Virginia Museum of the Civil War discontinues
Battle of New Market reenactment
By Colby Johnson
April 18, 2022, whsv.com
NEW MARKET, Va. (WHSV) - Since the 1970s, the Virginia Museum of the Civil War in New Market has hosted annual reenactments of the Battle of New Market on May 15. However, that tradition has come to an unceremonious end.
The museum has made the decision to permanently discontinue the reenactment.
This comes after the reenactment was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. The museum cited diminishing attendance numbers and rising costs over the last decade as two of the biggest reasons for its decision.
“It kind of seemed inevitable to us. We’ve been seeing not only fewer and fewer spectators each year for the reenactment, but we were seeing fewer and fewer reenactors as well. Even a lot of the guys that are local to here are starting to retire,” said Sarah Hebert, supervisor of historical interpretation for the Virginia Museum of the Civil War.
The museum said COVID-related funding and staffing shortages accelerated the decision, as well as a rise in safety issues at reenactments.
“Everybody’s dealing with funding issues. A lot of museums have closed because of COVID, and we’re fortunate to still be open. So, this just seemed like the right way to go. We’ll miss aspects of it, but we’re hoping we can do something in the future that brings more of an educational side,” said Hebert.
The museum still plans on performing living history events for the anniversary of the battle and will do so this year in May.
“We’ll do some artillery demonstrations and also just black powder demonstrations for folks to see the whole process of loading and firing a weapon and just how in-depth that is, and that’s something you kind of miss out on with a reenactment,” said Hebert.
Other educational events and programs will include period games and cooking demonstrations as well as interactive history activities for children.
“We’re able to bring more people back here, volunteers and staff, to kind of tell the whole story. It’s not just the battle itself. It’s the lead-up to the battle, how people prepared for it if you were in this area, and the aftermath as well,” said Hebert.
Elsewhere in New Market, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation scored a recent win in Richmond protecting a historic mill house in Winchester.
“During the third battle of Winchester that house was used as a hospital site. There are recorded statements by men who were treated there who came back after the war,” said Nicholas Picerno, Chairman Emeritus of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.
House Bill 1278 was signed into law by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. It authorized the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to turn the 38-acre property over to the foundation.
“We were able to demonstrate the historical significance of the property. We also believe there are probably still soldiers from the war that are buried on that property as well since it was a hospital site,” said Picerno.
The foundation will now be able to preserve and protect the historic property.
“Relic hunting will be illegal on the property. A law was passed last year that made relic hunting on property that is owned by a battlefield foundation illegal. It’s a class one misdemeanor,” said Picerno.
The foundation works to restore its properties to as close as it can to their appearance during the civil war. It also does archaeological work on them, and puts up interpretive markers to inform visitors about the property.
On May 14 and 15, on the same day as the anniversary of the Battle of New Market, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation will be hosting a living history event with battle recreations in McDowell, Virginia for the 160th anniversary of the Battle of McDowell.
As for the Battle of New Market, you can read the full statement from the museum on its decision to discontinue the reenactment below.
Since the early 1970s, New Market Battlefield State Historical Park has hosted one of the longest-running annual large-scale battle reenactments in the nation. However, for well over a decade we have witnessed diminishing numbers of spectators and participants while costs of the event have increased. In addition, providing for the safety of staff, spectators, and reenactors has become more complex. In response to a dramatic rise in documented issues at large reenactments, we have found it necessary to increase security efforts to address these potential threats.
Accordingly, we have determined to discontinue the annual May 15 reenactment. A series of public activities including tours, lectures and small scale, focused living history presentations, will mark the May 15 anniversary date of the Battle of New Market.
Changing interest, technology, and interpretive opportunities require us to re-direct our staff and resources toward new, innovative programming. Visitors to the park can look forward to educational events presented by skilled volunteer living historians many times throughout the year.
We will continue to be a venue for civilian and military living history which encourages one-on-one interaction between historical interpreters and visitors. We are committed to providing a meaningful and enjoyable experience for our visitors in their desire to understand life in Virginia during the Civil War.
