Weapons fired for reenactment

ROTC cadets to learn about historic battle tactics used during the Civil War

Liberty hosted several events this spring celebrating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The celebratory season will literally go out with a bang during the final scheduled event when Civil War reenactors fire a cannon behind the Hancock Welcome Center.

Armed — Students given a glimpse of war tactics.

Armed — Students given a glimpse of war tactics. File photo

The Liberty ROTC Eagle Battalion and the Department of History are sponsoring Liberty’s first Civil War Battle Tactics and Weaponry Encampment Thursday, April 2 at 3 p.m.–5:30 p.m. on the field behind Hancock Welcome Center.

The primary audience is Liberty and University of Virginia ROTC cadets, but the event is open to the public. Sponsors are expecting 400 cadets to attend.

“The genesis of the idea was that our cadets go on a staff ride to Fredericksburg every year,” Maj. Bret Hamilton said. “We go through the battlefield and what happened, but one thing we don’t do very well is talk about the different technologies and weapons.”

Hamilton said a lot of cadets have trouble understanding why Civil War soldiers fought in certain ways, such as standing in lines on opposite ends of a field.

“It’s just different than the way it is now,” Hamilton said. “In the last 150 years, there have been a lot of evolutions of military technology and tactics. It’s a good
opportunity to get (cadets’) hands on what (soldiers) were using at the time, because if you take it out of context, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Liberty Army ROTC cadets will attend the Civil War Day Encampment event before its annual trip to the Fredericksburg battlefield Thursday, April 16.

“Before they go on the Fredericksburg battlefield, (cadets) should see the tools soldiers were using,” Hamilton said. “It starts to make more sense of why they formed into lines.”

At the event, groups of attendees will tour five stations, each exhibiting a different aspect of the Civil War, in sequence, stopping at each station as an expert gives a 15-minute presentation.

Kenny Rowlette, director of the National Civil War Chaplains Museum, is leading the first station, which exhibits Civil War weapons. He will show each group replica guns, swords and knives and will talk about how the new weapons introduced in the Civil War changed warfare.

“The Civil War is the last of the old wars and almost the first of the new wars,” Rowlette said. “The weapons changed warfare quite a bit.”

Rowlette said the smooth board muskets soldiers used early in the war were not as precise as the new rifles at the typical 100-yard distance. Once soldiers began shooting the new rifles, a new method of taking cover in trenches started to take place.

“(Soldiers) were standing close and really hitting their targets,” Rowlette said. “This got to be crazy, because the deaths and the wounds were just getting enormous.

Not only do you have more accurate weapons, but you have weapons that fire more quickly.”

Reenactors will demonstrate drills and the process of loading weapons. They will also display items that Civil War soldiers carried with them, such as canteens and leather gear.

Another station is dedicated to medicine and surgery.

“Everyone knows the horror stories of Civil War medicine,” Rowlette said. “In the old days, bullets were .58 caliber (15 mm or about half an inch). When they hit the hand or the arm or the leg, they smashed bone.”

Rowlette said those bullets caused irreparable damage, leaving wartime surgeons few options beyond amputation.

“They cut off limbs because there was no way for them to repair such damage,” Rowlette said. “They also knew nothing about sterilization.”

Another station of the tour will pay tribute to several Civil War chaplains.

“In addition to preaching to the soldiers, writing and reading letters and counseling them, chaplains were a very practical part of the military, because they kept men away from vices,” Rowlette said. “You need to keep these soldiers busy, but you couldn’t drill them all day long. There had to be some down time.”

The final stations will focus on infantry and artillery, including a functioning cannon. Rowlette said armies in the Civil War began to use field artillery as an offensive weapon toward the front line rather than as a defensive weapon toward the back.

The firing demonstration will begin at 4:45 p.m. Rowlette said the cannon will be fired with a reduced charge due to the location. Attendees will find designated parking spaces near the Liberty University Bookstore.

Hoosier is a news reporter.

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