Bringing history to life
There is history, and there is also the passion of living history. Such is the case for Hillsborough native Lee Gordon. Though he was not alive when the Civil War was fought and ended 150-years ago, he keeps the history and lore alive today, as a re-enactor.
“It all began when I was young and my grandmother unclasped a wallet. It was from my great-grandfather and inside was a broken stick from an apple tree. The tree was located at Appomattox, where Lee had fought his last battle. My great-grandfather was there,” Gordon said.
Though the stick was long dead, it was enough to grow an interest in history for Gordon. That interest became a passion.
Born in Hillsborough and a 1979 graduate of Orange High, Gordon spent early parts of adulthood as a telecommunicator with Orange County 911. He had earned a history degree from UNC-Charlotte before obtaining his teaching certificate from N.C. Central University in 1994.
A loyal son of Hillsborough, Gordon volunteered his time with the Orange Rural Fire Department (the contract department that provides fire-protection for the town of Hillsborough). Gordon served as a captain and has several plaques of service on his wall, including a 20-year service achievement.
“It is different now, fighting fires. They are in much better shape and the department is run very efficiently,” Gordon said. Since earning his teaching certificate, Gordon has taught history at Orange High, where he currently serves as the department chairperson. “I teach ninth-grade world history, and the trick is to make world history interesting and applicable to a ninth-grade mind,” Gordon said.
Still, though he can teach the finer points of early civilization and democracy, it is his passion about the Civil War that eventually led Gordon to march in boots as a re-enactor. “There is a saying in the reenacting community, that we cannot choose our families but we can choose our family of re-enactor’s,” Gordon said.
Recently Gordon participated in a re-enactment and demonstration at Fort Macon, where the artillery cannons were fired, as they would have been during the war. “I gave a speech to those that came to observe and I said that the average Civil War soldier was in their 20s and weighed about 145-pounds. We are old and fat and here to teach what it might have been like,” Gordon said.
In his role as a re-enactor, Gordon is a lieutenant and duty is that of an adjutant in the 1st NC Volunteers of the 11th NC regiment. “People do this for various reasons. And almost all of them take their role as living examples of history very seriously,” Gordon said. According to him, there are skilled craftsmen and tradesman that spend their time producing time-specific pieces and equipment now, as they would have been done in the 1860s.
“Everything used is meticulously researched. And there are people here in the state that sew uniforms and create replica pieces that are just phenomenal,” Gordon said. For his tenure as a Civil War re-enactor, Gordon has participated in experiences from Gettysburg to Bennett Place. During a weekend, re-enactor’s are in-role during their exercises and this continues both on the battlefield or encampment to where these living history examples might be found among the audience.
Gordon has amassed a collection of equipment and resources and among these are countless books that he has used or referenced to learn and study the Civil War. “The Civil War is the single most written and documented war in our nation’s history and the subject has had the most books written about it than any other point in our history,” Gordon said. Of his knowledge of local history and its relevance to the Civil War, Gordon says that on New Hope Creek in Orange County, there was a small skirmish that occurred near the end of the war.
“It is known that Johnson’s last headquarters was in a house in Hillsborough,” Gordon said. The Civil War was the last war that occurred on American soil. It is well documented that brothers fought against brothers and that the wounds of war did not always heal. For his role in portraying a soldier that fought in battle more than 150 years ago, Gordon sees it as an extension of the relevance of history then and now. “History engages us. When we can explore our past and learn, we are better for it. Through re-enacting, we are able to teach history and provide the observer an opportunity to learn while using all of the senses,” Gordon said.
History is the spine of this town. Throughout his life, Gordon has been inspired by history, protected history, actively taught history, and portrayed history to those who want to be exposed to history with all of their senses.
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