BRATTONSVILLE, S.C. — An annual Civil War-era skirmish, presented for about three decades at York County’s Historic Brattonsville, has been canceled because of concerns about safety and potential protests.
Officials with the Culture & Heritage Museums, which oversees Historic Brattonsville and the Museum of York County, discussed their concerns about “if something did happen” after protests in other parts of the country over Confederate monuments and symbols, said Dale Dove, vice-president of the Culture and Heritage Commission.
The event features a skirmish between Confederate and Union troops. However, the event is not a re-enactment of an actual York County battle, because no Civil War battles took place at Brattonsville, museum officials have said.
Commission officials contacted the York County Sheriff’s Office about security, Dove said. They were told that if extra police were needed, the museums would have to pay for security, both before and during the event in late October, Dove said.
Dove said canceling the event for this year is the right thing, because of the climate of unrest concerning the history of the Civil War.
Carey Tilley, executive director of Culture and Heritage Museums, echoed that sentiment in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
Tilley also said historic accuracy was a factor in the decision.
“We continue to believe that military re-enactments are an effective tool for teaching history to the public; however, in light of the fact that there were no Civil War battles at Historic Brattonsville, the historical and educational benefits are outweighed by the potential danger and risk to public safety of hosting the event in the current political climate,” Tilley said in the statement.
Tilley continued: “We also believe that the current National discussion surrounding the Civil War creates a greater sense of urgency for us to step back and reflect on our Civil War programming to ensure that going forward, it aligns more closely with the site mission at Historic Brattonsville in linking the story of those tumultuous years to the actual Brattonsville community — including those who were enslaved there,” the statement said.
Concerns over the event resurfaced in 2015, after the Charleston massacre of nine black people by white supremacist Dylann Roof. Museum officials as long as a decade ago voiced concerns over the event and how it is popular, but not historic.
Plans were for the Sixth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers and Culture & Heritage Museums of York County to host the event Oct. 27-29 at Hightower Hall, on the restored Brattonsville plantation in western York County.
Dove conceded that the mission of the museum is to teach history. He said the event being presented is “not a York County historical issue.”
Marie Cheek, spokesperson for the museums, confirmed by email to The Herald that the event was canceled.
Event organizers with the re-enactor group emailed supporters and members, notifying them the October event at Brattonsville won’t be happening this year.
The message noted “this is not a permanent cancellation” and said that it’s expected to continue in future years.
The decision, by the museum board, “came down to the inability to guarantee the safety of the re-enactors and the public at the event during these difficult times,” organizers said in an email to supporters.
Fort Mill resident Mike Short, a former York County Council member, started re-enacting almost 25 years ago. He often portrays a chaplain. Short also is one of three main organizers who sent the message to would-be participants explaining why the event won’t be held this year.
The national political atmosphere has groups like his looking at events, with Brattonsville being the closest one to cancel.
“It's the first time here, but there's been a few that have been canceled in other places,” Short said. “There have been some that have been held in other places.”
Short isn’t aware of any specific threats to an event this year. In his time with reenactments he’s “never had any problems” he can recall. Despite the canons and rifles at events, Short said they aren’t primarily about fighting.
“We’re a history organization,” he said. “That’s what we do. It’s not a celebration of war. It’s a commemoration of what happened.”
People who come to events don’t do it to support one side of the battle or another, he said.
“They’re people that are interested in history,” Short said. “They want to get some feel for what life might have been like in that time. And that’s what we try to provide.”
Events typically include demonstrations on hobbies of the time, candle-making, cooking and the like. The October event was to have time set aside for local schools to come out and learn from re-enactors, along with other non-battle events.
“It’s a great learning tool,” Short said. “That’s what we’ve always envisioned it would be, and should be.”