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By Jimmie Earls
Sun Staff Writer
Most people prefer to learn about the Civil War by reading about it in a book or watching a film. Lee Lewis, of Willisburg, would rather learn about it by dressing the part and participating in battle re-enactments.
“I learn something new at every event,” said Lewis. “The more you learn about the past, the more you appreciate what you have now.”
Lewis has always been interested in the Civil War era of American history. He has taken his enthusiasm to the ultimate level by dressing the part and experiencing what life was like on the battlefield in the 1860s.
Every aspect of the war is represented in the re-enactments, from camping, marching and studying battle plans to reading actual accounts from diaries, newspapers and history books. The effects of battle are also demonstrated, such as medical care. This could include mock wounds or simulated amputations using the tools of the period.
An emphasis is placed on safety. Even though the soldiers fire blanks, there is still the risk of burns or injury. Participants must be at least 16 years of age and must pass an inspection from a commanding officer before they are allowed on the field. Most participants on the battlefield must be male, since women were not allowed to fight.
While some people appreciate the portrayals of historic battles, there are detractors who call the practice racist and insensitive. Lewis stresses that what he and his fellow re-enactors do has no racist intent or purpose. They are simply telling the story of our past so we do not make the same mistakes twice.
Lewis takes part in local re-enactments at the Perryville Battlefield in neighboring Boyle County among other locations.
This October will mark the 146th commemoration of the Battle of Perryville, but nothing locally could compare to the opportunity Lewis experienced earlier this month when he traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., to participate in the 145th re-enactment of the legendary battle.
According to the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, 13,000 registered re-enactors took part, with 11,000 of those portraying military personnel. The other 2,000 represented military dependents and civilian living.
Approximately 30,000 spectators attended the event over a three-day period. Lewis found the trip to Gettysburg a worthwhile experience.
“Walking on the same field that those guys died on, it gives you a whole new appreciation of what happened,” he said. “When I was out there, it gave me cold chills. It was a real moving experience.”