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I first met David in 1977. It was Craig
Carrol of the old Stars and Bars shop in Chancellorsville who directed
me to him when I visited, age 17, looking to piece together a uniform.
In those days, there was no vendor of authentic Civil War clothing, and
most people in the growing reenacting hobby made due with Sears work
suits of blue or gray. But that stuff wasn't right. Few people knew what
correct clothing really looked like, nor did they care. Reenacting was
mainly a hobby, a past time, recreation. But there were some who
did know, or at least knew that the reality of these Southern men was
something different. Perhaps they were touched through time by the
spirit of a certain Johnnie. Those with an eye for authenticity were
few, far between, and their passion was not shared in the mainstream
community. And reenacting continued to be, since its inception in the
1960's, a synthetic campout centered around a couple shoot-'em-ups.
Meanwhile, this small, mostly working class, mostly young and modestly
educated subculture of guys was hard at work piecing together from
obscure sources now commonplace the image of the Confederate Soldier.
They were becoming known as "Authentics", at least that's what they
called themselves. They were welders and mechanics who taught themselves
to sew. If you saw them, you'd probably think they were radicals of the
'60s, who missed the boat by 5 or 10 years. And David was at the
I returned home from Craig's shop that evening and immediately called Dave. He was glad I called, had a kind manner about him, and was blunt. I would have to bring my things over to see what would be acceptable in his unit and what would need to be replaced.
Later that week, I assembled my things and went to the apartment of Dave and his wife and baby daughter in the east end of Richmond. Although more than 30 years ago, I remember it well. Dave answered the door. He was heavy set with full black hair and Elvis sideburns. His complexion was swarthy. He was what I, from my private high school perspective, considered a redneck.
Dave organized his reenacting group a couple years before we met. It was the 23rd Virginia and it boasted about 7 members. The name didn't mean much to me then, although it certainly would later. I have always thought that Dave picked the 23rd Virginia because of a book. It was called Uniforms of the Civil War, from a Macmillan Color Series published in 1975. Like motels advertised air conditioning, this book emphasized its color drawings. It was unique in that the uniforms it illustrated were derived from originals. And plate 51 featured a soldier of Co. E., Brooklyn (Halifax County) Grays, 23rd Virginia Volunteers. So with a documented Confederate uniform of a fighting unit that fought with Jackson, and with a company from the city of Richmond, the designation of the 23rd made sense. Although Dave would designate our unit as Co. H, Richmond Sharpshooters, we would fashion our uniform from that drawing of a Co. E soldier; a light gray frock coat with a standing collar having a yellow strip and collar button. There was only one source for that coat, and that was Dave's grease-stained fingers.
I laid out my collection of clothing and equipment on Dave's red shag carpet. The assemblage wasn't too bad, considering it was 1977 and few people made the right stuff. My clothing came largely from my father and sisters' closets; 1950's natural and coarse fibers, plastic buttons replaced with wood from the local Sew-Frow store. The jacket was a sack coat pattern, purchased in a souvenir shop, poly-wool blend with a proper shape but nothing like the correct pattern. It would go. My canteen was Spanish-American War vintage, called by the hobby "Span-Am" and unappreciated, because it was no more a relic than a Civil War relic was at the time of the Spanish-American War. It too would go. Craig had sold me my Kepi so it was acceptable, but it was too nice, not befitting a dirty Authentic, and it would soon be replaced by a slouch hat. My shoes were Thom-McCann desert boots with rubber soles. They laced more or less properly, looked something like brogans in tall grass, were the only option to all soldiers at the time, and would do. My weapon was a two-band Zuave, for some reason the most prevalent rifle in the hobby at the time, but rare in the real war. I suppose an Italian entrepreneur grabbed the first musket he could find (a Victorian European favorite) and reproduced it to feed the strange American past time. Dave offered to trade it and $75.00 for a slightly used 1861 Springfield repro (reproduction). I had no idea what my Zuave with sword bayonet was worth compared to that Springfield, but accepted the trade in faith. I now know the trade was favorable to me. I carried that musket for 23 years until the stock cracked. Although no less than the late author and reenactor Brian Pohanka accepted it at a Bentonville safety inspection, I retired it to my den wall. It is not an artifact of the Civil War but a connection to Dave. I bought a new Springfield.
Dave told me my other bayonet with a strange inscription was Egyptian. I never really understood that but took him at his word. I soon purchased a new one. My hat remained a problem. I didn't like my "look" in that acceptable kepi. Dave suggested I go down on Broad Street in Richmond to an "ethnic" clothing store and see what I could find. I did. I could tell it was a good hat when I first saw it on its styrofoam head display. With the feathers and hat band removed, it was "correct".
That night, Dave boasted that he only had an 8th grade education, but knew more than all those other folks (a paraphrase). I soon learned that he was right. He was the most intelligent, modestly educated man I have ever known.