Reenactors disappointed with discontinuation of New Market reenactment
By Colby Johnson
Apr. 19, 2022
NEW MARKET, Va. (WHSV) - Some civil war reenactors around the Valley are expressing their disappointment after the Virginia Museum of the Civil War made the decision to discontinue its annual reenactment of the Battle of New Market.
“This being canceled is upsetting to a lot of people because it’s a tradition, big time. It’s a tradition that really connects them to their personal and the history of this area,” said Mike Scheibe, a civil war reenactor living in New Market.
Scheibe has been a reenactor for 35 years and has participated in the Battle of New Market reenactment many times. He says he was saddened by the news of the reenactment being discontinued, but he wasn’t shocked as many people who have reenacted for years are now in their 60s and 70s.
“They have stopped doing events and with them, the numbers have diminished. Young people are not coming into the hobby at the rate they used to be,” said Scheibe.
The drop in reenactors is not unique to New Market. It’s something affecting living history events and reenactments across the U.S.
“I’m getting ready for an event here in Gettysburg this weekend and there used to be thousands of reenactors there, and now we’re lucky if we get a couple hundred on each side. It’s kind of sad to see how things are going,” said Trevor Ingram, a reenactor from Pennsylvania.
Ingram said he believes one reason for the decline in participation is the misconceptions surrounding reenactments.
“A major misconception is that anyone who dresses in Confederate gray is a racist of some sort or anything of the kind. We’re not out to glorify slavery, we’re there to tell a story and tell it properly the best we can,” he said.
The drop in participants, combined with safety concerns and rising costs, were the primary reasons for the end of the reenactment.
“If you have an event with more than 1,000 people you often have to carry very high levels of terrorism insurance. So if something happens there, if there’s some sort of an issue. There was a bomb at Cedar Creek a few years ago, if you have horses now the level of liability of someone getting hit with a horse drives the prices way up,” said Scheibe.
The ending of the reenactment is a disappointment for some who travel from all over the U.S. to participate.
“A lot of reenactments can get out of hand and the scenarios not be true to historical form but every time I’ve been to New Market it’s been on point. Very much the historic realism of this is what happened, this is how it happened,” said Trevor Ingram.
The annual event has also brought in a steady flow of visitors to the Town of New Market.
“Economically, exposure-wise, marketing-wise, and tourism-wise that reenactment is what drew everyone here in a big number all at once,” said Scheibe.
The event has also consistently been one of the busiest weekends of the year for businesses in the town.
“The local businesses and especially the businesses that count on these reenactments and living history are gonna get hurt. And in a time when we need more commerce, to be canceling these all over the country probably does more damage than good,” said John Krotec, a Civil War reenactor who lives in New Market.
One business that always saw a boost from the event was Southern Kitchen, a restaurant in the town.
“In the years before it was a really good thing for this business. It brought us a lot of return business because when people knew the battle was coming to town they prepared for it to come in,” said Cindy Reamer, a manager at Southern Kitchen who has worked at the restaurant for 42 years.
“It draws people from all over they get to see what we have to offer here, they get to see the battle, they get to see what the town offers. So it’s gonna be missed,” said Reamer.
John Krotec has been reenacting for over 20 years, but only recently moved to the Valley and was disappointed he won’t get a chance to be a part of the New Market reenactment.
“This Valley holds a special place in my heart because it was destroyed completely during the civil war and to see how the people have come back, generations of families. To see how much they respect their history is extraordinary and now not to be part of that at the level I thought, it makes it sad,” said Krotec.
Scheibe said while reenactor numbers are decreasing, public interest is not. He said that living history isn’t dying but it is changing.
“I stress for people if you miss the big reenactments go to some smaller events. You’re gonna get more hands-on history and you’ll learn more about what the civil war was really like at a smaller event than you will with all of the inaccuracies the big events sometimes bring,” he said.
For guys like Krotec, reenactments are about more than preserving Civil War history, it’s a display of what being an American is all about.
“Loving the country that you live in, fighting for something that’s much greater than yourself. To lose those reenactments is to lose a part of our history,” he said.