RAYMOND, Miss. (AP) — John Saporito was raised in the South and has Confederate ancestors, but he proudly wears the blue uniform of the Union as he travels to Civil War sites to help re-enact battles from America's deadliest war.
"I cannot bring myself to wear the gray," Saporito, 37, said Friday with an intense look in his eyes. "I don't believe in secession."
Saporito, who lives in Monogahela, Pa., is among more than 1,600 history buffs who traveled to the central Mississippi town of Raymond this weekend to recreate Civil War battles in the rolling hills south and west of the capital city of Jackson.
Military and civilian re-enactors came from Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states. Some pulled trailers with cannons. Others brought horses or teams of massive red oxen.
The Battle of Raymond and the Battle of Champion Hill took place in May 1863. People are marking their 150th anniversaries several months early because of larger Civil War sesquicentennial events taking place in other states next spring. They include re-enactments expected to draw tens of thousands to Gettysburg, Pa.
This weekend's gathering in Raymond includes the re-enactment of a battle that actually took place more than 30 miles to the west, in Vicksburg. The Mississippi River town was under siege 47 days before Confederate forces surrendered on July 4, 1863. Although Vicksburg will have several events next year to commemorate the siege, re-enactors say they're not allowed to stage battles on the vast grounds of the Vicksburg National Military Park.
School groups took field trips to Raymond on Thursday and Friday, and the re-enactments take place Saturday and Sunday.
Joe Grosson portrays a Confederate colonel. His wife, Cynthia Sweet, portrays a Confederate infantry captain. The couple from Brentwood, Tenn., showed groups of students on Friday how to handle rifles — albeit, harmless wooden cutouts of rifles.
Grosson called the children to attention and hollered: "What do you have to do when those Yankees are in front of you?"
"Shoot 'em!" yelled several children in the racially integrated group from a Christian school.
"Not just shoot 'em, but what?" Grosson called.
"Kill 'em!" one boy yelled enthusiastically.
"Now, when I say, 'Fire,' I want to hear the biggest bang you can make," Grosson said.
He gave the command: "Ready! Aim!"
"Bang!" the children yelled, and several younger ones dissolved into giggles.