Civil War forts rebuilt for re-enacting battles

Posted: October 18, 2013

The Winchester Star

Chris Markijohn (from left), Matthew Milavickas and Don Ernsberger install a section of the wall of the Fort Milroy replica. The walls will be 5 feet high and completed with abatis, a field fortification term where tree branches are laid around with sharpened tops directed toward the enemy.
Don Ernsberger of Lansdale, Pa., checks the size of a head-log cradle, making sure it fits the railroad tie at the Cedar Creek battlefield south of Middletown on Thursday. Ernsberger was helping construct a replica of Fort Milroy for Saturday’s re-enactment of the Second Battle of Winchester. The fort will be 100 feet wide and have 40-foot wings. It will have three gun ports for artillery and be about five feet high. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Carl Staub (from left), of Cleveland, Ohio; Don Ernsberger of Lansdale, Pa.; and Matthew Milavickas of Hampton prepare to set up a section of the Fort Milroy replica on the Cedar Creek Battlefield on Thursday.

MIDDLETOWN — Don Ernsberger has been a Civil War buff for most of his life, and a re-enactor for more than 20 years.

While the 66-year-old Philadelphian has participated in re-enactments at Cedar Creek for about 15 years, he came to the battlefield — just south of Middletown along Valley Pike (U.S. 11) — with a different task this year.

Normally, on the third weekend in October, Civil War enthusiasts re-enact the Battle of Cedar Creek — an important Union victory that occurred on Oct. 19, 1864 — on both Saturday and Sunday.

This year, however, there will be a re-enactment of the Second Battle of Winchester — a Confederate victory that took place June 13-15, 1863 — on Saturday with Cedar Creek on Sunday.

Ernsberger designed and built the stone wall that Union troops used to defend Picket’s Charge during the 140th and 150th re-enactments of the Battle of Gettysburg, and it’s his expertise in constructing Civil War-era fortifications that landed him some extra work this week apart from being a re-enactor.

To stage a proper re-enactment of the Second Battle of Winchester, at least one fort is required, since the Union defense of Fort Milroy and the Confederate capture of Star Fort were key parts of the battle. Ernsberger and more than 20 other re-enactors — both Union and Confederate — plan to work through today to construct versions of both forts.

Fort Milroy, the larger of the two structures, will include a 100-foot main wall with 40-foot wings on either side and a flagpole. There also will be several 10-by-10 blockhouses alongside.

Ernsberger bought 11 bundles of 40 or so log cuts to use in constructing the fort, along with railroad ties and other building materials. He estimated the cost of materials to be about $2,000, with the labor and tools supplied by him and others all donated.

Mike Kehoe, president of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, said Wednesday that this year’s re-enactment will offer spectators a different experience than previous events.

The hope is that, by having a central focus (Fort Milroy), this year’s event will offer the audience a better experience, Ernsberger said Thursday.

“The biggest complaint that a lot of spectators and soldiers have is that Cedar Creek tends to be sort of like ‘go this way, go that way, go this way,’ and the spectators half the time can’t even see what’s going on because they’re all over there,” Ernsberger said.

“We decided this year we would make [the re-enactment] much more spectator-friendly. The idea is that this fort is central to both days. The spectators will constantly be able to see the fort, see the flagpole and, depending on which [side’s] flag is flying, know who’s done what ... We expect the crowd, if they’re Rebs, they’ll be cheering the stars and bars and if they’re Yankees they’ll be cheering the U.S.”

Some of the troop movements will be different this year than in previous years as well on account of the Second Battle of Winchester, with Union and Confederate re-enactors making their way through the spectators before joining combat on the battlefield, Ernsberger said.

He added that, if the fort and changes to the battle plans go over well this year, they could be a model to use for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in 2014.

The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s Civil War Living History and Re-enactment Weekend will be held from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and  9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on the battlefield at 8437 Valley Pike, Middletown. Cost is $12 for adults, $6 for students, and free for ages 6 and under. For more information, contact 540-869-2064 or go to cedarcreekbattlefield.org.

— Contact Matt Armstrong at marmstrong@winchesterstar.com