Saturday, September 12, 2015

July 25, 26 - The PA Bucktails Reunion 2015

        Apologies to my readers for not writing this journal two months ago. The weekend of July 25, I drove myself out north of Harrisburg to meet Dave, a friend of mine who has been in my Bucktail regiment for over twenty years. He had invited me to the annual reunion for reenactors of the 42nd, 149th and 150th Pennsylvania Bucktail infantry. It was held in Philipsburg this year, which is about 4 and a half hours from where I live. He was awesome enough to let me spend the night at his place, after driving three hours on a Friday night after work, into an area of central PA in which I had never traveled.

The trip to the small town where Dave lives was in the mountains, and I passed Fort Indiantown Gap and crossed the Appalachian trail on the way out there. Driving down a steep incline after dark, in a lightless rural area with lots of deer was a bit scary. Not something I normally do. (Route 81 North was also under construction and only had one lane open with walls on either side, trucks used this road and there was no way to pass; and no shoulder except for a pull off every one or two miles) I'm glad I made it without incident.

Dave is a fireman, and his house had a nice collection of vintage fire gear and helmets. His wife also collects antique railroad lanterns. His friendly dog and two kids were happy to see me. I slept on his couch and we packed the car and left for Philipsburg early Saturday morning.

These reunions are held in a different town each year, usually places of historical significance to these three regiments. Philipsburg and the nearby town of Duncannon are two places which held recruiting offices where the Bucktails were mustered in. We stopped on the way out there to see the tavern used as the 42nd PA's recruiting post, and America's oldest sled factory in Duncannon. They offered tours but the place was closed. I took a picture of each, but these are buried in my phone somewhere and I will post these later.

The site chosen for this year's reunion was at the Wagon Wheel Ampitheater, where country music festivals are often held. There was some picnic pavilions and an outdoor stage where we got to enjoy some live music Saturday night.

I know I write a lot, so without further ado, here are the highlights of the weekend in pictures and some brief captions.

There was a guy there who carves wooden figurines by hand. We could watch him work all day if we wanted to. He worked with only a tiny hammer and chisel, a file and a pocketknife. The figures are about six inches tall and are mostly Civil War soldiers, but he's done some 18th Century as well.
The flags are just painted on duct tape.

As a souvenir of the event, we each got a silk ribbon like the ones the actual veterans had from their reunions, and a copy of the original recruiting poster.

One of the reenactors surprised Dave's son with a very special gift: An old snare drum that his own son had used as a drummer boy 20 years ago. Another one of the 'oldtimers' was giving him some lessons. The instrument is in beautiful condition and the head is made of real calfskin.

Dave's son and I had the only two shebangs at the event.

We were joined by "The original Bucktail," a guy who was at the Centennial reenactments in 1961-65 with the North-South Skirmish Association. He had all these really neat patches from each battle. Why didn't they do this at the 150th ones? I know embroidery is expensive and thousands of patches for every participant would be cost prohibitive, but sutlers could sell them...

Saturday evening we enjoyed some good old fashioned camp songs with the 6th New Hampshire Volunteers' "Contra-Band." I liked the washbasin and the guy with the washboard and spoons. Some beers were rationed out and the boys sang along till the sun went down and the cows came home.

This banner has been around since the first reenactors' reunion for our regiment. The guys brought out all the old ribbons and pinned them on. It was cool to see how unique each one was.
Saturday night we had a big bonfire. The normal camp rules were somewhat relaxed, as evident by the plastic chair. The site owner gave us a truck wheel rim to use for a fire pit and it looks like we were burning scrap lumber.

Sunday morning we went to the cemetery and gave our respects to the men of the real Bucktails. We found the graves of each soldier of the 42nd, 149th or 150th PA buried there and read each soldier's story, laid a wreath and did a 21 gun salute.

This one was of a man the guy in this picture had spent 15 years searching for. He was not a soldier, but a freed slave and wagon driver of the Bucktails who went by the name of Elijah Onley.

One of the interesting things about this man's story was his name. Elijah had grown up a slave and slaves weren't allowed to have family names. When he volunteered to serve the Bucktails, the man gave his name as Elijah. The officer asked him, "So you are known as Elijah, only?" He said yes, and they wrote his name in the book as Elijah Onley. That was the name he kept throughout his life. He survived the war, having a dozen children and living to the age of 98. He did not die in Philipsburg, but he asked that his remains be interred alongside the brave men of the regiment he proudly served. 

