HUNTERSVILLE – The Civil War between the Union and Confederate soldiers began and ended in the 1860s, but at Latta Plantation, it’s just beginning.
Welcoming residents for over 10 years, the annual Latta Plantation Civil War Re-enactment will be held May 31-June 1 with a focus on the year 1864, which marks the 150th anniversary of the war.
Almost 200 people from re-enactment units all over the state come to Latta Plantation each year to re-enact the Civil War and lifestyles of the soldiers and their families.
Each re-enactment unit has its own bylaws and registration requirements. For a unit to be a part of the event, members need insurance and real weapons, such as swords, pistols and bayonets. They also take a written and field exam to become a particular rank, whether it is a soldier, officer, corporal, lieutenant colonel or general.
“The re-enactors portray a certain re-enactment unit, but they all take on the persona of a wounded soldier or some 1864 war character,” said Matthew Waisner, Latta Plantation interpretation and event specialist.
Waisner, who specializes in wars, has worked with Latta for almost seven years.
The re-enactment requires a lot of planning and preparation.
“The Friday before, all of us re-enactors set up our camps, check to make sure our battle weapons go off correctly and build up the trench area,” Waisner said.
Different N.C. re-enactment units supply the necessary props and equipment, but re-enactors also design or buy the uniforms and prepare food from the time period.
The re-enactors prepare physically and mentally beforehand. They get into shape, learn to endure the heat and limit consuming modern-day foods.
During the event, the re-enactors eat corned beef and canned foods cooked from a boiler, carry canteens to hold water and wear long-sleeved, 19th century clothing made of wool and cotton.
“We stay in the time period as much as possible,” Waisner said. “We must give the spectators the real experience of the war.”
The re-enactment units have certain criteria and safety measures to follow, whether it is undergoing weapon inspections before the event and after battles or cleaning out muskets after several rounds of shooting.
Waisner will play a second lieutenant Union soldier on the battlefield. He will coordinate each station and ensure the event runs on schedule.
He and other re-enactment unit members write the scenarios and check over them before they begin to practice their parts. They might rehearse the fights between soldiers, positions of guards, trench battles and camping activity between both armies.
“It’s like writing a dance,” he said. “We have to do our best to bring out the human side of the war, while also making sure the spectators see, understand and enjoy the event.”
Waisner and the re-enacting crews depict the individual life of a soldier.
“It is all about preserving the plantation to tell the story of the Civil War fought by thousands of men, 700 women and slaves for all different reasons,” Waisner said. “It is also about the personal lives of the soldiers and their families.”
Matthew started re-enacting in 1977. He considers the endeavor to be not only a career but also a hobby.
“I want to make the public aware of history,” he said. “I want to bring history to life where guests can use their five senses to experience it.”
Robby Rhyne, a 15-year-old re-enactment enthusiast, will play a Confederate soldier on the front line and in the trench. He has been a part of Latta Plantation for six years.
“Immediately after participating in Latta’s Civil War Soldier Camp at the age of 9, I fell in love with Latta and its history,” Rhyne said.
Rhyne started his re-enactment experience at the Boone Plantation in South Carolina where he joined the ranks of a sergeant at age 13 after working as a civilian, flag barrier and messenger.
During the event, Rhyne will ensure the safety of others and shoot at the trench. In the afternoon, he plans to explain how trench warfare works.
“I like teaching the public the true history because in school, we do not get the details of what actually happened in and off the battlefield,” Rhyne said. “I want to teach what the South really fought for and what it’s really like to be a private soldier.”
Because of his strong appreciation and enjoyment for re-enacting, Rhyne wears his time period garments in everyday settings.
“We walked through Wal-Mart to get water one time,” he said. “It seems so normal to wear these kinds of clothes wherever I go.”
Waisner, Robby and others are like a big family who share a passion for re-enacting wars, regardless of what side they fight for and defend. They see the re-enactment as more than a show. To them, the battle is almost real.
“We get very emotional as re-enactors when a soldier falls because you are that person, even though we know its fake,” he said.
Every year, Waisner and other Latta staff find ways to improve the Civil War event.
“Latta relies on staying open. We get outside funding, but we rely mainly on events,” Waisner said. “It takes a community effort to bring the events to the public for their enjoyment and education.”
Want to go? Latta Plantation hosts a Civil War re-enactment 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 31 and June 1. Visitors will observe war demonstrations and full battle drills, as well as enjoy a Saturday tea party and barbecue meal. Admission costs $8 for adults and $7 for seniors. Children 5 and younger get in free. Details: www.lattaplantation.org.