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One Man Marches Through Civil War History

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This 230-mile walk isn't the first creative idea he's had for educating others about the Civil War: last year he constructed his own Civil War-era log hut on the museum grounds, and lived in it for two weeks.
Jonathan Wilson
This 230-mile walk isn't the first creative idea he's had for educating others about the Civil War: last year he constructed his own Civil War-era log hut on the museum grounds, and lived in it for two weeks.

Brett Kelley is the curator for the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., and he's used to staging somewhat unconventional demonstrations to celebrate the war's history.

In 2010 he spent two weeks living in a log hut he built on the museum grounds to demonstrate what conditions would have been like for soldiers.

Unfortunately, it was also the week Pennsylvania got the worst snow storms they'd had in decades.

But Kelley's little homestead got plenty of attention for the museum and Civil War history, so for 2011's sesquicentennial anniversary of the war, he decided to top himself, by giving up the roof and adding a lot of walking.

On May 16, Kelley donned the clothing and gear of a Confederate soldier and started a 230-mile trek that began in Fredericksburg, Va.

"The troops that I'm emulating are Gen. Ewell's 2nd Corps of the army of Northern Virginia, as they marched from the Fredericksburg area all the way up to about 8 miles west of Harrisburg," he says.

He's outfitted in either original or replica Civil War gear -- including an original belt buckle and an 1862 sunstroke cushion designed to fit between a soldier's hat and his head -- and filled his pack with the kind of food the soldiers would have been carrying: bacon, cornmeal, and beef jerky.

Kelley planned the walk for May to encourage history teachers and students to track his journey, but the month's mix of hot sun and powerful afternoon downpours has been anything but ideal.

His wool uniform has kept him sweating, and his leather boots, damp from flooded roads, left him with quarter-sized blisters as he walked through the town of Flint Hill, in Rappahanock County, just four days into the two-week journey.

Still, he says the personal conversations and the attention his walk has engendered so far are exactly what he was hoping for.

"People are constantly stopping me and they want to tell me about their ancestors and what was going on in that particular area during the war, and it's fantastic," he says.

Kelley hasn't said what his next Civil War-inspired stunt will be. For now, he says he'll be happy if he can find a creek where can wash off the first layer of grime somewhere before Harrisburg.

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