Three months later I matriculated as a Rat at Virginia Military Institute. The newest and youngest member of the 23rd, I was a nobody. Dave sent me a couple letters of encouragement.
Over the 31 years I have known Dave and shared this common passion, there have been created a number of memories that I cherish. I won't attempt to recount them all now, but will tempt you with a few.
Dave was certainly somewhat overweight. But his handsome features cut a fine figure in an officer's uniform, particularly when he was mounted. I remember once he rode to the front of the battalion on a gray mare. Some soldier from back in the ranks with a deep, loud voice yelled, "Hey look, a horse with two assholes!" Had we not known that the offending private loved Dave just as we did, there might have been repercussions. The boys had a hearty laugh. Dave smiled.
Dave liked to use big words. But he didn't use them particularly well. For instance, soldiers advanced to the front were "scrimmagers" (skirmishers), simulated artillery shell explosions were "paratactics" (pyrotechnics), Spaghetti was "psghetti", we were ordered to "stagnate" (stagger) our fire, a term with no historical basis. Dave even referred to himself in the third person, usually recounting a scolding from his wife, as "Davitt". I guess it was an east end accent. We called it "Dave Speak", and changed our vocabulary accordingly.
Dave always commanded, and he once led a wing of the Confederate force in the always intense Saylor's Creek Reenactment. Our battalion advanced through the woods to the edge of a field. The left flank of the Federal army lay there, exposed in that field, up on a hill. Dave maneuvered the battalion a little to the right, to get an angle on them, then advanced us at the double-quick towards the exposed enemy. We covered three-quarters of the distance with a Rebel Yell, confident of our coming success. Then, from our own flank, hidden by an accident of the ground, a Federal company stood and delivered a devastating volley which broke the attack. Our survivors fled back to the woods. Dave was thereafter known as "The Butcher of Saylor's Creek". We loved the name, but I think it embarrassed him.
Another year at Saylor's Creek Dave was in command of the entire Confederate force. We assembled for Saturday's fight, I on the left wing of the line. Dave appeared in front of us splendidly mounted with a megaphone, something like a cheerleader of today might use, except of leather and brass. He directed that megaphone to the right, and began giving us important instructions, which none of us on the left could hear. Slowly he turned the megaphone in our direction and we comprehended a few words, before he turned the megaphone away from us again. Again there was silence. They were the most memorable instructions Dave never gave us. We reenact the megaphone event to this day.
Prior to the Antietam 125 event, Dave called me in Virginia Beach and asked me to stop by his home in south Richmond and pick up the unit trailer. That trailer was essentially the back end of a pick up truck with far more weight in body than in capacity. I spent two tanks of gas getting the trailer to the event site, believing valuable unit equipment was in tow. We arrived that night to find the trailer contained nothing more than Dave's rope bed. We remained in the parking lot drinking beer and slept in that rope bed, fending off the chill. It was actually one of the more comfortable event nights we've enjoyed. It took another tank and a half to get it home. It was the same rope bed we loaded on a bus in Richmond and took to Tennessee for the Shiloh 125 event. We carried that bed a good half mile into camp for Dave. It was part of our duties. I don't recall anyone complaining.
And so I have been an enthusiastic member of the 23rd Virginia for 31 years. Dave retired from the 23rd many years ago and organized a little less vigorous, but no less authentic group in the Confederate Military Force. Years would pass between encounters. But time meant nothing in his relationships with others. His friendships didn't diminish with time. They became more endearing.
In March of 2008, God would give us a blessing. At the Jamestown Military Through the Ages event, with 30-some participating units, Dave's little band would be assigned a campsite next to his beloved 23rd Virginia. It was a wonderful reunion. Many stories were told and hugs given. Dave was obviously ill, but his spirit would suggest none of that. He treated the kids of the 23rd to his famous version of "Guitarzan". As our reunion drew to a close, the old boys of the current 23rd, only a small sampling of the many lives he touched, assembled around Dave. A photograph was taken. He was seated proudly in the middle. We were his boys. We all knew that. Three months later he was gone. His wife, Michelle, later told me he believed it might be his last event. And he wanted to be there. We never knew. He wouldn't have wanted us to know. We buried him with a 23rd Virginia Volunteers color guard.
And so I'm posting these pictures. I hope by the time you've read this they have loaded. I've posted them with large resolution so that some of you might pluck a photo and save it as a memory of this guy.
If you'd like to tell us a story about Dave, send it in to the webmaster. I'll post it below. Don't worry if it's a little off color; that's who Dave was.
And to you, David. You may go now, to the encampment of our heroes. And tell them of our jubilee. We will miss you, my brother.
David Seay (far right) and his 23rd Virginia
First Born: Amanda
Left to right: Floyd Bayne, David, Butch Meyers, Tim Mahalco at Bryan Park.
