First Lieutenant John Beatty can more than simply imagine himself donning a crisp blue Union uniform and marching off to a Civil War battlefield.
Bringing up his six, three-inch ordinance rifles, Beatty barks out orders and the six men working each of his battery cannons fires a half-pound of cannon grade black powder. Then they swab the cannons and begin the process again, as the battle surges back and forth in towns and villages made famous by the war that rocked America from 1861 to 1865.
Beatty isn’t dreaming when he hears the cannons roar around him and watches artillery pieces, cavalry and infantry from both the Union and Confederate sides trading blows under a sizzling summer sun.
Covered in wool and sweating uncomfortably and profusely, Beatty’s having the time of his life, like thousands of other patriotic Americans nationwide, living the life of a Civil War re-enactor.
For the past 18 years, Beatty, 58, Lockport High School’s veteran girls varsity tennis coach and a district teacher for more than 35 years, has been a Civil War re-enactor with Reynolds’ Battery L, 1st N.Y. Light Artillery.
“I’ve always been interested in the Civil War,” he said, while talking about visiting Gettysburg for the first time as a third grader. “Today, my wife likes to say that I’ve been to every ‘Burg east of the Mississippi.”
Beatty’s interest in becoming a re-enactor — people who dress in Civil War era uniforms and other clothing and stage mock battles with muskets, cannons and cavalry units — peaked in the mid-1990s.
“I had already filled out papers to join the 155th New York infantry in Buffalo, then I went to a Canalfest weekend and Reynolds’ Battery came and were set up along the canal for a little show and tell. I started talking to them and they convinced me to join,” Beatty said.
If you’re interested in becoming a Civil War re-enactor, the first thing you’re going to need is a uniform, but there’s not a thing to worry about there. There are a variety of ways, including websites. Go to the Reynolds Battery website for more information at reynoldsbattery.org.
Basically, members of Reynolds’ Battery wear navy blue jackets over kersey or sky blue trousers, topped with a kepi and with feet covered by brogans (one shape boot, no left or right).
And before you get too comfortable in your crisp new uniform, remember that it’s all made of worsted (heavy weave) wool and in the summertime, that immediately translates to unpleasantness. And as Beatty points out, it’s much easier for re-enactors to stay hydrated today than it was for the Civil War soldier of 1861 to 1865.
“In the summertime, they are as bad as you might think they are,” Beatty said of the uniforms. “The thing is to stay hydrated. In fact, I’m getting hydrated this week for a re-enactment I plan on participating in next week.”
You also need to know what branch you want to get into and what accoutrements you’ll need for that particular soldier. For example, the least expensive branch is the infantry so all you’ll need to buy besides the uniform is your musket. If you join the cavalry, you’ll need a horse and if you join the artillery, like Beatty did, you’ll need to find someone with an artillery piece.
Reynolds Battery is represented by two flags, one commissioned by the Women of Rochester and a guidon swallowtail, with red and white colors designating the unit as artillery. They fire 3-inch ordinance rifles that they make themselves, using a half-pound cannon grade black powder (blank). In the Civil War, these weapons fired three types of shells, solid shot, case shot and canister.
Beatty, who started as a private, is today a First Lieutenant (second in charge) in Reynolds Battery L, which comprises 76 members and is the state’s largest re-enactors artillery unit. Also in that unit is Lockport’s Rick Chapman.
Annually, the unit begins its re-enacting season during the first week in May and generally goes through to the end of September. Beginning in 2011, the summers have been especially special to CW re-enactors who are traveling throughout the country to participate in the 150th anniversaries of the some of the war’s greatest battles.
Last year, Reynolds Battery L was fighting around a little creek called Bull Run, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Manassas. This September, the group will celebrate the same anniversary at another small creek called Antietam in Sharpsburg, Md.
Next year is the biggest of them all, with the three day battle of Gettysburg celebrating its 150th on July 1 to 3, 2013. Like those brave union soldiers of yesterday who had a call to duty, Beatty and his troops feel it’s their duty to be there and to remember the courage and unheard of sacrifice men and women exhibited in those troubled times.
“The Civil War soldier was a very patriotic person. Our version of war today tends to be industrialized or politicized. Reading so many of their journals, I think a lot of them felt it was their duty to fight in this war. There were very little desertions. They had hardships, but they stepped up and did what they thought was right.”
Beatty’s exploits has landed him and many of his fellow re-enactors in acclaimed Civil War films that include Gods and Generals, working with acting greats like Stephen Lang, who played Stonewall Jackson in that film and also played General George Pickett in the movie Gettysburg (Killer Angels).
Jackson and Pickett aside, Batty’s two favorite Civil War generals are John Reynolds and Winfield Scott Hancock.
A Lockport native, Beatty has been married to the former Sandy Gardner of Lockport for the past 37 years. They have two daughters, Allison, 28; and Jillian, 25.
Contact US&J sports editor John D’Onofrio at 439-9222 ext. 6247.