RICHMOND — Ken Darnell of Mount Sterling died Saturday afternoon on a hot, dusty ridge in rural Madison County.
He is no stranger to this type of death. For the last 20 years or so, he has courted death about four or five times each year.
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“When my three kids were young, they got upset when they saw me fall to the ground and die,” says Darnell. “I don’t die all the time, but it happens.”
Darnell is a Civil War re-enactor.
He is one of about 300 volunteer actors taking part in the Battle of Richmond Re-enactment this weekend. It will be staged again at 2 p.m. Sunday on the battlefield off U.S. 421 south of Richmond.
Phases of the Aug. 29-30, 1862, conflict, a Confederate victory, are re-enacted in segments of 45 minutes each. A different phase is featured each day.
Richmond was the second-largest Civil War battle in Kentucky. Of the 13,100 soldiers in the conflict, 1,128 were killed or wounded.
About 400 spectators showed up Saturday to watch the free re-enactment.
During the week, Darnell, 52, is plant manager at Quality Cabinets in Mount Sterling. But several times each year, mostly on weekends, he plays a soldier in a re-enactment of a Civil War battle, replete with muskets, bayonets, booming cannons and lively horses.
At Saturday’s re-enactment, Darnell was a private in the 7th Kentucky U.S. Infantry. He was accompanied by his friends, Everett Horton, 33, of Mount Sterling, and Charles Lemons, 54, of New Haven in Nelson County.
Darnell says he sometimes plays a Confederate soldier, but usually goes the federal route.
“There are some, especially on the Confederate side, who are hard-core and never want to galvanize.” That’s what it’s called when a re-enactor switches between Union and Confederate roles.
Paula White of Waco never galvanizes. She is a strong Southern sympathizer who has been participating in Civil War re-enactments for 25 years. She was decked out Saturday in a long, iridescent blue silk dress with copper stripes and bonnet.
“I’ve been a re-enactor in every Southern state,” said White, a licensed nail technician in Richmond.
“I love the South. But some of my best friends are Yankees. I get information from them.”
Darnell said he is a re-enactor because of his love of history. He sometimes speaks to students at Mount Sterling Middle School about the Civil War.
Re-enactors try to make their clothing and equipment as authentic as possible.
This weekend in battle, Darnell and Horton wore long-sleeve shirts, trousers, suspenders, brogans, coats and hats.
They carried tin cups containing peanuts, canteens with nothing stronger than water, a cartridge box, a haversack or “man purse” and muskets with bayonets.
Basic equipment costs about $1,200, Darnell said.
When the action starts, the adrenaline starts flowing, Hatton said.
“At Camp Nelson, I took a nosedive to the earth when I died,” Hatton said. “You want to put on a good show for the crowd.”
The appearance of the battle is fierce. Smoke engulfs the field. Sounds of muskets ricochet over the valley. Yells arise from wounded soldiers. The horses kick up and neigh.
Dan Colon of Louisville plays the role of Edwin Forbes, a Civil War battlefield illustrator who captures on paper the battle scenes to send to newspapers in the North.
But the roped-off area for spectators, the telephone poles in the distance, a nearby golf course and the portable toilets underscore that this only is a re-enactment.
“After every one of them, I’ve been able to get up and walk off the field and go home,” Darnell said.