Sulfur and smoke filled the air that hung over tree tops and blanketed the park as Union and Confederate forces exchanged volleys of cannon fire and rifle rounds during Saturday’s Christmas in July Festival.
Confederate snipers positioned themselves behind a guardrail on the upper roadside overlooking the park. Some soldiers, or re-enactors, took refuge behind a massive stack of firewood near the park’s small creek while a group of artillery infantryman manned the cannon which fired earth shaking rounds every two to three minutes to add a taste of authenticity for the event’s spectators, whom had gathered at the edge of the battle scene.
The era and setting in which the battle took place was drastically different than what the High Country is today. During the Civil War’s closing months, Gen. William Sherman ordered Union troops to move through North Carolina and other Southern states to pillage and burn whatever townships they come across.
Captain Monte Baker explained that after “mustering up forces” at the Martha Washington Hospital in Abingdon, VA, Union forces then moved into northwestern North Carolina as they continued on their march of destruction. For approximately an hour and a half, Union soldiers held what is known today as Blowing Rock, Baker explained.
Baker became further intrigued with antebellum and Civil War history after he learned that some of his descendants had fought in the War Between the States.
“I’ve always been interested in the Civil War but I got into it (re-enacting) by looking into my family history,” he said. Baker can trace both grandfathers’ lineage to North Carolina’s infantry, cavalry, and reserve divisions.
The re-enacted battle marked the company’s seventh tour in Ashe County as they have now become a fixture for the CIJ Festival. Along with battle re-creations, the company pitched canvas tents and displayed several Civil War artifacts near the park’s creek to offer history buffs and curious onlookers a glimpse of war life during the 1860s.
An actor playing the legendary Southern Gen. Robert E. Lee addressed the group of eagerly awaiting spectators by stressing the significance of the battle and the importance of Independence Day.
“Today is about our history and heritage, all the way from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. As history books will reveal to readers, Gen. Sherman did not participate in the Battle of Boone.
In the opening moments of the re-enacted battle, the historians inserted back and forth dialogue into the event as spectators’ eyes and eyes became firmly fixated with the events unfolding on the park hillside.
“I’ll get you Johnny Reb!” one Union re-enactor shouted.
“Well I’m after for those shoes Yankee!” a Confederate infantryman retorted.
The re-enactment was comprised of men and women as well as children of all ages. ‘Wounded’ soldiers flopped to the ground as the battle endured while occasionally lifting their chins to chest level to see how the battle progressed. The re-enacted battle was a non-scripted one, meaning that the outcome was not predetermined.
Saturday’s stop in West Jefferson was one of 16 that the company of re-enactors had planned for the 2009 calendar year. For more information on the Virginia Rifles, please visit their Website at www.washingtonrifles.com.