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On furlough from the war

By Justin Boron

Confederate soldier Pvt. Robert McCord is coming home to his family in Jonesboro for Christmas after a year away on garrison duty in South Carolina.

The homecoming is an annual holiday event at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro where volunteers attempt to recreate the scene of the McCord family's home on Christmas of 1863.

Using a diary authored by McCord's daughter, Lenora, the group performs the family's Christmas dinner, where they have real food but only what a typical middle class family would have had toward the end of the war, said Barbara Jenkins, who plays McCord's wife Rebecca.

Rice pudding, fruitcake, and coffee brought in from one of the family's rich friends in Atlanta would have been the staples, she said.

"That was a treat for them to have," Jenkins said.

Based on Lenora's diary account, the sight of the children's father was so exhilarating that they celebrated by cooking the last chicken on the farm.

"The children danced and played all night," Jenkins said.

Bob Williams, who has played McCord for the past five years, said although the confederate soldier was a well-to-do Southerner, he was humble enough to fight as a private.

"He refused higher ranks offered to him," Williams said. "I guess he wanted to fight with the common man for a common cause."

The performances also will feature the Southern Order of Storytellers, who will relay anecdotes to guests inside the Stately Oaks schoolhouse.

As it did last year, the tale of a soldier returning from war has some basis in what many families experience when their relatives reunite with them after serving in the Iraq war, Jenkins said.

"Holidays during wartime is a scenario many people can relate to," she said. "With the war going on in Iraq, the public can identify with the hardships on families."

A new segment has been added this year to highlight the life of a Civil War soldier on duty during Christmas.

Soldiers of the 53rd Georgia re-enactment unit will maintain a Confederate winter garrison camp outside the McCord's home.

Short vignettes will offer a snapshot into a soldier's life.

"One of our favorite scenes to create is a soldier far from home during the holidays reading mail from family members," said Capt. Paul Jerram of re-enactment unit.