Union troops emerged victorious from the third annual re-enactment of the Battle of Martinsville held Saturday.
The event continues today at the Smith River Sports Complex, hosted by the Stuart-Hairston Camp 515, Sons of Confederate Veterans. It also is presented by the States Rights Volunteers and the Army of the French Broad.
“Let’s get ready boys. Get ready,” commanders barked to the infantry during the heat of Saturday’s battle. “Quickly boys. Get ready ... Aim ... Fire.”
That was no sooner spoken than a volley of gunfire sounded.
“Get ready boys. They’re coming. They’re coming,” said a Confederate commander. “Fall back. Slowly boys. Keep your line.”
Commanders of the advancing Union troops said, “Ready ... Charge,” as the battle erupted between the two infantry lines only steps apart.
Daniel Young, the commander of Camp 515 who coordinates the event in Martinsville, said the Civil War left an imprint on Martinsville in three small skirmishes. Also, a field hospital once stood on what now is the site of the Henry County Administration Building.
Allen Jackson, of Henry County, said the largest skirmish in Martinsville occurred on April 8, 1865, when the Union Army sent a detachment from what is now Floyd to Martinsville. The men rode horses throughout the night to arrive in Martinsville, where they found about 200 Confederate soldiers.
The ensuing battle lasted about half a day, he said.
Neither Jackson nor Young are sure how many casualties resulted from the local skirmish, but they both agreed that the one battle “was pretty much it,” Jackson said.
The surprise was that the Union didn’t burn the town, Jackson said.
“Usually, they did (burn towns) when they encountered that much resistance,” he said.
Jeff Walton, first sergeant for the 6th N.C. State Troops, Company K, said his men portrayed “the Yankees” in Saturday’s re-enactment. “This is the third year I’ve been here, and I’ve loved all three.”
The re-enactments give him the opportunity “to honor our ancestors” and offer education and insight to others, Walton said.
“My great-great-grandfather died in the war,” he said, and quipped that watching “one too many westerns back in the 60s” also may have piqued his curiosity about the everyday obstacles that troops — whether Union of Confederate — faced.
The event offers actors a chance to “rough it” by camping in small tents, cooking meals outside over grated, dug-out fireplaces and finding the wood needed for cooking, Walton said. Everyday comforts are gone, he added.
The difference is “that we are playing. Then, it was serious business. More people died then from disease than bullets,” he said. Amputations of limbs were commonplace, and troops also did not have access to modern medicines, treatment or firepower, he added.
They also were unable “to go home and take a shower,” another member of Walton’s company joked.
After sharing the chuckle, Walton said “there was nothing good about” a soldier’s life. “It would have been terrible. But we are just out here having a good time.”
Col. Dwight Nesbitt, Artillery Regiment Co., was the overall Confederate commander and the artillery commander at the re-enactment, according to Nesbitt, who traveled to Martinsville from Chester, along with about 30 other people in his company — most from different areas.
The goal for Nesbitt also “is to educate and honor our ancestors,” he said.
Nesbitt and Jim Cochrane, of Richmond, noted that most of the actors are members of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.
As part of the re-enactment, a woman portraying Debbie Sifford manned a display of domestic life to show that home life was difficult as well. The “home” — actually, a tent — was filled with large rugs, replicas of period furniture, apparel and a kitchen area.
“This is to show what life was like for the ladies and children back home,” she said.
Sifford said doing laundry typically was a day-long chore, and women began preparing the evening meal around 10 a.m.
“Life was as hard at home as it was away” from home, she said, as children played with period toys and a person portraying Col. Bob Morgan did chores outside of the home.
The actor who presented a living history program explained that Morgan was born in 1840 and raised by an uncle who later joined the Union Army.
Morgan and a cousin, both of whom lived in Pulaski, joined the Confederate Army. They were captured after a month and then rescued. After that, they fought in the infantry for two years.
As Morgan climbed the Confederate Army’s ranks, a secret shared with the captain of the regiment emerged. Morgan’s secret: Morgan and the cousin were females, and a woman in service to her country “was against the law” at the time, the actor said.
Morgan and her cousin were sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond — a place for deserters, spies and others. The two eventually were released.