Re-enactors enjoy busy year

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 26, 2011

By Emily Ford
GOLD HILL — Petticoats and hoop skirts didn’t appeal to Crystal James.
When the 30-year-old Faith woman decided to become a Civil War re-enactor a decade ago, she buttoned the wool uniform and picked up the rifle of a Confederate soldier, not the crinolines and parasols of her female ancestors.
“I’ve always been a tomboy,” said James, who performed Saturday with the 63rd N.C. Confederate Troops during a skirmish at Gold Hill Founder’s Day.
Earlier this year, the nation began a four-year observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
The only woman in the 63rd who portrays a soldier, James said she’s doing it right if observers don’t notice she’s any different from the guys. There are more female Civil War re-enactors than people realize, she said.
“The good ones, you can’t tell until you come right up on them, and sometimes even then you can’t tell,” she said. “I do pretty good, but there are just some things I can’t seem to hide.”
With no makeup or jewelry and her hair tucked into her cap, James passed easily for a man dressed in the blue uniform of a Union soldier.
During skirmishes like the one displayed for more than 100 people in Gold Hill, some members of the 63rd must represent the North so the Confederate soldiers will have someone to shoot, kill and capture.
“We had to swallow it and buy Federal stuff,” James said.
An Apple Baking Co. employee and gas station attendant during the week, James has invested hundreds of dollars in both Confederate and Union uniforms so she can play either side. It’s an expensive weekend hobby, but James said it’s worth it.
“This is my stress relief,” she said. “This is what I do to get away from everything in the real world. I come out here and blow off steam.”
Fellow re-enactors have never complained about James participating, she said. And though some of the major re-enactment events attempt to ban women from portraying men, James said she’s known women who showed up and performed anyway.
She hasn’t traveled to the big re-enactments due to the high cost, she said.
James has always liked Civil War history and became interested in joining the company when she visited a re-enactment camp in Thomasville. She filled out an application and was accepted.
Last year, the 63rd elected James first sargeant. She’s also the bugler, playing “Taps” at Confederate memorial services and putting to use seven years of instruction on the trumpet.
“She is very good,” said Rock Edmiston, the company’s lieutenant.
“She is very knowledgeable and attends every event she can. She makes a real good soldier.”
New soldiers go through training before they can handle a gun. Although the rifles and pistols used during skirmishes shoot blank rounds, the black powder still is dangerous, said Andy Shores of Ramseur, who portrays Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“All weapons are real. These are not toys, boys and girls,” Shores told Saturday’s crowd gathered to watch the drama unfold as Union troops attempted to take the barn at Gold Hill Mines Historic Park, filled with hidden Confederate soldiers who came out shooting.
Fired at close range, a blank round can burn through several layers of clothing and singe the skin, he said.
At age 16, Jordan Corl is one of the youngest members of the 63rd. As usual, he ended up shackled Saturday, having played a Union solider caught spying on the Confederates.
“They always get me some way,” Corl said with a laugh.
He’s also been court-martialed, bayoneted and shot.
Corl convinced his entire Rockwell family to become re-enactors several years ago and now travels with father Mike, mother Kelly and grandmother Carolyn Brown nearly every weekend for months.
“He’s an unusual kid,” Kelly Corl said. “He has a very old soul and likes to be around his family.”
Jordan said he enjoys portraying his ancestors and wants to educate people about the Civil War.
“It’s very important for the public to know and learn about history, lest it repeats itself,” he said.
By the end of the Civil War, 2,834 soldiers from Rowan County had served the Confederacy, more than any other county in the state. North Carolina provided 125,000 men and boys, more than twice as many as any other state.
Like James, a few girls and women disguised themselves as men and fought for the South, Edmiston said.
James said she has no plans to give up her rifle in exchange for a fan or satin slippers. Members of the 63rd pitched in one year and bought James an authentic Civil War-era dress, white with purple flowers. While touched by their gesture, James wore the costume only once.
“It just wasn’t me.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.