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Project is a labor of love for history
Group of re-enactors rebuilding Civil War huts used by Gen. McGowan's soldiers at Montpelier

 Rain falls yesterday as Civil War re-enactors Joseph Drobinski (left) and Troy Fallin build huts like those used by soldiers at Montpelier during the winter of 1863-64.
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Date published: 8/16/2010


For the past two years, re-enactors from the 3rd Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia have been hauling cut trees and using Civil War-era tools to reconstruct huts used in the winter of 1863-64 by Gen. Samuel McGowan's South Carolina soldiers.

For one day a month they drove to James Madison's Montpelier, to forest land behind the Gilmore Cabin, to labor overnight reconstructing the huts that gave shelter to soldiers during the downtime of winter.

Yesterday, regiment members T.J. Bartel, his son Evan, and Troy Fallin were on site taking a lunch break after hours of chopping, shaving and hauling cut hardwood.

"It's quite the experience to drag logs through the woods," Bartel said.

The re-enactors started work after Montpelier's chief archeologist, Matt Reeves, approached them about helping reconstruct the Civil War huts. Reeves had done an archeological survey and was able to determine the locations of the 12- by 12-foot structures.

"He was instrumental in getting this whole thing going," Fallin said.

They've battled the elements--several major snowstorms this past winter and a very humid summer--along with termites, ants and hordes of bees and hornets.

For most of the work, they've used Civil War-era tools such as axes, hatchets, chisels, two-man saws and hammers.

Bartel and Fallin said the work has provided insight into how Civil War soldiers worked on the huts during the toughest conditions. Their first day on the job had freezing temperatures.

"This was a new facet, to experience what they did and what they went through," Bartel said.

The huts are not the most comfortable places to sleep. The floors are dirt, and there are gaping holes between the logs that form the walls, but they served their purpose as shelter. Hot coals were brought inside to keep the inhabitants warm, and hut fires were all too common.

"It wasn't uncommon for one of these huts to catch fire once a day," Bartel said.

So far, one hut is completed, another is almost finished and a third is just under construction. The men plan to build at least eight huts and one chapel.

"We aren't ever going to stop," Fallin said. "Once we finish building them, they'll need regular maintenance and other work. This is going to be an ongoing thing."

Dan Telvock: 540/374-5438
Email: dtelvock@freelancestar.com