By Timothy Long
(Knight-Rider) Aiken, S.C. — When Lorne Ashley Rutledge dropped off his son Bixby at the gates of Johnny Reb’s Confederate Camp for Kids, he thought his son would spend the summer learning about the legacy of the antebellum South, the events that led up to the War Between the States, and the bravery of the men who gave their lives to defend their homeland from an invading force.
Little did he know that his son would be forced to witness atrocities and participate in activities which sullied the good name of all of those who fought under the command of Robert E. Lee.
“When I picked up Bixby, he couldn’t look me in the eye. He was quiet, didn’t say a word,” Rutledge says. “So I pressed him, and I pressed, and finally he told me what had happened. And that’s when I realized that the people behind the camp didn’t care about Confederate history, they didn’t care about the South, they didn’t care about Southerners. This wasn’t heritage. It was cultural genocide.”
The story that Bixby told was one of suffering and pain — tales of forced labor and public lashings. Throughout it all, Bixby remained unharmed. He was just an observer. The real victims were a group of African Americans, men, women, and children — all wearing tattered clothes and torn shoes, that is if they wore anything at all.
Although Bixby never felt the sting of the lash, he was traumatized by what he saw at the Confederate Camp for Kids. Rutledge for one was furious.
“This is not the South that I remember,” the angry father says. “What kind of monster forces kids to sip on mint juleps and watch a slave auction?”
That monster is Wyatt Duvall, the noted provocateur, author, and entrepreneur.
“For the record, those were virgin mint juleps, and if you want to call me a monster for refusing to give minors alcohol, then so be it” Duvall says. “No child was ever harmed at Johnny Reb’s — not even the black ones.”
Duvall scoffs at the idea that he doesn’t respect the men and women of the South.
“Look, if anything, I want Southern boys and girls to bask in the simple joys of plantation life, to get a taste of what was like to be a member of the aristocracy in the antebellum South. That’s why we had nightly balls and slave auction Saturdays,” Duvall says. “I’ll admit they kids were a little taken aback by that latter one, but they eventually started to enjoy it.
“Seriously, you’ve never seen a bigger smile on a wee one’s face then when he orders his slave to bow before him and kiss his feet for the first time. It’s pure joy.”
As for the men and women who Duvall hired to play the parts of the slaves, none of them really seemed to mind.
“The way I see it,” says Isaiah Middleton, “we’re part of a living history exhibit, and it’s our job to bring the past to life, no matter how ugly it is. And the pay’s pretty good too.”
But for Bixby Rutledge the cost was just too much. His entire life has changed.
“My son refuses to attend Civil War reenactments with me — he loved those things — and he took down the Confederate Flag in his bedroom,” Lorne Rutledge says. “It’s like I sent my son to that camp, and someone else came back. I don’t even recognize him anymore.”