MIDDLETOWN — About 2,500 reenactors came out for the 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek this weekend, with attendees and presenters excited for a calm, familiar setting.
In spite of cancellations the past two years and strong winds this week that tore apart a tent and broke tent poles, Saturday’s historical events were successful, and participants enjoyed programs, food and conversation with fellow history buffs.
“We have a lot of people who have helped us,” said Patrick Kehoe, manager of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation.
On Saturday, a tent that was destroyed on Wednesday was functioning as it should and hosted about 100 listeners for a concert by the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment Band, which was visiting from the Altoona area and performed under the direction of principal musician and e-flat tuba player Tracey Collins.
Performing Civil War-era music for about an hour, the mostly brass band (with two percussionists and one clarinetist) played well-known songs like “Dixie,” “Bonnie Blue Flag” and “Oh! Susanna,” along with some lesser-known historic hits like “Lincoln and Liberty” and “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny.”
In honor of German troops who fought in the Civil War, the band performed “Drei Lilien,” which means “Three Lilies,” after Collins said she was surprised to learn from a British reenactor at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg reenactment how much of a European presence was there.
“American Civil War reenacting is very popular to do in Europe,” she said. It’s “a war of immigrants,” the British reenactor told her.
Many who fought in the Civil War “were first generation to third generation immigrants,” Collins said.
Less than 90 years removed from the Revolutionary War, many who fought in the Civil War would have known people who had fought the British — or been British, she said.
These were people who were fighting a war for a country they had not yet made their home, she said.
Ending the concert with the song “Sweet Home,” also called “Home, Sweet Home,” Collins said the song, adapted from an aria in the 1823 American opera “Clari,” is sometimes featured in battle of the band performances — a tradition that dates to the Civil War, even though the song was banned from the battlefield.
That’s because the song made the soldiers so homesick for their loved ones that hearing it and singing along to it would interfere with their duties, she said.
Music was hugely important during the war, she said, because the soldiers didn’t have much other entertainment and many of them couldn’t read. Battlefield songs would keep up morale, convey political messages and, in the case of “Sweet Home,” remind them of what was most important.
Saturday’s events also included the dedication of a new monument on the battlefield, remembering troops from North Carolina who fought in the battle.
Kehoe said it’s one of only a handful of monuments on the battlefield, which he and other foundation members want to keep as untouched and open as they can.
It’s all about preserving the land, said Stan Hirschberg, original reenactment organizer and three-time president of the Battlefield Foundation.
Putting on the reenactment as usual this year was a big deal for Hirschberg, who started the reenactment in 1988. Canceled in its first year because of only 100 registrants, it attracted 1,500 reenactors in 1990.
In 2017, the three-day reenactment weekend ended early after a suspicious device was found on the battlefield grounds. Last year, the reenactment was canceled for security reasons.
This year, Hirschberg said, “we have a bit more security, some known and some undercover.”
Stressing that the reenactment is not political, he said Shenandoah Valley residents who fought in the war were defending their homes.
Having a reenactment for Cedar Creek is especially meaningful because of its location on the actual battlefield instead of in a nearby field, he said. Few other reenactments have that physical history, though he mentioned the Battle of New Market as one that does.
“For the reenactors,” he said, “this [battlefield] is like the Holy Grail.”
For many who participate year after year, Kehoe said, “it’s like coming home.”
For more information on the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, visit www.ccbf.us or call the Cedar Creek Visitor’s Center at 540-869-2064.
The 46th Pennsylvania Regiment Band will perform “Sweet Home” at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in October 2020 for a Battle of the Bands Reenactment.