Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cedar Creek 2014 - 150th Anniversary Recap

The Bucktail flag at dawn Saturday.
Sorry I have been so lax on posting folks... Another reenacting season has come to an end for me. I always feel a bit sad to stow all my gear for the winter, knowing I won't be out for another event until next spring.  The 6 months until then seem so long, and the summer seems so short.

This thing we do is an ordeal; it pushes my body to its absolute limit. (72 hours outdoors, exposed to all kinds of extreme weather, laying on the hard ground for less than 3 hours of sleep a night and still somehow functioning, with intense physical exertion and insufficient food...) We reenactors are gluttons for self-punishment. We come home sweaty, dirty, sunburned and weather beaten with work on Monday and still look forward to it next month.

But for an odd reason, I miss it already. I miss the smoky smell of burning firewood, the orange glow of the fire through my tent canvas, the talking and the laughter all around me; the strong feeling of comradeship, the thrills of seeing history come to life. The excitement of being there makes it worth all the hardship. This was only my second reenactment of Cedar Creek (the first was in 2011...see a really long diary of it here ) and rather than bore you with the tiniest details, I thought I'd list some big differences I noticed this time around. We have come to sort of know what to expect from these big anniversary events, and in my opinion this one didn't disappoint.  The only things about it I didn't enjoy were the circumstances like the cold nights and the wind chill, which were out of anyone's control.  On the whole I thought it was a very well-run event.

The reason I thought this was an awesome event were as follows:

1. The camps were HUGE. I don't know how big this was compared to 150th Gettysburg last year or Manassas 2 years ago, but the field was literally a sea of white tents.  I imagine this was what a full encampment looked like. You probably can't tell from the photo but the tents extend all the way back to the distant treeline, and then the CSA camp is beyond that.  The camp was so big that I was glad we were right up against the dirt road, or I never would have been able to find my tent again after a trip to the portajohn.  I arrived late Friday and it turned out my group had no military company I set up my dog tent at the end of the 12th NJ's street.  The tents were all in neat rows with officer tents at the front, and it wasn't hard to distinguish the different units.  I tried to take several vistas of the camps, but there was just too much to fit into one photo.

That is a LOT of tents. Everything white you see in these photos is a tent.
The Confederate camp by the Belle Grove plantation.

2. The clouds were very interesting.  It was heavy cloud cover all weekend with little sun, no rain except a light sprinkling.  The massive cloud formations made for a very colorful, dramatic sunrise and sunset each day.

This was the most dramatic sunrise I ever saw.

On Saturday it was so windy that the clouds were pushed into rolling bands that were miles long. They looked like giant waves on the ocean.

3. We were close to the sutlers for the first time EVER.  It was just a 1/4 mile walk down the road for us. Our campsite in 2011 was so far away we couldn't even see the sutlers, they were over the hill and probably a good mile or so. But this time if we needed anything, it was just a short jog away.  There were also more sutlers that came out for this event than I remember seeing at Gettysburg.  I guess everyone was trying to sell off their gear at the end of the season. There were all the big names like Regimental Quartermaster, Dirty Billy's, Dell's Leatherworks and Fall Creek, and a whole slew of other ones I never even heard of.   Most of the events in Virginia they tend to situate the Yankees as far away from everything as possible, but this time we got the royalty treatment. I was surprised.

4. The Federal attendance at this event was outstanding.  There were so many soldiers in blue uniforms when we did Battalion Drill and review for the General, it looked like there was a few full-strength regiments. (A real regiment during the war was 900-1000 men, 10 companies of about 100 men each)  A reenactor "company" barely equals a platoon of 10-20 men.  All Federal brigades present had a record turnout. It was cool to see we weren't the only Bucktails there, the 149th and 150th were there as well.   I even saw my old boys of Vincent's Brigade, the 2nd Delaware and the 20th Maine...I saw them on the march but they didn't see me. I made no attempt to attract their attention.

Look at all that!
  With the Mifflin Guard regiments combined, we had almost a complete company at full wartime strength.

5. The Grand Military March on Saturday There was a grand review before the General on the parade ground after our battalion drill, and there were so many Union soldiers it took over an hour just to march them all down the road. It was the grandest parade I ever saw.  Every unit performed their wheels and facings flawlessly.

6. We actually got to see cannons pulled by wagons with teams of horses.  I am not impressed at most events, when I see a pickup truck or an SUV pulling a cannon with artillery crew feet dangling from a tailgate. This time they had the caissons with five or six horses each, and a driver in each wagon with two teamsters riding the lead horses. It was really a treat to see that and felt so much more authentic.

7. The event had excellent music.  The Fife & Drum corps of the PA boy scout venturing group and the military brass band was right next to the Mifflin Guard camp, and all weekend long we were treated to the most stirring military horn ensembles and drumming. They had big cornets and french horns and even a tuba that looked about six feet high. My own Civil war ancestors were horn players in a military band, so hearing them play was really nice and it made me wonder what my Great-4x Grandfather would have thought of their performance.  Up by the sutlers the 2nd South Carolina String Band had their tent set up, and were playing all weekend long. The tunes are still in my head as I write this.

