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Battles at Manassas resume
Local Colonel of Artillery retires at the end of the event
Battles at Manassas
Smoke fills the air during the Battles at Manassas war reenactment.

Thundering cannon fire and the rattling of muskets inside and around Fort Wallace-Wood, seven miles west of Reidsville, were heard shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. This signaled the return of the Battles at Manassas Civil War re-enactment that has been in hiatus for two years due to COVID-19 restrictions throughout the United States.

For about 75 re-enactors, it was a chance to get back into the field and pursue the activities they enjoy, for locals it was a chance to get outside and enjoy the spring weather and watch as Rebel and Yankee re-enactors maneuvered and exchanged smoky, black powder salutations as the blue-gray clashes erupted again around the earthen breastworks of Fort Wallace Wood.

The traditional struggle which was repeated annually for 22 years (2000 to the present) involved an attack on the Fort by Blue or Gray forces usually resulting in an initial overrunning of the defensive position including capturing or killing all of those defending the Fort and pulling down the defender’s flag and running up the flag of those attacking the position.  It could be Union or Confederates defending or attacking.

The following day the theme is reversed, and the force defeated on the first day returns to claim victory over the opposition.  That 180 degree turn of events might remind some of the Georgia-Alabama football clashes during the SEC Championship and the National Championship during the 2021-22 season. 

The numbers of spectators might be down some this year due to a near solid day of rain on Friday and threat of rain and potentially dangerous winds late Friday and around midday Saturday.  Instead there were relatively light winds and no rain on Saturday or Sunday.  Still the possibility of heavy thunderstorms with lightning and damaging winds probably kept some people home. No doubt some re-enactors may have skipped the event for that very reason.  In the past, horse cavalry included perhaps 25 horses and riders, but cavalrymen and mounts were not present in 2022.

About 15 years ago spectators were treated to cavalry charges by Union and Confederate horsemen. A Confederate diversionary charged against the fort, which was being repelled by cannon fire on the east side.  One of the Confederate horses was not accustomed to cannon fire, and when a big gun on the east side boomed and smoke spewed forth, the horse began bucking violently and the rider dismounted involuntarily with a resounding thud. 

The cavalry retreated and the horse retreated with them while the rider lay flat on his back on the field trying to re-inflate his lungs. 

The event has changed over the years.  In the early days it was a men-only event for the most part, and women played the traditional roles of women in the north and the South during that time period.  But on Saturday, Colonel Elaine Wallace Campbell, who is a certified cannon instructor for cannons of the period walked the fort defenses as commanding officer.  Her daughter, Mondie, who served in the U.S. Navy as a Corpsman, is a First Sergeant in artillery and was stationed on a gun. 

In the early years of their reenacting experiences, Campbell and her sister Wanda Millians strolled  around the fort in the long dresses and hoops of the period dressed as the “Wood sisters.” Later, Mondie would join the group as the spoiled little sister which the older sisters despised and constantly picked on.  Mondie portrayed the straight and upright member of the Wood sisters.  During those confrontations, Campbell and Millians usually got the short end of the stick.

The mother and daughter actually got into artillery when Mondie went to a reenactment in Florida in 2001 and filled-in on an all-male crew that was lacking one member.  Prior to that time, cannon crews throughout all re-enactment organizations were all male. Mondie became increasingly interested in the process of maintaining and operation of the big guns, and as a result, her father, Tommy Wallace, bought a canon. At a re-enactment at Resaca sometime later, two of Tommy’s crew members did not show up so Elaine filled in. She enjoyed it, continued doing it, and moved up the chain of command to eventually become the Colonel of the Georgia Artillery Battalion.  She laughs at often being referred to as LeRoy during the reenactments, and some of her circle including her new husband, Vietnam Veteran Wayne Campbell, sometimes use the “LeRoy” nickname.

One highlight of her career included being invited by the Gettysburg Historical Society and Reenactment Committee in 2018 to serve as Colonel of the Artillery at the Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment.

“Of all the qualified people they could have invited, they chose me,” she said.  “I was honored and I really enjoyed the experience.”

Elaine is quick to point out that the reenactments are a good foundation to understand the battles of the war and why they succeeded or failed.  She can list various battles and explain exactly what went right or wrong. 

Some of my friends wondered aloud Saturday if the current social climate might hurt attendance at the event.  I don’t think it did, and I would point out that during the early morning ceremonies, the American Flag was centered above all other flags which is an undisputed indication of loyalty to the United States of America. Additionally, reenactors have sets of Union and Confederate uniforms so they can reenact as Union or Confederate soldiers.  At this event there were numerous local re-enactors wearing the Union Blue. The overriding objective is to portray the conflict as historically realistic as possible to give audiences a view of how the war was fought and what participants looked like and how they lived.

Sunday afternoon, Elaine Wallace Campbell retired as a Confederate Artillery Colonel in an impressive ceremony where she was honored with a salute from muskets and cannon.  Elaine said she would remain as a member of her gun, and it might be as commander of the gun or Pvt.  “We’ll hold and election to decide,” she said.  That’s the way it was done, and that’s way we will do it.  

She plans to participate in about 11 reenactment events in Georgia and surrounding states this year. “I may do some acting as a school marm of the period,” she said.  “I’m getting to the point I might not tote cannonballs as fast as I did, and it’s getting harder to maneuver those big guns.”  

Saturday afternoon just after dusk, several dozen military tents of the period surrounded the area around Fort Wallace Wood.  Smoke drifted above the campsites as re-enactors and friends gathered around the campfires to renew friendships and discuss events of the day. Lighting flickered on the southwest horizon and thunder rumbled in the distance.  It was easy to envision the campsite as a temporary moment in time just before a major battle during that terrible war in which brothers fought against brothers a century and three-score years ago.  Certainly it was a modern snapshot that looked as very accurate knowing what we know about the time and war, and that is what Elaine (LeRoy) and those who reenact with her try to achieve.