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Reenactors continue tradition

Civil War
Nov. 04, 2012 @ 10:20 PM

HUNTINGTON -- There's no question that battle reenactments of the 1861 raid on Guyandotte draw a crowd. Small children, seniors and hundreds of people all ages in between line the street and crane their necks to see the first horses approach and hear the first cannon fire.

"Where are the Army guys?" a little boy asks his father as the action begins.

It's simply tradition, and 2012 was no different, said Jeanne Wray, president of the Guyandotte Civil War Days organization, which puts on Thunder in the Village annually in remembrance of a series of a events that tore the town apart and left much of it burned to the ground.

There were some reenactors who couldn't make it because of Hurricane Sandy, but otherwise, the 23rd annual event turned out to be another success, Wray said.

"It's been a wonderful weekend," she said. "We've had amazing comments from the public and the reenactors."

It's watching the young people learn history that she likes the most, particularly the boys in the Western Virginia Military Academy and the girls in Lizzie Cabell's Finishing School for Young Ladies, both organizations that teach kids about the way of life in the 1860s and prepare them to become reenactors themselves.

She said she was grinning "from ear to ear" as she watched the boys politely approach the girls at a formal ball Saturday, and escort them to the dance floor.

"To me, that's hope that this hobby we call reenacting is not going to die and that the memory of the people who made sacrifices will not be forgotten," she said.

Guyandotte Civil War Days featured several days of events, including lectures, a school program, haunted history tours, battle reenactments, a book sale, memorial and church services and, this year, a special traveling "Civil War 150" exhibit at the Guyandotte library.

Mary Davis came from Salem, W.Va., to participate in the event, as a merchant selling hoop slips and 1860s-era dresses in Sutler Row, the retail portion of the encampment. She sells items not only to other reenactors but to spectators as well.

"We enjoy the history," she said.

For Danette Gurganious of Hinton, W.Va. -- who has been participating in Guyandotte Civil War Days for 10 years now -- reenacting is a way to try to set the record straight.

She portrays Nancy Hart of the Moccasin Rangers. Hart was a Confederate Spy from Wirt County, W.Va., and Gurganious wants to paint a more favorable picture for her and others who were defending their southern homes.

"They're not teaching the truth about the reasons for the conflict," Gurganious said. "They're making us out to be bad guys. ... To the victor goes the writing of history, but a lot of the troops were just fighting for their homeland. I honor my ancestors by teaching the truth."

Nancy Woodall came out Sunday to see her grandson, who was helping with the event with his Boy Scout troop. But she comes every year.

"I was born and raised in Guyandotte," she said. "We come every year. We don't miss it. It's great -- worth seeing -- and it's so educational for these kids."

By January, the group that puts it on will be planning next year's event, and Wray invites all historians who'd like to participate to come out for the meetings, held on the third Thursday of each month (except December) at VFW Post 9738, located at 227 Main St. in Guyandotte.

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