The line between fact and fantasy can be as gray as Confederate troops at battle re-enactments.
Earl Zeckman of Dacula, Ga., remembers his own surreal moment at Gettysburg several years agp.
He and a few other members of the 42nd Georgia Volunteer Infantry had briefly broken through the Union line during Pickett’s Charge.
At this moment of brief triumph, Zeckman saw several gun barrels, leveled directly at him at close range.
Fortunately, the Union re-enactors -- determined to hold their position and caught up in their own moment – refrained from pulling the trigger.
Civil War re-enactors, of course, don’t use live ammunition. But the concussion and flash of artillery and rifle fire at close range are intense and can be traumatic.
“The muzzle [of an artillery piece] puts out quite a blast,” says Rick Fallaw of Braselton, Ga., a captain in the 42nd.
And while realism is crucial, safety and proper planning come into play at events like the Battle of Atlanta, which takes place Sept. 4-6 at Nash Farm in Henry County.
Re-enactors have unwritten rules about discharging weapons.
Infantry should be at least 50 yards, ideally farther, from artillery fire. And while proximity to the enemy pumps up the adrenalin, most don’t want muskets leveled at them at too close a range (20-30 yards), Fallaw said.
“Safety is stressed,” he says. “We don’t compromise on it.”
Zeckman (left), president of Atlanta Campaign Inc., which is sponsoring the Atlanta event, says organizers will be especially careful at one battle, which calls for the mixing of up to 100 horses and infantry.
Re-enactors are a pretty congenial bunch and most want to stress historical accuracy. Only a few refuse to switch uniforms to reflect actual troops numbers in battle, Zeckman says.
Commanders meet before re-enactments to talk about logistics and how the battle will be conducted. And while the outcome is known, real-life drama can share the stage with re-enacting.
Both Fallaw and Leigh Ann Hardy, of Marietta, Ga., of the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, recall how Union and Confederate re-enactors did not want to stop fighting at an event in Resaca, Ga., a few years ago.
There are some no-nos.
For example, unless an agreement has been worked out beforehand, re-enactors are not supposed to seize the colors of a surrendering unit.
“I’ve seen more people get into scuffles,” over the yielding of a flag, Fallaw says.
Casualties are, of course, reflected in the re-enactments. Participants are not given “dead tickets” at Atlanta, Zeckman says, but know they will be called upon to portray a dead or wounded soldier.
With some exceptions, Zeckman quipped.
“Re-enactors who travel long distances don’t die.”