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Joining the Cause

Union infantry unit seeks recruits to 1860s military life.

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The Third Infantry will be recruiting soldiers at Fort Ward on Feb. 28.

Uncle Sam wants you to fight against the Confederate States of America, and he’ll be recruiting new soldiers at Fort Ward Saturday, Feb. 28. No, the South has not risen again. The Third Infantry is a unit of Union Army re-enactors who interpret 1860s’ military life. And the unit’s leaders are always looking for new blood.

"Getting in the hobby can be somewhat intimidating," said First Sergeant Paul Stier, a Maryland native who joined the unit in 1985. "So we have this venue where the public can find out what it takes to do this hobby on a semi regular basis."

Unlike soldiers who actually fought the Civil War, the government will not be issuing gear. So each individual is responsible for outfitting about $1,500 worth of equipment — uniform, rifle, shoes, utility belt, kerchief box, bayonet, scabbord, cartridge box sling, haversack and canteen just for starters. But new recruits don’t need to buy everything at once. They can dip into the unit’s lending closet for the first two years — a sort of boot camp period to see if 1860s’ military life suits them. And because the Third Infantry Division is a registered nonprofit organization, all items are tax deductible.

"As a general rule, people who get into this sort of thing have a strong interest in the Civil War beyond reading books about it," said private Jim Tate, who joined the infantry in 1999. "They want to understand what was going on in the mind of soldiers and what it was like to be in camp."

The group was formed in the late 1990s, and meets about once a month. Aside from actually fighting in 10 to 12 Civil War battles each year, members of the unit also participate in several living history events at places such as Fort C.F. Smith or Harper’s Ferry. One site where the group frequently appears is Fort Ward, the Union fortification that defended the Leesburg and Alexandria turnpike — known today as Route 7.

"Sometimes people are standoffish about approaching the reenactors in a living history situation, but this is an event where they will set aside time to will explain the uniforms and talk about how people get into this hobby," said Wally Owen, curator at Fort Ward Museum in Alexandria. "It’s a great event for someone who is generally interested in doing this kind of thing but might not know that much about it."