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Re-enactors offer historic lessons at Longstreets Piedmont Hotel
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Skip Howard, left, and Ralph Mills make camp Saturday for the Longstreet Society’s annual bivouac and picnic at its headquarters in the historic Piedmont Hotel on Maple Street. The event included the camp on the hotel’s lawn, Civil War re-enactors, history lessons and hotdog lunches. - photo by NAT GURLEY

History was brought back to life at the historic Piedmont Hotel on Saturday as Civil War re-enactors filled the lawn, dawning the 19th century clothes, including one person dressed as Gen. Robert E. Lee. 

All was a part of The Longstreet Society’s annual Longstreet Bivouac. 

The day featured the re-enactments of soldiers and how their lives were spent on the battlefield, including camp life with limited cover from enemy forces and the elements, which is what the term bivouac refers to.

It also included tours of the historic landmark, a look at weapons, utensils and entertainment of the time, and lunch in the company of history enthusiasts.

The 19th century building was owned by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who spent his final years in Gainesville after the war. Throughout the years, the society has maintained the work on it, preserving it so future generations can learn about its history and lineage.

Peter Claymore, president of the society, said it was good to see a nice turnout, including many first-time visitors.

“People who come here are fascinated by it (the hotel) and they say ‘I didn’t know it was here,’” he said. “They are fascinated with the inside, the outside. Even people who drive by here don’t realize what’s here until they stop in and see it.”

Claymore said the re-enactors aren’t part of the society, but are Civil War enthusiasts who enjoy the demonstrations as a hobby. Every time a new visitor visits, Claymore said he loves telling people about the history of the hotel, the historical figure behind it and the Civil War time period.

“I want people to know about history and understand why it happened,” he said. “And people ask ‘Why did this happen? What does it mean to me?’ Or ‘Why should I care about the Civil War?’ 

“Understanding little things like when the Battle of Gettysburg was is important. It wasn’t the last battle. Or, explain why Longstreet was in Gainesville and not New Orleans. ... History doesn’t just happen on a national level.”

Raymond E. Loggins, who portrayed Lee, said he became involved in re-enactments and historical causes three years ago when he learned he had family members who fought in the Civil War, including the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg.

He said every time he dresses as Gen. Lee, he wants to make the representation as authentic as possible.

“He (Lee) was a devout Christian and gentlemen,” Loggins said. “I’ve been to a lot of the battlefields that Gen. Lee fought on. ... I didn’t get into this until I found out my family fought in the war. When you find out you had ancestors fighting in this war, that’s why I think we need to keep it alive, the history.

“The things that happened, the tragedy. People gave their lives. That’s why it is so honorable to honor soldiers of any war because they all risked their life. You just can’t say enough about them.”