VIRGINIA CITY — Confederate soldiers wearily climbed off the train at the Virginia City depot Saturday. Returning from a fierce battle with Union soldiers in Gold Hill, the men and women in gray uniforms made their way to Miner’s Park for afternoon grub, to clean their guns, and to rest and regroup before the next battle.
“Those Yankees came and stole our gold again,” said “Confederate” telegraph operator George Schlegele.
Schlegele, a member of the Comstock Civil War Reenactors in Virginia City for Civil War Days, was one of a couple dozen volunteers in authentic Confederate uniforms who rode the V&T Railroad to Gold Hill where they were “attacked” by a company of Union soldiers in historically accurate blue uniforms.
Connor Edmonds, 10, from Roseville, Calif., rode the morning Battle Train on Saturday with his family.
“I like when they did the cannon,” he said. “The battle made some cool smoke.”
The realistic battles include pyrotechnic displays worthy of a Hollywood set, with real rifles and gun powder creating lots of explosions and smoke. A fireball created a realistic simulation of a magazine-storage site explosion.
By the end of the battle, most of the re-enactors were “dead” — at least until “recalled” to life for the next battle.
The Civil War Battle Train repeats five times over Labor Day weekend, plus a Street Battle on the main street of Virginia City following Monday’s Labor Day Parade. During some battles, the Confederate re-enactors are the defenders and in others, they attack the train.
In between battles, the soldiers retreat to their camp, where visitors can watch soldiers and civilian re-enactors go about their duties and learn about life in an 1860s military camp.
Civilians in the camp help care for the soldiers’ needs by cooking, doing laundry and patching clothes, explained Comstock Civil War Reenactor and civilian commander Rosemary Padgett..
Among the honored guests in the Civil War Encampment are General Robert E. Lee, played by Lynn Wheeler, and President Abraham Lincoln, played by Wayne Scott. Both men are related to the historical figures they portray.
“I was always made aware of my family relationship,” to Lee, said Wheeler, who became interested in the Civil War at an early age and began portraying Lee five years ago after someone commented on his resemblance to the general.
“Most people don’t know a lot about (Lee) or his personal life, just that he was the general in charge of the southern army. That’s why I display pictures and photos of him, family photos, so people can get a little bit more sense of what he was like as a person.”
Scott, who has been portraying Lincoln for 15 years, did not discover his family connection until he had been doing it for five years.
“I enjoy so much of it,“ he said. “Not to glorify war, but to educate the public about the personal sacrifice that our ancestors made so we can have the freedoms we enjoy. It’s more palatable than the classroom.”
Between the Civil War Encampment and the V&T Railroad Depot, stands a quiet tribute to another war.
The Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall stretches across the parking lot of the Silverland Inn & Suites where it will remain through Monday.
Reylene Meister, of Elko, walked the length of the dark wall etched with the names of the Americans who died during the Vietnam War, her camera rolling.
“I think that it’s so heartbreaking that so many were killed,” she said. “I’m the daughter of two vets and I really respect our soldiers.”
Virginia City’s Civil War Days, a fundraiser for the Comstock Civil War Reenactors, continues through Monday.
In addition to the Battle Trains, there will be a Victorian High Tea at 1 p.m. at the Delta Saloon and a special evening Champagne Battle Train at 6 p.m.
Monday, Virginia City hosts a Labor Day Parade at noon on C Street, followed by a Street Battle.
The Civil War Encampment continues through noon Monday and the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will be on display until Monday evening. Both are free.