Historical interpreter shows Boy Scouts items from state’s Civil War history
Members of Boy Scout Troop 74 got a glimpse of the everyday life of a Confederate soldier on Monday.
Andy Reed, a historical interpreter for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, visited Rhyne Heights United Methodist Church to show troop members supplies like clothing and weaponry commonly carried by soldiers of the time period.
Reed works at the Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham. It’s the site of James and Nancy Bennett’s farmhouse, where Union general William T. Sherman accepted the surrender of Confederate general Joseph Johnston in April 1865.
Unlike the surrender at Appomattox, where General Robert E. Lee agreed to terms capitulating only the remaining 25,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Bennett Place agreement covered over 89,000 Confederate troops, effectively ending the war in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.
During the demonstration, scouts learned that although North Carolina voted to leave the Union by only a 2-percent margin, the closest of all Confederate states, “it provided more men and more material than any other Southern state, by far,” Reed said.
“Over 130,000 Tarheels would pick up a musket and fight, comprising one-fifth of the Confederate fighting force. The Civil War can accurately be explained as a war started by South Carolina and fought in Virginia, by North Carolinians.”
Reed brought a selection of items from the collection at Bennett Place including money, cards, a shaving kit and a precursor to the modern baseball. Everything presented was painstakingly reproduced by craftsman, down to the stitches in the clothing.
North Carolina was one of only two states to give all its troops uniforms, and produced depot jackets worn by soldiers throughout the Confederacy.
“Textiles are important in this state now,” Reed said. “It was important 150 years ago.”
Scouts had the opportunity to try on a militia sack coat complete with North Carolina seal buttons.
Before North Carolina’s secession from the Union in 1861, there was no official state flag. The first flag of North Carolina had a red canton with a star and two dates. The top date, May 20, 1775, represented the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence that pre-dated the U.S. Declaration of Independence by more than a year.
The bottom date, May 20, 1861, reflected the date North Carolina seceded from the Union. In 1881, the flag would be changed it to its current form, a blue canton with a red and white field. Instead of the secession date, the lower date now represents the adoption of the Halifax Resolves. Its signing was the first official action by an American state calling for independence from Great Britain.
“The flag we have today is only our second version,” Reed said, “an adaptation of our Confederate version.”
The most popular part of Reed’s presentation was the musket demonstration. Reed fired a Springfield Model 1861 rifled musket. The term rifled refers to the grooves cut into the interior of the barrel, causing the projectile to spin as it leaves the barrel.
“It’s the bridge between the old flintlock musket we were fighting in the Revolutionary War and the modern day musket,” Reed said. “It’s much more reliable and it triples the accuracy from the 70-100 yards possible in the Revolutionary War to 300 yards, easily, during the Civil War.”
As a 10th generation North Carolinian, Reed grew up in the shadow of the Civil War and was regaled by stories of Sherman’s march through Raleigh. His demonstrations offer participants a full sensory experience often not available in a traditional classroom.
“It was such a defining time period of our relatively short history,” Reed said. “Many historians state that the Revolutionary War set the foundation, but it was the Civil War that is responsible for the singular nation we are today.”