After the moving cemetery memorial service, we went back into town for a group photo at a whimsical historic mansion called the Whispering Sisters Bed & Breakfast. We were all lined up on the front porch with a taxidermied deer on display, just like the real war veterans.  I heard this deer's name is Bucky and he's almost 100 years old. He might appear in some of the real photographs, we're not sure. It was entertaining to see people unloading this mummified deer on an old mattress from the bed of a pickup truck. Cars were stopping to look at it.

The last picture I took is how fully packed the van was. This is what a traveling reenactor family looks like.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The 'Time Nexus' of Anniversary Reenactment Cycles is Almost Over

Three Northern civil war reenactors watch the cavalry engagement of Buford's Last Stand
from a hilltop over a mile away at the BGA 150th Gettysburg in 2013.

This decade so far has seen an explosion in the popularity of reenacting famous historical events and battles, both in the U.S. and in Europe, because the anniversary dates of these history-changing conflicts have all overlapped in a way that most of us will not witness again in our lifetimes.

It really began in April 2011 with the start of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  This time period in reenacting had reached a peak as a hobby in the late 1980's-early 1990's, when two hugely popular movies about the Civil War (Glory in 1989 and Gettysburg in 1993) called for a cast of thousands of real reenactors to be used as extras during the production of these motion pictures.  This was one of the best ideas any movie director ever had for a few very important reasons:

1. Reenactors already have their own uniforms, equipment and weapons. This fact alone saved the film crews millions in production costs, and made it possible to have enormous numbers of extras on screen to recreate battles in a way that would otherwise be financially unfeasible. The level of authenticity in these movies also was much enhanced, since the majority of reenactors spend a great deal of money and time on researching their 'impressions' to look as accurate as possible.

2. They are already well-trained in firearm safety and tactics. Responsible reenactors always put safety first, and they already are familiar with the 'choreography' of how these famous battles unfolded. The director can (for the most part) let the reenactors do what they do best and assure that it will look accurate on screen as a backdrop for the main actors. Plus, it lets them have fun with a chance for ordinary people to appear on the big screen--however briefly-- in a feature film.

As the 1990's made their way into the New Millennium, the hobby started to decline. Many older reenactors retired and left, and units and spectator crowds dwindled in size as public interest faded. Then at the start of a new decade, the 150th cycle of the Civil War exploded on to the scene. Television documentaries, movies and books catapulted this turbulent time in America's past back into popular culture, bringing history to life in color...and in high definition, no less.

You don't get views like this in history textbooks.

New Millennium advances in technology like digital video, the GoPro and camera phones, YouTube and social media have enabled something else never captured before: the first-person view of a battle reenactment, brought directly into millions of people's homes. The Gettysburg Anniversary Commission's 150th anniversary in 2013 was the first reenactment ever to be broadcasted live, via streaming video on the internet, for paying subscribers. Even if you weren't there, you can still feel like you were. (The entire 3 hour webcast has been archived for those who missed it)  There were even 35 retired reenactors attending who were at the Centennial and were presented with a special commemorative medallion.

The epic 150th Anniversary of the Civil War ended in April 2015 with the surrender at Appomattox, bringing this new peak of reenacting to a close. Going forward, we can only expect attendance at future events to decline.  For example, the GAC 150th Gettysburg in 2013 drew an estimated record-shattering 300,000 spectators and over 10,000 registered participants, with some coming from as far away as England.

The Mifflin Guard at Gettysburg 2013

By contrast, the 2014 GAC Gettysburg reenactment participants only numbered in the hundreds. Seasoned veterans who have been in the hobby for 20-30 years have been saying that this anniversary cycle was the 'last hurrah' and it was time to finally get that rifle mounted over the fireplace.

This is why we younger reenactors must stay together and keep this spectacle alive, because once all the elders leave there will be a shortage of officers and experience. They have 'passed the torch' to us.  It is up to the next generation to continue America's oldest pastime and preserve this legacy of educating the public through living history.

For some of us we may feel like the epic adventure of the past four years is over, now that the Big 150th is itself, history.  But next year the 155th cycle begins, and the whole thing starts over again.

