200 teams at North-South Skirmish

Posted: October 4, 2012

The Winchester Star

Winchester — The North-South Skirmish Association has its own way of keeping Civil War History alive.

Some Civil War enthusiasts gravitate toward battle re-enactments, living history events, round tables, books and movies, dances, or lectures.

For the 3,200 men and women in 200 teams participating this week in the 126th National Skirmish, Civil War heritage lives on through a shooting sport that involves live fire matches with period firearms — “originals or very tightly controlled reproductions,” said Bruce Miller, public information officer for the association.

The event started Wednesday and continues through Sunday at a 600-acre property the group uses as a home range at 480 Chalybeate Springs Road in Frederick County. It will feature individual and team shooting competitions, a costume contest, and about 40 vendors, he said.

“I would like to think it is the closest way one would ever get to the sight, if not the sound, of an actual Civil War battle,” said Miller of Detroit. “At re-enactments, when they are shooting blanks, it is quite a different sound than when you are shooting live ammunition. The noise and the smoke are quite impressive.”

The competition is free and open to the public.

Since the association started in 1950, it has held two national competitions a year, one in May to open the its skirmish season and one in October to close it, said Phil Spaugy, deputy national commander of the organization. The national competitions draw participants from 13 regions in 22 states.

Competitors compete in five full days of matches — Wednesday and today have focused on individual matches, while team matches will start Friday and continue through Sunday, Spaugy said.

Member teams are based on actual regiments or units that fought during the war, even wearing reproductions of the soldier’s uniforms. Spaugy is a member of the 1st Michigan Infantry, which is headquartered in Southeastern Michigan, and has belonged to the association since 1978.

For Spaugy and many of the members, the association’s appeal is that it lets them combine a love of history with a love of shooting.

Over the next few days, the sounds of various firearms will fill the air around the Fort Shenandoah property. Competitors will shoot with muskets, carbines, smoothbore muskets, breech loading rifles, revolvers, mortars and cannons.

Depending on the match, they could be shooting anywhere from 25 to 100 yards, he said. They also will have different targets depending on the weapon. Some of the more common ones are clay pigeons and hanging ceramic tiles.

“The most exciting and the biggest draw is Saturday afternoon starting at noon, we will have our artillery matches,” said Spaugy of Vandalia, Ohio. “You will see more than 35 full-scale artillery pieces doing live fire, which is pretty unique.”

In addition to the regular competitions, a special musket match has been set up for noon Friday between the cadets from the Virginia Military Institute and the Army ROTC Marksmanship Unit from Virginia Tech, Spaugy said. Organizers hope the match will attract a whole new generation of shooting enthusiasts and spark their interest in the Civil War.

“The Virginia Military Institute has a real storied history during the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley,” he said. “At Virginia Tech, even though it was founded after the Civil War, most of the faculty members at the beginning in the 1870s were former Confederate soldiers and officers who had fought in the war.”

Both school teams began familiarization and training with Civil War muskets during the spring and summer, Miller said. Each 10-member team will shoot at 32 clay pigeons mounted on a cardboard backer. The first team to break all the targets will be the winner.

On Friday, there will be a children’s craft hour from 1 to 2 p.m., a children’s BB instruction from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; a speaker from 8 to 9 p.m. and an Irish music jam starting at 8:30 p.m.

Events for Saturday include a roast beef and ham dinner from 4 to 7 p.m., Catholic and Protestant worship services at 6 and 7 p.m., respectively, and a dance from 9 p.m. to midnight. There also will be costume competitions for children and adults in civilian and military costumes beginning at noon Saturday.

The skirmish will happen rain or shine unless there is lightning.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com