CORNETTSVILLE — Every October, the meadow behind Cornettsville’s park becomes a battleground. Union soldiers charge forward through the smoke of muskets, as the boys in gray rise to meet them, with their daggers drawn beneath a tattered, yet diligently waving, Confederate flag. The community, it seems, has wafted backwards in time to the era of brother against brother; to that fragile period in the 1860s, when America turned into a house divided, where no one, including settlers in the hollows near Leatherwood, Kentucky, could escape the travesties of war.
The annual Battle of Leatherwood Reenactment took place over the weekend on the same swath of property where the original battle occurred more than a century and a half ago. Back then, Cornettsville was known as Brashearville.
In 1835, salt works were established at Brashearville, with 11 employees producing about 250 bushels of salt per week. Brashearville was strategically important to both the Union and Confederate armies. Thus, a battle ensued, and men shed blood, all for the chance to claim a modest portion of Perry County’s salt.
No real blood is spilled at the reenactment. Nonetheless, the scene is surreal. People travel hundreds of miles to either watch or participate in the battle’s recreation.
“It is one of the best, if not the best,” Charles Whitt from Flatwoods, Kentucky said of the Leatherwood reenactment.
Many travelers from out of town, and even out of state, take the trip to Cornettsville each year to experience the reenactment. The weekend attracts an abundance of local folks too.
“My family and I enjoy the reenactment every year. They do an awesome job,” said Amanda White of Bonnyman.
For the Board of Directors and the devoted volunteers, who make the event possible, the reenactment consumes far more than a mere weekend. Throughout the whole year, work has to be done fundraising, promoting and planning. The battle site requires care too because, at Cornettsville, they strive for authenticity. The tiny village of Brashearville is being recreated on the original property to look the same as it did during the Civil War. A couple buildings are already complete, with more in the works. On reenactment weekend, people dressed in costumes befitting of the Civil War era, stroll across the parameter, as if the year is 1862 and Brashearville remains a thriving, little town. The atmosphere is ideal for history teachers. Local schools bring students during an Education Day, which is planned ahead of time by the event’s organizers.
As for the battle itself, the soldiers were meticulous in their methods, granting strict attention to even the tiniest details. Several of them have participated in the battle for years. There was one tiny exaggeration at the reenactment this year. Abraham Lincoln stood watch as the battle raged, even though Honest Abe was actually nowhere near Leatherwood on that fateful day many years ago. Renowned Abraham Lincoln reenactor, Ancil Davenport, journeyed to Cornettsville to behold the spectacle and he stayed for the entire weekend.
“I’m ready for a great weekend here,” Davenport said, “Everybody should come out and enjoy this.”
Although no concrete documentation exists to reveal how many men might have been seriously wounded at the Battle of Leatherwood, experts claim that the fight was fueled by the sustained firepower of 140 men total. So the likelihood of a few men falling victim to serious injuries was high. The casualty count ranges from one dead on each side to five Confederate soldiers and one Union soldier killed, according to the accounts of those who were familiar with the battle.
The Battle of Leatherwood website provides a great deal of historical information about the battle and the situation surrounding Kentucky during the Civil War. Visit battleofleatherwood.com to learn more.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.