Keeping History Alive

Local Civil War re-enactment groups place themselves in an era before our time to connect with the soldiers of the past.

By Katelyn Mattingly and Cody Wiegand | 10/13/2011

Most people learn about the Civil War and revisit the era through history books in school, but Jim Miracle, a Parkersburg native, actually lives it. Through re-enactments, groups of men and women like Miracle, travel back through time to a period in America when the North and South were at war.

“My ancestor[s] put their lives on the line,” Miracle said. And it was because of his ancestors that Miracle got involved in the world of re-enactment in the first place.

Long before he began portraying Union soldiers for re-enactments, Miracle was a genealogist, who had a love for history. After retiring from the Navy, he became a substitute teacher, where his love for history grew even more.

“I’ve been in love with history since high school. My interest in the Civil War and re-enacting came from genealogy research. I did a book on my great-great grandfather, John Miracle, and I found out he was a Private during the Civil War.

After making this discovery and watching others in his family get involved in re-enactments, Miracle decided it was a practice he wanted to adopt. He jumped in headfirst. In 2008, Miracle was a part of a team that formed Carlin’s Battery D, a Union artillery re-enactment group based in Parkersburg, and stationed at Fort Boreman. They pride themselves on accurately recreating scenes based on actual battles fought during the Civil War.

About four years ago, a county commissioner approached Miracle about forming a Civil War battery to participate in re-enactments using a cannon that Wood County had bought a decade earlier that had gone virtually untouched. Miracle himself proposed a budget to the county and Carlin’s Battery was born.

The group now travels throughout West Virginia and to nearby states, educating the public about the Civil War and this country’s past. In addition to performing, they hold educational skits and presentations for school children, Boy Scout troops, and more. Carlin’s Battery participates in a number of re-enactments throughout the year and also hosts annual events at Fort Boreman to celebrate Christmas and the birth of West Virginia.

“Anything with history is important because I’m a firm believer that if we forget our history, we’ll forget our past and it will come back to haunt us,” Miracle said. “Our history is why we are what we are today.”

Like Miracle, John Haddox feels connected to history through participation in re-enactment activities.

Haddox, a member of Kanawha Artillery Battery D, a Confederate re-enactment group based in St. Marys, W.Va., participates in various mock battles each year. He is the Lieutenant Colonel of his group. He and his wife, who portrays a cannonier, are now very involved with the family-oriented group, which participates in a re-enactment almost every weekend, according to Haddox.

Over the weekend of September 30, Kanawha Artillery hosted their first home event, Blue & Gray days. Confederate and Union soldiers moved into St. Mary’s Marina, where they had living history demonstrations, a parade, skirmish, dinner, skit and battle. Carlin’s Battery traveled from Parkersburg to St. Marys to re-enact an actual event that occurred there. Miracle and Haddox came face to face on the battlefield.

In St. Marys, the Union soldiers were hosting a dance until the Confederates stormed in, interrupting their songs, stealing their food and weapons and dancing with their women. The Union soldiers decided to settle it on the battlefield.

Carlin’s Battery and Kanawha Artillery used the Marina facility to stage the event, starting with the fight in the dance hall. During the re-enactment, dozens of spectators who were attending the re-enactment ran outside, following the troops to the open field. Cannons and guns began firing. Men fell. Although the Union soldiers won the war, the Confederate soldiers won this small encounter.

Haddox admits that he has always been a history buff but he got involved with re-enacting differently than Miracle. He said he studied the Civil War a lot and traveled around to different re-enactments as a spectator with his wife for a few years.

“One of the guys at one of the re-enactments asked me if I was interested. I thought, ‘well yes I am, but I’m a little bit bashful.’ He threw the jacket on me, and a hat, he said, ‘come on,’ and that was it. I’ve been doing it now for almost 13 years.”

“To me, this is what I call keeping history alive. My favorite thing is going to the schools and teaching history to the kids,” Haddox said.

The groups pride themselves on their research of history and the accuracy of their representations.

“The re-enactments we go to try to portray the battles as they actually happened there. Some of these battles are normally what actually happened at the site or close to,” Haddox said.

Recreating these moments from the past are important to both men, and Miracle believes performing to smaller crowds in smaller towns is also very valuable.

“Doing these kind of little venues helps even small places, so people don’t have to go to a big thing like Gettysburg or Antietam,” Miracle said. “They come to these small re-enactments because it’s a lot more personal.”

Re-enacting a historical event that happened 150 years ago leaves the men and women of both groups with big shoes to fill. Before Miracle steps out onto the battlefield, he mentally places himself in an era before his time, to connect with the soldiers of the past.

“You think, ’Wow, how did my grandpa or your grandpa sit there and watch these guys and see these guys coming at you and trying to kill you?’ If it was the real thing I’d be scared to death,” Miracle said.

In order to make the event seem as real as possible for participants and spectators, the uniforms are made to be authentic. The pants, jackets and most hats are made out of wool, while the shirts are polyester and the socks are cotton. Haddox said that they aren’t too particular with the shoes, as long as they are a dark color. An economy uniform normally costs about $200, while “brogans and leathers” cost another $200.

Although this may seem like a costly expense, Miracle says he still owns his very first brogans, leathers and uniform. Even now, they are all in good condition.

According to Miracle, it can take up to a month to organize a re-enactment, depending on the size of the event. Carlin’s Battery routinely portrays Union soldiers, however if there is a shortage of Confederate soldiers at an event, some members will trade uniforms to help the other team out.

The members of Carlin’s Battery encourage anyone and everyone to be a part of Civil War re-enactments. Signing up for a group is easy, as most applications can be completed online. Miracle hopes to see Carlin’s Battery last for a while and jokes that he and his crew will be out on the field in their wheel chairs, as long as they can be a part of keeping history alive.

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