Exhibition spotlights wartime camp life

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published February 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 27, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Jody Wright, right, and his mother, Mary Wright, unpack a Civil War-era firearm from Jody Wright’s collection. Pieces from his collection will be on display during the 10th annual Civil War Gun & Relic Show with Living History in Benton.

Weather permitting on Saturday, Robert Edwards will be cooking over a campfire outside the old Pilgrims Rest Church and Shoppach House on Main Street in Benton.

Edwards is not holding a barbecue, but as a leader in the Arkansas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he will recreate a scene from wartime camp life during the 10th annual Civil War Gun & Relic Show with Living History.

Edwards is a dedicated history researcher and re-enactor who goes by the motto of the SCV, “Defending their honor since 1896.”

Edwards said the show Saturday will honor the memory of men who went to war believing they were defending their homes.

“You cannot judge these men by today’s standards,” Edwards said in explaining the mission of the organization. “We try to preserve their history and honor them so we can remember never to let anything like this happen again.”

Edwards will join other members of the David O. Dodd Camp, or chapter, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the living history event. Dodd, a native of Saline County, was killed during the war.

The highlight of the event will be an exhibition of uniforms, belt buckles, buttons and weapons actually used during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1863.

“Nothing is a reproduction,” said Jody Wright of Benton. “They are all real items either kept by families after the war or found at battlefields.”

Wright said he and his brother Paul have found some things around the Jenkins Ferry Battlefield in Grant County and other locations.

“You can’t find much there anymore,” he said. “All the good stuff has been found over the years.”

Wright and his brother have accumulated a large collection of guns, pistols, knives, swords, buttons and plates from the war era.

Edwards said the brothers’ collection would rival or exceed that in some museum collections, including the one at the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

Some of the most valuable pieces are belt buckles that will be on display.

“There are buckles from the War of 1812, the Mexican War and the Civil War,” Wright said, pointing to a glass-top display case. “The most valuable piece might be this buckle used by soldiers from Virginia.”

The dark-metal buckle features the elements of Virginia’s state seal.

One of the newest additions to the collection is an item from the Arkansas Military Institute. The little-known school provided soldiers and at least four cannons to the war effort.

There will be displays of muskets and Civil War rifles in the church, and both Union and Confederate uniforms will be on display in the historic Shoppach House.

Wright recently purchased a uniform coat from the 13th Brooklyn (N.Y.) Regiment, a home-guard unit that operated from 1861 to 1863.

The blue-gray coat is trimmed in black with elaborate braids and buttons.

Jim Thompson of Benton, the current commander of the Dodd Camp, said he got involved in the re-creation of the Confederate Army life about eight years ago.

“My uncle got into digging through the family tree, and I found we had a lot of relatives who served in the war,” he said. “Plus, I love history.”

There are about 25 members of the camp in Saline County, Thompson said. He is looking for former members of other camps who might have moved into the area and is contacting members who are no longer active.

“Not a lot of people seem to care anymore,” Thompson said. “Some people get excited about it for a while, then drop out.”

The show and living history activities will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and go until 3 p.m. For more information, call Edwards at (501) 776-2056.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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