On a muggy July afternoon, a grizzly group of Civil War graycoats encamped on the creek bank of West Jefferson Park are fired volleys into the sky — clear warnings to advancing Yankee soldiers marching from the other side of the park.
Moments later, blue-coated Union soldiers wheeled their artillery unit into position and returned fire with a booming cannon shot that echoed down the hill towards the Confederate camp, causing a collective jolt among the Christmas in July Festival crowd on W. Main Street and Backstreet.
The ensuing rifle fire and cannon shots left none dead or wounded on either side of the battle, because the soldiers were firing blanks.
Civil War reenactors have long been a staple of the Christmas in July Festival, and they will return to West Jefferson Park for the festival’s 33rd running come Saturday, July 6, according to West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price.
David Chaltas, historian and educator — dressed in-character as General Lee — was last year’s de facto leader of a dozen Civil War reenactors, and he said the action is an up-close way to remind spectators of America’s past.
“This was just a typical skirmish that happened in these mountains and hills,” Chaltas said after the smoke cleared last year. “It wasn’t really a battle — a lot of times there was just a skirmish with no real name, and we’re discovering more of them every day.”
Chaltas said he had been at the last four Christmas in July Festivals, and he enjoys the crowd’s enthusiasm for learning Civil War history.
“In North Carolina — and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, southwest Virginia — they were fighting a lot of times almost daily,” Chaltas said. “It was brother against brother, because you had a side of the family that lived on one side of the holler that were rebels, the other side were federalists, and this was just a typical recreation of that moment.”
According to Chaltas, it is as important now as it ever has been to know United States history, because historical statues and memorials from the Civil War all the way up to World War I are being called into controversy.
“Everybody has a history, everybody has a story. We have a diverse country and we need to embrace everybody’s story, but not infringe upon hers’ or yours’ or mine, so that’s what we try to do,” Chaltas said. “We have to remember from the Revolutionary War all the way up to the current day — we have heroes among us.”
While some may wish to forget, or feel embarrassed about their history, Chaltas said it is imperative to remember the past for all it is worth, lest the next generation repeat mistakes of yesterday.
“We need to remember our history, not for me, but for this rising generation — our young kids that need to know the good, the bad and the ugly of American history,” Chaltas said. “I tell children all the time that you’ll never truly know who you are until you know who your ancestors were.”
To see what the Civil War reenactors are up to at the 33rd annual Christmas in July Festival, head behind the library to West Jefferson Park and catch some of the re-lived history in action Saturday, July 6.