Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Sentimental Letter from a Soldier.

During the long winter months when unpaved roads were difficult to travel, almost all enlisted men in both armies were unable to return home to see their families.  Letters and telegrams were the only way to reach home. 

We cannot imagine what it was like to be homesick in those days.  In fact we're so connected to everyone all the time, I think it tends to make friendship --and even inter-family relations-- rather superficial and meaningless.  In the 19th century, friends were for life.  People lived in the same place for decades, with a great many of them never venturing more than 100 miles from the place they were born, or in some cases, beyond the boundaries of their farms or cities.  Generations of families often lived together, and the young'uns would care for their parents and grandparents as they aged.  When relatives or friends would come from far away to stay in town, they often stayed in the home of their guests and would stay for a month or up to a year perhaps, sharing in the pleasant life of the homestead.  Men and women married very young, the girls as young as fourteen to sixteen years of age; and divorces were very humiliating and secret affairs not to be widely publicized. What a contrast to today!

For the soldier living on the road from one battle to the next, a private's tentmate became what we would call his best friend, or maybe even a brother.  The respect and admiration among fellow soldiers was almost something beyond anything we know today... in a way that we might consider vaguely homosexual by today's standards.  (perhaps "domestic partnership" is a better word)  The men cooked together, ate together, marched together into battle, sang together, accompanied one another on fatigue duty at times... and even slept together, literally hugging each other for warmth on cold nights.  In Hardtack & Coffee, John D. Billings writes a good chapter or two about how close these men were to each other.  He explained that one would often become the "old man" of the "household", and the other would sometimes fall into the role of the "old lady," maybe doing laundry and cleaning up after meals, or looking after the more dominant soldier of the union.  Their bonds were so great, that one often took the responsibility of writing the dreaded letter home to the other man's family about the fate that befell him.

We can't comprehend a connection like that, or recreate it as reenactors. I really don't think we can, no matter how hard we try.  Any company within regiment of the United States Army was like a family.  Surely, there were trouble-makers in every branch of the military: mean people, fight instigators, cheats, liars and scoundrels; but these men became unpopular very quickly and soon found themselves without friends.

For a soldier in either side of this conflict, the written letter was often his only connection to home.  Can we even imagine what it would be like to wait six months for a letter to arrive in the mail with your name on it? During which time you would have absolutely no idea where your loved ones are or what they are doing?  In this age of Twitter and Facebook, we can't.

The Civil War was a heartbreaking conflict for both sides, and letters written to and from home to the brave soldiers (in widely varying degrees of grammar, penmanship and vocabulary) are among the most touching and sentimental pieces of literature ever written by human hands.

The following is a letter from a Union soldier named Sullivan Baillou to a girl named Sarah, possibly his wife. I just happen to think it's one of the coolest sounding Civil War letters I ever read:

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington


My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.


The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .

Sullivan


Sullivan Ballou, among many thousands of other young men like him, was killed a week later at the first Battle of Bull Run, on July 21, 1861.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Song for Christmas Eve.

A SONG FOR XMAS EVE. 
BY FRANK DEMPSTER SHERMAN. 

 Come, draw around the fire, 
And watch the sparks that go 
All singing like a fairy choir 
Into the realms of snow. 
Above us evergreen, 
With mistletoe in sprays, 
And tenderly the leaves between 
The holly-berries blaze. 
And while the logs burn bright, 
Before the day takes wing, 
The happy children, gowned in white, 
Their merry carols sing. 
Then high the stockings lift,
Like hungry beggars dumb,  
Good Santa claus, bring every gift, 
And fill them when you come! 

--from Harper's Round Table. New York, Tuesday, December 24, 1895. The below print is a sketch by renowned 1860's political cartoonist Thomas Nast, whom many consider to be the man who invented our modern day depictions of Santa Claus.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Boy Soldier in Camp - A military summer camp for boys in the 1890s

Following 2-page article is transcribed from Harper's Round Table, New York edition, Tuesday November 5, 1895. (of which I have the bound copy of issues from 1895-1896, sorry not available to loan)

 THE BOY SOLDIER IN CAMP.
BY RICHARD BARRY. 

IN every boy's heart - I am sure in every American boy's heart - there lies a love for martial things.  The sound of a fife and drum, the sight of a soldier's uniform, stir him and set his blood a-tingling.  Does there exist anywhere a boy or a man who has not "played soldier" at some time in his life?  No; I judge not in this country.

Every one who witnessed the Columbian parades in New York remembers the march of the city school-boys.  With shoulders and heads erect they kept their well-formed lines; their young officers knew what they were about, and gave their orders sharp and clear.

These boys had been drilled every week on the play-ground, the street, or in one of the regimental armories, and they had caught the spirit of the thing.

Some people have been foolish enough to decry military training in our public schools.  Have they ever thought that these boys will soon be large enough to carry real muskets if it should be necessary?  The big majority of our soldiers in the last great war were under the age of twenty-four.  But there are other things to be considered. 

The writer has for some years past been interested in one of the largest boys' clubs in the city of New York.  It has grown from a rather unruly mob of youngsters, gathered from the streets and tenements of the great East Side, to an orderly, well-governed body of over three hundred boys, who can be trusted to preserve their own decorum in the club-rooms, and who do not need a policeman to make them toe the proper mark.  A military formation has accomplished this.  A large drum-and-fife corps keeps up the interest, and the officers and most of the governors of the club are chosen from among the boys themselves.  A military training promotes respect for proper authority, which is the foundation of all thoroughly good citizenship.  

But as this is not a lecture on the advantages of the system; we must come to the point - the boy soldier in camp.  No doubt the most pleasant as well as the most useful part of the drill life of our militia regiments is the week's encampment at Peekskill.  The men come back brown and healthy, and with the satisfaction of having learned something.  An encampment of boys can accomplish the same results.

At Orrs Mills, Cornwall-on-Hudson, an experiment has been tried with success during the past summer.  A camp of instruction and recreation was established, and the results should encourage other attempts in the same direction.  

The life of the soldier boys was a combination of duty, which might be called pleasant work, and play.  The routine of a regular encampment was followed, and as one regiment or brigade left, another took its place, the same as at Peekskill.

These boys belonged to a Baptist military organization; they were all in charge of an instructor who ranked as a Colonel, but the Majors, Adjutants, Captains, Lieutenants, and non-commissioned officers were boys of from twelve to fourteen.

In the early morning the boy bugler turned the camp out at reveille, and the sergeants called the first roll; then the companies marched to breakfast in the mess-tent, where plain wholesome food was provided in plenty.  After the meal came guard-mount, a ceremony requiring considerable knowledge, and of the most importance.  The old guard was relieved and dismissed, and the new one took its place; sentries were posted, and the day of the soldier began.  Drills and squad details followed.  Excursions into the neighboring hills, plunges into the swimming-pool, and target practice kept the time from dragging, and at dress parade in the evening buttons and arms were brightened, the regiment took its position on the meadow near the camp, and the companies were accounted for.  Then the Adjutant read the orders for the following day, and the Colonel took command; the drums rolled, the fifes shrilled, and as the last note sounded, the cannon roared out sunset, and down came the flag.  The soldier's day was over.  "Taps" set the echoes going at nine o'clock, and tired and happy, the boys fell asleep in their cots and blankets.



There is no use saying that this does not pay.  It is the thing the boys like.  Tell a boy that a thing is "good for him," and he generally dislikes it, but in this case the boys do not have to be told.  They take to it naturally.

A word as to the starting of a boys' military company might come in well here, and might be of interest.  It is an easy thing to start one, the trouble being to hold it together; and this all depends upon the way one goes about it.

All that is necessary at first is to get the boys and find a person who is capable and willing to assist them in learning the manual of arms and the school of the soldier.  Almost any State regiment or company will supply a man who will take interest enough to attend all drills, and give up a fair amount of time for sheer love of of soldiering.