150th Battle of Cedar Creek, October 2014. Will we ever see this many Union at another event?

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the media explosion that followed it has also brought attention to reenacting other less popular eras, like the First World War and Viet Nam, and now as a result what could be called a 'Time Nexus' has formed out of overlapping anniversaries. Reenacting is now more popular than it has ever been.

By some cosmic alignment of the planets, The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has also coincided with: the 70th Anniversary cycle of World War II in the USA (2011-2015), the Centennial of World War I (2014-2018), The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 (2012), The Bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo (2015) and the 250th anniversary of the French & Indian war (2008-2013).

Needless to say, most of us will not be around the next time something like this happens again.  (The author of this article will be 79 years old when the Civil war bicentennial occurs, and if he attends World War II Weekend for the centennial he will be 57)

Do you think you will be around for Gettysburg 200 in 2063?  If so, I hope to see you there...
I am the guy with the red scarf, the sixth one from the left at this photo taken at the 150th Cedar Creek in October 2014. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Things I Like About Being A Reenactor

1. I can still "play army" with my friends on weekends.

2. The chance to be around young ladies who aren't badly dressed and can carry out an intelligent conversation without rudely texting somebody else on their cell phones.

3. Wearing clothes 150 years out of style and nobody looks at me funny.

4.  That exotic fragrance of gunpowder residue, campfire smoke and cigars that never completely washes out of our clothing.

5. We don't have to do anything or be anywhere unless ordered to. Nobody needs a schedule or a watch.

6. An excuse to walk around sweaty and dirty for three days because everyone else is sweaty and dirty. (It's a man thing)

7. Gunpowder explosions in a controlled environment.

8. The pride of wearing the same uniform as your ancestors.

9. If you drop your tin cup in the grass, the 5 second rule is more of a guideline.

10. What happens in camp after dark stays in camp.

11. The ability to pick up a conversation where it left off a year ago.

12. There is no need for an alarm clock (birds, roosters, horses, bugles and the sun work just fine)

13. Nobody cares what time it is, only how long until the next battle.

14. Permission to camp, make fires, dig trenches, build fortifications, carry firearms and do other things no one else is ever allowed to do in public, on private land and on a few historic battlefields.

15. Over 10,000 people gathered in the same place who all have something in common. No matter who you talk to, everyone you meet has the same passion. In our case, they love watching history come alive. A live concert is the only other place on Earth where this can happen.

16. Cool stories to tell at family reunions.

17. Being someone else for a few days; escaping from life in general.

18. Marching into the fight and knowing I'm surrounded by trained emergency personnel. Firemen, paramedics, police and real military veterans, all people you know you can trust with your life. The safest place to be is on the battlefield.

19. Being so immersed in another century that going home gives me culture shock.

20.  To look at old pictures in a book and share an organic connection to the long-deceased people in those photographs, in a way that others will never understand unless they have a similar experience.  To know what that rough wool uniform feels like in the summer heat, how heavy that musket is, how hard those shoes are and what those cannons sound like.

And don't forget the little things only we get to witness that help make it an unforgettable experience:

1. That warm, flickery glow of the campfire through the fabric of my tent.

2. Fog in the morning. Muffled drumbeats. Unseen bugles echo in the forest.

3. Watching a summer thunderstorm coming from miles away. How it sounds in my mind like a distant battle.

4. A heightened awareness of everything around me. Morning dew on the grass, flags rippling and snapping in the wind. Metal gleaming in the sun. Steam from the horses' breath in the cold morning air.

5. An escape from reality, our jobs and all the insanity of modern life.

6. Feeling a deep connection to the earth that our world of chain link fences, concrete and steel has hidden from us. Nothing but green grass beneath my feet, blue sky and wide open land to gaze upon for three glorious days.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Furlough almost over

Howdy pards, sorry about the lack of posts. I have been away on furlough from reenacting as I had no health insurance (started a new full time job in April). Now it's been 90 days and those benefits kick in Monday. So being fully insured I plan to do more events from late July through September. The annual Bucktails reunion in Philipsburg PA is next weekend and I'm trying to get Friday off so I can make travel arrangements to go.  This is too far for me to drive normally.

The Bucktail reenactors meet every year at a mansion in this town where the actual veterans held their reunions. We get to camp on the grounds and meet with a lot of retired reenactors too. Sounds like fun!

