Civil War re-enactors visit Aiken
David Chaltas and Danny Bruckner have been portraying generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson respectively for 12 years and have been involved in re-enactments much longer. According to Aiken County Historical Museum director Elliott Levy, the two are asked for all over the country for their portrayal of the two generals.
Chaltas and Bruckner came to Aiken for both the prayer breakfast that the Sons of Confederate Veterans held Saturday morning, as well as walking through downtown on Laurens Street greeting people and taking pictures. They ended the day with a dinner to celebrate the generals’ birthdays, which were Jan. 19, 1807, for Lee and Jan. 21, 1824, for Jackson.
According to Levy, dressing up as these generals isn’t just simply about putting on the uniforms.
“They study the figures,” Levy said. “They are true historians. People are constantly trying to prove them wrong in what they say, and they make sure that doesn’t happen. ... They become real life characters – people that are no longer just a place in a book.”
For Chaltas, when he puts on that uniform, he becomes Lee, according to Levy.
“He is in charge of representing him. The Lee family thanks him. He gives a true representation that the family endorses,” Levy said.
Chaltas, who is from Kentucky, said that he was honored to be in Aiken County.
“The reception was so humbling,” Chaltas said. “We walked through downtown, and many people wanted to take pictures with us. I am thrilled to be here. I could spend months here. ... The good Lord has blessed me.”
Chaltas is a history teacher, which is one of the reasons why he is so passionate about history.
“It’s a passion for me,” he said. “I go into schools and teach people. We want to portray our histories. We learn from our past mistakes so we don’t repeat them again.”
The reason for the re-enactments in part is to learn where we come from.
“The nation wouldn’t know who we are until we know who our ancestors are,” Chaltas said. “In turning this nation around, these heroes need to be recognized. God created the veterans and the veterans gave us this freedom.”
This dinner not only was to celebrate the generals’ birthdays but also to bring awareness for the 150th anniversary of the War between the States and the upcoming Battle of Aiken, according to Levy.
“This is a time-honored tradition that the Sons of Confederate Veterans do every year,” said Wayne Jones, who portrayed Gen. Jeb Stuart. “I hope this format will spread throughout the state with the program – everything is done based on historical fact. Ultimately, I hope this will bring awareness, teach and educate people as well as fellowship and reunion.”
Aiken County had an important role in the war. The materials made at the paper mill in Graniteville went toward helping with the uniforms, newspapers and currency.
“The idea that it happened here ... to not tell that history would be missing an important part,” Levy said. “There were many passionate people involved because of what they believed in and that story shouldn’t be pushed away, but told.”
Jones worked with Ken Temples to pull the dinner and the prayer breakfast together. The prayer breakfast was started eight years and has spread throughout the state.
“This is a chance for me to honor my ancestors,” Jones said. “It gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to them for what they did for us. If you don’t understand where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going.”
Chaplain Alan Farley, a missionary from Virginia, was the guest speaker for the night and was there to talk about Lee and Jackson and their beliefs.
He said Lee and Jackson were great military leaders and are mentioned alongside Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Hannibal. Although they were all great military leaders, Farley said that having a great military reputation doesn’t make for a moral reputation.
“This was not the case for Lee and Jackson. They exemplified many Christian characteristics. They were both Christians, and their devotion to their nation was only surpassed by their devotion to Jesus Christ,” Farley said.
He mentioned a quote from Lee that summed up his faith.
“‘I’m nothing but a poor sinner trusting in God for salvation.’ This moved him in everything he did and said. He tirelessly promoted the gospel and was always found praying before battle,” Farley said.
Jackson also displayed his devotion to his Christian faith.
“He prayed for a minimum of three hours to know what to do in the upcoming battle,” Farley said. “He funded the first Sunday School for blacks and sent back offerings to the Sunday school while he was off fighting in battles. Jackson’s heart’s desire was to be a missionary in Africa.”
He closed his speech saying that, “we should admire and emulate their Christian character.”