Bentonville, NC: David stands to left of stack on right. He would later please the crowd by wearing a bonnet as one of Sherman's Bummers;
documented apparel of one union soldier. Far right is Bob Wilburn and next to him in tan pants is John Jerrell.
Gettysburg Living History
Jamestown with Mike Rayne's Boy
Son Patrick and first-born Amanda
David Wayne Seay
We offer our deepest sympathies to the Seay family and share the loss, for he was certainly part of our family; one of our brothers.
The 23rd Virginia Infantry
Jerry Harlow is wrong about meeting Dave 22 years ago, it was more like 32 years ago at Moorefield, WVa. Dave introduced him to C.F. and me but Jerry might not remember as he was looking for C.F. at the time. Jerry can tell the story.
I met Dave in 1974 or 75 as one of the first people met outside the
unit I had joined. I had joined the 11th VA in the fall of 1973 and the
11th was the first breakaway from the 23rd. I often fell in with the
23rd in the 70s and have spent many hours talking with Dave over the
years. We often ended up at tiny events with nothing much else to do but
talk. When I was doing events as a sutler Dave was always welcome to a
chair in my tent where we talked and I ignored customers.
Do any of you all remember that little sham battle we put on at the Richmond Braves Baseball field? I think it was called Byrd field.
I think Dave organized it. We came out during the 7th inning stretch, the yankees set up at home plate with a cannon and a few muskets. We Cornfeds (mostly 23rd VA) attacked by basically going around the bases then charging the Yanks down the 3rd base line.
I remember that all of us were laughing a bit at the whole proposition, but we were going to put on a good show. I remember that the calfskin head on my drum started tearing until it was completely shot, when we got to the Yanks I took a hit by doing a forward somersault and landing with the drum on my head (through the torn drumhead). Then I staggered around "wounded" with a drum on my head. I think a picture of that ended up in the Richmond Times Dispatch. The short of it was we all had a blast, with Dave in the lead. We were like Robin Hood and his Merry Band. Any of you all remember that event? Greg Starbuck
There was only one Dave Seay. I met Dave twenty-two years ago, and all of us in the reenacting community laugh as hard today as we did back then when with Dave. He was the greatest unpaid entertainer anyone ever knew. We cannot think of him without laughing at his antics. The van backed up to the Holiday Inn porch at Gettysburg while he danced and sang the night away, shouting commands through the megaphone, the complete rope bed we carried a mile for our Dave at Shiloh, all the Johnny Horton songs, "stagnating that fire!" We are extremely saddened by the loss of Dave. Jerry Harlow (Louisa, VA)
Dave Seay was a pard of mine. A wonderful man that I was happy to call my friend. I guess God needed a Confederate general to make Pickett's Charge work this time. Private David Speer 23rd Virginia Infantry (VA Beach, VA)
Dave always had a spark of cheerfulness and brotherhood in his eye. He was a joy to be around. He was not just your friend, he was family and treated you as such. The world needs more people like Dave, hopefully all of us who were blessed to know Dave will follow his example. We will miss him; he now belongs to Jesus. Greg Starbuck (Lynchburg, VA)
I met Dave July 1978 in Gettysburg and from that point on he and the 23rd Virginia were a major part of my life. His dedication to the hobby, Virginia, and the South was unsurpassed. I don't think I've laughed so hard or had so much fun whether it was marching down a dusty road or sitting in the back of his van listening and singing Johnny Horton songs. To his family I want to express my deepest sympathy. May God hold you in the palm of his hand during your time of profound sadness. To my old pard, you will be sorely missed. We will keep the campfires lit and the flags waving in your honor. Mike Raynes (Woodford, VA)
Seay Family; We in the reenacting community share your lose. We will always remember Davy with a smile and kind thoughts . Every time I form up for a battle I will be thinking of Dave. God Bless you. Tom (Bunky) Pruitt (Broadway, VA)
While I only met Dave a few times, I knew about his dedication to his family, his humor and his dedication to the hobby from my pards in the 23rd Virginia. I heard so many stories about Dave from Donald Currin, Jerry Harlow, Mike Raynes and other long-time members of the unit that I felt that I knew him. The world is diminished by his untimely departure but the angels in Heaven have another in their ranks. I wish to express my sincere and heartfelt sympathy to David's family and friends in this time of loss - please know that you are in my prayers. Chris White (Chincoteague, VA)
Thanks for letting me know about Dave. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He always had a hand shake and a smile for me. I met him back in the late 60’s at Gettysburg when we were still kids. He fell in with Knee Deep, me and a few others. Old Gen. Henry Horn commander. We hit it off right away. I wish I had gotten the news sooner because I would have been at the funeral. Don
A Man I knew
Please submit a story you may have about Dave to the Webmaster.