In the same vein as one of Stephanie Ann's posts of the much-borrowed "25 things about you" on her own blog, Which by the way you should really visit :) I decided to reveal some unusual trivia about myself or where I come from. While I cannot promise that it will be 25 items long, or that I can write all of it in one sitting, some things will be sure to make you say, "Hmm..."
I'll try to keep it relevant to the historical time period I portray, but certain amusing anecdotes are sure to creep in from other areas of my life. Enjoy.
1. I am still 100% convinced I was a soldier in at least one past life. As a very young toddler I would tell stories about "When I was in the Army" before I even knew what the Army was.
2. My first trip to Gettysburg was in 1989. I was 5 years old. After returning from the trip I impressed my kindergarten class with a small oratory on Pickett's Charge. The teacher wrote my Mom a note and asked how I knew so much about the battle. My most vivid memories of that trip were the old visitor center and cyclorama, the electronic map, the audio driving tour (which I still have the cassette tape of somewhere), my 3 year old brother tripping and getting "wounded" at Devil's Den, and a very creepy wax museum somewhere in town. Among the mementos I have from that first trip is a small cast iron and bronze cannon which still sits on my desk.
3. Prior to becoming a Civil War reenactor, I had never even shot a rifle before. I had held my cousin Billy's musket and practiced drilling with it, but my School of the Soldier in April of last year was the first time I had ever fired a rifle. (I don't think grandma's .22 really counts as a rifle, it's more of a toy)
4. The first Civil War reenactment my family took me to was the 131st Battle of Chancellorsville, reenacted in Delaware for some reason at Brandywine Creek State Park. It was Memorial Day weekend, May 28-29, 1994. I recently came across the brochure from it and it lists my old regiment, the 2nd Delaware Infantry, as being involved in the event. At that time the regiment was split into at least 4 different companies, company A and company C being in attendance. There was also a 1st Delaware which no longer exists, and both were part of a "Smyth's Brigade", which no longer exists. The 20th Maine, which I fought alongside last year at many battles, was still in Vincent's Brigade as it is today.
I still have a set of plastic Blue & Gray toy soldiers I bought at a sutler from that battle. I think my brother bought a pennywhistle there which didn't survive, being made of some flimsy aluminum. For a snack we bought some vintage 1860's "Sarsaparilla" (pronounced SASS-farilla) that came in brown glass bottles with swing tops. Does nobody make this stuff anymore? It was really good, like the best birch beer I ever tasted.
5. I wanted to be a Union soldier at least two years of my life for Halloween. I have pictures of both my brother and I posing in our home-made costumes. I must have been about 10 years old. Being a reenactor now, I find it hilarious how wrong the costumes were. The chevrons are upside down and yellow instead of blue, the coats Mom made had four pockets on the outside like WWII jackets, we're wearing the fake Gettysburg hats with the crossed rifles, and I have a red stripe sewn on to my jeans. We are both holding flintlock toy pirate pistols and plastic sabers. Any modern reenactor would consider this a blackmail photo and call me the "farbyest" guy alive. But it's still cute I guess.
6. I have a cousin named Bill Stephey who is a reenactor. He is the guy who inspired me to do this.
Bill has worked as a history interpreter at Fort Delaware, and reenacts not only Civil War, but Revolutionary War and Medieval periods also. He led the paranormal investigative team at Fort Delaware up until recently. He has inherited his father's collection of vintage rifles and pistols, and owns a small museum's worth of militaria from just about every American war ever fought. Bill has the equipment to be a soldier from every rank of Infantry in the Union army, from enlisted man to NCO right up to an officer. He can portray a Cavalryman or Artilelryman as well, and a Chaplain, Surgeon or just about any other role relevant to the period. He's a very high-level Freemason and is allowed to wear Masonic decorations on his uniform. He also sails on the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of the ship which bought the first Dutch settlers to Wilmington in the 1600's. All around very cool guy, you have to meet him to fully grasp how crazy he is about history and war relics. I guess you could say he's my role model?
I could go on about his background and credentials, quite a character. But this is about me so...
7. Prior to last year, I didn't ever picture myself as being a reenactor. I also didn't think I would ever be strong enough to do it. I guess I have proved myself wrong.
8. What got me interested in reenacting again was attending a Rev War recreation of the "Battle of the Brandywine" at the same site the 1994 reenactment was held near my house. This was in September 2010. I didn't know this at the time, but my Civil War "cousin" Stephanie Ann was there. She also does Colonial events. It was there I spoke to a few groups about actually becoming a reenactor. I almost became a Revy War guy, folks! I decided on Civil War because it was a lot cheaper.
9. I am the "Jonah" of whatever group I'm with. I seem to be bad luck. Every battle I fight in, something bad happens to me or a friend I am with at the time. I have a story from every event last year, most of them are funny. Like at Spotsylvania, my shoes fell apart and I had leave the event to find a hardware store so I could glue them back together. At the 150th Manassas/Bull Run I was being evacuated from the event for heat stroke, and the golf cart I was riding in almost flipped over into a ditch.
10. I only became a reenactor because they won't let me do the real thing. If you know me, it's no big secret that I speak, act and dress like a soldier a lot of the time. I wanted to join the real military ever since I was a little kid. Now I guess I'm glad I didn't, because for me joining the modern US Army or Marine Corps would be suicide. Reenacting is how I chose to honor my ancestors who fought real wars for this country. And at least nobody can force you to out of service due to health or old age. Reenactors are lifers.
