Civil War Reenactor Mike Short Discusses Brattonsville’s Cancelled Reenactment
Mike Short, who served on the York County Council for 10 years, is the chaplain for the 6th Regiment and one of the organizers of the annual Civil War reenactment at Historic Brattonsville. He took some time to speak with us regarding the cancellation that was recently announced by Carey Tilley, executive director of Culture and Heritage Museums (Check back for Tilley’s interview next week). The cancellation is out of concern for the safety of visitors and reenactors with the current political climate and the fact a battle did not take place there. Short, other reenactors, and residents are extremely disappointed about the announcement.
The reenactment has been held for the past three decades at the former plantation that hosts By the Sweat of Our Brows in September and the upcoming Spirits & Stories each year. While the former plantation did enslave African-Americans, there was not a Civil War battle or skirmish at that location. Residents say that it doesn’t matter. What they find important is that such reenactments accurately illustrate the realities of war and its aftermath as well as how people lived in the 1800s, often with demonstrations.
Despite a Civil War battle not occurring at the site, the Bratton family has close ties to the war. J. Rufus Bratton joined the Confederate Army as an assistant surgeon in April of 1861, the opening month of the Civil War. He was placed in charge of the Fourth Division of the Winder Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, where he served three years and was promoted to the rank of surgeon. On April 28 and 29 of 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was fleeing Union forces and came through Yorkville, and Bratton hosted Davis and two of his aides.
Life on the Battlefield
Rock Hill Reader (RHR): You’re a chaplain during reenactments, are you a religious figure in everyday life?
Mike Short (MS): I am an ordained Baptist minister.
RHR: Chaplain is an interesting position since we normally think of cannons and muskets when we think of the Civil War and current day educational demonstrations. What percentage of reenacting is warfare vs. demonstrations on the way of life during the mid-1800s?
MS: At most reenactments, the battle scenario will last 45 to 60 minutes on Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the time is dedicated to a wide variety of representations of life in the 1860’s from cooking, to fashion, to spinning, hobbies (archery for example), and all sorts of civilian activities. All that I’ve attended have a period church service on Sunday (most times conducted by me). Civilian men, women, and children are very active throughout the site. Part of our plan this year at Brattonsville was to have original items from the SC Relic Room (museum in Columbia) on site which was to include the original flag used by the 6th Regiment during the war. Prior to this many of these items could only be seen by visiting the museum in Columbia.
RHR: Do you or any of the reenactors get any kind of compensation for this event?
MS: Reenactors are not compensated for this or any event. At most events, there are small payments (bounties) to the artillery groups to defray the cost of black powder (which is quite expensive when you consider that the artillery is firing from 8 to 16 oz each time they fire). Generally, this is $100 per gun and does not begin to cover the cost of the powder spent.
No other reenactors are paid and all of the gear, weapons, clothing, and tentage you see at an event are at the expense of the reenactor.
Also, the participants pay for all of their travel expense to an event. This year we already had commitments from reenactors from as far away as NJ and Fl to be at the event.
RHR: Do you, or any of your fellow reenactors have concerns for safety regarding reenactments?
MS: Our safety concerns are generally concerned with the proper use of the weapons we use on the field during a battle scenario. We train diligently so as to avoid any issues that could occur. As far as concerns from outside agitators we do consider the possibility but have not let that interfere with our activities or presentations.
RHR: Were you or any in your organization met with before the decision to cancel came down to you?
MS: We (the 6th Regiment) have been meeting with the Staff of Brattonsville on a regular basis for close to a year for event planning purposes. After the events in Charlottesville and the cancellation of a reenactment in Manassas Va soon after that event, the possibility of cancellation did come up in our next meeting. We discussed what possible problems might arise and how they could be handled and concluded that we would continue planning for the event assuming that it would take place.
RHR: Was there any contact or compromises attempted between the Culture & Heritage Folks and organizers of the 6th regiment?
MS: There were no compromises discussed that I am aware of but in discussions with Carey Tilley I advised him that it would be a bad idea to cancel the event. Last year (2016) there were threats of protesters showing up, prompted by an article written by Andrew Dys of the Herald, but those protests never materialized and the event went off without incident. There were no credible threats this year and we did not anticipate that any would materialize but planning for the possibility was a good idea.
RHR: Will you, have you, or can you seek another venue?
MS: There are discussions taking place right now. Perhaps our best alternative is to move to privately owned land but that has yet to be determined.
RHR: Has anyone reached out offering anything in terms of another venue?
MS: Yes, almost immediately upon the notice of the cancellation. However, logistically, it would be very difficult to do the things necessary to have an event this year.
Public Reaction and History
RHR: What have you heard from the public regarding the cancellation and the reasons for it?
MS: There are some very, very disappointed people. There are some very, very angry people.
There are some who support the decision to cancel the event but from what I have read and been told personally it runs about 10 – 1 in disappointment.
Interestingly, some of those who are in favor of cancellation have mentioned that there was never a Civil War battle on that site as a reason for cancellation. That is true, there never was a Civil War event there and we have always made it a point to share that with the public in our pre-battle announcements. The idea is that we are not reenacting an actual York County event but a generic skirmish so we can give the public an idea of what occurred throughout the south during the war.
RHR: Just to clarify, are reenactors all Sons of Confederate Veterans members or are some huge history buffs?
MS: I would say that most reenactors (this includes women and children) are not members of the SCV but many are. The organizations are not related.
We have never represented that the event was an actual depiction of an occurrence in York County. Our goal is educational, an opportunity for the public to experience the life and times of the 1860’s. Mike Short, former York County Council member and chairman
MS: I do the public announcements just prior to the battles and it has always been emphasized that no battle of the Civil War happen at Brattonsville. There are reenactments all over the world (a member of our group is German) and he participates in Civil War reenactments in Germany. There are events in Illinois and other northern states where no battles occurred. Having this type of event at Brattonsville gave the general public an opportunity to experience the times for themselves without having to travel hundreds of miles.
RHR: What would you like the public to consider?
MS: History is history. You don’t have to like what happened but it is imperative that we study what happened in order to prevent it from happening again. Some history is good, some is bad, and some is down-right ugly. If, through reenacting, we can encourage anyone to study their history and the stories of their families and learn from those stories, then we have accomplished our goal. Look at it for what it is and form your own opinions based on knowledge and not on what someone has told you.