There must be one thing kept in mind; there must be no half-way interest, and there must be no foolishness; the more serious one is at first, the more successful the latter work.  It will not take long for a boy Lieutenant to be able to take command if he studies; he must enforce attention, and be sure in his orders.  Once let the others find out that he knows well what he is talking about, and they will respect him and obey him as eagerly as if he were forty years old and six feet tall.

Arms and uniforms are absolutely necessary, and of course cost money; but it is quite surprising at what comparatively small expense a company of boys can be outfitted.  Drill muskets of wood ar ethe cheapest, and can be procured with detachable bayonets, but the best of all is the old Springfield smooth bore cut down and reduced to about five pounds in weight.  A company of boys thirty in number can be equipped with these strong pieces at the cost of about sixty dollars.  [Ed. note: There must have been large surplus stocks of these in armories from the Civil War-- fought only thirty years prior-- also imagine buying thirty rifles for sixty dollars! Oh, for a time machine]  A good uniform costs much more; but serviceable fatigue-caps can be purchased for less than a dollar, and a uniform made out of good strong blue cloth for five or six dollars.  Good drums can be procured at about the same expense as the uniforms, but it does not pay to get a very cheap drum.  By enlisting the interest of parents, uncles, and the family in general, an eager boy will accomplish wonders in outfitting himself, and a fair or an entertainment well worked up will draw funds from unexpected sources.

THE CAMP.

Supposing, however, that a company of lads connected with a school, a society, or perhaps entirely independent, wishes to reap the benefits of faithful drilling and go into camp.  The first thing to be done is to get the older heads to agree in helping out the venture, then to find a suitable locality, and one not remote from home.

Good drinking water, and plenty of it, is a sine qua non {this for Latin scholars}.  The ground should be dry and hard, and in as much of a sheltered position as possible, and there should be a wide open field devoid of stumps and muddy places for a drill and play ground.  One of the first difficulties will be the procuring of tents, and here, of course, will come a rub.  There are, however, many places where they can be rented for the purpose in the big cities, and no make-shift wigwams should be attempted.  In some states the military authorities, approached through the proper channels, may be able to loan tents for the purpose, and a letter to the Adjutant-General will procure all the information upon the subject.  But even if tents are not to be had, the idea of a military outing need not be given up.  A hay-mow is far from a bad place to sleep in, and a fair-size barn will accommodate a large number of boys who do not object to roughing it.  The cooking could be done camp fashion, outside; and that brings us to one of the most important points- food, what it costs and how to get it.  A cook should be hired, and one man can cook for a large number if he has a detail of young soldiers to help him with the mess-gear.  Every boy should bring, besides his blankets, a knife, fork, and spoon, and a tin plate and cup.  It will cost to feed a healthy boy in camp at least forty cents a day; the thing to avoid is waste.

In such a short article as this is out of the question to go into general detail, and of course without the help of older people and without funds it is impossible to do anything.

A boys' encampment should be managed by the boys themselves so far as the duties are concerned.  They should be responsible for their own order and behavior, but of course it is necessary to have some one with experience at the very head, and a doctor or surgeon must be enlisted for the time.  This is most important.  Any militia regiment would provide a volunteer for the position of Colonel or post commander, and care should be taken that he is a man who is well fitted to instruct and versed in the usages of camp life.

Three or four things the boys have constantly in mind.  While they are supposed to have all the enjoyment they can, they must remember that they are soldiers, and that duty is first.  Once looked at seriously in this light, it is wonderfully surprising how quickly a boy will learn.  Another thing to remember is that every one of them may be an officer some day, and that his companions recognize merit as quickly as men do, and that he must listen.  To a young officer a good word of advice is, "make your men listen"; and that can be accomplished by speaking distinctly and evenly, and not pompously or in a shambling, careless manner.

They say that a week in camp is worth a winter's drill; and if the advantages are so great for our grown-up soldiers, they will of course work the same way with the boys.

During the war of the rebellion a military school in Virginia turned out into active service on the Confederate side.  They actually met and fought grown men, and stood their ground bravely.  Discipline made men of them, and a pride in their organization put years on their shoulders.  Of course it is not expected that our boy companies will be called upon to fight nowadays, but as the strength of a nation often depends on the striplings in the ranks, it can work no possible harm to begin early.  We trust that in the next year there will be many new encampments, many new companies formed, and that the various state governments will give all encouragement to the boy soldiers who in a few years may serve them well in the National Guard in case of riot or trouble.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

BGA Gettysburg 150 event - Press release 11-28-2012

Reenactors Make Gettysburg 150th their Own

Blue Gray Alliance reenactment draws interest from volunteers for the 150th commemoration June 27-30, 2013

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – 11/28/2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


CONTACT: Kris Shelton- Event Media Coordinator Longstreet’s Corps/Blue Gray Alliance 150thgettysburg@longstreetscorps.com

Reenactors from across the country and especially those from the Gettysburg region want to be part of the 150th Commemoration and Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg well before it starts June 27 to 30, 2013. “We’re ready to spend as much time as we can get on the site early in the spring to help get it ready for the big event,” said Darryl Markijohn, Commander of the U.S. Volunteers many of whose members are based in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. “My guys are already talking about work days on the property, clearing land, and tidying camp areas.” Similar offers have been made by other reenacting units as the 150th Gettysburg Reenactment has ignited a spirit of cooperation among many of the major reenacting organizations in the country.
Planned improvements to the land in order to accommodate the battle scenarios include a fence and stone wall for Pickett’s Charge as well as improving roads for better traffic flow. “The reenactment site is in very close proximity to Gettysburg National Military Park and has ample land to accommodate the attendees and the battle scenarios being planned,” Mark Way of the Blue Gray Alliance explained. “Work days for this activity are being discussed and will be put together in coming weeks. The help of the volunteers will really make a difference in getting the site ready for the event.”


The Blue Gray Alliance has committed to providing quality events administered by reenactors in order to heighten the experience and offer a highly authentic presentation. To address this need for an authentic experience for reenactors, the battles for Thursday and Friday, June 27-28, 2013 will be non-spectator events for reenactors only. Spectators will be welcome from 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, June 29-30, 2013 when the major battles of the event will be reenacted.

“Every detail of the planning has been worked and reworked to make all aspects of the event smooth flowing,” commented K.C. Meadows, event organizer and Adams County resident. “For example, we were concerned about a possible traffic back up either on the roads or in the parking lot as spectators paid for the $3 parking fee. To address this, we’ll be offering free parking and spectator tickets will be $10 per person per day and 12 and under will be free.”

As with all Blue Gray Alliance events, special attention to camp layout will provide for all facets of reenacting to have the ability to enjoy a rewarding event. As well the natural topography of the land will lend itself to realistic portrayals of the Battle of Gettysburg and will enhance the attendees’ experience. “We welcome everyone and will do our best to make you feel like family when you attend,” said Way. “We will not falter in our commitment to provide you with the best Gettysburg event you will ever attend. We are with each of you and we would appreciate you each being with us as we continue to plan and implement the Blue Gray Alliance 150th Commemoration and Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg.”

The Blue Gray Alliance comprises many of the major reenacting organizations across the country including over 18,000 members. Member organizations share common goals including reenactments planned and managed by reenactors to ensure the experience is authentic and rewarding for all. For more information on Blue Gray Alliance member organizations, visit www.150thcivilwarevents.com.
For additional information regarding the 150th Commemoration and Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, a Blue Gray Alliance event, visit www.bluegraygettysburg.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter @150thGettysburg.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Harpers Round Table 1896 - A Soldier of Napoleon

The man you see in the photograph at left was born in 1794, and is the only known veteran to have fought in the Napoleonic War as well as the Civil War. His incredible story follows:

A SOLDIER OF NAPOLEON.

