Crowds witnessed (reenacted) shots in heart of Charleston

Silence fell over the audience surrounding the Charleston square Sunday as they contemplated the series of events that unfolded just before.

With bodies on the ground and rifle smoke filling the air, the Coles County Courthouse clock tower bell tolled nine times in remembrance of those who had died, not counting the 12 wounded, in the Charleston Riot 150 years ago.

Charleston residents who were at the square witnessed I glimpse into the past as professional historical reenactors like Mike Lipe, 48, shot at each other recreating the bloody 10 minutes of fighting that had come about between Union soldiers and Copperheads, who were against the war entirely.

Dick Hummel who had narrated the reenactment said many of those involved in the Charleston Riot had been under the influence of alcohol with heated opinions of the war.

After being antagonized by Oliver Sallee a Union soldier, Nelson Wells, a Copperhead, took shots at Salle ultimately killing him and starting uncontrollable chaos in the streets between the two sides.

When describing each side, Hummel wanted to make sure either side were treated unfairly and the truth was told accurately.

He added researching the riot, he found himself feeling sorry for the Copperheads who were antagonized when soldiers were coming back from the continuing war.

The reenactors put on a convincing show with plums emanating from their rifles filled with blanks. The crowd jumped as each person involved fired at the opposing force. Soldiers flew to the ground as they were shot at leading children in the crowd to gasp with excitement and fear.

Lipe said he had spends normally three to four months researching every character he plays.

“We are out to have a good time with our comrades and respect and honor the fallen and help the public remember what they went through,” Lipe said.

As fast as it started, the battle ended. Verbal insults were barked from each group as the Copperheads fled down Jackson Ave. A Copperhead shooter said “Go to hell” to the Union troops. One union soldier responded “you first to the man in the final moments of the fight causing a chuckle throughout the crowd.

Kim Bauer, executive director of the Coles County Historical Society, said the length of these battles, thinking they last hours on end, surprises many. In most cases, they last only two to 10 minutes long.

The audience filled the sidewalks throughout the reenactment. Bauer said many of those who had come were ancestors of these fallen men and this was a way of seeing their family history unfold.

“You see a lot of people who are related then you see a lot of people who very interested in reenactments and wanting to see them,” Bauer said.

Lipe said the good attendance harkened back to an old saying, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Jarad Jarmon can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]