Andrew Dys

York County holds re-enactment of Civil War battle – but there was no battle

The Civil War comes to life at Historic Brattonsville during the annual two-day event held on the grounds of Hightower Hall Oct. 22-23.
The Civil War comes to life at Historic Brattonsville during the annual two-day event held on the grounds of Hightower Hall Oct. 22-23. Culture & Heritage Museums

There will be a Civil War battle event at Historic Brattonsville in York County on Saturday and Sunday. However, one thing is clear: There was no Civil War battle there. Not ever. Not one.

The plantation owners on the historic site were slaveholders and supporters of the Confederacy.

So why host a reenactment of a battle that never happened? And why would a museum supported annually by millions of York County tax dollars host an event that will feature reenactors carrying the controversial Confederate flag that remains a symbol of slavery and hate to so many people. A flag that just last year was lowered from the South Carolina Statehouse after the slaughter of nine black people at a Charleston church allegedly by a white racist named Dylann Roof who wanted to start a race war?

The Confederate flag and Confederate heritage and advocacy groups – that do not refute the war being about slavery – participate annually and promote their agenda that is pro-Confederacy. The sponsor group shows Confederate flags on its materials. It even advertises computer wallpaper made of Confederate flags. There will be vendors of such Confederate flag materials at the event.

The answer is simple, York County’s Culture & Heritage Museums officials say: reenactors and spectators like it.

The controversy over the Confederate flag continues in York County with York Technical College, also supported by taxpayers, hosting a Confederate advocacy group early next year in an event that has been denounced by the NAACP.

HIstoric Brattonsville, southwest of Rock Hill, is the former site of the Bratton plantation that was owned by a family that both supported the Confederacy and slavery, and sent soldiers to fight in the war.

Brattonsville is the actual historic site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Huck’s Defeat, an important victory against the British. Reenactments are held there every summer.

But no Civil War battle was fought there, said Michael Scoggins, historian for the Culture & Heritage Museums, and Carey Tilley, executive director of the museums.

“This is a popular public program,” Scoggins said, “but it is not a reflection of what happened here.”

The reenactment is meant to teach regional history, Tilley said, and give a general sense of what soldiers on both sides of the Civil War endured during battle.

“It is very popular” Tilley said.

A group of reenactors from the 6th South Carolina Volunteers group made up of many descendants of Confederate soldiers from York, Chester and Fairfield counties put on the event with help from York County employees and are allowed use of the property, said Scoggins and Tilley. The Culture & Heritage Museums use the money from admission to help pay for other programs.

More than a thousand people generally pay to watch the reenactors portraying both Confederate and Union soldiers fire cannons, charge each other, and see other demonstrations.

But there has been concern over the years that the annual event is not historically correct or even relevant. A former museum executive director more than a decade ago wanted the event dropped, but the event marches on. Then last year, after the Charleston shootings and the state dropping the flag from public view, museum officials again discussed the event but decided to keep it.

So on Saturday and Sunday, York County taxpayers – a county of more than a quarter-million people and about 20 percent black – will pay for a show featuring the same symbol that divided the nation in the Civil War and through segregation and lynchings and Jim Crow into the present.

Tilley said all those concerns were “fair questions” about whether the reenactment should continue on a site where no battle happened and the renewed objections to the Confederate flag after the Charleston massacre. Staff determined the event should stay on as long as participants did not advocate the Confederate flag or the Confederacy’s position supporting slavery, Tilley said.

The only use of the Confederate flag that is allowed is the historical use – reenactors carrying the flag during battle reenactment, Tilley said. No political statements or advocacy is allowed, Tilley said.

“We do not allow the use of the Confederate flag in a celebratory manner,” Tilley said.

Brattonsville does host an annual “By the Sweat of Our Brows” event about the slave experience at the plantation, and some historical interpretation of how the war affected black slaves will be presented this weekend, Tilley said.

“This is not a celebration of war, or the war, but a legitimate opportunity to teach history,” Tilley said. “A lot of soldiers fought and died on both sides.”