"Most of us nowadays, when thinking of the Napoleonic wars, consider them as a part of the remote past, and it is difficult to realize that there may be people still living who took part in the battles of Marengo, Jena, and Waterloo.  But all of Napoleon's soldiers are not yet dead, and one man who fought under the great French general is said to be living now near Cleveland, Ohio.  Whether it is true or not, it is a fact that only recently one of Napoleon's old warriors died at the Soldier's Home, Kearny, New Jersey.
His name was Henry Mueller, and a picture of the old gentleman is given herewith. He was born in Germany in 1794, and when the French armies invaded Prussia Mueller was fifteen years old.  With many of his compatriots, he was drafted into the Grand Army, and marched off to Russia to fight the Cossacks and the cold. He was at Moscow, and tramped all the way back in the disastrous retreat, suffering untold tortures, and seeing his fellow soldiers falling in the snow at almost every step. But Mueller kept up, and lived to get back into Germany, and to fight at the battles of Bautzen, Leipsic, and finally in the great battle of Waterloo.

After Napoleon had been captured by the British and sent to the lonely island of St. Helena, and the great armies of Europe had been disbanded, Mueller took ship and came to the United States. Not long after his arrival in this country the Seminole and Mexican wars broke out, and the old spirit of the soldier was reawakened in Mueller, and he went again to the front, this time wearing the American uniform and fighting for the American flag.  So much warfare had now made a confirmed soldier of the German, and so when the war of the rebellion broke out in 1861 he again took up his musket and fought through the entire war.

One of the most wonderful things of all these experiences is that Mueller was never seriously wounded, and managed to keep himself in such good health that he lived to be over one hundred years old, and spent his last days in peace and comfort in the Soldier's Home, smoking his long German pipe on the lawn under the trees, and telling of his own personal experiences, which, to most of us, are part of a very remote history."

See the full scanned page of this incredible article on Scribd here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/114694305

It's very hard to believe, but what if it was true?  If this magazine is from 1896 and the man died recently, born in 1794, could a man his age have fought in four different wars, from Napoleon to Lincoln?  What amazing stories that man must have had.

Other veteran facts:  The oldest known veteran of the Civil War died in 1956. Albert Woolson was 105.  He is the only soldier of which color film footage exists.  He outlasted one of my favorite veterans (Johnny Clem) by about twenty years. I read in a guidebook that Woolson made frequent trips to the Gettysburg battlefield during his old age. It also mentioned how, as a young boy, he knew old men who had fought in the Revolutionary War and much later as an old man himself, had friends who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy.  That shows us how our country is not as old as we think it is.

The last veteran of the First World War died on February 28, 2011.  Corporal Frank Woodruff Buckles, aged 110. They called him "The Last Doughboy"

How long will it be until all the World War II vets are gone?

Passing the Winter

Having nothing new to post about reenacting, we must instead look backward into the past. Meet my new best friend for the next 6 months:

This old dusty book sat untouched on a shelf in my grandfather's bookcase for decades. It's from 1896 and nobody has any idea where it came from. A girl's name is written in the book, but she's not a relative and no one we know of. As many Civil War historians well know, Harper's Weekly newspaper was a staple of 19th century living. It was once called "The Journal of Civilization." People would gather around the fire in the parlor and read Harper's stories to one another, in much the same way we gather around the glowing plasma TV screen in the man-cave and use our iPads to read Twitter posts to one another. Nice analogy, eh? You get the idea.

Well, Harper's Round Table was a weekly magazine that grew out of the huge success of Harper's Weekly. Each issue was like a small book in itself, and contained articles on every imaginable subject. At the end of a two-year period, the issues were bound into a hardcover book and sold, as "anthologies", if you will. There was even a book club that one could buy an annual membership to where you could meet and discuss the material. Can you guess what it was called? "The Knights of the Round Table." Members wore a special medallion. This book turned out to be bursting with relevant information, almost as if I was meant to find it. I mean first off, look who's engraving is on page 2:




































This is just some of the material of interest it contains:

-Stuff about the Civil War

-Short stories about the Civil War and the American Revolution which ran from month to month

-Instructions on hunting, shooting and caring for 19th century firearms

-Insights into what life in the Army & Navy of the 1890's was like (This was 2 years before the Spanish-American War broke out. At this point we were mobilizing all our forces because we knew war with Spain was imminent. There is a large calling for men to enlist)

 -How gunpowder was manufactured in the 19th century

 -Women coming into their own as free and equal individuals in society (teaching them how to do novel and "manly" things like ride a bicycle)

-Intercollegiate sports such as baseball and football during the Victorian era

-A speculation about what a voyage to Mars would be like (Heavy H.G. Wells/Jules Verne influence)

 -Advertisements for products which are still in use today...as they looked in the 1890's

 -Industrial machines of the 2nd Industrial Revolution and how they work

 -Tips & techniques for developing photograph plates in your home

 -How insanely much money was worth then (a yearly subscription cost $4.00)

-The sort of toys and games children played with at the turn of the century

-The life, times and culture of the world my great-grandparents enjoyed

 -Much, much, much more.... 

Here is a sample of an advertisement page:


If I had to live without the internet, this would be the next best thing.  Stay tuned for a flood of historical eye candy!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Missing in Action


  Hey folks (I know people are reading this even though none of you comment or subscribe. Somehow this blog is up to 3400 views, so I know you're out there)

Well today was Remembrance Day, and it appears another season of reenacting has come to a close until the springtime. The Lincoln movie came out in theaters today and, though I didn't get to see it yet, I hear it's doing well in reviews.

Regretful to say that this year left a lot to be desired, as far as my own reenacting experience.  I did go to Greenbank Mill in DE and the September skirmish at Ridley Creek Plantation in PA; without my dear Southern cousin I probably would not have known these places existed.  There were only 2 events with my home unit I was able to make it out to.  I  attended one living history at Gettysburg in the peak of the July heat wave, and then the 150th sideshow event in Boonsboro.  Maryland my Maryland was an awesome event, and I'm glad I was able to go to it.  But I still don't own a rifle or gun of any kind, and I quickly began to realize how much of a hassle it is to borrow equipment in a group that doesn't have loaner gear readily available.
  
Rule #1 for new reenactors: When first starting out in this hobby, the FIRST thing you should get is your own rifle and a pair of shoes. These are the hardest things to borrow. The rest of your gear can be acquired a piece at a time as you save up for it.  

Sutlers at reenactments can be the best opportunity to get all your stuff in one place, but be wary of the quality.  Especially late in the season, even the most well-known and popular sutlers are trying to get rid of their products nobody was buying to make way for next year's shipments.  Prices could be reduced, but the goods might also be defective. I bought a canteen from Regimental that lasted me less than a year before all its strap brackets snapped off.

Last year, 2011 of the 150th anniversary of 1861, was a much more fulfilling experience for me.  I attended living histories in Gettysburg, Olde Dover Days and Separation day in New Castle, Delaware. (For those non-Delawareans, Separation day is held in June and celebrates the day in 1777 that Delaware declared its independence from the state of Pennsylvania) I was featured for a brief second on Channel 6 Action News, as a US flag bearer to one side of a podium where a General was giving a speech on Memorial Day, also in New Castle. A picture of me and a short bio appeared in Delaware Today magazine during School of the Soldier in June. (Link to the article)  The 2nd Delaware was a tiny group, and the only official reenactor regiment from my home state.  Everywhere we went it seemed, journalists and photographers followed us.

I tasted my first action at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 2011.  In July I had a near-death experience at First Bull Run/Manassas, as I had to be evacuated from camp as a heat casualty.  And in October I finally got to "see the elephant" at Cedar Creek, lasted the entire battle and had a great time.

