For re-enactors, 'it's 1861'

astice@islandpacket.comDecember 5, 2011 

At the Civil War Living History Encampment on Saturday, Don Wells, portraying a soldier in the 9th Virginia Infantry, enjoys a meal of potatoes and cabbage while talking about the life of a Civil War soldier to Hilton Head Islanders Blake Hampton -- a descendent of Civil War general Wade Hampton-- and Susan Mason. The encampment, held at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, was part of a four-day Lowcountry Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr/The Island Packet

Don Wells of Disputanta, Va., camped out at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn from Thursday through Sunday, but not as himself.

He channeled his great-great-grandfather, Confederate soldier Michael Henry Wells, a private in the 9th Regiment of Infantry, Virginia Volunteers.

"I'm in the frame of mind that this is 1861," Wells said.

Wells, 69, who has been re-enacting since he retired, said he is in demand nearly every weekend for living history encampments.

The encampment was part of four days of events at the museum commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

The tents set up at Honey Horn marked the first time re-enactors had been welcomed there, museum vice president of programs Natalie Hefter said. The re-enactors represented a mix of soldiers and civilians, including a performance of Civil War-era songs by a field band.

On Saturday, after a brief skirmish with Union re-enactors camped nearby, Wells demonstrated how to load a rifle for visitors, his lips black with gunpowder.

Accompanying him was Wendy Alvis, cooking cabbage and potatoes and spiced apples over a small fire.

Although women wouldn't historically have been with soldiers on the field, Alvis was representing a member of a Ladies' Aid Society.

Such a society helped outfit soldiers, who often weren't issued everything they needed by the government, Alvis said.

"It would be kind of like sending care packages," she said.

Nearby, Civil War field photographer Timothy O'Sullivan -- portrayed by Bluffton's Bob Beine -- had set up his camera and other equipment. He often demonstrates the technique at area schools and at other Civil War events, he said.

Beine recounted an experience with his granddaughter when she told him, "Grandpa, you're living in the past."

"And I said, 'Why, thank you,'" he said.

Meanwhile, the museum is looking forward: Hefter said staff is already thinking about commemorative events to stage in 2013.

Alvis, who stayed at a Day's Inn instead of spending nights on the field at Honey Horn, said her experience in the Lowcountry has her eager to come back in two years.

"We'll definitely be here," she said.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at

Related content:

Lowcountry Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration continues through Sunday, Dec. 1, 2011

150 years later, revisiting county's role in Civil War, Nov. 27, 2011

Key words: Don Wells, Private Michael Henry Wells, Coastal Discovery Museum, Honey Horn, Civil War, re-enactors, encampment, living history, Wendy Alvis, Natalie Hefter, Bob Beine, Thomas O'Sullivan

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