The Vienna reenactment on May 21 put the political and social history of the war front and center. I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I found confirmed my longstanding support for living history. Just as Craig Swain pointed out the other day, I too am glad to see that community groups and other organizations are looking at unique ways to commemorate the Sesquicentennial. The sponsoring organizations held the event at the restored Lydecker's (now Freeman) Store, where the actual vote took place 150 years ago. A commentator kicked off the commemoration by discussing the history of the vote on the Ordinance in Fairfax and Vienna. The only omission was the failure to explore claims of intimidation and irregularities that plagued the voting that day in Fairfax and across the Commonwealth.
After the introductory remarks, the commentator turned the "stage" over to reenactors outfitted in 1860s-era civilian costumes. Each civilian stood on Lydecker's porch and gave a brief speech as to why he was for or against secession, while reenactors planted in the crowd yelled insults. (I suppose this taunting represented intimidation, although it seemed at times aimed at getting laughs from the audience.) All major views on secession in Fairfax were represented. A Northern transplant, who was also the election commissioner, opposed secession out of commitment to Union and family ties. He stood on the porch and engaged others in debate. A native Virginian joined him in opposing the Ordinance over fears that war would bring economic ruin to the region.
|The election commissioner and Northern transplant (Peter Hendrick) debates with a pro-secession tobacco farmer (Ernest Birdsong).|
|A hotheaded secessionist (Charles Adams) makes his views known.|
The pro-secession vote ran the gamut. A tobacco farmer explained his anger over Lincoln's call for volunteers and his worry about the future of slavery under the Republican party. A few others spoke about their overriding and unquestioning loyalty to Virginia. The village drunk stumbled onto the porch, whiskey in hand, and proclaimed his support for the South.
|A Unionist farmer (Eric Owens) casts his vote against the Ordinance.|
The organizers had three reenactments throughout the day, and all were well attended. Given that the Freeman House is located right off the W&OD Trail and busy Church Street, quite a few passers-by were drawn to the event, along with the usual crew of history enthusiasts. The reenactment explored the complexities of secession in Fairfax by bringing the vote alive for a modern audience. More than a few audience members likely walked away with a better understanding of what secession meant to the inhabitants of Fairfax 150 years ago. Now that is living history worth commending.