Approximately 40 members of the Alabama Division of Reenactors are encamped on the property for two days of training and fellowship.
For a $2 admission fee, visitors watched history come to life on Saturday as reenactors portraying newly enlisted or conscripted soldiers learned to march, shoot and wield a bayonet.
Their tents were also open throughout the morning and evening so the public could see the conditions under which their ancestors lived during the Civil War.
“There won’t be a battle. This is all one-sided. It’s what the soldiers would have seen when they first came into the army,” Col. Michael Mumaugh said.
Any romanticized notion that the young Southerners had of battlefield glory were shattered by their first experiences at camp.
Most had never been more than 15 to 20 miles away from the farm on which they were raised.
Once they began living among thousands of other men from various backgrounds, diseases such as cholera, dysentery and smallpox were an ever present threat.
Novice soldiers sometime sealed their own fate by setting up the camp’s latrine too close to the same creek they depended on for drinking water. Another common mistake was undercooking food because the men were without a woman to prepare their meals for the first time in their lives.
The treatment of the day, sulfur and mercury, was almost as bad as the sickness.
“The statistics for the Civil War are for every man who dies from a bullet wound, two or three would have died from some sort of disease,” Mumaugh said. “It was a dirty life. You were lucky to survive it.”
Those who did make it through their first month of camp instruction would have been sworn-in to the state’s service.
That ceremony will be reenacted today at 2 p.m. at Old York.
It will be conducted by someone portraying a Civil-War era politician, a wry reminder that the men would soon be marching off to a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.
“Swearing-in was the time for politicians to come and shake hands and get his name out there for re-election,” Mumaugh said.
Other events on today’s schedule include a church service for reenactors from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., a battalion drill from 11 a.m to noon and a firing demonstration at 12:30 p.m. All events are open to the public.
The Alabama Division of Reenactors was formed in 1986 and includes member units from all over Alabama as well as several other states.
In 2011, the Division joined with Heritage Keepers as a nonprofit corporation chartered in Tennessee, coordinating and assisting in direction of battles and living history camps throughout the South.
Reenactment is open to men and women and includes Union units as well as Confederate.
“It’s a mixture of learning history and getting to live it, but it’s also a camaraderie. The people you meet here become good friends,” Mumaugh said.
He added that a typical year for a unit includes between 12 and 15 events. However, more than 40 are on the calendar this year, which is part of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Oakman native Scotty Myers, who became a reenactor with the 31st Alabama Infantry a little more than a year ago, was instrumental in bringing the camp to Old York Farms.
Myers’ son and wife join him in his hobby. Sixteen-year-old Whit Myers, a private in the 31st, was the youngest reenactor at Old York this weekend.
Myers, who recently received a promotion to sergeant, said he often dreamed about becoming a reenactor, but a bout with cancer convinced him to stop waiting and start doing.
Myers stressed that reenactors are not affiliated with politics and have no agenda other than educating themselves and the public about a part of the nation’s past.
“It’s for the history. When you can touch something and see it, then you can grasp it and understand it,” Myers said.