Living a life of Lee
by DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Nov 06, 2013 | 1562 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Re-enactor takes role to heart
JAMES AND BARBARA Young dress up for re-enactments as Gen. Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee. James said he had the uniform tailor-made to be an exact replica of the one worn by Lee throughout the Civil War.  Banner photo, DELANEY WALKER
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James Young’s property lays nestled deep in the wooded heart of Etowah below the ridge of Starr Mountain.

His house sits at the highest point with various projects slowly unfolding below. Several cottages dot the land and a big, orange blotch can be seen halfway down where a barn will one day rest.

The land is peaceful, but only because it is resting until its next big event. If a visitor were to come on the right day, they would witness the battle raging on between the North and South. A clearing rests at the base of the hill where guns, cannons and men in Civil War era uniforms can be found reliving the Starr Mountain skirmish.

The plan is to turn the sprawling property into the premier destination for Civil War re-enactments. The land will be equipped with a battlefield, a barn, showers, a full kitchen and a stage for speeches.

Young’s interest in re-enactments began 10 years ago when he discovered his Cherokee ancestors fought in Thomas’ Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders. A friend then pointed out Young’s striking resemblance to General Robert E. Lee.

Lee was about 5-foot-9. This is only a half inch taller than Young.

“General Lee was a very small man,” Young said. “I fit the part well in his body size and look enough like the man to get by.”

A tailor-made uniform was designed as Young became serious about properly representing Lee. The uniform allows him to be automatically recognized when he attends re-enactments across the country. To further hammer home the point, Young sets up his headquarters with a tent surrounded by flags.

One of the flags is the infamous flag of the Confederate Army.

“We try to educate people that the Rebel battle flag is not a racist flag,” Young said. “You’ve probably heard this flag is bad, right? I explain to kids that this is St. Andrew’s cross. He was one of Jesus’ first apostles.”

He said the reason the flag was chosen was due to its Christian roots.

Young often portrays Lee at schools and various town festivals. He uses each appearance as an opportunity to educate others on the South’s side of the Civil War.

“The South was paying 75 percent on every dollar to the North,” Young said. “Why did we try to get away from England? Taxation without representation — the War Between the States was for the same reason.”

Four volumes detailing Lee’s life sit atop Young’s fireplace mantle. Everything Young learns about Lee causes the retired engineer’s respect to grow.

“He was asked by President Lincoln if he would take command of the whole Union Army, because General Lee was the greatest soldier on the field at the time,” Young said. “He was the greatest man that had ever been when it came to being a general.”

He said President Lincoln and his associates felt comfortable Lee would take the position as head of the Union Army.

“It was something Mr. Lee wanted his entire life. He would have been our next president, he was that big, he was that smart,” Young said. “He had to turn down that command because he could not bear arms against his Virginia state. Back then the state a person came from meant more than the federal government.”

Young admits he is not an actor. He described getting into the Lee character as one the hardest challenges he has encountered. However, his respect for the man pushes him to overcome the difficulties.

He is hoping to play General Lee in the televised surrender at Appomattox in 2015.

“That was one of the most sorrowful moments of his life. He actually considered committing suicide, because he said he would rather die a thousand deaths than consider surrendering to General [Ulysees] Grant,” Young said. “I am studying his farewell speech at the moment.”

Young shares similar sentiments felt by Lee.

“It will not be a good thing for me to surrender to Grant, I’d rather die, but that is history,” Young said. “There are a lot of people who want that position, and I may not have the politics to get there.”

More information on both Young’s property goals, his views on the Civil War and background information on Lee can be found by contacting Young through