Chaos. Dirt. Duty. Shoulder to shoulder, brother to brother, charging forth to defend their rights.
This is how the American Civil War was fought from 1861-65 and why David Scroggins participates in what he calls “living history.”
Scroggins’ great-great-grandfather, Pvt. James Edward Scroggins, fought for the Confederate States of America, but today David Scroggins dons either Rebel gray or Union blue uniforms. For he and other reenactors, history must be portrayed accurately — right down to the number of soldiers wearing blue and gray.
“We wear both uniforms to honor both sides,” said Scroggins, Bullock County Farmers Federation vice president.
A 62-year-old poultry farmer from the Smuteye community near Union Springs, Scroggins is a self-proclaimed history nut who began reenacting 25 years ago. His fascination began after his son’s school trip to the Battle of Selma and flourished with time.
“I’ve been in battles as infantry when it felt real, except that bullets weren’t flying,” said Scroggins. “You can really move into another world.”
Scroggins’ wife of 41 years, Cathy, attends reenactments, too. The children, son, Dave and daughter, Ruth, grew up around the hobby and occasionally still attend as do the Scroggins’ grandchildren.
Scroggins’ unit, the 53rd Alabama Cavalry, has seven reenactors, including him, whose ancestors fought alongside each other. Others are Scott Chandler, Danny and Seth Clemmons, Russell Johnson, Bob McLendon and Joe Murphy.
McLendon’s great-grandfather, Jonathan D. McLendon, was from Pike County. After retiring from a Florida sheriff’s department in 2002, McLendon moved to the Henderson community near his family’s homestead.
“These are my roots,” said McLendon, a 34-year reenactor. “That’s why I came back here.”
Scroggins said he couldn’t fathom sacrifices made by his ancestors, much less surviving four years of bloody, dirty warfare.
“We can’t figure out how they did it; how they survived,” Scroggins said. “When charging the Union fortifications at Franklin, Tennessee, which were about a mile long, death was eminent and they did it anyway.”
Scroggins began reenacting in the infantry, but his true love is cavalry. Unsatisfied with merely riding in the mounted unit, he started making replica saddles five years ago.
Self taught, Scroggins buys the saddle foundation (tree) and covers it in leather, which usually takes 15 hours. To date, he’s made 10 hand-sewn saddles used by others cavalry members.
Reenactments require authenticity, said Scroggins. His authentic uniform of heavy wool fabric includes bone buttons and hand-stitched buttonholes. Tack for his horse is authentic, too, with a hand-forged bit and buckles plus his own hand-stitched saddle.
Soldiers’ supplies consisted of what they could carry and were government issued. Guns, horses, boots and food were sparse during the war. Survival was day-by-day, hour-by-hour.
McLendon said three levels of reenactors exist – mainstream, progressive and campaigners. The intensity and eye for detail increases with each level. Die-hard reenactors eat, drink and sleep as their ancestors of the era did.
For McLendon and other campaigners, there isn’t a Coca-Cola can, iPhone or gas grill found at their campsite.
“If it wasn’t done in 1864, we don’t do it,” said McLendon, 72.
To Johnson, 35, reenactments represent heritage, sacrifice and his ancestors’ courage.
“We represent not just Civil War history, but Southern history,” said Johnson, who portrays a courier or messenger – just like his ancestor William Youngblood. “At the Battle of Chickamauga reenactment, I did exactly what he did 150 years ago to the day.”
Countless hours researching history and genealogy for reenactments impacts all of Johnson’s life, including his year-old son, James Youngblood Johnson, named for a Civil War ancestor.
“We immerse ourselves in all of the facts whether we like them or not,” said Johnson, an owner of Coastal Plain Land & Timber Co. in Pike County. “When I take to the field reenacting, I owe it to the men in my family to portray it exactly as it was.”
McLendon and Scroggins said they feel the same.
“I’m as Southern as anyone you’ll find, but when I put on that blue uniform, I act like a Yankee,” McLendon said.
Immense passion for their heritage causes Scroggins, McLendon and Johnson to give time to historical preservation. That greatly impacts their feelings about the United States.
“It’s 2015. I’m an American. I’m proud of this country and the service my family did,” said Johnson, whose ancestors fought in every American war since the Civil War. “Part of my heritage is that my family fought for what they believed in. I owe my ancestors the truth of how they acted and why they fought.”