War re-enactor faces charges
By BILL GEROUX
Published: January 21, 2009
A Confederate Civil War re-enactor was expected to surrender to authorities this week after being charged with accidentally shooting and wounding a Union counterpart during a re-enactment last fall in Isle of Wight County.
The suspect, 29-year-old Josh O. Silva of Norfolk, was indicted by a grand jury on a misdemeanor charge of reckless handling of a firearm — in this case an 1860s-vintage Army Colt pistol.
Isle of Wight Sheriff C.W. Phelps said Silva told investigators he did not realize the pistol was loaded with a live .44 caliber ball when he apparently shot 73-year-old Thomas Lord of Chesapeake in the back of the shoulder Sept. 27.
Phelps said it was a challenge to pinpoint the shooter as Silva, who said he left the re-enactment without knowing he had fired the shot and who still questions whether he did. Phelps said authorities found no evidence Silva intended to hurt anyone.
“I think we’ve done the right thing” in classifying the shooting as accidental, the sheriff said. “We don’t want to get the Civil War started again.”
The firearm offense is punishable by a maximum of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Silva could not be reached for comment yesterday. A man answering the phone at the home of Lord, a retired New York City police officer, said the victim “can’t speak, under advisement from his attorney.”
The shooting occurred as a documentary movie crew was filming several dozen people re-enacting a trench battle that took place in 1864 near Suffolk.
The Union and Confederate re-enactors exchanged volleys of supposedly empty firearms, sheriff’s investigator Paul Phelps said, and the bluecoated Lord suddenly stiffened and clutched his shoulder.
Once the ball was removed from Lord’s shoulder, investigators realized the shooter was a re-enactor.
Investigators began interviewing the participants and determined that only a few had carried pistols, the sheriff said. The search led to Silva, who was not a member of any re-enactment group but a walk-on who had donned a Confederate uniform and joined the event.
The sheriff said Silva recalled having used live ammunition in the pistol the previous weekend but said he believed it was empty when he showed up for the re-enactment. Silva recalled the pistol having more of a kick than usual when he shot it that day but still questioned whether he had been the one to shoot Lord, the sheriff said.
An actual shooting at a re-enactment is unusual but not unheard-of, authorities said. Last fall, a man was charged with accidentally shooting a 17-year-old boy in the foot at a re-enactment in Pennsylvania. The gun contained only black powder and no bullet or ball, but the close-range blast forced the amputation of one of the boy’s toes.
The Isle of Wight incident has caused a buzz among re-enactors, who number among the thousands in Virginia.
“We cringed,” said Robert Moss, a veteran re-enactor with the 23rd Virginia Infantry from the Richmond area. Responsible re-enactor groups typically begin each event with a careful check to make sure none of the participants’ guns are loaded, Moss said.