Reenactor Shot During Battle A Participant At The Restaging Of The Gettysburg Conflict Finds Out War Is Dangerous. There Are No Suspects.

Posted: July 07, 1998

GETTYSBURG — Clinton Wakefield Epps never wanted the Civil War to be this real. Since his teens, the 22-year-old reenactor from Charlottesville, Va., read about the conflict voraciously and imitated the courageous soldiers - Union and Confederate - who sacrificed their lives for their country.

But over the weekend, 135 years after the Civil War's bloodiest battle, Epps felt some of their pain, too:

He was shot in the neck on Friday evening, while he was portraying a Confederate infantryman with the Seventh Virginia regiment during what was billed as the largest-ever reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, an event at which live ammunition is banned on the field.

``I got a little ahead of my regiment, and soon I was surrounded by Union troops,'' said Epps in a telephone interview yesterday from York Hospital, where he was in satisfactory condition.

``Then someone shot me from behind, and I fell to the ground, and then I jumped up on my knees and tried to get attention. It was a tremendous blow. I couldn't talk. I was spitting out blood.''

The projectile, state police said, was a .44-caliber lead ball about a half inch in diameter, from a replica of a Civil War revolver. Details of the shooting were not released by the state police or the reenactment's organizers until after the event ended on Sunday evening.

As of last night, detectives were still searching for the person who shot Epps. But finding the culprit is a daunting task, police say, given the hordes of reenactors who showed up for the weekend event, which attracted 35,000 spectators Sunday. A polygraph test has been given to one person, but there are no suspects, state police said.

``There were 20,000 reenactors, but numerous interviews have been done,'' said Sgt. Wade Lauer of the state police. Lauer said it was unclear whether Epps was shot deliberately or if it was an accident.

Aside from the shooting, organizers said dozens of reenactors, who wore authentic wool uniforms, suffered from heat exhaustion, many of them having to be carried off the field. Also, a 70-year-old wife of a reenactor from Long Island, whom police declined to identify, died of a heart attack over the weekend.

Epps was shot sometime after 4 p.m. as he reenacted a skirmish on the first day of the battle. The ball entered his neck from behind, on the left side, and barely missed major arteries, said a nursing supervisor.

As the ``battle'' raged around him, he tried to shout for help, but could not. So he started waving frantically, he said, and finally a medic took him off the field. At York Hospital, a surgeon dug out the lead ball.

``I suspect it was an accident,'' he said, ``but at this point I don't know. I don't know of any reenactor who would do this deliberately. It would have to have been a sick person.''

He added that he had ``mixed feelings'' over whether the organizers should have halted the event or notified the public.

``I still think they should have stopped it, but there were 20,000 other reenactors out there. I think they should have notified people, but they were probably concerned about causing a panic.''

Randy Phiel, one of the event's organizers, defended the decision to not notify the public immediately or end the event.

``I don't care what they're doing, with 20,000 people there's always the potential of accident,'' he said. ``The reenactors know that when they go out on the field there's always the chance of an accident.''

In the past, reenactors said, some have fallen off horses, or cracked musket barrels have exploded, or ramrods have shot out of rifle barrels like missiles.

But for the most part, safety measures are in place, said Phiel. The rifles of infantrymen, for example, are supposed to be inspected by officers.

While some reenactors stressed the shooting was a rare incident, others were concerned that it might reflect negatively on forthcoming reenactments and the whole community of reenactors.

``Of course it will affect them,'' said Pamela Denius, a travel counselor from Columbus, Ohio, who has been reenacting for a year. ``Hopefully it will affect them in a positive manner. I hope this will stress safety.''

Does Epps regret reenacting the Battle of Gettysburg?

``In a sense, yes, because I didn't want to end up getting shot in the neck.''

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