This year was quite different. I had a death in the family and was pulled away from reenacting for most of the year so I could clean out my grandmother's estate.  And then my brother got his first job, which made transportation for me all but impossible.  It's hard to make any commitments when you don't know if you'll be able to drive yourself to anything.  And I still don't have a real paying job yet, so everything has to be put on hold for another year.  I switched units, leaving the 2nd DE Volunteer Infantry and joining the 1st PA Rifle Reserves, the 'Bucktails', and then ended up having to back out of every scheduled battle and living history, because I have a brother who works every weekend and needs my car.  Sigh...reality is overrated.

And reenacting is a crazy thing to do for somebody without a job or a savings account.

I can only hope 2013 (150th anniv. of 1863) will hold better times. But until next spring, I'm afraid posting on this journal will be very sparse.  I just simply don't have anything to post, I'm not a scholar on the Civil War and I don't claim to know any more than the next guy.  Just a scared, clueless private who does what he's told and tries to live to fight another day.  And a bit of a Jonah who's barely fit for duty. 

But if you're looking for entertaining anecdotes from a neophyte in this world of bringing the dead back to life...look no further than Company Q.

Happy trails and see you next year!



Monday, October 8, 2012

Maryland, My Maryland -- 150th Reenactment in Boonsboro MD (long post)

"MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND": 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF ANTIETAM WEEKEND
September 7-9th, 2012 

"Maryland, my Maryland" was a large-scale event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam in September 1862. It was planned by Rear Rank Productions, a group known for its authenticity in recreating battle scenarios.  Their website will still be online for a good while probably, so you can go read about the history of the Maryland campaign here in an excerpt from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: http://www.marylandmymaryland.org/about/background/

 (It's very long-winded, about 35 pages' worth I think, so I won't reproduce it here)

The following is quoted from the website:

On September 7-9, 2012, the Rear Rank Productions and the Southern Division will be hosting " Maryland, my Maryland", the 150th Anniversary Reenactments of the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam.

The event will be held about 1 mile from South Mountain, on privately owned property, and is sponsored by the Washington County Visitors Bureau, Central Maryland Heritage League, Brittany's Hope Foundation and in coordination with the 150th Maryland Campaign Committee.

For the past 12 years, we have brought you Fire on the Mountain 2000, Burkittsville, 2001, War on the James, 2003, To the Gates of Washington 2004, Summer of '62 in 2005, September Storm, 2007, At High Tide, 2008, Return to Manassas, 2010 and Along the Potomac, 2011. As a team, we have identified a repeated, documented success model, and it is based upon the following

1. Historic Progressive Scenarios, with unit specific researched scenarios, historical force ratios, good combat distance, and background information so each unit can properly research their role in the event
2. Preservation Dollars. No organizer is getting paid. All proceeds from this event will be donated to Central Maryland Heritage Foundation and Brittany's Hope Foundation. CMHL is the primary organization that helps preserve the South Mountain Battlefield Brittany's Hope Foundation helps with the adoption of special needs children worldwide. The event is built on a business model that will insure a respectable donation on behalf of the reenactors in attendance.
3. Fun. Bringing back the fun of the hobby. We will have good battles, plenty of living history and reenactor education programs, good camping areas for both campaign and garrison troops
4. Event rule enforcement. Most events have rules, but no one enforces them, causing the actions of a few to mar the weekend of the many. This will not happen at this event. There will be even handed polite but firm event rule enforcement. Please review the rules and regulations as listed on this site. These are not "hard core" rules, nor are they lax. They are basic quality and safety rules. For an organizer or commander this is not the "fun" part of the job (if there is one), but rather the hardest part, but one that is rightfully expected by the participants, and as such is the most important part of my job. I owe it to you that the actions of a few do not detract from the experience of the many.
5. Treating reenactors with respect.
6. Honoring and Remembering those Brave Boys of 62, of BOTH sides!
7. Public education. Our goal is to provide high quality demonstrations in order to better educate the attending public, and create in them a better sense of our collective history.
8. The Civil War Experience. To set the stage for each of you to truly experience September 1862, and provide the field on which each of you will excel.

This is an all volunteer effort, with all proceeds going to CMHL, for their efforts in preserving South Mountain, and Brittany's Hope to continue their work assisting with the adoption of special needs children.
  This was less of a spectator-oriented event, and more of a weekend "for reenactors, by reenactors."  It was very well-planned and provided an unusual amount of information beforehand, with regular e-mail bulletins sent out by the event organizers. They were hyping this as a "hardcore event" as opposed to the "mainstream event" in Sharpsburg the following weekend.  About 4,000 infantry & cavalry were expected to attend.

 The reenactment was held on approximately 50 acres of privately owned forest and grassland attached to a large farm on Monroe Road, located off Route 34 and only a few miles outside the small town of Boonsboro. West of Sharpsburg, about three hours drive from Delaware.

Interesting side note: On a family trip through western Maryland in 2010, I visited the Gettysburg, Monocacy and Antietam battlefields and continued out to the town of Frederick, to check out a cemetery where a very distant cousin of mine that lived at the time of the Civil War was buried. He apparently was a wealthy man in that town, who built an impressive brick church which still stands and is buried in the cemetery behind it.  On the way home from Frederick, we stopped at a tourist attraction called Crystal Grottoes Caverns, which turned out to be a small cave system underground with really fascinating mineral formations. It was actually in someone's backyard and was discovered only a decade or two ago.  If you ever go out that way I'd recommend stopping to see it, it's a nice little side trip.  The family that owns that property is very friendly and (for an admission fee) they'll send you on a guided tour of the caverns. It's smaller than you think and takes no more than an hour.  Here's their website: http://www.crystalgrottoescaverns.com/

The point of bringing this up?  Crystal Grottoes turned out to be on Route 34, only a quarter of a mile down the road from the farm that hosted this reenactment!  I sure hope the cannons going off didn't harm those million-year old limestone formations...

...Anyway the directions and parking for this event weren't difficult. The Rear Rank Productions site displayed a satellite view on Google Maps with the parking areas, battlefields, camps and sutler areas clearly plotted out. It even had the exact latitude and longitude GPS coordinates for the registration tent.

Traffic wasn't bad for me going out there. I-95 and 695 took me around Baltimore without a hitch, then I-70 was pretty fast.  I think people tend to mistake the route number for the minimum speed limit.  I prefer to play it safe, just get out of the way and let the morons have their accident somewhere else.  So leaving at noon on Friday I got there around 3 PM.  Registration was painless too, the lines weren't too long.  The staff made sure each participant signed his/her life away as usual and that we had a copy of their medical emergency form in the pocket of our cartridge boxes.

Finding the campsite for the Mifflin Guard was a challenge, as at any other event. More so because I'm joining a new group (The 1st PA Reserves Bucktails) and didn't know or recognize anyone very well.  I still don't have a rifle, so the Bucktails captain let me borrow his old one, then at the last minute he decided he wasn't going due to his wife getting sick.  I was so freaked out by the idea of getting there and not having a weapon that I almost considered spending $750 I didn't have at a sutler, but I was talked out of it. The captain promised he'd let me use his old Springfield and gave it to a pard who was coming to make sure I'd have it. But I didn't get his phone number or his name, so it was a test of faith. Since my only contact for the event stayed home, I had no way to call and ask where the camp was or let anybody know I was there.  Needless to say finding the Mifflin Guard took awhile.

The terrain on the farm property for this event was hilly.  The two parking areas were on a pretty steep hill, and Monroe Road was barely wide enough for two way traffic, even less so with lots of people walking.  Monroe itself went up and down like a rollercoaster. From there we were directed onto a dusty dirt road, leading through a densely wooded area that I think was never meant for cars. There were ruts so deep and dropoffs that I was afraid my small car would get stuck in, very abrupt turns and uneven surface.  My Honda Accord is not an off-road vehicle in the least.  I imagine horses would even have trouble.

