Friday, July 26, 2013

My First Reenactment

I don't remember where I found this, I think it had been used as a bookmark a very long time ago and forgotten about.  This is a scanned program from the first Civil War reenactment I ever witnessed, it was in May 1994 at Brandywine Creek State Park, a large field on a hill with a stone wall less than 3 miles from where I live.  This was a year after the Gettysburg movie came out in theaters, and there was a brief resurgence in mainstream popularity similar to 1989 when Glory made its debut.  I would have been nine and a half years old at the time.

The only things from this event I can remember with any clarity are: my brother tripped and fell near the Confederate camp and hit his knee on a rock. He started to make a fuss and, staying totally in character, a Reb soldier walked up, knelt down beside him and said "Are ya wounded, sir!" and washed the cut with some water from his canteen. At one of the sutlers I bought a small set of plastic Blue & Gray army men with little cannons and horses.  They sold Sarsaparilla in old glass bottles and it was delicious. 

Interestingly, this reenactment was sponsored by the Fort Delaware Society and the Second Delaware Volunteer Infantry, the first reenacting group I joined. There were two separate companies within the 2nd DE and were both a part of Smyth's Brigade, an organization which no longer exists.  They were not a part of Vincent's Brigade with the 20th Maine, as they are now. On the flip side of this you can see how the camps and skirmish areas were laid out.

Every time I go to the ground this battle took place on, I think about how I was there years ago and what a great place it is to have a battle. With the stone wall on top of the hill and a long slope leading up to it, you could hold a variety of scenarios there involving the high ground and the strategic advantage it offers. It appears this event in '94 had a small scale recreation of Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg on Saturday, and a scene from the stunning southern victory at Chancellorsville on Sunday.

 It would be fun to have another reenactment so close to my home.  I sorta want them to have another one.  Currently Brandywine Creek only hosts one annual reenactment, and it's a Rev War event. (The land itself was part of the enormous Brandywine Battlefield in 1777, which spanned a huge area from Wilmington almost up to Valley Forge) I cannot picture the Fort Delaware Society being able to raise the funds for another one of these, as broke as historical places are these days.  Or maybe the people who organized this one aren't alive anymore.  Who knows, maybe someday...

At that age, the battle seemed quite scary and dangerous.  I vaguely remember asking my parents "what if someone had a loaded gun and he shot and killed you by accident?" 

I never dared to imagine that almost twenty years later I would be doing this.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Iced Earth - Gettysburg (1863)

Just wanted to put this up one more time before July 2013 is over and the Gettysburg memories start to fade. One of the most epic heavy metal masterpieces ever recorded. About the monumental, gut-wrenching struggle of the three day battle of Gettysburg and the terrible sadness of the aftermath. This is taken from a rare DVD edition with appropriate visuals, battle sound effects, officer dialogue and on screen lyrics. Iron Maiden is another band that writes songs from history and folklore, and in fact is one of Iced Earth's biggest influences.

This needs to be heard.

From "The Glorious Burden" 2003

0:00-12:14 - July 1 1863: The Devil To Pay
12:15-19:20 - July 2 1863: Hold At All Costs
19:21-31:59 - July 3 1863: High Water Mark

Monday, July 15, 2013

Old News - Conan O'Brien Becomes A Civil War Reenactor

One thing Yankees and Rebs can both agree on:  Conan O'Brien should not quit his day job.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gettysburg - A poem in Harper's Weekly


GRANDLY the army wrought, on the murderous field of battle;
It has wiped the stain of defeat from every soldier's brow:
Mid the clash of steel on steel, and shouts, and the harsh death-rattle,
The Army of the Potomac has won a victory now!
Honor to ye brave men, from the battle wounded and gory!
Honor to ye brave men, whom the angel of death passed by!
Ages on ages hence shall others rehearse your story,
And pray that when duty calls like you they may live or die.
Though your worldly lives be obscured in the light of freedom's dawning,
Though the very graves ye rest in be marked with dimness and doubt,
Angel voices shall call to your resurrection morning—
God Himself is your Captain, and He will leave no man out!
Ye, who for weary months have suffered loss and disaster,
Going from love and home to scenes of hatred and pain,
Gaze on your flag with pride, and press toward the enemy faster!
Deck every brow with laurel, and lift up your heads again!
Then kneel reverently and call on the name of Jesus.
Be every head uncovered—each heart in silence adore.
He has crowned us with His love—He has blessed His erring creatures!
His be the power and glory forever and evermore!

--Anonymous poet, Harper's Weekly. July 18, 1863

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Memorable Moments at the "BGA" 150th Gettysburg

For those of us who attended last weekend's Blue-Gray Alliance rendition of the 150th Battle of Gettysburg, the weekend was really a mixed bag. Personally I was glad I went, but some parts of it recreated genuine Army misery.  For example, it rained every evening of the event. Some reenactors will say a Civil War reenactment isn't complete without muddy roads, burning hot sun and torrential downpours.  Well in that case, the "BGA" Gettysburg delivered.  But rather than come up with a huge list of everything I didn't enjoy about the first weekend--which I'm sure many are about to do once they get home from the GAC one-- I wanted to post some photos I did manage to take, and why they made the weekend a memorable experience for me.

Our camps were in a wooded area at the highest point of the battleground, which I thought was one of the few things they did right this time around. It provided much relief from the heat during the day being in the shade, and some protection from the pouring rains we had each afternoon. The humidity was like a jungle, and nobody stayed dry.  But one of the best things about it was waking up Saturday morning and seeing the sunlight coming in beams through the trees and the smoke. It was a nice cinematic effect which I captured below:

This felt like a scene in a movie. Couldn't have asked for better lighting.

