A shot at history: Re-enactors take charge at Bost Grist Mill
By Wayne Hinshaw
CONCORD ó With cannons firing and hundreds of rifles taking aim, the air filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder over the weekend as several hundred Civil War re-enactors staged the Battle of Bost Grist Mill.
No battle actually took place at the Cabarrus County grist mill, located on N.C. 200 near the Reed Gold Mine. But this was the third re-enactment held on the site, the first in five years.
The 30th North Carolina Troops and Bost Grist Mill presented a show of Civil War military camps and military maneuvers used in the 1860s, complete with big cannon artillery.
This is the 145th year since the start of the Civil War, said Walter Hilderman, author of “They Went Into the Fight Cheering.” As the 150th anniversary approaches, there will be more re-enactments and “tactical demonstrations” of the war, he said.
Hilderman said the nearest site of a real Civil War clash was the Fort York Battle at York Hill on the Yadkin River in Rowan and Davidson counties.
Union troops had invaded Salisbury, burning the Confederate Prison and many military warehouses around the railroad. A group of Union soldiers went to the Yadkin River to burn the railroad bridge there in April 1865.
There the Confederate soldiers atop York Hill were able to fight off the attempts to burn the bridge. The Union troops finally gave up and went back to Salisbury.
The mill provided a fitting setting for the re-enactment, with spacious wooded land and open fields for the show. The mill, constructed in the 1870s, suffered heavy damage in 1908 and was moved 200 yards to the present site.
There was an avenue of “sutlers” or sellers presenting their Civil War goods to the visitors. A blacksmith was present, along with a photographer making tintypes, a hatter displaying 1860s hats, period clothes, tents; and a food vendor making “frybread” sandwiches.
Frybread is dough rolled out and stuffed with the filling of your choice ó such as ham and cheese or apples ó then rolled together and deep fried like a fried apple pie. Most folks didn’t know what frybread was, but the vendor did a good business making people aware.
Beverly Capps from Dallas was among the exhibitors, explaining the habits of Victorian mourning at the time of the Civil War. She described a cooling board being used to keep bodies cool in the summer waiting for burial. Vinegar water was put on the bodies to keep them from turning dark in the heat. Black cloths were draped over all mirrors in the home. Most kept lockets of hair from the deceased to use in jewelry or used the hair in arrangements and frames to remember them.
Many families had portraits done with deceased. If the deceased was a child, the father usually held the infant in the family portrait. If the deceased was an adult, they often propped the body up in the family group for the photo with the photographer painting in open eyes.
There were three stages of mourning. A man would mourn three months after losing his wife, but a wife would mourn one year and a day after the death of her husband. The one year and one day was how long it took for the buried body to deteriorate. Wives would dress in all black during this time. Some wives continued to wear all black for years.
After the presentation on mourning, the Ladies Tea with homemade cookies was a change of pace. The re-enactor women prepared the cookies and tea for the event. One explained that the tea was sweet because Southerners drink sweet tea and Northerners don’t. The wife of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Anna Jackson (an actor), made a visit to the tea and lead a discussion.
The heat of battle
By the time the battle re-enactment rolled around in the afternoon, the weather was hot, around 90 degrees.
The heat took a toll on re-enactors dressed in wool military uniforms. A couple of the re-enactors had to be treated for heat exhaustion in the morning drills with IVs.
Gen. Robert E. Lee (Andy Shores) did a running narrative for the audience about what was happening on the battlefield. The calvary from both sides, the Blue and the Gray, had beautiful horses that didn’t seem to mind the close contact in the horseback sword fights.
After 30 minutes or so, the battle was over, with the Confederate forces ruling the day and the Union troops running for the woods. They were either defeated or the shade of the woods was appealing in the hot weather.
One veteran re-enactor said they usually let one side win one day and the next day the side side would win. One grandfather explained to his grandsons that the re-enactors are the Blue and the Gray, “and we are the Gray.”