A Google Books link to the roster of the original 42nd PA "Old Bucktails" reunion can be found here.  For information about the annual reunion event look here!

The 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry,  known as the 'Old Bucktails' were originally recruited from the wild Northern regions of the state, including Erie, Tioga and Elk counties.  Many hailed from the town of 'Mauch Chunk', now known as Jim Thorpe.  Esteemed for their ability as marksmen, they were issued Sharps rifles and eventually Spencer rifles.  The unit were involved in the most brutal fighting of the war, taking among the heaviest casualties of any Union regiment, and a few members were highly decorated.  Thomas Belton was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the 2nd day of Gettysburg. By June 1864 the Old Bucktails were disbanded being so few left. Their final glory was at Spotsylvania.

This regiment went by several names and it can be confusing.  They were originally planned as a cavalry unit to be called the 17th PA, but the War Department ordered they join as infantry since a regiment already existed by that name.  They were at first called the 1st PA Rifles or "Kane's Rifles" after their Colonel Thomas L. Kane. Later in the war they were rolled into the Penna Reserves as the 13th.  But as regular US infantry they were the 42nd of the line. Any of these names is correct and they were all the same regiment.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Camp Geiger" WHITEHALL 2015 Photos

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Repost: History of Memorial Day

(Originally posted 5/27/2012)

[Note: I did not write this.  It was a post by an anonymous user in one of my WW2 forums.  As soon as I find the actual author I will give due credit --Editor.]

Memorial Day History

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an
organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the
war dead with flowers.
Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because  flowers would be in bloom all over the country.  
The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.  The ceremonies centered around the mourning-draped veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Various Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies.  
After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.  
Local Observances Claim To Be First 
Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. 
One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle
at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.  
Today, cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866. Both Macon and Columbus, Ga., claim the title, as well as Richmond, Va. The village of Boalsburg, Pa., claims it began there two years earlier. A stone in a Carbondale, Illinois cemetery carries the statement that the first Decoration Day ceremony took place there on April 29, 1866.  
Carbondale was the wartime home of Gen. Logan. Approximately 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.  
Official Birthplace Declared In 1966 
Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say earlier observances in other places were either
informal, not community-wide or one-time events.  
By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. State legislatures passed proclamations designating the day, and the Army and Navy adopted regulations for proper observance at their facilities.  
It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. It was then also placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays.  
Some States Have Confederate Observances 
Many Southern states also have their own days for honoring the Confederate dead. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3, and Tennessee calls that date Confederate
Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day January 19 and
Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.  
General Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ... Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” 
The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance, about 5,000 people. Then, as now, small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.  
The origins of special services to honor those who die in war can be found in antiquity. The Athenian leader Pericles offered a tribute to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War over 24 centuries ago that could be applied today to the 1.1 million Americans who have died in the nation’s wars: “Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.”  
To ensure the sacrifices of America ’s fallen heroes are never forgotten, in December 2000, the U.S. Congress passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” P.L. 106-579, creating the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance. The commission’s charter is to “encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity” by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day, and the National Moment of Remembrance.  
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause
wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to
remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. As Moment
of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all
help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”

Some vintage photographs of Decoration Day (pre-WW1) that feature living Civil War veterans.

Civil War Veterans, Fourth of July or Decoration Day, Ortonville, Minnesota.  ca. 1880

Source: Wikipedi

Source: (

(Below) Decoration Day 1889.  I do not know where this photo was taken, it appears to be in a school judging by the chalkboards. That is a lot of flowers. Perhaps they were brought in by the children.  (Source:

This is a rare labeled photo of Civil War veterans on Decoration Day. I am overjoyed that someone took the time to record the names of these men. So many old photos in antique stores of anonymous people make me sad, because no one will ever know who they were.

(Image source:

Decoration Day celebration in Manila, taken May 30th, 1899
during the Spanish-American War

Source: Unknown

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Design Authentic 1860's Civil War Event Flyers & Posters

This is a post in progress.

Hello pards, and welcome back to Company Q Headquarters! It's been a cold, dreary, dark winter in 1865. But the days are getting longer, the life has returned to the land, the muddy roads are drying out, and pretty soon those Johnny Rebs will be fightin' us again. This marks the end of the Sesquiecentennial (sp?) anniversary cycle, and next year we reset the clock back to 1861 and start over with Fort Sumter again.

