The Story of a... Civil War Re-enactor

The battle lines are blurred for Robert Niepert, 54, of Winter Garden, who fights for both North and South as a cavalry commander.

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

I was looking for something different and unusual about 12 years ago to do with my horse other than normal horse shows and trail rides. I had heard about Civil War re-enacting and I have always been interested in history, so I figured I’d give it a try.

It started out kind of rough. Getting the horse used to doing this isn’t easy. You have to work with the horse quite a bit, but when the horse gets used to it, then you just enjoy it.

You earn your rank just like in the normal military. You have to join a unit and work your way up to the position you are. I am a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army and full colonel in the Federal Army.

I go Confederate on Saturday and Federal on Sunday. And some days if the numbers aren’t right and the Federals are outnumbered, I’ll go Federal both days. It’s not just a Confederate thing or just a Federal thing. It’s both.

I play the part of Gen. Custer when he was a colonel, and our Federal unit is called the 7th Michigan Wolverines, which was Custer’s unit.

Usually, after the first shot is fired, the plans go right into the garbage can. Then you improvise. Nothing ever goes according to plan. People will be out of place. They’ll be too slow or too fast. Entire companies will not be where they are supposed to be on time just like it was during the real battle.

You’ve got to control a situation that can very much get out of control very quickly. On the battlefield oftentimes people either don’t understand or will not follow orders. In a real military situation that would not happen for the most part because people are trained to follow orders and do a specific task at a specific time in a specific way.

As far as people knowing when to die, that’s a big problem we’ve always had… Nobody wants to die in the first five minutes of battle after traveling two or three or four hours to get there to participate.

I carry what’s called a LeMat.  It is a .44 caliber pistol.  It is very rare, made in France and it has a nine-shot cylinder. J.E.B. Stuart carried two of them and some other high-ranking officers carried them, but it’s a very rare weapon.

A lot of people still take this Civil War very seriously, and I can understand to a degree their feelings. But as far as I’m concerned, we’re all Americans at this point. They quit keeping score on this Civil War almost 150 years ago. It’s over with. We need to put that behind us. We’re all Americans.

We usually lose both days and it doesn’t really matter to us. As a general rule, the Confederates lose on Saturday and the Federals lose on Sunday. It’s not really who wins or loses, it’s playing the game.

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