Much of the military camps ended up being in there.  The path seemed to lead everywhere and nowhere, and there wasn't many patches of ground to set up a tent on that wasn't covered by fallen trees.  There were no company streets at all, just tents poking out of the brush here and there. Of course, I rolled down the window and had to call out "Hey, I'm looking for the Mifflin Guard camp..."  No one could tell me where it was, but told me to just keep going.  I came to several dead ends and made the tightest 3-point turns I could imagine in front of other cars trying to squeeze through the dirt horsetrails.  I started to worry about finding the camp.  A lot of it seemed to be Confederate.

Finally, the claustrophobic woods opened up to a large field where I saw the big sutler tents on the left, and nice, even rows of tents on the right and blue uniforms. This was more like it.  More asking around without a straight answer.  Then I saw a white wood sign with the rough painted letters "MG". Well, that must be it. I parked in the tall grass which was beaten down flat and start to unload.  There's four different Pennsylvania Reserve regiments, of which the Bucktails is only one. We had the 12th New Jersey next door to us. The 149th PA, the 150th PA and two other groups were also camping with the Mifflin Guard.

The first man I see with a Bucktail hat introduced himself as John Martin. I recognized his name from the company e-mails.  Sure enough, he's got the borrowed rifle for me in his tent.  That's a relief. I went and introduced myself to the Colonel of the 149th who'd be my officer for the weekend.  As other people started to arrive I helped them unload vehicles and set up their tents, as any good reenactor should.

The Pennsylvania Infantry camps were laid out side by side, company streets
running East - West, on a gently sloped hill of long grass trampled down pretty flat (it lends an authentic touch not to be camping on freshly manicured lawns). There were so many crickets and grasshoppers jumping around everywhere, I don't think I saw any two of the same species.  Across the top of the hill ran a barbed wire fence, and on the other side was a plowed field with cows, overlooking westward, a broad valley with red painted wooden barns and no powerlines or streetlamps in sight. We had front row seats to a panoramic view of unbroken sky that would treat us to spectacular sunsets both days and, on that afternoon, a far off thundercloud with forks of lightning arcing into the air.  For now it stayed away from us.

Once camps and company streets were established, the rest of Friday night was typical for the eve of a reenactment: people arriving at all different times, gatherings around the campfire, lax dress code, passing of bottles and snack food around; lots of joking and merry laughter.  The 12th New Jersey's camp was to the left of us, and looking over there I spotted a familiar face.  It was my old 'pard', Dave Archer from Vincent's Brigade.  He seemed to be looking for somewhere to stay. I waved at him and he came over, I couldn't believe we ended up in the same place.  Dave was from my old regiment, the 2nd Delaware.  He showed up without his group and was looking for a unit to fall in with. Of course, he was welcome to stay with us.  We sat down and talked as the sun went down.  The sunset was so magnificent that many people walked up the hill to watch. The first of many times I wished I had brought a camera.


No big surprise, but the strict rules laid down by the event staff proved unenforceable.  The rules stated that:  1) If anyone was caught with a flashlight and not a period lantern or candlestick, the flashlight would be confiscated.  I saw flashlights waving around like lightning bugs for much of the night as people were setting up.  2) Any parked car left in the camp area after 10 o'clock PM would be towed, starting at 10:01.  Wishful thinking!  People were still arriving as late as 1 AM to unload their vehicles.
 
After it got dark, we decided to go take a walk back in the forest and scout out the locations of the confederate camps.  Their tents seemed well spread out and hidden, not like the straight company streets in the Federal camps. Nobody even stopped us.  (I am still leery of "fraternizing" with the enemy, especially after dark. You never know if someone's out looking to capture a Yankee spy)

Around 11:00 the echo of an unseen bugler in the forest played Taps, and it was lights out.

I didn't sleep much, mainly out of anticipation for the next day's battle, but also because of the loud insects and ground that was not as soft as it looked.  I had a new mattress tick (canvas bag meant to be stuffed with dry leaves or straw), but I didn't see any straw bales being sold this time.  So I folded my wool blanket in quarters and did the best I could on my back.  The grass was trampled down, but the ground was uneven and lumpy.  Dave slept in his pickup truck; he was the smart one.  Eventually the voices died down, and everyone was snoring but me.  I never sleep on Friday night. 


SATURDAY : THE BATTLE OF FOX'S GAP,  AND TWO OTHER BATTLES THAT WERE CANCELED


Saturday there was a 'walkthrough' of the tactical scenario for the first battle, the reenactment of Fox's Gap.  We formed up for first call and inspection at 9:30 AM, and our PA Reserve regiments joined together and had our first Battalion drill, consisting of four companies.  Battalion drill isn't too hard, just go through manual of arms with your company and listen to the orders of the Captains and the commander.  We practiced "1st Company, aim, fire!" and so on.  So we were all dressed in our wool coats and full leather accouterments, rifles shouldered and ready to march out by battalion.  It was about 90 degrees and the sun was already heating up.  I remember doubting if I'd have enough water in my canteen.

At last, we hear the order for "1st Battalion! Left face! (doubled up in twos) Forward, March!  And we proceed into the woods to march the dusty trails to the battlefield.  The walk takes about half an hour.

We arrive on the field, and it's a steep uphill slope to a wood fence.  Very tall grass, with bushes catching on our clothing.  We spread out about 6 paces between every man, and practice moving up the hill toward the line of Rebels who wait in the trees near the fence.  The roped off spectator area is behind us.  Having rehearsed the battle and practiced our well spread out skirmishing formations, the commanders discuss how the scenario is to unfold, while we retire back to camp until 11:00 when we reform.

11 o'clock rolls around, and it's time to fall into line. We get suited up, form battalions again and march in columns of four into the dusty trails through the forest.

Then once we get to the staging area, time for the old "Hurry Up And Wait".  The PA Rifle Reserves have to wait on the side of the dusty trails, sitting on logs for about an hour while other brigades move into position. We see the horses marching by and long columns of men filing in.   Off course, we start to sweat as we drain our canteens.  A few guys offer to take them and refill with water from the storage tanks near the camps.  A few minutes later, they come back and say all the tanks are empty already.  So we're headed into battle without enough water. Great. I don't know if I can last the fight.

We look overhead and see ugly dark gray clouds start to gather.  They seem to be moving fast, but in the wrong direction.  The sky rolls by and then it gets darker...and darker...and darker.  Rumbles of thunder are heard, even as we hear the gunshots of the battle starting.   I remember a few of us were looking at the row of "movable outhouses" across the dirt path and one guy says "Think we can break the Guiness world record and see how many reenactors can fit inside those porta-potties?"

It's barely noon, and already it gets so dark out that it looks like twilight.  Then, we feel the raindrops.  Within minutes, the heavens open up and it's pouring on us.  We run for the nearest cover to stand under trees, then we see flashes of lightning.  Curses fill the air as all our leather and wool and rifles get SOAKED.  The dusty roads quickly turn into a slimy, slippery mess.  So much for the battle.  The guys order us to return to camp.   The rest of the battalion leaves and I'm left under a thicket of trees with three other guys.  We head for the nearest rain fly where groups of people are huddled together, waiting out the storm.  I have no idea how far I am from my camp.  We're all standing in puddles of muddy water up to our ankles, or perched on wood crates.  The fly starts to sag from all the water pooling on it.  What a miserable day.  A taste of life in the Army!  After about 45 minutes it finally stops pouring, and I need to slip and slide through the mud to walk back to my camp. The battle was postponed a couple hours.

Once I get back, everyone's sitting around under tents and everything is soaking wet.  Nothing is left dry.  The cooking fire is out and we're all hungry.  So we sit down and try to warm ourselves as the fire's relit.  I eat a dry lunch out of my haversack and spend some time with buddies under the Medical tent.

