ARARAT, Va. — Just when you think the annual J.E.B. Stuart Civil War Encampment & Living History Weekend can’t teach you anything else. It does. The 23rd such event which opened Saturday at Laurel Hill began with a ceremony and plaque honoring Chaplain Alan Farley during the opening ceremony around the flag pole.
J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust Information Officer Tom Bishop and President of the Preservation Trust Shirley Keene made the presentation Saturday morning to Farley, who holds a doctorate in divinity. According to Keene, he and his wife, Faith, have been “Missionaries to the past” and attending Living History Weekend since 1984.
In his invocation, Farley asked that the participants and audience never forget “the importance of honoring this hallowed ground because if we forget our history we will repeat our failures.” Bishop said Farley is also a writer who frequently contributes articles to a variety of historical magazines.
“I was so surprised to receive this award. My wife and everyone knew about it but me,” said Farley, who is also known among the re-enactor groups for his stirring Sunday morning services. He said next year will mark his 35th year with 30 of that as a re-enactor chaplain. He said the role of chaplains in the Civil War was not written about.
Farley said this came in spite of chaplains eventually becoming regiment’s historians and in some cases teaching them to read and write. He spoke of one revival held during the war when 150,000 Confederate soldiers and sailors accepted Christ as savior.
“They were the comforters of the men and even fought in the line,” Farley said. “It became important to us to honor these men.”
Keene pointed out new additions to the annual event, including a new information booth. She, too, has many ties to the event, making many of the dresses worn by re-enactors. (She quickly reels off how much material is needed for an average historic dress reproduction. It takes ten yards.)
“We’ve had so many questions we felt we just had to add an information booth,” said Keene. “Now we have great recognition for the encampment with people coming to see us from everywhere.”
Bishop said another part of Keene’s prayer, asking for protection of the site from vandals, referred to incidents such as the flag pole rope being cut and picnic tables being burned, all happening when the area was not busy with an event.
“Occasionally we will have this because we are open to the public as a National Historic Site,” Bishop said. “We don’t want to put up barriers to people. We have a great crowd here today and the weather is wonderful.”
Trust Vice President Ronnie Haynes said improvements are well under way at the site with a new picnic shelter being planned and a combination interpretive history area and new visitor’s center also planned.
“The new activity shelter we plan will be like the Stuart Pavilion,” said Haynes. He also explained the first and largest phase to Stuart’s great-grandfather, William Letcher’s home site, has been completed. Letcher, a passionate supporter of the patriot cause during the Revolutionary War, settled the site around 1778. He was murdered by a British sympathizer in 1780 and his grave is the oldest marked one in Patrick County.
Re-enactor Tessa Wilson of Hickory demonstrated historic toys during the encampment. She said she started setting up toys and inviting others to have a try at them when she was 11-years old and never stopped.
“I encourage them to touch the toys and play with them and that’s an experience children don’t often get,” said Wilson. “They’re told not to touch. I love seeing them have a chance to get all that pent up energy out. Some of these toys seem primitive to them and a few are even a mystery.”
She explained one such toy puzzle resembles an ox’s yoke and challenges children to get both rings out of the loop without untying a string which holds them.
Once again the encampment featured music in the main tent, a council of war and a calvary demonstration. The event’s flamboyant fashion show in the main tent also returned this year. Saturday’s events concluded with a dance in the main tent. Today’s church service in the main tent is set to begin with gospel music by Tina, Herbert and Catherine Conner at 9:30 a.m. with the service following.
The proposed schedule also includes a council of war set for noon with an infantry battle at 2 p.m. with the gates set to close at 4 p.m. The trust is an all-volunteer organization operating on private contributions with all funds going to maintain and promote Stuart’s birthplace.
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 336-719-1952.