The Civil War Comes to New York

The NYPD surely heard the gunfire in Central Park, but this was one time they didn't have to respond.

The Civil War had come to Manhattan. The worst snowstorm the city had seen in nearly a decade didn't scare off the intrepid war re-enactors who trudged through 2-foot-high drifts, muskets in hand, to recreate the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The bloody battle occurred 140 years ago — in Virginia. It was moved to the heart of Yankee territory (the park's just a few miles south of Yankee Stadium) to promote Gods and Generals. The movie, a prequel to 1993's Gettysburg, opens today.

Drums rolled, flutes played and rallying cries were heard from both sides. "Three cheers for Dixie!" yelled a gray-clad soldier, raising his musket. As both sides charged, shots crackled and smoke rose.

The Confederate soldiers marched in gray wool uniforms at the southern end of a field and the Union soldiers were bundled in dark blue at the north.

"All war correspondents over here!" shouted a small, red-haired woman, herding reporters away from the impending fray of battle.

Daniels: ‘It Was Brother vs. Brother’

Civil War re-enactors are known for their attention to detail; they want the experience to be as authentic as possible. Some people find it strange that grown-ups would dress up as soldiers and pretend to be soldiers, but the Civil War stirs deep feelings.

Between both armies, the War Between the States claimed 600,000 soldiers, more than all other U.S. wars combined.

"It was such a dramatic time in our country's history. It was brother vs. brother, American vs. American," said Jeff Daniels, who reprises his role as Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain, a Maine college professor turned Union Army war hero.

"This was fought here on our soil and it really was a turning point for our country," he said.

Based on the first novel in a trilogy by Jeff M. Shaara and his father, Michael Shaara, Gods and Generals also stars Robert Duvall as Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stephen Lang as Gen. "Stonewall' Jackson. The nearly four-hour film includes more than 7,500 battle re-enactors, like the ones who came to Central Park.

"You get to escape your own self for a little while and be somebody different," said Mike Callaghan, a 50-year-old respiratory therapist from Long Island who braved the snow for the Central Park battle. "It's a good kind of therapy."

Rusty Reminders of Army Medicine

On the battlefield, Callaghan is a surgeon for the Seventh Louisiana Field Hospital. Carrying a medical bag filled with items like an antique bone saw and rusty scalpels, he noted that during the Civil War, germ theory was not known and amputation was common.

Battlefield medicine sorely lagged behind military science. More than twice as many soldiers died from disease than from gunfire. Death from diarrhea and dysentery alone accounted for more than 45,000 lives.

"[Surgeons] had been known to hone their blades on their boots, hold instruments in their mouth &3133; The infection rate was horrendous," Callaghan said. Most soldiers who died fell to infections and diseases including measles, chicken pox and mumps.

Callaghan's wife took him to his first re-enacted battle 12 years ago. "She's been sorry every since," he said. "You think golf widows have it bad …"

Setting up a battle with camp fires and pup tents is no easy feat in these days in New York, which is struggling through an especially cold winter. These soldiers also had to contend with the city's rigid rules. Tents were not allowed — no stakes in the ground — and the lone campfire crackled only briefly before it was packed with snow.

"I'm surprised we got away with it," said Daniels. "With today's high terror alert, [we've got] guns going off in the middle of Central Park."

Daniels said he enjoyed re-immersing himself in the 19th century. Many people of that day could quote Scripture and knew the art of letter-writing, he said.

"Now it's an e-mail and that whole language of smiley faces," he said.

Around him, the sound of musket shots blended with the sirens of Fifth Avenue.