Some of the members of the Black Horse Cavalry, also known as the 4th Virginia Company H, sat in camp chairs in the shade of a large tree at Manassas Battlefield Park on Saturday and smoked cigars while they talked. Others lay supine on the grass with their hats over their faces and snored.
Their horses, tied to a picket rope nearby, munched on grass as flies buzzed.
The men were taking a break from the war demonstrations and cavalry charges they had executed earlier for park visitors.
The members of the Black Horse Cavalry participate in about eight events annually like the one this weekend commemorating the 141st anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas.
On July 21, 1861, Confederate forces routed Union troops. The battle belied the popular conception that the war would be a quick one.
The men, who normally hold jobs as financial planners, project managers, aircraft company executives and farm supply company managers admit they like dressing up like Civil War soldiers so they can hang out with their friends and their horses.
But their mission is to help modern Americans understand the magnitude of the Civil War.
Black Horse trooper Tony Mallory said the activity is near to their hearts.
“What we’re doing right here is just as important to us as everything else we do. The people that come out to watch this thing are going to come out with a better awareness of the Civil War and a better awareness of their history,” Mallory said.
Gregg Jones of Manassas has been re-enacting since he was 11 years old. He, like the other troopers of the Black Horse Cavalry, has become an expert over the years, answering just about any question anyone could ask about the period.
“After 40 years of doing this,” Jones said, “I really think people don’t realize how much combat occurred around here.”
Jones, a project manager, said the land in the region changed hands, from the Confederacy to the Union and back again several time during the war.
“They fought over every inchof land from Alexandria to Richmond,” Jones, 52, said.
If someone asked, the men would be prepared to talk of the technical and social innovations which were conceived and implemented during the Civil War.
Trooper Jim Rowe said that coffee replaced tea as the favored hot drink in America and women first served — officially — in the civil services and hospital corps in both armies.
Repeating rifles, canned food, land mines, sea mines, submarines and machine guns were invented during the Civil War, and the federal income tax came into existence, said Rowe.
“Lincoln put in the income tax to finance the war,” Rowe, 48, said.
One of the early industrial uses of the sewing machine in America was to sew satin around the brims of hats, Rowe said.
Terry Treat, the group’s commander, said modern armies are still organized in ways conceived in the Civil War.
“Much of the modern army’s field and medical corps structure was put in place in the Civil War.”
Rowe said the Union and Confederate armies first made use of the railways to strategically move troops during the Civil War, and the average cavalry man was 23 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds.
The re-enactors admitted that the most common questions asked by visitors are about their horses and their clothes.
People want to know if the men are hot in their woolen clothes, they want permission to pet the horses and they also want to know the horses’ names, Treat said.
The re-enactors will give a cavalry demonstration at the Manassas Battlefield Park today at 10 a.m.
Civil War re-enactors will also attend demonstrations at Leesylvania State Park along the Potomac River in Woodbridge today.
The camp will open at 10 a.m.
At 2 p.m. at Leesylvania, living-history interpreters will provide fife and drum music. Soldiers will hold drill instruction at 3 p.m. and firing demonstrations an hour later.
Admission to Leesylvania State Park is $4 per vehicle.
Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.