The ground on this particular farm was very rocky. Due to the close quarters of the campsites among the trees, our company street was so small that nobody left room for me to set up my tent. So I slept under an extra one that belonged to the company.  It appeared to be over soft high grass, but Friday night it felt horrible and I couldn't find that nice spot, I was poked all over by rocks hidden beneath the grass.  Well as it turned out, they were very sharp and jagged rocks, many of them buried with the pointy side up!  I spent a good portion of the night digging at these rocks with my bare hands, trying to dislodge them from the hard ground so I could sleep.  The roads through camp we had to march on were large embedded stones, which felt horrible on our shoes.

This is the rock quarry that lurked beneath my blanket.  I counted and there were over a hundred of them!.  A pard started using some of them to build a low wall around our company street.
The forested area we were encamped on was on the high point of the farm property. There was a steep embankment at the far end which looked a lot like Little Round Top.  Coming out of the trees, we had a sweeping panorama of the surrounding valley which was a good vantage point to watch the battles from.

The long road to the sutlers in the morning mist.

Watching Buford's cavalry engage the rebs from our amazing vantage point. This may be my favorite photo of a reenactment so far.  Compare with this picture taken in 1862 of soldiers overlooking Federal camps on the Pamunkey river.

There was a night tactical as the sun went down on Friday.  I really wish I could have captured it, but it was too dark.  The fog hung in a low blue shroud several feet above the ground, mixed with the smoke of Federal cannons on the hills.  There was artillery volleying back and forth, and I'll never forget the sound the cannons made as they echoed around the hilltops.  It was more of a continuous rumble. Of course the muzzle flashes from our guns looked cool, too.

The next day the Mifflin Guard was to take part in the Wheatfield scenario.  This battle was one of the worst tactically of the entire event.  We were marched to the edge of the field, but received no order to go in, or somehow missed our cue.  Maybe we were cut off by another regiment that wasn't in the right place and blocking our maneuvers.  Anyway, we stood there, helpless and without orders, as the Irish Brigade charged into the fray without us.  It was kind of stupid, really.   There we were at the edge of the field, we had Confederate rifles shooting at us the whole time and no command was given to fire or charge as the scenario dictated.  On top of that, there was a house or a barn blocking us from the spectators, so they couldn't see us anyway.  We were simply the background noise.

There was a point in each battle where something didn't seem right.  Whether it was a two and a half-mile march to just sit and watch a two-hour battle without taking part as the sun barbecued us with no ice,  or marching and counter-marching, marching obliques and shuffling around or colliding with other Federal regiments while we're being fired at by laughing Confederates, things seemed to never go right until the very end.  I won't be pointing any fingers at my own unit or any other battalion, but somebody messed up.

Weapons inspection, preparing to go into the Wheatfield battle.

Here we are, just standing around while the officers discuss something we should have been doing.

Just a minute after the above photo was taken, after that terrible bow in our line was straightened out, we formed into ranks and commenced firing.  At that instant, a tiny baby deer ran out in front of our volleys and found itself in front of an entire division of the Union Army!  The poor thing looked terrified.  It ran up and down the line to look for an escape, darting its head left and right with scared black eyes the size of walnuts.  We opened up a few gaps in the ranks for it to pass through; we cheered when it finally did.  Then as it ran up the hill unseen behind us, a ground shaking cannon volley nearly knocked us off our feet.  A tall soldier standing next to me said "Well that deer just crapped himself!"

Watch the exact moment of the deer incident at 05:45-05:59 in this Youtube video.

This was during that night tactical of the Culp's Hill scenario of which I took a video. The rifles and shouting in the dim light of the dense woods made the fight very claustrophobic and real.

Marching out on the guidon with the Mifflin Guard in tow. The gentleman on the left behind the boy is about a foot taller than me.

I don't know who this guy is, but I like his choice of hat decoration.  It appears to be the severed claw of an eagle flipping "the bird" at the enemy.  And no, he wasn't looking at the camera. This was zoomed in pretty far.

Then of course, we saw Pickett's Charge on Sunday.  We were at the extreme right (our right, spectator's left) of the Union defense along the wall.  I was able to take this shot because I went out as a "waterboy" (whatever a male vivandiere is called).  I gave tin cups full of ice to wounded men on the field in front of us, even as the guns were firing. With the artillery shaking the ground and men screaming, moaning and shouting over the rifle shots all around me, let me tell you it was the most intense couple minutes of my life.

Has anyone besides us reenactors ever experienced some 8,000 screaming men with rifles charging directly at us from over a mile away?  I certainly hope no one ever has to.

Granted, while many aspects of this past weekend left some to be desired, I for one am glad that I participated, and felt that I got my money's worth.  I saw something on the field that hot Sunday afternoon that may not be seen for another fifty years, or until the next movie of the battle of Gettysburg is made.

And what did they give me to commemorate this unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime historic anniversary event?  A wooden nickel, about as cheap as you can get.  A wooden nickel which then started to warp in the heat and humidity inside my trouser pocket, and before the end of the weekend it had snapped in half.

The GAC boys the next weekend have no right to complain.  No matter how badly this other event goes, no matter how terrible the weather is, how long the lines are or how poorly scripted the battles end up least they get a real bronze medal.