So then the problem comes about of how to start drying our stuff so we can get comfy again.  The bonfire is rebuilt, and one guy in our regiment gets an idea.  He vanishes into the woods and comes back with a curved fallen tree limb about ten feet long.

Here's what we ended up doing.  You can see me hanging our wool coats and shirts from the stick over the fire to dry.  It worked, but it really made them steam though and everything smelled like smoke afterwards. But if you ever get caught in the rain, I'd recommend using it.  My tent, blankets, shirts and jacket were cozy and dry after awhile.



After a few hours of drying off, we formed up for another inspection.  Amazingly, our rifles fired despite being wet.  The cry of "Huzzah!" went up from the men. Maybe it's going to happen.  We march into the trees to rejoin the battle.

This time, everything has changed.  A thick fog comes in, so thick we can't see more than ten or twenty feet in front of us.  And it was so humid we could see steam rising off of everything. The hats of the men, the bodies of the horses. The whole atmosphere is very dramatic and surreal.  I'm in the rear rank of the firing line, put there by an officer who didn't want me to shoot over a much taller guy's shoulder.  (This is my usual place, being a 'two' as we count down the line) The battle begins as we spread out into our skirmish pickets and start to advance by companies, stopping every few feet to fire by rank.  We have to watch our footing as we march, the ground's uneven and knee-length grass and brush obscure hidden croppings of rock. The artillery line behind us commences firing up the hill, and the explosion sounds muffled in the thick fog.  The top of the hill and the treeline comes into view, and the 'rebs are approaching a wood fence before us.  As they materialize out of the mist, they start their usual hoots and hollers, yipping like foxes and howling like savages.  Why do they always seem to have the covered position on the high ground as we stand out in the open?  Union Generals....

The firing gets more intense and I shoot through about half my rounds, about 20 cartridges as fast as I can load.  The rifle barrel's starting to heat up and I'm not sure if it's my imagination, but it appears to be steaming.  I look down and I'm stepping over motionless men on the ground, with very large grasshoppers crawling on them.  Before I know it, I'm charging at a full run toward the fence and our row of blue coats are like a shooting gallery for the rebels. I see a man fire a shot in my direction, I take a hit and fall backwards.  The remaining survivors of the Reserves fall back and are gone from my field of view as the rebels leave their cover and advance out of the trees.  A Confederate officer on a horse trots almost right over me and for a minute I'm afraid he'll trample me.  The big animal's hoof lands less than a foot from my head.  How these animals stay so calm with all the noise is a wonder to me. If it got frightened and reared up, my head could be squashed like a melon with one of those forelegs.  As the rear end of the creature passes over me I silently pray it doesn't drop something else!

I look "down" the hill, which to me is up as I'm laying downhill, and the land rises up again behind us. The fog's lifted somewhat.  There's maybe two hundred spectators that came out to watch, despite the rain. Having our backs to them the whole time, I didn't know they were there!  They applaud as the battle scenario ends and we can rise up to join our comrades.

The scenario went well after all.  I was thankful for the rain, because it killed that awful heat we had on Friday.  Dressed in wool, I'll take cold weather over hot weather anyday.  There were more storms possibly coming later, so the Frost Town Road & Crampton's Gap battle scenarios were canceled.

Saturday night turned out to be less fun. Even though our smoky dry cleaning worked on the clothes, there wasn't anything we could do about the wet ground.  In a desperate attempt to get comfortable, having no straw,  I stuffed my canvas tick with wet grass and clumps of dirt and threw my wool blanket over it.  It was a night that held little promise of sleep, and at 5:30 the next morning we'd have to march almost a mile to do the fight in the Cornfield.


SUNDAY : THE CORNFIELD

The Cornfield.  This was the most vivid experience of the whole event, and I heard some of the other participants say in the weeks that followed, from now on reenactors would be split into two groups: "Those who were in The Cornfield and those who wished they were"

For the Bucktails of the Pennsylvania Reserve regiments, this was truly our fight. Because on a foggy morning of September 17, 1862, skirmishers of the real Bucktails marched into a very similar cornfield to begin the bloodiest day in American history, 150 years ago.  This was how the battle of Antietam began.  It was an anniversary battle for my company of the Bucktails, so we were allowed to wear the deer tails in our forage caps. A friend had bought one for me yesterday evening, so now I was one of them.   Throughout this well-scripted scenario, without spectators, more than ever before there was a sense of history being resurrected. The conditions were perfect and exactly as eyewitnesses described. It's something that replays in my head like a movie even a month later.

The night seemed all too short, and Reveille sounded when it was still very dark.  We crawled out of our tents to bonfires already blazing, a sky so full of stars and an almost full moon that lit the countryside well enough for us to see. There was only a few minutes to wolf down whatever rations we could before First Call and inspection.  I had never been called to march out at night before; this was a brand new experience.  As we fell in for inspection, the Reserve regiments joined larger companies to form battalions, and the battalions drilled as one unit.  Then other Federal battalions joined us, and we formed a whole division! Hundreds of men, and we were going to be marched out as one force. Once we had formed columns of four, the line stretched so far into the darkness in front of and behind me that I couldn't even guess our numbers.  For the first time at a reenactment, my ears heard a Major call out: "ATTENTION DIVISION. FORWARD - MARCH!"  And the march was on.  At no other time did I feel as much as one tiny man in a huge military machine, headed for an uncertain fate.  We marched on the dirt road across the sutler area, still slipping now and then from the mud but watching our feet carefully.   Then as we reached Monroe Road, we turned left and began the roughly mile long march to where the Cornfield battle was to take place.  

It was a fairly strenuous march as the road was uphill and down, uphill and down. It was so early, we wondered if we were the only creatures on the move while the rest of the county was asleep. We didn't have to worry about traffic on the road at this hour.  Except for this one old pickup truck with one working headlight that came up a side road and tried to turn into us. What an unusual sight he must have been greeted with. An endless line of soldiers, ghostly in the moonlight, marching in the dark to God knows where. Instead of turning around on the narrow one-lane road, it pulled off the side on to the grass and continued past us.  As we watched the red tail lights fade into the black, a voice in the line said with a laugh: "He's tryin' to get home from the party before his wife wakes up..." Quiet snickers echoed echoed down the column.  

Fast forward one hour.  Before we knew it, we arrived at our destination.  The stars were still out, but there was a dim greyness on the horizon.  And before us was The Cornfield...silent and peaceful, a stand of corn over the heads of our men, calm as a gentle sea before the storm of battle. There was no wind to sway them, as if the corn itself was standing at attention and waiting for us.  There was a thick grey haze that hung over the whole area.  We stood and waited for awhile, in a kind of silent awe of this place as it changed before us.  The sky brightened from black to dark bluish grey, finally to white, and the fog was back.  It was so thick that as we took our positions, the field right in front of us almost disappeared.  The sun started to rise, and it was a red ball that made this dull orange glow that shone through the trees.  The reserve battalions were still standing at attention, and I checked my pocket watch. It was about 6:30.  We heard the first pops of rifle shots coming through the fog, and that signaled it had started.  Without shouting, the officers in a low voice gave us the order to go in by companies of skirmishers.  

My grip tightened on the 10-pound, battle-worn model 1842 Springfield in my hands. As the 1st PA Rifle Reserves, we were acting as scouts and skirmishers.  Our job was to go in first.  We formed a well-spread out line with six to ten feet between each man, and cautiously stepped forward.  The corn had to be trampled down by us to see even a few paces ahead, and there was the fog like an impenetrable barrier.  Being the tallest, I was all the way to the right of the line. As I went in, I was on the outside edge of the Cornfield and had a split-rail fence almost brushing against my right side.  I had to aim diagonally to the 'left oblique' when the time came to shoot.  Some men to the left overtook us, and in seconds they had vanished.  I hoarsely yelled "Here they come!" as the whooping rebels came at us. We just barely saw their shadows, and their wide slouch hats bobbing through the sea of corn as they began to fire at us.  I loaded my first cartridge and quickly percussion-capped my rifle, aiming just above their heads, and fired.  It was a dramatic effect the way the leaves of corn husks blew away from my muzzle blast each time.  We stood our ground, firing as rapidly as we could. As more men crashed through the stalks, they trampled them down so we could see ahead better.  We still could barely see what we were firing at.

