Storm over Suffolk!

Published 10:21 pm Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cannon: Volunteers from the Petersburg National Battlefield representing Pegram’s Battery, a light artillery unit, fire a cannon from the parking lot behind Riddick’s Folly on Saturday during “Storm Over Suffolk,” the first of five different major events to be held commemorating the Civil War in Suffolk between now and 2015.

Men and boys line up to serve

Riddick’s Folly hosts event marking 150 years since Suffolk joined the Civil War

Hoop skirts and woolen uniforms were mixed in amongst T-shirts and shorts in downtown Suffolk on Saturday, as history buffs and the merely curious gathered for Storm over Suffolk, the first of five major planned events commemorating the impact of the Civil War in Suffolk.

Re-enactors: Confederate re-enactors march up Main Street on Saturday from Riddick’s Folly to the train station, recreating the event 150 years ago that occurred when many of the men of Suffolk mustered into the Confederate Army soon after the outbreak of the American Civil War.

There were cannons and horses, rifles and regimental colors, and it all culminated with a march up Main Street by re-enactors recreating the event 150 years ago when men and boys from Suffolk and the surrounding area answered the call of the Confederacy.

They were mustered into the Army at the judge’s chambers, next to Riddick’s Folly, checked out for general health concerns and then marched off to the train station and, ultimately, to war against the United States.

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Saturday’s event was intended to recreate the feel of that day, according to Mike Pullen, commander of the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and one of the organizers of the event, along with officials at Riddick’s Folly.

“We’ve had a good turnout,” he said Saturday. “It’s been good.”

While visitors toured the museum and took in the drama that had been planned for them there, participants outside were joined by curious children and adults who learned to march and line up in formation during drills in the parking lot behind the museum.

There were artillery demonstrations by the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues and by volunteers from Petersburg National Battlefield representing Pegram’s Battery.

“Kids can learn history all day long,” said Howard Helmer, who was with the Petersburg unit firing a National Park Service cannon throughout the day and then talking with curious children and adults between shots. “But when they can see it and touch it, it makes it more real.”

There was plenty to see and touch in and around Riddick’s Folly. Women in hoop skirts tended a display of vegetables on one table, while tents representing an encampment were set up next to a line of horses ridden later by re-enactors from the 13th Virginia Cavalry, I Company, also known as the Nansemond County Mounted.

The cavalry unit represented one that had comprised confederates from an area east of Waverly all along what is now Route 460 into Portsmouth. The group mustered into the Confederate Army in 1861 as part of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, but it soon moved into the 13th Cavalry under the leadership of Fitzhugh Lee.

Today, the re-enactors are commanded by Lt. Col. David Fay, and they participate in about 10 major battles per year. Their next big event will be a re-enactment of The Great Train Raid of 1861, commemorating one of the earliest Civil War operations in Virginia and the largest capture and removal of railway rolling stock and equipment during the entire war.

On Saturday, they escorted a small company of re-enactors to the train station, where they listened to a short address by Robert Archer, a member of the Tom Smith Camp and member of the Riddick’s Folly Board of Directors.

Archer, who portrayed the Rev. Williams, the 1861 rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Suffolk, presented the same sermon that Williams had delivered by the train station in 1861. The words are known, he said later, because they were printed in a Richmond newspaper after the Suffolk event.

“You go baptized with women’s tears and covered all over with women’s prayers,” he told the men assembled at the station as hoop-skirted women of all ages dabbed their eyes on the grass nearby.

This was the year for the Confederates in Suffolk, representing the short time that the South retained control of the city after Virginia seceded from the Union. The event will be held annually through 2015, but it will focus on a different aspect of the war each year, depending on what would have been happening 150 years earlier.

During the commemoration next year, according to the SCV’s Pullen, Union blues will be the only uniform in sight, as 150 years earlier the federal troops had seized the city and set up headquarters at Riddick’s Folly.

“This’ll pretty much be Yankees next year,” he said, looking around the grounds of the museum.