This is a real picture we have of my ancestors. They were four German brothers in the 21st New York regimental brass band. My direct relation is one of the seated men, Johann Peter Neibrich.
8. The cavalry battles were EPIC.   This Cedar Creek was the cavalry event of the century. There were so many cavalry horses at this event that their clashes literally spanned the entire field.  The most exciting part of the Sunday battle for me was when General Sheridan rode by and rallied us, and we charged up the hill at the Rebels just as two massive lines of Union & Confederate horsemen rode at each other.  I mean, they were at full gallop. It wasn't the trotting, showy "Mommy, look at the pretty horsies!" kind of pony show for spectator applause, these were Hell-bound soldiers charging head to head at 40 miles an hour and yelling at the top of their lungs. There was even some halfway decent swordplay.  Then we did a hollering bayonet charge right into the middle and watched the Rebels scatter.  The ground was shaking.  If I ever experienced a "civil wargasm," I think that moment was it. I haven't found a good photo of it yet, but look up the painting by Don Troiani called "Come On You Wolverines" and you have a perfect visual.

9. The same four British guys that were at Gettysburg joined us again.  They flew all the way from England to be at this event.  It was really something to talk to these guys. They apparently do English Civil War as well as American Civil War in the UK. They told us they were very impressed by how well these 150th events were planned and managed, despite their huge scale. Like for example, the truck emptied out the portajohns here several times a day and once each night, where they said a Civil War event in the UK just wait until the event is over. (Exactly, ugh.)  Each one of them was from a different region of England, and you could tell by their accents. It was great to see them again, I never thought I would.  One of the men was from Bristol and I was telling him how so many places in Delaware were named after places in England.  (Even the streets in my development especially,  Rockingham, Windsor Hills, Banbury, Canterbury, Cambridge, Warwick) The stories they brought over, and no doubt took home with them, will last a lifetime.

10. The trash management was very well handled.  These massive anniversary events generate a monumental amount of should be expected wherever you have thousands of people in one outdoor location. I remember at the end of the BGA Gettysburg last year there was a mountain of trash bags that was taller than the portajohns. I only saw one trash can and recycling bin per company street, and there was not the piles of empty beer cans and food packaging you'd expect. Everyone seemed to do a good job of hiding things in their tents until the end. There was one trash pickup a night.  On the whole, just about everyone seemed to be considerate of their neighbors and the grounds were very clean.

11. There was a really nice ball but I didn't go to it. Reenactment dances are always "bring your own partner" type of affairs. I decided to write Stephanie a nice letter by candlelight instead.

12. The Pro-Lincoln Midnight March. There was a superb scenario dreamed up by the event organizers that I had not seen at any other 150th event. The fall of 1864 was an election year, and Lincoln was striving for a second term. The North knew the fate of Lincoln's presidency would be decided by the battle of Cedar Creek. In honor of this, there was a torchlight political rally and parade of Lincoln supporters late Saturday night. There was at least fifty Union reenactors, both civilian and soldiers alike, marching down the road from the sutlers and through the camps. With paper lanterns on poles bearing an image of the President and chanting "Abe! Abe! Abe!" at the top of their lungs, generally making noise and being loud and boisterous. John D. Billings mentions these political activists in Hardtack and Coffee, and he observed that they called themselves "wide-awakes."  This sort of political demonstration was a common sight in city streets at night, in both 1860 and 1864, and we saw a first-person reenactment of one of these marches. I don't know if anyone took any decent pictures of it, but it was very cool.  Later that day some civilians came through the camp passing out McClellan flyers, and we made a great show of throwing these into the fire. (McClellan was on the Democratic ballot in 1864, he was running for President and speaking out openly against Lincoln and his military tactics. It did nothing to help his career.)

13. Meeting some family at the reenactment. I learned just before I left for Virginia that my Aunt Gerri, my cousin Bill and two granddaughters were in the area, and decided to come out and see the battle on Sunday. My cousin Billy is one of the biggest reasons why I am here.  He has been a reenactor for almost 20 years, a former Civil War reenactor and now leads the paranormal investigation team at Fort Delaware, he also portrays a British officer in the Revolutionary War and is collecting gear for a World War II British impression. In his spare time he has also volunteered to sail aboard the Kalmar Nyckel.  His astounding knowledge of military history--not to mention his impressive collection of antique guns and swords--has enthralled me since I was very young. He makes routine trips to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields, and still tries to watch at least one reenactment a year.

It was an experience I will never forget, and I think it was a great way to end another season of living history.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

150th Battle of Cedar Creek Documentary in Hi-Def

Thanks to YouTuber Craig Shipp for this documentary style video of the 150th Cedar Creek in 4k HD!  (That's super-duper-maxi-ultra high definition!) I think I might have seen the cameraman before one of the battles.  Enjoy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Magnificent Obsessions: Civil War Reenactment

For those not familiar with this strange and fascinating hobby, this is a good expository documentary on what we do.

Video by XiveTV