For Eric Martin, a graduate student at Frostburg State University, dressing up in Civil War garb has nothing to do with play-acting. At least, not most of the time.
After graduating from college, Martin became a civil war re-enactor with a unit presenting "living history" in the form of staged battles at various historic battlefields throughout rural Virginia.
"It's an exhilarating experience and a great hobby, " Martin says of his re-enacting activities, which he continued on and off until starting graduate study three years ago.
Since childhood, Martin's passion has been Civil War history, a love that took him to the University of Mississippi to study in its Center for the Study of Southern Culture. He graduated from "Ole Miss" in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in history.
Organized as actual infantry, artillery and cavalry, these units seek to educate the public regarding the Civil War, the most devastating conflict our nation has ever experienced and the only war fought completely on American soil.
Thanks to his involvement with re-enacting, Martin became part of cinema history as a background artist in the acclaimed civil war film "Gettysburg." Turner Network Television, the film's producer, recruited his unit to participate in staged battles. And so the 8th Virginia Volunteer Infantry Company F found itself in the heat of battle as part of Pickett's Charge and day two of Little Round Top.
Martin's day job is a bit less dramatic - he is a park ranger with the National Park Service's National Capital Parks-Central in Washington, D.C., where he works as a living history interpreter, among his other duties in visitor services.
He is also working on a master's degree from FSU in Park & Recreation Resource Management. This program, with courses offered at the Frostburg campus and selected locations near the Baltimore-Washington area, is designed to offer experienced parks and recreation professionals the skills needed to advance their careers in upper level management.
During his travels as a civil war re-enactor, Martin saw first-hand the perils that many rural Virginia battlefields face from encroaching development. Their plight motivated him to join the fight to save these national treasures. After 10 years with the Park Service, Martin knew from personal experience that this effort is, as he says, "beyond the government's resources. It must become a grassroots effort."
Part of that effort is spearheaded by two organizations, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) and the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT). Martin is actively involved with both groups.
The CWPT works to preserve significant Civil War battlefields as a way to honor the sacrifice of Civil War veterans and educate future generations about the Civil War's significance as part of our nation's historical, cultural, and environmental heritage.
The Rappahannock River Valley is the focus for the CVBT's efforts. According to its Web site, this area, known as the "cockpit of the Civil War" because of its strategic location halfway between the two capitals, Washington and Richmond, "now draws developers, bulldozers and people at a staggering pace," with little safeguards to protect Civil War battlefields and historical sites. The region saw so much Civil War action that these sites have been viewed locally as commonplace and taken for granted until recently. Land speculators are on the verge of capturing most of the remaining farmland along those roads - the same ones where "Stonewall" Jackson mounted his renowned flank attack and turned the tide at Chancellorsville.
Not by coincidence, this area is also the focus of Martin's interest and conservation efforts. By working with his master's program advisor, Dr. Robert Kaufman, Martin plans to focus his thesis on the failure to save the Salem Church battlefield near Spotsylvania, Va., where shopping centers and new homes have invaded the fields where thousands of soldiers fought and died. The area now attracts so much traffic that the Park Service no longer opens it regularly to the public. By critically examining and assessing how this battlefield was lost, Martin hopes to gain insight on how to save remaining battlefields from the pressures of rampant development.
With this knowledge and the skills learned in the master's program, Martin plans to seek as position as either a chief of park resource management in cultural and natural resources or as a Geographic Information Systems mapping specialist with the Park Service.
After years working with the Park Service in the heart of the nation's capital, Martin seeks greener pastures in "Old Virginny." His dream is to work in a position located at one of the Rappahanock River Valley's Park Service battlefields, at the front lines of the struggle to preserve their heritage for future generations.
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