We exchanged maybe a dozen volleys, and were ordered to fall back.  Many of us stepped backward, not wanting to turn our backs to the enemy.  We had to load and fire so quickly that I kept spilling gunpowder all over my hands, which were sweaty in the humid air and made greasy black smudges.  At this point, I completely forgot this wasn't real.  The cracks of the rifles, the smoke burning my nose, the shouts that filled the air, the recoil of the gun in my hands, the sweat pouring down over my eyes....  Men started to drop left and right as we retreated.  The casualties were convincing.  Men were clutching legs and arms, rolling on the ground and crying out, instead of taking a nap in the heat of battle.  

The survivors of the forward skirmish line, myself included, regrouped with the rest of the Union Battalions, lined up and waited for the rebels to stagger out of the corn and fall into our trap.  There were at least two artillery pieces in front of us, and the nearer one was almost next to me.  There was a young man pulling the lanyard to fire the gun, but he didn't yank it correctly, because the fuse kept fizzling and the gun wouldn't fire.  It took him a few tries, must be a greenie.  When he finally did, I almost lost my hearing in my right ear.  Then we joined in the artillery with our firing by company, by firing by file and then 'at will'  My ears rang like churchbells for the rest of the day and I think for several days after I went home.  I wasn't wearing earplugs; I didn't even bring any.

I posted a video taken by someone following my group and the action in the Cornfield. That is the closest anyone else will get to being there.  I really wish I could have captured it myself...there didn't seem to be any cameras around to record that spectacular sunrise we witnessed through the haze while this was going on.  But like the memories of the scarred veterans who fought on that grey morning 150 years ago, I'm sure the image will stay with me for the rest of my life.

When this battle ended, we were supposed to wait around for three hours until the last one, the big 150th Antietam battle, that was to take place in a neighboring field.  I decided to go back to camp for three reasons. I had left my haversack behind, figuring less weight would let me run easier.  There was no way I'd skip lunch after that long march, waiting 3 hours to fight again.  Second, I wanted to get on the road home early to give me enough time to dry out my tent and gear in the sun.  Third, I was almost completely out of ammunition, and had no gunpowder left to make more.  I had my fill and had seen enough action.   So I thanked everyone and said it was a great time, and made the long walk back to camp.  Meeting Sergeant Martin there who had slept through the battle, I returned the borrowed rifle, broke down my tent at a leisurely pace, and left before the roads were blocked by massive convoys of leaving spectators.  I made the 3-hour drive East without a hitch and was home before 2 o'clock in the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Maryland, My Maryland (Antietam Reenactment) 2012

At about six thirty this morning, a group of men in the Pennsylvania Reserves, with blue jackets and deer tails in their hats, formed a thin skirmish line before a field of corn. The dawn air had an oppressive humidity like a wool blanket, and the wet ground muffled their footsteps. Silently, they crept into an impenetrable fog to meet their destiny.  The stillness of the morning was shattered by the crack of rifles, thunder of artillery and the screams of the wounded and dying.  Just as their role in the battle of Antietam began for the First Pennsylvania Bucktails, 150 years ago on September 17, 1862. Many vanished into the white mist, never to return. A quiet, peaceful morning began the single bloodiest day in American history.

"...Smoke from the artillery and musketry inundated the field. Soldiers in the thick of the fight were covered with the black, greasy stain of burnt powder, which gave a deadly, ghostlike appearance to the participants. The pungent smell of trampled vegetation, sweat, powder and bodies imposed a surrealistic perception that survivors carried with them the rest of their lives." --Carnage in a Cornfield. Robert C. Cheeks, America's Civil War magazine, September 1998

In tribute to those men who didn't come home, we got a taste of that today.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

1930's Footage of Civil War Veterans Doing the Rebel Yell








There are a few surviving recordings from the early 1930's of living Civil War veterans giving the 'Rebel Yell' that can give us an idea of what it must have sounded like.  This is one of them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

They had Rollerblades in 1862??

If you remember the fads of the 1990s you'll instantly recognize this invention. Not as new as you thought.


From "A Guide to Skating", 1862

Avoid the embarrassment of being seen learning to ice skate by skating around indoors and injuring yourself in the privacy of your own home!

I have no idea when roller skates themselves were invented or who first attached wheels to shoes; maybe this would be an interesting topic to research on someone else's blog.

So in-line skates are at least 150 years old...
I miss my Rollerblades.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

More Sketchbook Pages.

In living history encampments, I noticed I had nothing really to do between drills but sit there, talk and eat.  I wanted some old-timey activity I could do that I wouldn't mind spectators watching.  So this idea of keeping a sketchbook is pretty cool. My pencil holder is no bigger than a cigar case and fits easily in my trouser pockets. The sketchbook itself is only slightly bigger than four by six inches, and I can stuff it in just about anything without taking up too much space.  I also tend to draw in it on rainy days at home the week after an event.

First, here's what the cover of my little sketch journal looks like. The newsprint is actually a paper gift bag from Hagley Museum.  Next time I visit that place I should probably ask for a few extra gift bags. I just love the old advertisements.




Above, the title page. This is hand-lettered. I know my letter spacing isn't perfect, it gets crowded near the end of the page, but it looks like I'm trying to mimic typeset and printed letters, which I am.


Above, two new sketches. Those are the best people you will ever see me draw. I had to use a photo for a reference, it was a firing line of one of the New York infantries from 1st Manassas.  They wore the bright red fireman shirts with the shield-shaped "plastron" beneath the collar, visible on the man standing second from the right.  Below, my accouterments as arranged on the floor of a house where I spent the night.

Most of my sketches made on-site will be of everyday objects used in camp, or maybe unusual tent configurations.  I'm not one of those sketch artists that can quickly scribble out a battle unfolding in front of me, I also can't draw people or animals without a photo reference.  But still, it gives me a way to challenge myself and work on my neglected pencil drawing skills. I'm trying to avoid anything in the drawings that would make them look inappropriate to the 1860s period.

There will be many more to come!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1776 pageviews! ...And a survey.

    I logged in today and my page view counter happened to read 1776.  Happy belated Fourth of July, folks!

Last week I didn't go anywhere special to see the fireworks like I usually do. Where my house is located we can hear them going off in several different directions at once and see flashes in the sky though, and occasionally some explosions over the tops of the trees. It sounds like a battle going on all around us. The kids shooting off their own little pyrotechnics in the street only add to the combat zone feeling. It's quite an experience to sit outside, watch and listen.

I will start preparing an upcoming post about my experience in Gettysburg last weekend camping outside in a blistering 103 degrees, the hottest day since 1st Manassas (also called Hot-nassas or Sweaty-asses) But for today I will post some answers to a survey on Miss Stephanie Ann's World Turn'd Upside Down page. A link to this will also be posted in her comments.



1. Websites, blogs and social media can skew our lives and make us look hyper-focused on one aspect of your life. What are some interests/hobbies/ect. that you have that you think your readers/friends might not know about?

I believe in ghosts, hauntings and UFOs, and like to research things that happened a long time ago but were never explained. Like what happened in the Siberian forests of Tunguska in 1908? How did primitive civilizations, existing centuries apart and separated by vast oceans, build similar structures with stone that would be almost impossible today even with lasers, machines and advanced mathematics? Were the Germans developing advanced aircraft in the 1940's that far exceeded the capabilities of our own today? I also have a morbid fascination with great disasters in history, either natural or man-made. Many a sleepless night has been spent looking up stuff that engrosses me or spooks me terribly, which could be one reason why I don't sleep.

