October 17, 2018
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Despite threat, Mainers help carry on Civil War re-enactment

Courtesy Matthew Bray | BDN
Courtesy Matthew Bray | BDN
Members of the 3rd Maine at the Battle of Cedar Creek re-enactment in Virginia.

A Maine group participated in a Civil War re-enactment in Virginia that was put on lockdown after someone found a suspected bomb.

The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation earlier in the week announced it had received a letter “threatening bodily harm” to attendants of the re-enactment, held about 80 miles west of Washington, D.C.

Organizers canceled the last day of the event after the device was found Saturday. But some re-enactors forged ahead on Sunday morning with the Battle of Cedar Creek, which was fought on Oct. 19, 1864.

Civil War re-enactments have come under fire in some cases amid a national debate over whether Confederate symbols in public spaces should be preserved. So some re-enactors saw it as their duty to finish Sunday’s battle to emphasize their intent is to share history, not take a political stance.

“Our job is singularly focused on educating and keeping alive the American Civil War,” said Matthew Bray, 32, captain of the 3rd Maine Regiment Vol. Infantry, Company A, which re-enacted for the Union side. “The problem that we’re having, though, is when someone is willing to put a bomb in a field with a bunch of people.”

“The whole term ‘discussion’ doesn’t work if [some are] going to start using terrorism as a way to stop it.”

The annual living history event features battle re-enactments as well as demonstrations of daily life in the late 19th century. Some re-enact as soldiers, while others are doctors, priests and debutantes.

A similar Civil War re-enactment event in Manassas, Virginia was canceled in August, in fear of violence and backlash, as it was scheduled for just weeks after protests spurred by the planned removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.

Bray said his group of eight found out about the bomb threat late Saturday afternoon, when they saw local police taping off an area known as Sutler’s Row, where re-enactors can buy goods and clothing.

The entire Union camp was put on lockdown, and participants were told to search their tents for suspicious devices.

Bray, of Litchfield, estimated there were between 500 and 700 Union tents. “It was a nightmare scenario for this kind of thing,” he said.

In a statement on Sunday, the FBI said the device, which some said looked like a pipe bomb, was “rendered safe by the Virginia State Police,” The Washington Post reported.

The incident also forced Bray and others to think about the future of Civil War re-enactments.

“Do they essentially kill re-enacting as a hobby, or is this something we’re going to be able to work through and make stronger?” Bray said. “It is crucially important to us that, if we forget, everything that happened in this country could happen again.”

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