I have been meaning to write this post for awhile, and I suppose I should do it before all the excitement about our time period dies down.

As a highly skilled, trained and well-versed expert in my chosen field I studied before this dreaded war, (that of a commercial printer), I have been meaning, no...procrastinating on writing this very helpful journal entry. It's on how to design convincing event flyers and recruiting posters for reenactments and reenacting groups, done in a historically accurate style.  To this end, I have compiled this series of infographics if you will, of how to do this yourself using desktop publishing software and free fonts, following the Nineteenth Century "Rules" of design.

Before we start, you will need a desktop publishing program. Microsoft Publisher is adequate, but an Adobe program is better. Adobe gives 100% freedom to push, pull, stretch and resize text without any constraint or size limits. And it has none of that annoying "snap to grid" or "margins" that Microsoft Office does. Luckily, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are now available for a monthly subscription fee through Adobe Creative Cloud instead of $2,000 for a permanent license. The unregistered 30-day trials can save documents and have full functionality for one month. Don't forget you can also use alternative free publishing programs like Inkscape (vector drawing program) and GIMP (A poor man's Photoshop). These programs are absolutely free, open-source and user supported.  Apache OpenOffice is a free clone of MS Office products.

I wanted to start out this unique post by showing a few historical examples of famous Civil War posters.

The first one everybody's seen. It is a broadside printed for a South Carolina newspaper, nowadays known as a flyer. Look at how huge they printed that headline. The UNION is DISSOLVED!!  It's shocking enough to make a young lady faint. It actually would have cost a substantial amount of money to print letters this big. We tend to forget how much more work it was to typeset back then. These type blocks were large and heavy and probably custom made for the job. Obviously, the printer spared no expense in creating this earth-shattering headline that altered the fate of a nation.

Recruiting posters were also printed in ridiculously bold letters to grab young men's attention. 

And here's one I like, a recruiting broadside from the Governor of Pennsylvania proclaiming the mustering in of a new infantry regiment. The unit is known as Kane's Rifles, after its colonel Thomas Leiper Kane. This was officially named the 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry, the "old bucktails" unit!


If you have an artistic eye, you may notice that these  posters seem to break many of the contemporary rules of layout design, notably too many fonts, text that makes your eyes jump around, and looking too "busy". 

There were different rules back in those days, and we simply have to get used to them and think like an 1860's person.

Now I will show how YOU TOO can make posters and flyers that look authentic to promote your events or recruit new members to your reenacting unit!

The following fonts have been confirmed as authentic typefaces used during the Civil War.

These fonts are actual historic typefaces which were studied, traced and digitized by modern designers. You may recognize some of them from Harper's Weekly newspapers or recruiting posters, or various other historic places. Chances are you've seen many of these fonts before, but you didn't know what they are called. All the fonts shown above are free and can be downloaded from a font website like

For the more serious typesetter who would like to see some really high quality premium Civil War fonts and pay some money, you can click on the link below to be taken to an online store where you can purchase the sets of type. I highly recommend WALDEN FONT CO. as the best source of accurate, very faithfully reproduced historic typefaces.

This next set of free fonts below, while some of them did exist in the 1860's, did not become really popular and come into widespread use until the 1870's and 1880's, when mechanical printing machines and more advanced typesetting techniques were developed, allowing for finer detail.

Use the below fonts sparingly, or as little as possible. 

While they might be fancy, I feel these typefaces scream "Wild West" more than anything else. How many times in bad cowboy movies have you seen the lettering styles shown above? The top one, Mesquite Standard, to me says SALOON while the Playbill font second from the bottom is from the stereotyped WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE $1,000 REWARD posters.  These are less appropriate to be used in an 1860's advertisement for this reason, though I'm not saying they didn't exist. These were more likely hand painted on storefront signs and not printed.The bottom one, Rosewood Standard, reminds me of circus shows, or like something to be painted on the side of a bandwagon.

Here is the "Black List" of fonts which should NEVER be used. Many people pick these because they come shipped standard with newer versions of Windows and Microsoft Office. Don't. These fonts are cheap, hackneyed and hideously overused, not to mention non-historical, and I strongly urge you not to use them.