Also, I am and always have been a huge geek about Star Wars. I like the franchise and the universe so much, the ships and the robots and the weird aliens were very cool to me as a kid and they still are. Even 35 years later the old movies are still as fun to watch as the first time. But the prequel trilogy was just…overdone. And nobody seems to have anything good to say about the new movies. So I don't publicize that I like Star Wars anymore.

2. What have blogs/the internet introduced you to that you never knew about before?

The internet itself has made me aware of the existence of really cool things I never would have otherwise found, but also many things that I wish never blighted this Earth. Ever since my brother first showed me stuff from 4chan I think part of my soul died. So 20 years from now, will anyone truly care about or understand these stupid 'memes'? Imagine trying to explain this stuff to your grandkids.

3. What are your top 10 most visited websites?

1) Comcast email
2) Facebook
3) Youtube
4) DeviantArt
5) My digital portfolio page
6) Wikipedia
7) Animefreak.tv
8) Google search
9) Anything related to paranormal stuff.
10) I don't know. Whatever I'm curious about.

4. What is your favorite/most bizarre/interesting fact about something in history?

Hard to say, I've researched so many bizarre/interesting things. In the 19th century, especially during the period of Civil War, people seemed to have a much more morbid fascination with death than we do today. Maybe because it was fought on their farmlands and within their cities; they were much closer to it than we are. In the New Millennium we just don't hear about guys getting their arms or legs blown off in Iraq, preserving their mangled limbs in formaldehyde, donating them to a curiosity museum and coming back to visit them every year. That's creepy by today's standards. And I know poor infant survival rates due to disease or high-risk birth was more or less a given thing they didn't know how to prevent, but have you ever seen the portraits they used to take of the bodies of exhumed children, dressed in their clothes and posed as if they were still alive or just sleeping? *shudder* perhaps they were just more comfortable with it as a fact of life. We tend to hide it now or hide from it.

This is over in England and before the Civil War, but look up who Jeremy Bentham was. He chose to be stuffed and put on display after his death at the university he helped to establish. 0.o spooky , man.

5. If you could wake up tomorrow and have acquired a new skill in your sleep, what would it be and why?

The ability to do math. Because I have a serious learning disability in that area. It could help me get a much better job.

6. If you could spend 1 year in a different time period, which would you choose and why?

It wouldn't be the 1860's. I may enjoy reenacting it (most of the time) but the more I learn of how primitive their knowledge was about things like surgery, food preservation and prevention or treatment of diseases, the happier I am I wasn't alive then. If I had to choose a decade, it would be in the 20th century, either post-WWII 1940's or the 1950's. It was the age my grandparents thrived in and my parents were born. I wanted to experience life in our country as it was then.

7. What are your internet pet-peeves?

a) pEoPLe wHo TyPe LiKe ThIs.
b) Ppl who got2 abbrevi8 everything 2 b cool or use num83ers 4 l3tt3rs
c) People who think it's hotttt to slurrrr worrrrrrrds for emphasisssss.
d) The messages I have gotten from dating sites that were formatted like the above.


8. What is your newest hobby/interest? Tell us a little about it.

Reenacting! As an 9-year old who went with my parents to see my first Civil War reenactment, I never imagined I'd be doing it. Not even in college did I think I'd be strong enough, healthy enough, or have the stamina. You must like reenacting or recreating history, or you wouldn't be following my blog.

9. If you could invite 3 deceased people to dinner who would it be and what would you talk to them about?

Both of my grandfathers and my great uncle, who all fought in World War II. There were so many things I always wanted to ask them but I was too young. Maybe they'd tell me now that I'm older. I suspect that my Dad's father was an even greater man that any of us realize and he just didn't want the recognition. And my Mom's father would definitely have good stories. My great uncle Bill I never knew very well, but my relatives all say he was the funniest person they knew and I would have liked him.

10. If you had to play a character in a movie, who would you play and why?

I am so terrible at acting and being anything other than me, so I don't really know. Maybe if I stick with CW reenacting I'll have at least a remote chance of being an extra in a movie.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

148th Battle of New Market, May 2012

Finally got around to putting up the photos from my first reenactment on the year!  This is the one where I turned double agent and went as a Confederate civilian with the 3rd Arkansas.  I can say it was better to just watch a battle for once and not have to fight in it.  As you can probably see my other passion is photography and it's a little hard to do both at once. 

The slideshow is from my Shutterfly page (which you are welcome to follow--if you can't find the button to subscribe send me an email at jdbatt@comcast.net and I will add you to it)

If you had to choose one to submit to this year's CWPT photo contest....which one would you pick for me? I like so many I can't decide.

  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Decided to keep a sketch journal

I finally found something constructive to do in camp besides waste money at the sutlers.   Why not keep a sketchbook!  I found a small hardcover notebook with blank pages, wrapped it in 1860s newsprint, and got myself some cedar pencils.  So now I can sketch things I see during the course of my service in the Union Army. 

Here's what I've done so far.







Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Soldier's "Pocket Pal" - Over 150 Years Old?



Music is of course a well-known staple at reenactments. The overwhelming majority of soldiers knew how to play a simple musical instrument, and even those who had no musical skill whatsoever tried to play them anyway.  

When I was a kid, I don't remember exactly how old I was, my parents gave me a Hohner Pocket Pal harmonica for either christmas or my birthday.  It came with a book and accompanying audio cassette tape entitled "Harmonica for the musically hopeless."  I never really took the time to learn how to play this fairly crude instrument, but I kept it all these years and I used to very much enjoy listening to the music on the tape.

Well, some of my slightly more musically-inclined friends have tried to get me to learn how to play an instrument in camp.  At first I tried "the bones", a simple cow jawbone scraped across the teeth with a metal or wooden rod.  This did seem excitingly easy to play, but the excitement wore off after about the end of the first song, when I realized it could only produce one clicking sound with little variation.  Then I remembered this harmonica entombed in my 'junk' dresser drawer.  I fished it out and was pleased to find I still had the original cardboard case and its songbook, albeit without the cassette.

Then I got to wondering what the harmonicas soldiers might have had looked like, and if they were any different from the cheapest harmonicas of today.  After a quick search on the world's repository of infinite knowledge, the electronic wonder that makes your very enjoyment of this page possible, the results I found rather astounded me.

Hohner Musikinstrumente GmbH & Co. is a German company that has manufactured musical instruments for over 150 years.  It was founded in 1857 by Matthias Hohner (born 1833 – died 1902). Matthias Hohner, who was originally a clockmaker, started making harmonicas (by hand) in 1857 with his wife and a single employee. 650 were made in the first year. Hohner harmonicas quickly became popular, and during Matthias' lifetime he built the largest harmonica factory in the world. During the American Civil War, Matthias Hohner gave harmonicas to family members in the United States, who in turn gave them to the fighting soldiers. In Germany he also became famous for his accordions and other hand-held air-powered instruments.

Even Wikipedia has a well-referenced article about Hohner and all the various types of harmonicas it produced throughout the years.  Their 150th anniversary was in 2007. This is the sort of thing you might never think to look up.

 If you want your very own Hohner harmonica to use in camp along with some historical info to tell the public, you can buy one of these with an accompanying info sheet at Fall Creek Sutlery.

Here is an amusing little picture on a postage stamp of a barefoot German boy, wearing appropriate clothing, fishing pole in the crook of his arm, wailing away on his Hohner.  


(source: National Music Museum, Alan G. Bates Harmonica Collection)

I found my Pocket Pal fits nicely into my upper vest pocket.