 1861, Fort Sumter — literally an island of federal troops surrounded by the first state to secede — was running low on supplies. After negotiations between Union and Confederate commanders for the fort’s surrender broke down, Confederate guns bombarded the fort beginning at 4:30 a.m. on April 12. The fort officially surrendered two days later.

The local re-enactors plan to act out the defense of the fort today, Saturday and Sunday, which are expected to be the heaviest days for tourists heading to Charleston to mark the 150th anniversary of the battle.

“For a re-enactment guy this is a huge, huge honor,” said Louis Varnell, a Sale Creek native who will act as senior first sergeant at the re-enactment. “You’re only going to get to do this once in your life.”

Tim Stone, superintendent at Fort Sumter National Monument, said in all there will be about 250 re-enactors involved in National Park Service events throughout the week.

“The opening shots of the Civil War occurred here at Fort Sumter,” Stone said. “For the National Park Service and, I think, the nation, this represents the beginning of the Civil War.”

Lee White, a park guide at the Chickamauga Battlefield, also will be headed to the coast this weekend to be one of the black powder supervisors at the re-enactment.

“To be at the actual place at the actual time when it happened 150 years ago is a bit exciting,” said White, an 11-year veteran at the park, who will be responsible for checking and double-checking more than 100 of the weapons Varnell and company will use during the events.

The re-enactors say there were thousands of people to choose from, and their group is honored to have been selected. Varnell said the group, which has been featured in a handful of Civil War-related movies, was picked because of its attention to detail and commitment to authenticity.

“We’re justifiably proud of that fact,” Varnell said.

Collins said the uniforms he has put together reflect the newness of the conflict. His costume will include an ostrich plume in the cap, which would have been common in early battles but increasingly rare as the conflict ground on.

The buttons he has sewn onto the uniforms gleam in the sunlight.

“They were still shiny,” he said of the gear at the outset of the war.

The tailor planned to finish his own uniform — that of a Union artillery lieutenant — on Wednesday or Thursday before waxing his mustache and leaving for South Carolina at 3 a.m. today.

He said he’s excited about Sumter, but will be glad when it is over. The unit normally portrays Confederate troops and has had to make or buy much of the Union equipment, he said.

“I’ll be ready to go back to sewing Confederate stuff,” said Collins, who grew up in Rome, Ga. “I’m about tired of all the blue.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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