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History is passion for young Civil War re-enactor

Chris Sniezek is a junior at Walkersville High School and a Civil War re-enactor. Sniezek portrays the character of Union Army Pvt. Jacob Smith and uses a reproduction 1861 Enfield musket for a weapon. (Frederick News-Post/Sam Yu)

High School junior Chris Sniezek enlisted in the military when he was 10 years old.

Sort of.

The now 17-year-old Civil War re-enactor said his love of history has kept him interested in the hobby throughout his adolescence, although he’s one of a few people in his age group involved with it.

“It’s all American history that fascinates me,” he said. But the Civil War is his favorite, partially because of all the battlefields and other related sites in the immediate area.

“The immense devastation and how civilians coped with that is also interesting to me,” he said.

But reading the dozens of books he’s collected about American history and learning about it in school isn’t enough for him. He craves hands-on experience.

So, about once a month, Chris dons his period-correct uniform, musket and other gear to participate in re-enactments. At his most recent event, held at the Carroll County Farm Museum, he arrived at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

He spent the day in costume, engaged in battle and camped out in a period-correct tent. In the morning, he cooked his breakfast over an open fire. The only thing that wasn’t authentic about the experience was that he arrived in a car and not on a horse, he said.

All of Chris’ supplies are similar to what Civil War soldiers actually would have used, he said. Re-enactors try not to bring modern items, called “farb,” with them when they are in character. They get their items at the events themselves or from specialty stores.

Chris owns some actual antiques, but he doesn’t use them because they are too delicate.

“Some people call re-enactors crazy because we dress up in wool on 98-degree days, but I love it,” he said. “It all just comes back to the history for me.”

The character that Chris plays is Private Jacob Smith, a Gettysburg farm boy who joined the Union forces at 15 by lying about his age. Jacob’s background is detailed and includes a stint on guard duty at Harpers Ferry and fighting in the Battle of Monocacy in Frederick.

At some events, Chris gets to speak in character about the Civil War era to tour groups. He has even been brought in for speaking engagements by interested civil groups, like the Frederick County Officers’ Wives Club. His grandmother, Diane Norcross, said she feels like his agent, since she’s been busy booking engagements for him with other similar groups in the county.

Chris said he enjoys the teaching aspect of his hobby, and he hopes to be a history professor some day.

“I think he’s a natural educator,” said Jan Norcross, Chris’ mother. She said that re-enacting and speaking engagements have built up his confidence a lot over the years.

“I feel like I’m able to actually talk to people a lot easier than other teenagers,” he said, noting that fellow re-enactors who are older than him aren’t necessarily authority figures.

“I’m treated like an equal by them.”

Jan Norcross said most children who start re-enacting from a young age do so because their parents are involved in it. For Chris, it was different.

“This has been all Chris’s ballgame,” she said. “We’re not out there camping and dressing up.” In fact, the rest of the family is much more interested in the sciences.

But he’s made plenty of friends on his own.

“It’s such a close-knit community,” he said. “I’m hooked on it.”


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