Reenactments bring history to life

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 20, 2003

Jake Hill rolls a blanket and puts it under his head, looks up at the stars and lets the music soak him through and through.

Hill is a member of the 28th Alabama Infantry Civil War reenactment group and there is no place he would rather be than with his feet to the campfire and listening to the strumming of an acoustic guitar and stories other soldiers have to tell.

"Being a member of a

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Civil War reenactment group is like being in a time machine," Hill said."When you're in camp or involved in a battlefield reenactment, it's almost like you're there."

Hill is a student at Troy State University, but he has been a student of history for as long as he can remember.

"My grandmother got me interested in history," he said. "She was a history buff and she took me to Civil War reenactments when I was young. To me, it was fun and interesting and I've never lost interest in history - especially the Civil War era."

Hill has been a member of the 28th Alabama Infantry for about a year and has participated in reenactments at Selma, Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines and Bibb Furnace.

"When you are a member of a reenactment group, you live, eat and sleep the way the soldiers did during the Civil War," he said. "As a member of a reenactment group, you are asked to portray both a Federal and a Confederate soldier. If we didn't do that, there would be no one for the Confederate soldiers to fight."

Hill said he plays both roles with equal enthusiasm.

"Playing both, you learn more about both sides and you get a better understanding of the war and the people who fought it," he said. "To me, it really doesn't matter which side I fight for. My great-great-great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War. I had relatives on both sides of my family who fought and some of them fought for the North. So, I have a real interest in both the South and the North."

Suiting up for "battle" can be very expensive, especially when a soldier has to buy two sets of clothing.

"Shopping for my clothing and equipment was a lot of fun,"Hill said. "An outfit can cost anywhere from about $800 to $1,200 to $1,500, including the gun which is probably the most expensive item you'll buy."

Hill's trusty musket is an 1853 infield rifle musket with a bayonet. It cost about $400.

"My musket was a Christmas gift and it's my weapon no matter whether I'm a Confederate or Federal soldier," he said, with a smile. "My Confederate brass buckle was a gift also."

But, Hill picked out his own gray and blue and adds to

both when the need arises.

"There are different looks with the uniform and everybody picks out the one they like," he said. "I like the short gray jacket, the red shirt and the floppy hat. It's me."

Hill is a dedicated soldier and he wears the stripes of a corporal because other members of the 28th appointed him to the rank.

"You can't choose your rank," he said. "You have to earn it. I earned these stripes and I hope to move up the ranks."

But right now, Hill is more interested in being a common soldier.

"The great generals and big names of the Civil War are interesting, but the ones I admire are the common soldiers," he said. "They are the ones who had it the hardest. The living conditions were hard and the battles were bloody and they fought because they thought their cause was just. You have to admire the men on both sides of the war."

When in battle, Hill said a scenario has been set and the soldiers play it out.

"We all know the outcome and each one decides if and when he goes down," Hill said. "You just get a feel for the battle and you know when it's your time."

Sometimes there is no doubt when a soldier's time has come.

"When the two sides get real close and a soldier points his gun right at you, then you go down," Hill said. "You don't stay up when you know you would have been hit."

As a fallen soldier lies on the ground with the battle raging around him, Hill said he can get a real sense of what the battle was like because every movement and every sound is a sensor.

"I wouldn't want to be anything but an infantryman," he said. "They were in thick of everything and their lives depended on the moves they made."

When the day is done on the battlefield or at the campground, the soldiers gather around the fire, eat a bowl of stew and trade stories and knowledge.

"There are many historians in the reenactment groups and I learn a lot from them," he said. "I read and study about the Civil War and watch movies and documentaries. It's a fascinating subject."

But the life of a

Civil War soldier isn't always grit and grime.

"Sometimes we have dances and even period balls," he said. "Everyone gets dressed up and we take the women dancing. We play the full role of the Civil War soldier."