11. I tried to enlist in the Air Force Reserves this year, and was rejected on medical grounds. The medical staff at the recruitment office said, and I quote: "Kid, you better stick to reenacting."
12. I have 5 relatives or ancestors I know of that were involved in the Civil War. One was an Infantry soldier and the other four were musicians. All of them were German-speaking immigrants who served together in the same Union infantry, the 21st New York, Company K. They were all Yankees, and I do this partly to honor them, see how they lived and pay tribute to my own heritage. Switching sides to Confederate to me would be no better than spitting on their graves. I'm a Yankee to the core. Love me or shoot at me, it's up to you.
13. I have to miss out on a lot of battles because I can't go to them alone. I'm not a very good driver. I have a car my family lets me drive, but I tend to get distracted or almost fall asleep at the wheel on long road trips. The longest trip I seem to be able to handle is from my house to the Delaware beaches, which is about two hours. I have trouble focusing on the road and miss turns and exits often. This is even worse when I don't get enough sleep, which I never do when I'm camping. If I had to I could probably drive out to Gettysburg on a good day, but I'd have trouble coming home.
14. I am a horrible insomniac. I was born with a cyst on my pineal gland, which regulates day and night cycles in a normal human being. This means that 4 hours of sleep is about normal for me, and six hours only happens if I work myself half to death. I can actually "forget to sleep" and stay up all night without any effort. This was true even in my infancy.
Most Friday and Saturday nights at reenactments are spent tending the campfires, standing guard on all-night sentry duty, or wandering the company street like a lost soul until dawn. The Surgeons detected my brain cyst about three years ago, when I was getting surgery done on another part of my head. We think it might be inoperable. So I just have to live with the fact that I will never get enough sleep to function properly.
The only advantages to this is are in my lifetime I have witnessed hundreds of the most gorgeous sunrises you can't even imagine. And I will always be alert at night and the first one to arms if the camp ever gets ambushed. :)
15. I like camping even though I never sleep enough. I just like being outside in all kinds of weather. Part of that was why reenacting appealed to me.
16. I have enough scars on my body, either from surgery or from injuries, to look like I have been through an actual war. My favorite on is the 2 inch biopsy incision on my left bicep. It really looks like a knife wound that healed.
17. I am one of the few reenactors I have encountered who is skinny enough to pass for a convincing soldier of the 1860s. I have a lot of vitamin deficiencies, very thin hair, and bad teeth. I am strikingly tall, but not in an unheard-of way for a soldier. I am convinced that if I ever become one of those ubiquitous TBGs (tubby bearded guys) in the future, it will be time to quit reenacting.
18. I'm glad that pets aren't allowed at most reenactments, because I am afraid of most dogs. I don't mind being around horses though and otherwise like animals a lot. I don't think the "old army mule" gets represented at reenactments. In the infantry mules were the beasts of burden and did all the work, horses if I'm not mistaken were saved for cavalry fighting.
19. I find myself wishing reenactments were more realistic sometimes. I want to actually march into a field with clouds of dust explosions representing cannon shell bursts. I also want to ride a horse wagon into a campground from the parking area, not a bus. Maybe once in a while, company cooks could slip a laxative into the food just so we could get to experience being horribly sick in camp for one night. I think all reenactors are a bit masochistic when it comes to this. I've met people far worse than I am.
20. I think I'm unusually clean for a reenactor. I take a change of modern civvy clothes to get into so I don't have to ride home and enter rest stops or restaurants in my filthy sweaty uniform. I also bring old towels and washcloths to sponge myself off after exerting myself in battle. I typically bring an extra shirt to put on so I can hang up the other one to dry on a tent rope. Most of the places we go are very sunny and windy, you'd be surprised how quickly your stuff dries out if you hang it up.
21. I have an electrolyte problem and poorly functioning kidneys, which means I have to carry at least a bottle of Gatorade or extra Smart Water in my haversack at all times. I recently found these dissolving Gatorade tablets you can drop into a water bottle and within a minute you have Gatorade. I found this saves a lot of space. The tablets come in a little container no bigger than a shotgun shell.
22. Really, I have a lot of health concerns that I think would prevent most people from reenacting. But I do it anyway. I like to tough things out. I still like to believe that it's making me stronger and I should keep doing this.
23. If my muscles are sore after a reenactment or a parade, I found that laying down and resting for a day doesn't help. It only makes me hurt more. If I go out jogging or exercise, it makes a lot of my aches go away. My legs hurt a lot this morning, but after a run around the yard they didn't hurt anymore. With my degenerative bone and muscle conditions (which a Civil War veteran would probably consider "rheumatic") it does more damage if I'm inactive for my recovery, because my bones lose strength and my muscles start to atrophy. Part of this could be due to my high metabolism. I find it's better for me to stay in motion to keep myself conditioned.
24. I eat like a pig and yet can't seem to retain any nutrients. I bet most reenactors might be silently jealous that they can't look as fit as I am. I'm really not as healthy as I look but it doesn't matter.
25. I have always been known to tough it out and not complain if I'm really overexerting myself. If I start acting illogical or dopey or slow, give me some food!! general rule to follow. If i have any trouble keeping up with my comrades, I won't make it obvious.