Good Life

Through the ranks: Spring Mills man has lifelong love of history

Jimmy Brown, who has been participating in Civil War re-enactments since he was an infant, poses in front of a cannon in his front yard at his home in Spring Mills.
Jimmy Brown, who has been participating in Civil War re-enactments since he was an infant, poses in front of a cannon in his front yard at his home in Spring Mills. CDT photo

The cannon in Jimmy Brown’s front yard is not purely decorative.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to miss.

Set high atop a wheeled platform that can be hooked to the back of a truck and transported to locations as close as Gettysburg and as far as West Virginia, the cannon is a replica of the kind featured in some of the American Civil War battles.

But it is first and foremost an excellent conversation piece.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot of friends through re-enacting,” Brown said.

Brown has been taking part in Civil War re-enactments since he was a baby, joining his mother and father on mock battlefields throughout the country, first as a civilian, then as a guidon (flag) bearer and currently as a corporal.

At 21 years old, the Spring Mills resident has fostered a deep appreciation for history, the inevitable result of a hobby that requires painstaking attention to even the slightest detail.

“We need to study history to preserve it and keep it going so we don’t forget it,” Brown said.

The soldier’s uniform he dons for re-enactments is an authentic re-creation of those worn during the Civil War, an ensemble that sacrifices comfort for accuracy.

Wool is not a very forgiving fabric in the summer heat. And on the re-enactment field, Brown is practically festooned in the stuff, from the cap on his head to the trousers dangling to his ankles.

Authenticity is paramount — not only for the audiences in attendance, but for the soldiers on the re-enactment field. Brown said that each of his comrades wants to properly acknowledge the efforts of the real soldiers who fought and died for their cause.

“When you’re in uniform it really helps you to understand what they went through, especially in the heat,” he said.

Typically, all of the battles on the re-enactment field are choreographed in advance. These are life and death decisions — literally.

All wars have their casualties, a role that Brown has played more than once.

“I’d just fall down and pretend I was dead,” Brown said.

During the day, Brown and company make every effort to remain period-appropriate, but at night they feel more comfortable indulging in modern comforts like plastic or ice chests.

“We might have our cellphones on us but we keep that hidden as well,” Brown said.

While it’s hard to beat the thrill of battle, what Brown most enjoys is sharing the knowledge he has accrued with students and the general public.

In both his career as a substitute classroom aide in the Penns Valley Area School District and in his extracurricular activities as a Civil War scholar, Brown has worked to provide students with a tangible representation of America’s history.

“I was a second-grader teaching fifth graders about the Civil War,” Brown said.

Brown hopes to one day be promoted to the rank of sergeant and maybe even continue the tradition with a family of his own.

“When I have a wife and kids, hopefully they’ll be interested in it,” Brown said.