Re-enactors honor history's fallen soldiers, pass down memories
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 16, 2012 1:50 AM
Re-enactors, father and son Tom and Matt Flood, play their fifes Saturday.
Robert Bernheisel, of Kansas, prepares to march into battle with Union troops during the Battle of the Goldsborough Bridge re-enactment, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle.
Tom Flood crunches down on a piece of hardtack and, after a few seconds of chewing, manages to swallow it.
The cracker-like snack was a staple, he said, for the soldiers who fought in battles like the one he was in Wayne County to help commemorate Saturday.
"We could go over to the hot dog stand, but we wanted to stay in period," he said. "But really, how did they eat this stuff?"
His 17-year-old son, Matt, smiled, reaching for a piece of his own while his younger brother, Ian, munched on an apple.
"Back then, men were men," Matt said.
Playing the fife -- the role Matt and Tom have grown accustomed to since they began participating in re-enactments a few years ago -- is tough, they said.
"After about three weeks, I could make a sound," Tom quipped. "To master it is gonna take a lifetime."
"To be pretty darn good you have to play for about five years," Matt added.
But passers-by couldn't help but think it was easier than taking down that hardtack.
Dozens of men and women from across the country traveled to Wayne County this weekend for a re-enactment designed to honor those who fought -- and fell -- during the Dec. 17, 1862, Battle of the Goldsborough Bridge.
Robert Bernheisel was one of them.
Donning a Union cavalry uniform -- complete with a Colt pistol and Henry repeating rifle -- he talked about why he has been participating in similar events since 1995.
"It all started back in 1963," he said, explaining that when he spent the summer with family in Pennsylvania, they took him to Gettysburg.
"That was it," Robert said. "I was hooked on history."
But it wasn't the chance to dress up in historical attire or the camaraderie that prompted him to travel some 1,500 miles to North Carolina from his home in Fremont, Nebraska.
At least, not entirely.
"When you get into the thick of the fighting, you realize what they went through," he said. "I do this to honor their memory ... and to pass it on to the next generation. I hope they carry it on."
Robert, over the past two decades, has been "all over the place."
But the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Goldsborough Bridge, he said, is special for two reasons.
For one thing, it gives him an opportunity to spend Christmas with family members that live in the area.
But more importantly, it means he is one re-enactment closer to "the granddaddy of them all," the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
"I can't wait to get back there," Robert said. "I swear, when I'm at Gettysburg, I can almost see the cannon smoke."
Moments like those are what drive the Flood boys, too.
"What better way to learn history than to relive history," Tom said.
And what better people to make those memories with -- from the Battle of the First Manassas and Shiloh to Antietam and Fredericksburg -- than those you love.
"If I have kids someday, hopefully they'll be into re-enacting," Matt said. "It's really, really awesome."
Tom looked over at his boys and smiled.
"Yeah, some day, I'll be sitting in the rocking chair remembering every one of these days," he said. "Every one of them."