Reenactors meet at Perryville to learn realistic - and safe - skills

April 05, 2004|JIM LOGAN

PERRYVILLE - Bob Chaney wanted to show why it's a very bad idea to leave your bare hand over the vent hole on the top of a Civil War cannon.

To demonstrate, he placed a piece of raw chicken over the hole on the 10-pound Parrott Rifle replica and fired. The chicken exploded. It wasn't a pretty sight.

"You didn't tell me about the chicken guts all over my gun," Rod Grubb of Cincinnati, the cannon's owner and a sergeant with the 5th Ohio Light Artillery unit, told Chaney Saturday as thick gunpowder smoke drifted in the clear air.

Grubb and Chaney laughed, but the demonstration's purpose was deadly serious. Chaney, who is also a reenactor with the 5th Ohio, was leading a class on artillery safety at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.


Sponsored by the National Civil War Artillery Association, the class is designed to teach standards and handling techniques that can keep reenactors from ending up like that piece of chicken.

"When you're playing with explosives you don't want any mistakes," said Gaye Clark of Louisville, a first lieutenant and commander of the 14th Kentucky Light Artillery unit.

Event marks park's opening

The class was part of a larger reenactor training camp at the battlefield sponsored by the Kentucky Cavalry Brigade. More than 300 reenactors were expected to attend the two-day, annual event that marked the park's opening for the season.

On Saturday, Union and Confederate reenactors - even some from the Revolutionary War - were drilling and milling about. Clark called it "knocking off the cobwebs off" after the long winter break. Calvary, infantry and artillery units from a number of states attended.

Ethan Burnett of Michigan drove all night to attend the training. A captain in a light artillery unit whose great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, Burnett is also a member of the national association.

The artillery training, he said, fills two needs: keeping reenactors safe and reasonably independent.

"What we're trying to teach here is safest methods for the handling of black powder," he said. "If we can work together and create a safe atmosphere we can do it without an outside agency, the government," tightly regulating the reenactors.

They already have gunpowder restrictions

Chaney said the artillery reenactors already are subject to gunpowder restrictions. Accidents, he said, would only invite more.

"Once people start getting hurt you end up getting more and more regulations," he said.

The Battle of Perryville, fought on Oct. 8, 1862, was the largest engagement in Kentucky. More than 7,500 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded. The battle ensured Kentucky remained in Union control for the rest of the war.

The Perryville Battlefield State Park hosts a reenactment of the battle each year.

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