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This weekend?s Living Liberty offers spectators a special opportunity to get up close to a dramatic part of Civil War living history.
Most Civil War battle reenactments normally don?t let spectators within 50 yards of the simulated fighting. Sunday?s phase of the battle reenactment lets visitors line the sidewalk as the battle takes place in the street in front of them.
The street battle, itself, is out of the ordinary for battle reenactments and most take place in open fields. Furthermore, Bedford?s street battle is the largest of its kind in the country. Organizers expect 175 Confederate reenactors and 100 Union reenactors to take part.
Civil War reenactors are sticklers for authenticity and put a lot of personal research into their uniforms and equipment. Their weapons are exact replicas of what Civil War soldiers carried. Uniforms are authentic down to the point of being made of the correct material with the correct weave. Men who wear glasses often have their eyeglass prescription lenses in period frames.
The weekend event is roughly based on a visit that Federal troops, commanded by David Hunter, paid Bedford in the summer of 1864. Hunter?s force crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains, part coming down the Big Island Highway and part coming down what today is Va. 43. Hunter was on his way to Lynchburg to capture what was then a
strategic railroad center. As the vanguard of Hunter?s force entered Bedford, it skirmished with home guard in the general vicinity of the Elks Home. A couple of years ago, Hugh Saunders found a federal bullet, believed to have come from a cartridge that some nervous soldier dropped, in the field behind Blue Ridge Bagels. Rifle musket cartridges were paper and contained a pre-measured black powder charge and a .58 cal. bullet.
Hunter?s plans were foiled by Jubal Early who was able to make it appear that he had a much larger force of men than he actually had. Low on ammunition, Hunter decided it was wise to retreat. His route took him back through Bedford, named Liberty back then, with Early in hot pursuit. Hunter?s rear guard had a couple of fights with advance units of Early?s force. Early ultimately chased Hunter down the Lynchburg-Salem Turnpike all the way to Salem.
The first of this weekend?s battles takes place at the Elks Home at 2 p.m. and organizers recommend that spectators arrive no later than 1 p.m. in order to be in a good position to watch the battle. The spectator area is the main road leading into the Elks Home (adjacent to the fence line). There is a small admission charge for Saturday?s battle (used to defray the costs of the event organizers).
There will be something for you to watch while you are waiting. The battle will be preceded by demonstrations of the marching drills used by soldiers of the period. Drill was important, back then, because soldiers still marched into battle in formations.
Sunday?s battle takes place in downtown Bedford, beginning at 2 p.m. Event organizers recommend that spectators start arriving at 1:15 in order to be in good positions to view the action. The battle will be a three-pronged attack, with U. S. forces attacking town, with a small force of Home Guard from Liberty defending the town. One U. S. column will attack from north to south down Bridge Street across the bridge. A second column will be attacking from west to east down the entire length of Depot Street. The third column of U. S. infantry will attack down the entire length of West Main Street to the intersection of Bridge and Main streets. Spectator areas include the entire south-side of West and East Main streets, the parking lot on East Depot Street, the steps and grass area around the County Courthouse, and the museum parking lot along Court Street. There is no admission charge for Sunday?s battle.
No spectators will be allowed north of Main Street to the vicinity of the railroad tracks due to safety considerations. Spectators must follow the guidance of city police and event organizers when it comes to keeping roads clear during the battle.
In addition to being able to get close to a battle reenactment, Sunday?s battle has a feature not seen in many reenactments. There will be men, women and children, in period attire, portraying the civilian population of Liberty. The best vantage point for watching these civilians interacting with the US soldiers will be the sidewalk across from the County Court House.
In addition to the battles, visitors will get the opportunity to see other aspects of the Civil War soldier?s life. Both the Federal and Confederate camp will be open to spectators. Sticklers for detail as always, these men set up camps just as the guys would have more than 140 years ago, with period style equipment and do chores like cook bacon in a cast iron skillet over an open fire. The camps will be in the open field next to Bedford Primary School and will be open to the public from 8:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. each night. Individual unit commanders will be available to talk to spectators.
Additional features of the Living Liberty weekend include a candlelight walking tour of Bedford?s historic area, Friday night, and a Civil War era dance at the Elks Home on Saturday night. The dance consist of period dances performed by appropriately costumed guests to 19th century music. There will be a church service, Sunday morning, in the military encampment, led by a pastor who reenacts a Civil War era chaplain.
Sponsoring organizations for the weekend?s event include Bedford Main Street, Inc., the Bedford Museum, the Bedford Historical Society, the Bedford Rifle Grays Camp #1475 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the General William R. Terry Chapter #580 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Attending Civil War re-enactor units include the 11th Virginia Infantry from the Lynchburg area and the 28th Virginia Infantry from the Roanoke area.
For more information go to www.livingliberty.org.