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Civil War Heritage Haunts Site Dedication

While running up and down the hills at the faux battles of Antietam, Appomattox and two New Market skirmishes, Heather Harris, 17, fights until she's out of ammunition and then plays dead. The Civil War re-enactor usually needs the rest about then.

"The musket weighs a lot," the Fairfax High School senior said. "You have to run up and down hills with it. Usually, I try not to take any hits unless I'm out of ammunition."

Heather was among a squad of Confederate soldiers who gathered on Saturday, Sept. 27, for Fairfax Station's "Annual Living History Day." This year, the event was coupled with a sign dedication, enlisting the Fairfax Station train station into the "Virginia Civil War Trails" series of historic sites. A roadside sign as well as a descriptive plaque at the Fairfax Station Civil War Museum mark the site.

"I've lived in the South all my life, I love the South," said Heather, who was unsure if her relatives participated in the War. "We've been trying to research it."

Lt. Walter Weart, an Alexandria resident with the 21st New Jersey re-enactment unit, has traced his lineage back to that unit. The 21st New Jersey was at Fairfax Station in August 1862 when the church was used as a triage area and Clara Barton founded the Red Cross. His family was from Hopewell, N.J.

"My great uncle was in the 21st New Jersey that fought at Chancellorsville," said Weart, who has traced his uncle to a picture that hangs in the museum at Hopewell.

"This whole place is full of history," Weart said.

History was on the minds of all that attended the dedication. Susan Gray is the curator of the City of Fairfax Museum and a resident of Burke. Gray was among others behind a five-year project to get the site in the Virginia Civil War Trails system. Prerequisites for that recognition include bus access for those touring the sites, and the marker has to be on the actual land where the Civil War event took place. There are 319 Civil War Trail sites in the state.

"The idea is to get the visitor on the landscape where it actually happened, 276 of those sites had never been interpreted as historically significant," said Gray.

Joan Rogers was also behind the effort at Fairfax Station with Colin Harding, the docent at the museum.

"We did a lot of research on this," Rogers said.

Museum historian Gibby Ries was familiar with the process.

"First you have to convince them you're a proper candidate, it's been a huge part of Fairfax Station. In 1973, the building was falling apart," she said.

RE-ENACTORS from all over the area took part in the festivities. Baltimore actress Carrie Bauer was decked out as Clara Barton, and Jeff Smith of King George, Va., was John Mosby. Smith usually comes with a horse, but his horse trailer suffered damage in Hurricane Isabel.

"I'm related to Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, the first Union general killed at Gettysburg," Smith said.

Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th) of Clifton remembered his grandfather's stories of Civil War lineage. His relative was a preacher at Petersburg and was shot by the Union during a service. Hugo is a member of Clifton Lions Club, which meets in the Fairfax Station Museum.

"If you don't know your history, you don't know your future," he said.

The plaque was paid for by the Friends of Fairfax Station and dedicated in memory of the Friends’ founder, Lena Wyckoff, who died last year at 99.

Various sections of the era were represented at the station, including children of soldiers, wives, nurses and teachers. Springfield resident John Dittamo was the cook for the Union soldiers. The menu included a Civil War staple, hardtack, as well as a slab of bacon and ham and beans.

"These are things right out of memoirs that they ate," Dittamo said. "It gave a better understanding of what it was like to be there.

But what is hard tack?

"It's kind of a tasteless, unpalatable cracker," Dittamo said.

The actual train station was down the hill from the Fairfax Station Museum and was moved, along with the red caboose, to its present location.