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Civil War event to make its return

ARARAT, Va. — An opportunity to go back in time to one of America’s most-turbulent eras will unfold this coming weekend when an annual Civil War Reenactment and Living History gathering resumes after a one-year coronavirus-related retreat.

While COVID-19 remains a threat, organizers of the event have deemed conditions sufficiently conducive to allow a return of battle reenactors and history buffs to the Laurel Hill birthplace of Confederate Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in Patrick County.

“We had a board meeting recently and decided we were all-go,” said Tom Bishop, a spokesman for the birthplace-preservation group that oversees activities at the site located just across the state line at 1091 Ararat Highway. From Mount Airy, it can be reached via N.C. 104.

The encampment/living history weekend, now in its 29th year, will be held Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m. Admission costs $8 per person, but is free for children 12 and under, with parking also free.

While elements of Confederate history have come under fire recently, including the removal of statues, the Laurel Hill event — sponsored by the Patrick County Tourism office — is not about politics, but meant to be educational and entertaining in nature, organizers say.

This will include not only the battle reenactments — scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday — but special speakers, historical exhibits, live music and glimpses into the life of a Civil War soldier.

In addition to uniformed reenactors representing both the Blue and Gray, women dressed in attire from the period also are usually spotted on the grounds, enhancing the atmosphere of the occasion.

Authentic Civil War also sutlers will be on hand with food and merchandise, with concessionaires/exhibitors to include Southern Traditions fried pies, old-time blacksmithing demonstrations by Daniel Young and Joe Allen, the Patrick County Historical Society, two Sons of Confederate Veterans camps, Charleston Tintypes, Possum Hollow clothing and quilts and the Ararat Rescue Squad.

Southern barbecue is to be among the culinary offerings.

Other special activities scheduled include a ladies fashion show and tea by Joan Williams, a Saturday night dance with caller Charles Bowman, a black rose memorial service, a Sunday church service at 10 a.m. and appearances by Stuart family members.

Music will be performed by The Cedar Ridge String Band and The Fisher Peak Timber Rattlers.

Scheduled speakers include Sam Winkler, who is to present a program on Jefferson and Varina Davis; Lucas Wilder as J.E.B. Stuart; Wayne Jones as William Alexander Stuart, a brother of J.E.B.; and David Chaltas as Robert E. Lee.

The J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust will sell gift items such as books, prints, mugs, T-shirts and more, including used Civil War books and ladies Civil War dresses (homemade), parasols, bonnets and other items.

That group is an all-volunteer non-profit organization, with proceeds from this weekend’s event to go toward the preservation of the Laurel Hill site.

Country in turmoil

Bishop, the group’s spokesman, acknowledged that much has occurred in the nation since the last reenactment at the birthplace in October 2019.

This has included the removal of statutes of Maj. Gen. Stuart and other Army of Northern Virginia officers from many places, including along Monument Avenue in Richmond. This was part of the fallout from the death of George Floyd in May 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“So much negativity is out there concerning Confederate history,” Bishop said.

“But many people are interested in the historical aspects,” he added regarding the Civil War as a whole.

The event in Ararat always is greeted by much enthusiasm as a result — “in spite of the negativity.”

One hopeful barometer for this weekend’s gathering is the availability of Civil War reenactment troops who are at the heart of the mock battles and other activities. Bishop says a good number have been lined up, with last year’s cancellation apparently no obstacle in their willingness to return.

“It would have been hard to have a reenactment if the guys in uniform didn’t show up,” he said, who typically include a number from distant locations.

The resumption of the Civil War gathering is a blessing in itself, according to Bishop. “The main thing is, we can do it,” he said.



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