Three veteran Civil War re-enactors reminded Cattaraugus Area Historical Society members of the terrible sacrifices made by both the North and the South during a war that very nearly tore this nation apart. Dressed in authentic Rebel outfits, Chuck Denton of Little Valley, Steve Bolen of Collins, and Ronnie Macchioni of East Otto, portrayed war-weary combatants straight out of the mid-19th Century.
The trio transported their audience back to the 1860s, and movingly demonstrated the stark realities of life for an ordinary soldier serving with the South. Clad in rag-tag uniforms typical of a Confederate Army strapped for resources and money, they represented a unit called the 33rd Virginia Company G, part of the famous Stonewall Brigade.
Explaining why three New York State natives would represent a southern entity, Mr. Bolen said, "My son was into this stuff 'way before me. We went to some reenactments when he was a kid, and he found out that when a boy turns eleven, he can sign up as a drummer-boy."
From left, Chuck Denton from Little Valley, Ronnie Macchioni from East Otto, and Steve Boland from Collins.
"Well," continued Bolen, "he got to be eleven, and sure enough, he couldn't wait to 'enlist' as a drummer-boy--a Confederate drummer-boy, at that. So, for the next few years, I dragged him all over the countryside to one reenactment after another. About the time he developed other interests, I discovered I'd gotten so involved, that I went ahead and joined up myself."
Denton got interested after visiting several Civil War battlefields, and later meeting up with a group of avid reenactors at a gun show. "They seemed like such a friendly bunch of guys," he said, "and they were so 'into' this reenacting stuff, that I decided to give it a try." He's been pursuing the hobby since about 1995 or 1996, and says it's pretty all-consuming.
Maccchioni, youngest of the group, is a 16-year-old student at Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School. A skilled musician, he takes his banjo along to reenactments, adding a realistic touch to evening campfires, by picking tunes while the soldiers sit around talking or singing. Ron said he enjoys the history surrounding the Civil War, and likes the challenge of making each reenactment as authentic as possible.
The three men proved well-suited for the task of bringing their subject to life. They explained that the most vital items for any soldier in the field were water, rifle, cartridges, food and a blanket. Often the blanket did double or triple duty, serving as a makeshift knapsack, groundcover or overcoat. Water was usually carried in a simple can or canteen. Food was often a scarce commodity, and many soldiers, especially those in the Confederacy, were forced to scavenge or to live off the land.
As for the rifles (or muskets), most of them were Enfields, at least in the South. "You could get off about three shots a minute--if you were good," said Denton, who added that later in the war, both sides began importing Springfields from England. He pointed out that musket fire accounted for about 96 percent of Civil War fatalities. Men regularly died of minor wounds, since infection was rampant and battlefield care was nothing like it is today.
"The outcome of the war was pretty much preordained," said Denton. "The North already had considerably more manufacturing capability, and they were able to gear up and produce weapons and ammunition. Unfortunately, the South got a good share of their weapons and ammo by taking them off dead Union soldiers," he said.
In addition to participating in re-enactments, the three men said they also try to keep alive the memory of the sacrifices made by soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. "A soldier's worst fear was not of dying," said Denton, "but that his death would go unremembered." For that reason re-enactment units frequently "adopt" Civil War monuments, which they voluntarily clean and care for through the years.
The program ended with a question and answer period, during which Historical Society members came forward to put their guests' knowledge to the test, and to examine the many artifacts on display.
A brief business meeting followed, and President Robert Waite was complimented on his choice of the evening's program. He then asked the group to observe a moment of silence acknowledging the recent passing of the area's oldest resident, Mrs. Medora Ball, who was also the namesake and past curator of the Medora Ball Historical Museum.
Officers for the next year were elected as follows: President, Robert Waite; 1st Vice President, Jim Land; 2nd Vice President, Ken Adams; Secretary, Gerry Arnold; Corresponding Secretary, Dawn Waite; Curator of the Cattaraugus Historical Museum, Grace Jones; Curator of the Medora Ball Historical Museum in Otto, Caroline Stuart.