By Martha Newman
Civil War names always sounded romantic to me (Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Picket’s Charge, and most appealing, Gettysburg), even though I knew from studying the war in school that they were sites of terrible, bloody battles. Occasionally those battles are reenacted, and when I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and found out that I could see what it was like firsthand, I jumped at the opportunity.
On July 1 and 2, Historic Latta Plantation, 12 miles northwest of Charlotte off Interstate 77, staged a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, commemorating its 154th anniversary and the role North Carolinians played in it.
Driving to the plantation is like going back into the 1800s. Buildings disappear along Sample Road, which is miles-long and narrow. It’s bordered on both sides by dense, mature, leafy green trees and leads into the gravel parking lot in front of the picket-fenced building that serves as the gift shop, education/meeting room, and admissions/information center. Unless you climb over the fence, entrance to the 62-acre plantation is $8 for adults. Once you pay the fee, you’re free to spend the entire day exploring the grounds.
On the first weekend of July, those grounds were filled with men and women dressed in antebellum period costumes, accurate down to the last stitch. Since I was there for the battle, the most interesting to me were the men and boys in uniform, both Confederate and Union. The tan or gray outfits represented the South, while the Northerners wore their bright blue jackets. Every reenactor carried a musket and some had an iron bayonet tucked into their belt. Southern soldiers carried tin cups for drinking. The better outfitted Northerners had canteens slung across their shoulders.
Reenactors own both Confederate and Union uniforms, bought at their own expense, because, as they happily told me, one day they could fight for the South and the next they could fight for the North.
At 3 p.m. the battle commenced with Union forces firing into the woods where a troop of Confederate soldiers stood their ground. As the battle heated up and the blues and grays faced each other on the field, muskets fired, smoke filled the air, and soldiers, pretending to be shot, fell on the grass under the purple-flowering crepe myrtle. In the distance, where it could do no harm, the Confederate side fired a cannon that produced a lot of noise and smoke. Spectators cheered.
After it was over, the troops formed lines and marched out to greet each other. The generals shook hands, as the gentlemen they were, drums and fifes played, and regimental flags proudly waved. It was a glorious day.
Historic Latta Plantation is the last Catawba River plantation and working farm open to the public. Costumed guides lead tours through the house while tours of the 11 replicated outbuildings, including the kitchen, barn, smithy, and slave cabin, are self-guided. Farmers and blacksmiths still work as farmers and blacksmiths did in the 19th century, and during the school year, teachers bring their classes for hands-on learning experiences.
The plantation staff present special events during the year. Every September reenactors gather to fight the Battle of Charlottestown, part of the American Revolutionary War. In October there is the Ghost Walk Haunted Trail as well as All Hallows Eve Family Day. On November 10, veterans are admitted free of charge, and at the end of the month there is the One Hundred Years of Christmas celebration.
If you visit, you’ll leave knowing more history than when you arrived and probably with more items from the gift shop than anyone really needs.
Historic Latta Plantation is located at 5225 Sample Road, Huntersville, NC 28076; 704-875-2312. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and no charge for children under five.
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