Playing the part: Re-enactor honors heritage by walking in Civil War soldier’s footsteps

Jule Morrow isn’t a rebel; Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” isn’t his personal mantra. He doesn’t relive the Civil War, hoping to change the outcome.

“What I honor is the courage,” said Morrow, a Civil War re-enactor whose regiment, the 25th North Carolina Infantry, plays both sides — Union and Confederate. “One thing we all have to remember is the same blood that flowed in those guys flows in us.”

Morrow is named after his ancestor Civil War Capt. Julius Welch and has ties to other prominent Haywood County residents, including the Love, Dillard and Leatherwood families. Although he has never fought in a war, Morrow has re-enacted Civil War battles throughout Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania for the past two decades.

About once a month, Morrow and his men in the 25th North Carolina Infantry travel up to nine hours away to participate in re-enactments, depicting both battlefield combat and camp life of the soldiers.

No matter the weather, the re-enactors sleep in canvas A-frame tents with wool blankets, eat rations of hardtack and salted beef, or if they’re lucky, build small fires to roast a chicken or cook stew. They may even scavenge the surrounding area for wild edibles.

While many battles are re-enacted during the course of a weekend, Morrow said he has slept in the field for up to five days.

In addition to reliving camp life, re-enactments showcase the war tactics of the time. Like the Romans, Civil War fighters lined up, confronting their enemy face-to-face.

Occasionally, re-enactors portray specific soldiers in specific battles — replaying the actual movements of the men on the field in real time — for the more well-known and well-documented battles where such records occur. Re-enactors are given background on the person they are depicting, including how, where and when they died or surrendered.

“I like it when you’re a particular soldier,” said Morrow, who once surrendered to Union troops while playing a member of the color guard.

The original 25th infantry back in real Civil War times was one of only a few regiments from the mountains, comprised of men from Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties, plus Buncombe, Henderson, Cherokee, Clay and Transylvania.

But at least half the time, Morrow and his men find themselves donning Union uniforms, playing the part of Union soldiers — after all, a re-enactment wouldn’t be much good without someone playing the other side.

The re-enactors’ alter ego is the 14th Iowa regiment, a Union troop with soldiers from across the western part of the U.S., making its most celebrated stand at the Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the war.

To play both sides, the re-enactors need two sets of authentic fatigues, both grey and blue. All 25th North Carolina soldiers have in their wardrobe a black felt slouch hat, a 100 percent cotton or wool socks, a U.S. 1854 black leather belt and a U.S. 1858 Smoothside canteen, among other items.

To play the 14th Iowa regiment, men must be suited in an enlisted man’s frock, sky blue wool pants and a forage cap. Specialty haberdashers around the country make entire lines of Civil War-era clothing and accessories for re-enactors.

Twenty-five men currently belong to the regiment, down from 56 in 2002. Morrow and some of his compatriots are putting off retirement from re-enacting until the end of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, a four-year event that promises additional pomp and circumstance.

Before too many re-enactors lay down their bayonets for the last time, Morrow said he hopes to replenish their ranks with new members, and the regiment has plenty of muskets and uniforms to loan new recruits.

For Morrow, the Civil War and its repercussion are an important part of his family history.

“Everybody’s grandma’s got the story of the Yankee that comes and takes their mule,” he said.

Morrow, who describes himself as a proud Southerner, is glad the North won the war.

“If we hadn’t lost the war, today, we would probably be like Europe; we would be 13 countries,” he said. “South Carolina would be their own little country because they can’t get on with anybody.”

A different outcome to the Civil War could also have affected future wars, he added. A divided U.S. might not have defeated Germany during WWI.

Several books and television programs have explored the world of Civil War re-enacting. But, none of them adequately represent re-enactors and many focus on the extremes, Morrow said.

In 2001, a History Channel program “The Unfinished Civil War” drew fire from re-enactors, who said the show depicted them as racists — a group of people for whom Morrow has zero tolerance.

Once during a re-enactment in Tennessee, the 24th North Carolina regiment was portraying Union troops when some Ku Klux Klan members appeared.

“These guys had the audacity to ‘boo’ me,” Morrow said. “I told one of ‘em, I said, ‘Let me tell you something.’ I said, ‘Son, when your wife sees what you’ve done to her jade satin sheets, she’s going to whoop your ass.’”

For Morrow, the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride and part of his family history, but he said he understands why people find it offensive.

“We have allowed our symbol to be trashed by a bunch of ignorant pinhead klansman,” Morrow said. “What we should have done is when we saw them is go just beat the crap out of them and take their flag from them.”


See the re-enactors in action

Civil War re-enactors will be outfitted in in authentic dress, depicting camp life and battles at two upcoming events.

Appalachian Harvest Festival

When: Oct. 15, starting 11 a.m.

Where: Stecoah Valley Center outside Robbinsville

The Battle at Warm Springs

When: Nov. 4 - 6

Where: Hot Springs Resort and Spa in Hot Springs

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