Keeping History Alive
Story by SPC John Irish on 05/20/2018
It was a stifling muggy day in Upper St. Clair during the town's annual community day event. The men of Knap's Independent Battery "E," a Civil War reenactment group from southwestern Pennsylvania, toiled in their wool attire, preparing their gun and camp for a shooting demonstration. Their presence worked to reel the attention in of the onlookers at the event for the Fulton Log House nearby, a historical site that teaches the history of the area.
Taking in the day, James Sims, a native of Greensburg, Pa., sat with his gaze resting on the field nearby. Cracking a roasted peanut, he recalled when he first became involved in reenacting 29 years ago. It was when he was stationed at Fort AP Hill, Va. Sims always had an interest in history that coupled with his background in the U.S. Army as an artillery crewmen, which set him down the road to Knap's Battery.
"I knew I wanted to do an artillery impression, so I found a local Pittsburgh reenacting group that had Pittsburgh lineage and history," said Sims.
Sims is an unofficial operations point in Knap's Battery. He said he likes to organize the events more than the artillery itself. However, he likes the history the most. As for the events, the larger ones are easier to recall. Artillery will always be set up on a hill top and it provides a vantage point that lets us take in how big the events really are.
"It's impressive, they're all volunteer," said Sims. "Nobody is out here getting paid."
Another reenactor in Knap's Battery is Mike Woodburn, from Pittsburgh, who is also a history buff and found himself looking for more ways to explore history one day. Woodburn was a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh when he discovered the Battery in 2002.
"I was bored in the student union one day, Googling reenacting groups in Pittsburgh and found Knap's Battery," said Woodburn. "A couple months later I was abducted and indoctrinated."
With a chuckle, Woodburn recalled the day when he first met the men of the Battery. It was at the Crowne Plaza shopping center in Washington, Pa. He said it was a welcoming environment, everyone was eager to introduce themselves and show him around the equipment. Not too long after, in May of 2002, Woodburn was at his first event with Knap's Battery.
"They immediately put me right on the gun crew," He said. "It was pretty intense."
He had never heard a Civil War cannon fire before. He remembers feeling the concussion of the blast in his chest and was in love ever since. Woodburn said it's important going out and educating the public and participating in the reenactments and firing demonstrations. They do their best to make sure they honor the sacrifices the men and women who served in the Civil War made.
"If you really do this for the right reason and you're truly a history buff like most of us are," said Woodburn. "I think you really appreciate coming out and talking with the public and educating the public."
Knap's Battery's former captain used to say the group couldn't replicate what the people who died in the Civil War did. They could only honor what they did.
"I think it's important for us to come out here and make sure their sacrifices are not forgotten," said Woodburn.