City to host Ohio's largest Civil War re-enactment
As a retired firefighter and paramedic, Peter D'Onofrio cared for his share of patients.
Now, the Pataskala man spends many weekends as a Civil War surgeon on recreated battlefields where hundreds of re-enactors bring history to life.
His group of enthusiasts, the Society of Civil War Surgeons and the 5th Kentucky Infantry, Company B, will set up camp in Reynoldsburg on Saturday and Sunday, June 23-24, in Civic Park, 6800 Daugherty Drive, in what's become the largest Civil War event in the state.
"We really give people a sense of history and what it was like back then," D'Onofrio said. "Times were so different in the way people lived and why the soldiers fought, regardless of what side they were on."
Now in its seventh year, the free weekend event, which started out as part of the Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival, draws close to 400 re-enactors from Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland and as many as 4,000 visitors.
Besides three simulated battles, spectators can tour cavalry, infantry, artillery and medical camps, view the soldiers' life on the battlefield and talk military strategy with President Abraham Lincoln, President Jefferson Davis and generals U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee and William Sherman, an Ohio native.
Many merchants will be selling period wares.
Nearly all the re-enactors will be camping at the site, which requires the Reynoldsburg Parks and Recreation Department to help set up electricity, water, portable toilets, firewood, Dumpsters and bleachers for spectators.
"It's really interesting to learn about this time period and see it come to life," Parks and Recreation secretary Mary Beth Hudson said. "Besides the battles, spectators can take part in the Saturday evening dance and there's even a mock battle for children, which is something a lot of re-enactments don't do."
Park rental fees are waived for the weekend.
"If we weren't allowed to have the event there, it would cost a substantial amount to have it elsewhere," D'Onofrio said.
Re-enacting the Civil War, which grew in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s, began even before the real fighting ended as veterans recreated battles as a way to remember their fallen comrades.
In 1913, more than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The 135th anniversary of the battle drew as many as 40,000 re-enactors and 50,000 spectators. It is considered to be the largest re-enactment ever held anywhere in the world.
"We're in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and we're seeing a lot more local re-enactments," D'Onofrio said. "There will be some major ones. In September, there's the 150th anniversary of Antietam, and Perryville in Kentucky will be re-enacted on the actual site because it's a state park."
Battle re-enactments are not permitted on National Park Service land.