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Teen travels back in time as a hobby

September 5, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

"I've been interested in the Civil War since I was six," said Brandon Russo, 13, son of Mark and Karen Russo of Boardman.

Russo was among the dozens of Civil War re-enactors that presented a historic look at a Civil War camp during this year's Canfield Fair. He started his involvement in the hobby in 2010 after Boardman native Ron Johnson came to his school for a presentation. Johnson, who is also a history teacher at Austintown Middle School, regularly dresses in uniform to give a history presentation to his classes. After his visit to Boardman Glenwood, where he dressed as Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Russo knew he wanted to be involved.

"Without young men like Brandon starting up in the hobby, it would die out," Johnson said.

Article Photos

Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Brandon Russo, 13, of Boardman, poses in uniform with Ron Johnson, who portrays Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The two re-enactors were part of Civil War encampment at this year’s Canfield Fair.

While with the 105th OVI, Russo started collecting his own equipment, uniform and accessories. He said many Civil War re-enactment groups have extra equipment and uniforms that a new recruit can use for up to two years. It gives a person time to purchase their own items.

In January, Russo switched to the 7th Tennessee, a local Confederate group. Johnson said, "he finally saw the light."

One thing Johnson strives to present is the fact there are two sides to the Civil War story. While the Union side is presented in history books, the Confederate side is downplayed. Johnson attempts to present both sides to give a true look at the era and how people felt back then.

As for Russo, he is among the history buffs who are helping tell the story of life in a Confederate camp. He has a lot of knowledge for a young man and is eager to talk about the soldiers' lives.

To aid him in his personal presentation, he has acquired most of his uniform, including the bed roll.

"The bed roll was worn into battle and often carried a soldier's personal items," Russo said.

He has a slouch hat that was common to Tennessee and Kentucky units as well as the butternut keppie, a hat issued to Civil War soldiers. The butternut color keppie was common issue for the Virginian soldiers.

To date, Russo has close to $1,000 invested in his uniform and equipment and he still hasn't purchased his rifle. He does have a lot of the camp equipment such as the tin cup and dinner plate that would have been used in a typical camp.

At the fair, Russo and his outfit actually camped out the entire week. They would wake in the morning to an era-correct breakfast and live out the day showcasing what it what like in camp. The re-enactment included several women who wore the long dresses common to the times.

Now that the fair is over, Russo is back in class at Boardman Glenwood Middle School, but his involvement in the hobby continues. He presently averages around 15 events each year. This weekend, he will be heading to Shaker Woods in Columbiana, for another living history encampment. On Sept. 22 he will join his outfit at the McKinley Memorial in Niles and in November will take part in a parade at Gettysburg.

"I plan on doing this as a hobby the rest of my life," Russo said. "I hope to go into the Air Force after graduation and someday, I hope to become a history teacher."

If he continues his dream of entering the field of education, he will have a good deal of knowledge when it comes the America's Civil War, thanks to a hobby that relives a bittersweet time in the nation's history.



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