Clark’s Civil War reenactment weekend

Gary Drake of Colonia, who played the role of the surgeon for the reenactment.
Gary Drake of Colonia, who played the role of the surgeon for the reenactment.

CLARK, NJ — A forty-eight hour reenactment of the 7th Virginia Cavalry of the Confederate Army took place at the Dr. William Robinson Plantation in Clark from the evening of Friday, May 13 until May 15. The participants each took on the unique role of a historical character while sharing their knowledge, costumes and props with visitors. At the end of the day, they spent the night in tents after participating in a candlelight tour.

The event began with roll call and a prayer, as the soldiers acknowledged their need for safety and victory. They opened the flaps of their tents and shared their personal belongings. Inside there was a gum blanket made of gum rubber, to withstand inclement weather. Four sergeants, eight corporals and the troopers sported vests, hats and pants.

There were only two women in the group. The first woman took on the role of a male soldier named Joshua Fletcher. He was a soldier from Manchester, Virginia. It wasn’t uncommon for females to dress like male soldiers if they wanted to go to war. Albert Cashier passed as a male soldier and was not discovered until her old age when she was undressed by caregivers.

Many of the women weren’t even allowed to be nurses due to men’s bashfulness. The aide de camp, portrayed by Karen Kulaga of Perth Amboy, assisted the surgeon with his procedures. She would also sew, cook and clean the clothes of the commanders.

Photos by Jen Rubino The group of reenactors line up for roll call during the weekend event.
Photos by Jen Rubino
The group of reenactors line up for roll call during the weekend event.

“There was no knowledge of bacteria or germs during the war,” said Gary Drake of Colonia, who played the role of the surgeon, Major Thomas Lee Settle. “It wasn’t until Dr. Lister discovered it years later,” he said of the surgeon Joseph Lister’s work on sterilization for wounds surgical procedures. “Karen plays the anesthesiologist when we perform amputations. Sometimes she inhales the chloroform while pouring it in the funnel for the patient and faints because of the fumes,” Drake said, in reference to the reenactment of surgery.

“When I pour the chloroform into the funnel, I inhale some of it while pouring and go out for a bit,” said Kulaga of her acting role. “I also wrap bandages for the surgeon. The most highly regarded job for a woman was laundress. It took three or four days to wash clothes and it was important that it didn’t rain because they wouldn’t be able to hang out to dry. Only the commander’s clothes would get washed. The soldiers went days or months at a time without changing. It could be 104 degrees, and they would have to wear the same clothes until they could buy new ones.”

The surgeon had a table full of ivory handle tools. They included a hays saw, pistol grip saw, rib cutter, bullet forceps, chain saw, bone saw, bone file, bone brush and reflex hammer. He owns another set of ebony handle tools.

“I’m a retired bank teller in real life,” said Drake. “I’m not really a doctor, but I’ve read a lot about the subject. A lot of amputations were performed during the war. Many times wounded soldiers would have their wounds covered with hay piled on top of horse manure.”

The first North Carolina Battalion Sharpshooters Company B was formed on April 28, 1862 at Gordonsville, Virginia by order of Major General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson. This battalion of sharpshooters fought at the battles of First Winchester, Cross Keys, Seven Days, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Harper’s Ferry, Antietam/Sharpsburg Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Jack’s Mountain, Bachelor’s Creek Bridge, Plymouth, Petersburg, Hatcher’s Run and Fort Stedman. They surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, under the command of Lieutenant R.W. Woodruff as part of Major General Jubal Early’s division.

“This is the second year for me to play the role of a sharpshooter,” said Andrew Bolschak, of Belleville. “The sharpshooters were exempt from all other camp duties.”

The sharpshooters spent their time learning to judge distances and practicing their aim. The favorite weapon of the Southern sharpshooter was the Whitworth Rifle imported from Manchester, England. The rifle had a twisting hexagonal bore and fired a .45 caliber bullet with great accuracy. It could fire up to 1,500 yards.

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