The Zapfino font, while so many people love its graceful, swoopy calligraphic-style letters, is not appropriate. The creator of this font family, Hermann Zapf, was born in 1918, so it's even the wrong century!  (yes, he was German, in case you wondered where the funny font name Zapf Dingbats came from. Zapf coined the term "dingbat" as a silly word for a little picture or symbol included as part of his typeface family.

So what are the design rules of 1860's lettering and typesetting? Here I have tried to explain it visually.

It's been said that those with the least intelligent things
to say speak the loudest.

All text layouts should look symmetrical and visually stable.

A general rule when designing 1860's posters is to make the best use of the space you can. Try to cover about 80% of the page. Stretch out lines to fill empty areas, but be sure to leave a 1/2 inch to 1 inch margin on either side.

Here's an example of a flyer I created
using the principles I just discussed.

I stretched the rules a little bit, using 6 fonts. But the style and text arrangement is spot on. Recruiting posters tended to separate different pieces of information with black lines. 

As for the engravings, as long as you're not stealing a scan of an original document from someone's private collection, Google image search will suffice. The idea of copyright law didn't really come around until Teddy Roosevelt's time, and even for about 20 years after that it was hardly respected. Besides, anything produced 150 years ago is now in the public domain. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Nobody can claim ownership of a sketch or an engraving if the person that made it died over 100 years ago, unless they own the actual original document and it is the only one of its kind. 
I hope you find this post helpful. Happy pixel-pushing!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Technological Legacy of the Civil War

The following is a by-no-means-complete list of things we think of as commonplace that originated in the mid 19th century, and even if they were around, were virtually unheard of until they came into widespread use during and after the Civil War.

All of these things exist today, but not in a form a person of the 1860s would recognize.

1. THE TELEGRAPH. The Civil War was the first conflict in which the telegraph was used as a military tool for long-distance communication, coordinating efforts across a nation and on multiple fronts.  Samuel Morse (and some say Alexander Graham Bell) invented a primitive form of the telegraph as early as the 1830's.

Before this, news could only spread from one town or one state to another literally no faster than a horse could gallop.  Because up to this time, the mail was still delivered via horses. In fact, this was how John Wilkes Booth was able to elude capture for so long after he killed our beloved President Lincoln.  He knew that as long as he rode his horse fast and hard, and never stayed in any one place longer than overnight, he could actually outrun the news and escape the law by passing through a town before they knew anyone was searching for him.  The telegraph remained in use well into the 20th century, and started to diminish with the invention of radio.  During World War II radios were still bulky and heavy, and they relied on field telephone wires for communication across lines of battle. The telephone emerged in the 1880s around the same time as household electricity. Think of how amazing it must have been to be able to talk to someone hundreds of miles away as if they were sitting next to you!

2. RAILROADS AS A FORM OF MASS TRANSPORTATION.  Experiments with self-propelled carts using steam power created from boiling water under great pressure took place as early as the 1700s, and the ideas for it have been around much longer. (Since the Renaissance or some even think Ancient Greece) But the Civil War was the first conflict in which large amounts of men, their equipment and artillery pieces could be moved across the country by rail.  At this time, railroads crisscrossed the country much as our interstate highway system does today.  It was the fastest way to get from one place to another, and the railroad could cross any terrain, unlike horses and men traveling on foot.  There was a time when it was thought the human body could not withstand speeds above 20 miles an hour! The steam locomotive quickly proved this wrong, as it could reach speeds up to 80-100mph. The disadvantage this had was you could only go where there were tracks laid down.  Laying railroad ties and rails took a long time, with teams of workmen laboring for months to build just a few miles of track.

3. MILITARY SIGNAL FLAGS FOR LONG DISTANCE COMMUNICATION.  The United States Army Signal Corps was formed during the early years of the Civil War as a method for relaying orders by line of sight, usually from one hilltop to another.  The other way orders were relayed during the era of Napoleonic warfare was by drum and bugle. The shouted orders of the officers could hardly be heard above the roar of musketry and cannons, and epic artillery barrages such as Pickett's Charge where you had hundreds of cannon firing at once made these all but indiscernible.  First termed "Wig-wagging,"  the idea of waving brightly colored flags to be observed by another signal post was a way to communicate strategy that did not rely on sound.  The disadvantage was it was line-of-sight. The flags were only visible in broad daylight, and on foggy days or situations with low visibility due to smoke from a battle, this proved ineffective.  In the years following the war, this system was adopted into the Army and Navy and called "Semaphore."

