ROCKFORD — Despite Saturday’s chilly weather and the threat for some icy precipitation, history buffs and reenactors of all ages gathered for the ninth annual Civil War Battle and Living History Weekend at The Historic Village of Rockford. Several historical events were depicted throughout the weekend, including the Bond School House Shooting that took place near Deep Creek Friends Church in Yadkinville in 1863. Several descendants of the men involved in the shootout were present, one of whom actually portrayed his ancestor in the reenactment.
Phil Brown began researching his family genealogy in the late ’90s and discovered he was a descendant of James West, know as “Captain West,” who was killed in the Bond School House shootout. In 1996, Brown visited Yadkinville with his mother and spent time at several local cemeteries where their ancestors were buried. He also discovered a local history book that gave him more insight into his ancestry.
“I stumbled on Francis Casstevens’ book, ‘Yadkin County and the Civil War,’ and there was a picture of Jim West,” he said with tears in his eyes.
The Bond School House shootout involved a group of men, some of whom were Quakers, who were taking shelter from the cold in the empty school house. The men were hiding out in an attempt to avoid the Confederate conscription laws of the time and one or two had actually deserted from the Confederate army. The shootout began when a group of about 15 men from the local militia, lead by Justice of the Peace Capt. James West, learned of the hiding place and arrived to arrest the men.
The first reenactment of the Bond School House shootout took place last year on the 150th anniversary of the event, said organizer Greg Cheek, and it quickly became a highlight among event participants.
“The reenactors wanted to do it again, even if nobody showed up, they wanted to do this again,” Cheek told a group of at least 20 onlookers. “Hopefully we have added to the story a little bit since last year. We still feel like we don’t know everything about it, but we try to portray it the best we can. When you go away from here today, I hope that you’ll have a better feel for the gravity of what took place.”
Cheek gave the audience a brief overview of the history of the event and then history came to life as Brown, who portrayed West, lead his men to arrest the conscripts. The story unfolded slowly, as the militia men stop for water at the home of Daniel Vestal, where West is told by Vestal’s wife, “Thee will get thy head shot off thy shoulders.”
The words were prophetic indeed as West is the first to fall in the shootout that followed when the militia arrived at the school house.
“West approached the front of the school, banged on the door and shouted, ‘You’re all under arrest,’” explained Cheek. “This caught the men completely by surprise. When the door opened to reveal West, someone inside instinctively fired their gun.”
Panic ensued following the death of West and shots were fired by both the militia and the conscripts. Several of the conscripts fled out a window and the militia men, who had not been expecting much resistance, retreated. Four men were killed in the battle, two from each side and several more were wounded.
At the conclusion of the reenactment of the shootout, Cheek reminded the audience of the importance of remembering history.
“This is a local thing that happened and probably through the years there has been a lot of bad feelings come and gone,” he said. “Today we tried to give it our best to portray the story not with any judgments of those folks, but try to portray what we think happened. It was a mixed up day, it was a mixed up time. This was really tragic from a standpoint that four people were killed, several wounded, two on each side and these were all neighbors.”
The reenactors all gathered together and were applauded by the audience for the depiction of the historic and tragic event that happened 151 years ago on a snowy February day in Yadkin County.
Brown, who heard of the first reenactment of the Bond School House event after it happened last year, was honored to have the opportunity to portray his ancestor in this year’s event.
“This was an emotional event for me,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.”
Cheek, who began participating in reenactments in 2001, said it’s not only “fun” but a great way for younger generations to learn about history.
Many of the reenactors, like Cheek himself, discovered it later in life, but there were a number of younger participants as well.
“It’s really good to have the young fellows,” Cheek said. “You need another generation to keep the reenacting hobby going so you keep the history alive. We learn from our history, too. You learn about mistakes that were made and the good things, but you try not to repeat the mistakes, so I think it’s very important.”
As part of the weekend’s events at Rockford many of the reenactors camp on site and live just as the soldiers during the Civil War would have done. Being able to live this history was what the younger reenactors said they liked most.
While many teens are undoubtedly at the mall on a Saturday or staring at a video game or texting away on their smartphones, Tucker Corbin of Mount Airy, Wolfgang Landers of Hickory and Lucas Hamby of Winston-Salem, ages 14 to 15, were gathered around a fire pit in the center of the camp following the Bond School House reenactment. There were no iPhones in sight.
Landers was busy mending the sleeve of a union soldier’s jacket. The jacket belonged to his sergeant who had assigned him to the task.
Corbin had a sweet potato roasting in the embers of the fire. He said what he liked most about being a reenactor was being able to camp and “live like how they lived back then.”
Hamby also said that “just living the history” was his favorite part of being involved in this unique hobby.
Landers summed it all up, saying, “What I like about it most is it takes you back to a simpler time. Today we take things for granted, but back then people didn’t have the things we have today. They didn’t even know about germs or modern medicine. I learn so much about it in books and movies, but I thought to myself, I want to go beyond the pages of a book. I want to go beyond the screen of a movie. I want to actually live this.”
Kitsey E. Burns can be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.