HUNTERSVILLE Bone-chilling temperatures didn’t keep 30 Civil War re-enactors from camping out at Historic Latta Plantation this weekend.
Bundling up in layers of wool clothing and throwing more logs into fires, the re-enactors from all over North Carolina proceeded with an educational event.
Called a “Civil War Winter Quarters and Homefront,” the program depicted an encampment of Union army troops trying to survive severe weather conditions. The program, which began Saturday and continues Sunday, also focused on how homefront families endured the war. It also included a portrait collection by 19th-century war photographer Mathew Brady and a program on Civil War mourning customs.
Latta Plantation is an antebellum-era cotton plantation and living history farm 12 miles northwest of Charlotte within the Latta Nature Preserve.
This weekend, re-enactors had the choice of spending the night inside a two-story log cabin with fire places on both floors or sleeping outside in canvass tents with heaters.
Lee Madden, 58, of Huntersville was among the five or so re-enactors who picked a tent.
“It was very cold,” he said. “I slept on a bedroll with a wool blanket and scarf. I hunkered down, but stayed warm.”
A banker with Wells Fargo and a captain in the Union army, Madden sat up around the campfire with fellow re-enactors until 11 p.m. Friday.
“We told stories – bragging stories,” he said. “And we drank a little Irish beer. It was a beautiful, clear, cold night. The stars were absolutely gorgeous.”
While Madden could have spent the night in the warmth of his nearby home, he didn’t want to miss the encampment. He’s a history buff, and helping others better appreciate history is one of his goals.
Madden woke up Saturday to a breakfast of sausage and grits cooked over a camp fire. As columns of smoke drifted into the chilly air, he puffed on a pipe, eagerly anticipating the remainder of the weekend.
“By Sunday, we hate going back to the real world,” Madden said. “Out here, it’s hard but simple. On Monday, the fast-paced life starts all over again.”
Brian Duckworth of Stanley also spent the night in a tent and called the experience “teeth-chattering.” After rising at 8 a.m. Saturday he tried to make coffee but found the water frozen.
“I take great pride in honoring my ancestors, who dealt with the same situations,” Duckworth said. “They were a lot tougher than we are.”
On Friday night, he heard the eerie howling of coyotes, screeching owls and the snoring of fellow re-enactors.
Falling temperatures didn’t spoil the outdoor experience for him.
“It was the clearest sky you ever saw,” Duckworth said. “And we were having fun.”
Matthew Waisner, historic interpretation and event specialist at Latta Plantation, said most re-enactors slept inside the Alexander Cabin, the oldest log structure in Mecklenburg County. Dating to 1760, the cabin originally stood at Trade and Tryon streets in Charlotte. Last year, it popped up on the television series “Sleepy Hollow.”
Most of the re-enactors were able to sleep on the floor close to a fire place, Waisner said. But somebody had to keep watch on the fire.
“We do this for fun and education,” Waisner said. “But 150 years ago men died doing this. Camp life was brutal. Doing this gives us a little taste and respect for what they went through.”
Among the visitors trickling in to Historic Latta Plantation Saturday were Steve Kelly, 62, and his son, Matt, 19, of Tega Cay, S.C.
Both like history, and Matt Kelly is majoring in the subject at York Technical College.
Heading to a mall on a frosty morning wasn’t for them.
“We’ve been here before and enjoy it,” said Steve Kelly. “It’s an opportunity for history. Cold weather adds to the whole experience. And we like being outside, too.”
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