Alan Farley comes to Buchanan from his home near Appomattox as a Civil War re-enactor this weekend. He doesn’t just portray a Confederate chaplain, he actually is one: a chaplain to the re-enactors themselves.
How did he come to this dual role? By getting interested first in the war itself, and then in the role of his ancestors in it. “When I was in school I got interested in the centennial,” he said. “I collected a series of articles in Life magazine about the war. But as I got older my interest waned. But then about 1979, I started studying some of my ancestors who had fought during the war. By coincidence I met a Civil War reenactor who invited me to a reenactment of the Battle of New Market. I went out on a Sunday, and fell in love with it.”
Just as in any army, you don’t immediately move into a high position. He started as a green volunteer recruit, and worked his way up to noncommissioned officer level. But then, “I felt the Lord lay on my heart in 1984 to portray a chaplain.”
This mission led him to give up his career as a heating and air conditioning mechanic in 1991. He and his family then started as full time missionaries to reenactors and enthusiasts around the nation. He sees the throngs assembled for the re-enactments as his mission field, even as he portrays a role from long ago times.
Plus, Farley, 61, is spreading the word about the new National Civil War Chaplains Museum in Lynchburg, on the Liberty University campus. He hopes to recruit volunteer docents as well.
“Our museum is the only one of its kind in existence. It tells the whole chaplain story from the Union and Confederate sides. And tells about the work of the volunteers in the United States Christian Commission, a volunteer group of lay people sponsored by the YMCA to serve Union troops. And Catholic priests served, Jewish rabbis served and Protestants served as chaplains.”
As he portrays a chaplain authentically, he explains the role as far more than holding church services for the troops. “They would follow their own consciences.” They helped bring the wounded off the battlefield, helped surgeons after the battle. Some were even medically trained and did the work of a surgeon. And in field hospitals, they would nurse injured or ill soldiers, and sometimes write letters back to family for the men.
Between battles, especially in winter quarters when new recruits came in for training and all troops practiced drills, they held prayer meetings and taught Bible classes. Even taught men to read and write. Generally, a chaplain would do whatever he could to keep men from falling into the normal vices you find in any army, gambling, drunkenness and visiting women of ill repute. He would point out Bible teaching about ill gotten gains, the evils of spiritous drink and diseases.
Farley’s wife Faith takes part in the encampment by sewing up the pages of Bible tracts to make them ready to hand out. As happened back then, the pages came loose from the printer. Also, she illustrates the great amount of clothing worn. Women had on at least seven layers, including long sleeves. Men too wore long sleeves and vests, even in the summer. His wife makes lace and loves to talk about this old craft to any who come by her site.
Make sure you come to Buchanan to meet Farley and all the reenactors. You can learn how ordinary people and soldiers lived 100 years ago.
For more information about Farley’s mission, go to www.Rmjc.org, about the museum, Chaplainsmuseum.org