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Winter of 1863-64 again
At James Madison's Montpelier, re-enactors are building huts similar to those used in an 1864 Civil War winter encampment

 Re-enactor Greg Kelly puts the roof on a hut like the ones that would have been used by Confederate troops during the winter of 1863-64.
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Date published: 8/17/2009


It's a short walk through an Orange County woods from the 21st century to the 19th.

That's what visitors to James Madison's Montpelier found yesterday if they followed their ears to the sounds of construction in a small clearing off U.S. 20.

There, a half-dozen men in hobnail brogans, wool trousers, linen shirts and forage caps toiled to build a log hut similar to one that sheltered Confederate soldiers encamped at Montpelier in the winter of 1863-64.

The men building the hut are Civil War re-enactors, and yesterday they sweated out a 90-degree afternoon using tools that would have been available at the time: hammers, axes, hatchets, a crosscut saw and chisels.

They're in the early stages of re-creating a winter camp similar to one that sheltered Gen. Samuel McGowan's South Carolinians early in 1864.

That cold January, about 1,500 troops camped at Montpelier, sleeping in log huts chinked and daubed against the wind. Officers' huts had planked roofs; enlisted men made do with canvas tent tops.

Each 12- by 12-foot hut had a fireplace and wooden chimney, and each would have been packed full at night, the men sleeping close to share body heat.

The huts were built in orderly rows covering about 5 acres, according to evidence archaeologists have uncovered in recent years.

Each hut had an adjacent pit from which clay was dug to daub spaces between logs, and into which the soldiers later dumped their trash, said Matthew Reeves, Montpelier's director of archaeology.

Now, just a hundred or so yards from the original campsite, re-enactors of the 3rd Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia, are creating a smaller version.

They began the work last December and have since cleared the site, felled trees for logs, and dragged, notched and hoisted those logs into place. An officer's hut is nearly complete, and two enlisted huts are in progress.

Much of the work has been done with modern tools and equipment. But yesterday, the re-enactors wanted to give Montpelier visitors a look at how it was done in 1864.

Troy Fallin, Greg Caton, Greg Kelly, Steve Blancard, Sam Blancard, Rob Lawson, T.J. Bartel and Evan Bartel wore the wool and wielded the hand tools.

A campfire smoked nearby, creating a mosquito-deterring haze.

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