Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 21, 2013

Hundreds relive the Skirmish at Jeffersonville

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Click here for video

The cannons and muskets had already started firing when Rodolfo De La Riva and his family came rushing up in the direction of Fort McGraw on the field of the Jeffersonville Skirmish.

“I was born in Chicago and grew up in Miami, so I never saw anything like this,” he said after asking how much access he could have to the re-enactors. De La Riva is now living in Pounding Mill, Va., and his family was truly excited to be watching a Civil War battle re-enactment at (or near) the place where it actually took place.

Several major battles of the American Civil War were fought in Virginia, and many skirmishes also took place in the Old Dominion leading up to the major engagements. For the re-enactors who travel sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes to participate in the battles do so with a passion for making an absolutely accurate presentation of what life was like when the North and South struggled over the future of the United States.

“I didn’t say a word when I opened up the Ladies Tea Talk today,” Anita McGraw said. “The two girls presenting Molly Tynes (Melinda Blume) and Varina Davis (Jennifer Bohannan) just walked up and did their thing. They did a great job.

“Most people don’t think about the impact of the Civil War on women and families, but here in Virginia, the war made 6,000 widows,” McGraw said. Anita McGraw’s late husband, Bob McGraw, envisioned the Skirmish — now in its ninth year — and worked with friends he had made through the years traveling to Civil War battle re-enactments. The event was an immediate success.

“This skirmish means a lot to the (Historic Crab Orchard) Museum now,” Anita McGraw said. “It takes a lot to keep it going, but it’s worth it.”

Like her fellow re-enactors, Anita McGraw is passionate about mid-19th century American history and the long-lasting impact the war had on the nation. “I’ll give you my opinion even if it’s not what you want to hear,” she said.

April Branton, of Lynchburg, Va., and her sister, Andrea Branton, of Asheville, N.C., attended the skirmish with their father, Doug Branton, and their children, Katheryn Good, 4, and Dominec Branton, 3. Their mother, Ginger Branton, executive director of the Richlands, Va., Chamber of Commerce, didn’t brave the cool temperatures.

“We came to these with mom and dad years ago,” April Branton said.

Terry Hunt, commander of the Confederate forces at the skirmish, has an encyclopedic command of Civil War in southwestern Virginia details, but also knows that for the body of knowledge to continue growing, re-enactments need to attract more young people.

“A film maker — Jerry Sword — has worked on a documentary in Saltville, Va., the last couple of years. It’s called ‘This place is haunted,’ and it is set to be broadcast on Public TV on May 5, at 5 or 5:30 p.m.,” he said. “Jerry is already working on another project. We’re trying to bring the story to a bigger audience.”

Chris Shrewsbury, 13, and Craig Flowers, 12, of Boy Scout Troop 59, Sissonville, were walking around the battlefield picking up litter with grabbers.

“This is my second time here,” Flowers said. “We don’t have anything like this in Sissonville.”

The camp that is located at Pisgah, across U.S. Route 19/460 from Historic Crab Orchard Museum and Pioneer Park reopens again this morning at 10 a.m., with a War Period Church Service at 11 a.m., led by the Reverend Alan Farley. The concluding battle re-enactment will start this afternoon at 2 p.m.

Prior to the start of the re-enactment on Saturday, Charles Whitt, an author who has written several books on Civil War history, called for a moment of silence in memory of Bob McGraw and Charlie Newman. Whitt served as the narrator for the battle on Saturday.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com