An illustration of the differences between 1860s Wig-wag and modern Semaphore is shown below.

As radios became portable and this form of field communication was no longer necessary, the Army Signal Corps became the official institution for documenting a conflict visually, through photography and movie film.  This is why many photographs of WWII were labeled with "Army Signal Corps." By the time of the Spanish American war, motion pictures had come into widespread use.

4. PHOTOGRAPHY.  It was also true that photographic techniques were in development from near the beginning of the 1800's, with various sources claiming different people as its inventor. But the wet-plate technique of silver nitrate on glass enabled photos to be permanent and portable (well, at that time portable meant carrying a chemistry lab on your back, so it is a loose definition of portable compared to what we know today.)  This is the first time in history where scenes of battle could be preserved exactly as they happened and we could see people as they actually looked in real life, not as some artist decided to depict them. 

It was popular for many soldiers during this period to pay and have their formal portraits taken before they went off to war.  Many thousands of images exist, both in private collections and in the Library of Congress, of these confident men eager to go to war, who had no idea what life in the Army was like. They thought it was all dress parades, gaudy uniforms and glorified feats of bravery, so far removed from the confusion, chaos and horrific carnage that war actually is.  These pictures still haunt us to this day.

How old do you think this boy is? Twelve?
Do you think he knew anything about what war was like when this picture was taken? Many of these young boys, some as young as 10 or 11 years of age, were killed without mercy because they were used as musicians and flag bearers, not allowed to carry weapons and so they could not fight back. This practice had fallen out of favor by the First World War.

Field photography, by men such as Alexander Gardner and Matthew Brady, showed the nation something its people had never seen before: images of the aftermath of battles, with burned buildings, decaying dead men and bloated animals.  It was something never depicted by the news engraving or the sketches and paintings by field artists. This brought the gruesome reality of war home to a shocked America, and destroyed any illusions the populace might have had about what the war meant.

Confederate dead at Antietam, with Dunker Church in background
Along Hagerstown Pike after Antietam
Soldiers and slaves burying bodies, mostly skeletons
 These enduring images of death are forever in the American conscience.

5. AERIAL RECONNAISSANCE.  (see This Article) The Civil War gave rise to something both highly unusual and short-lived: aerial reconnaissance by hot air balloon.  Used mainly in the Union army during 1861-1862, this allowed battlefield observers to see the movement of troops that may have been hidden by terrain to watchers at ground level. The disadvantages were immediate and apparent, though. First, they could not be steered or controlled in any way. They would drift over enemy lines and sometimes be shot down. Second, few things were less covert than a gigantic bag of hot air hanging in the sky. There were hot air balloons present at the battles of Manassas and one was used successfully to sight long range artillery, quoted in the above linked article. 

"On Sept. 24, (Thaddeus) Lowe ascended in the Union to more than a thousand feet near Arlington, across the Potomac River from Washington, and began telegraphing intelligence on the Confederate troops located at Falls Church, Va., more than 3 miles away. Union guns were then calibrated and fired accurately on these enemy dispositions without actually being able to see them. This was an ominous first in the history of warfare, by which destruction could be delivered to a distant and invisible enemy."
 The idea was a good one in theory, but it would not become practical until the advent of the airplane. You could argue, however, that aerial spying had its origins during the Civil War.


The Civil War was so brutal because it used antiquated strategy and tactics from the Revolution, yet with a devastating increase in firepower.  The idea of using grooved barrels to add spin to projectiles had been around in Europe by the late 1700s, and in fact Napoleon Bonaparte was the first military leader to equip all his men with standard rifled muskets. My cousin Billy has a hand made replica of one such firearm, the 1804 Baker Rifle.

Not to say that there were not still smoothbores in use, though.  Many of the Confederates had brought their own hunting pieces from home, fowling pieces and shotguns, and some were flintlock muskets much like the Brown Bess.  The "Napoleon" cannons were virtually identical to the ones used by Napoleon in that much earlier war, and they fired large round balls of iron.

The idea of rifling greatly increased muzzle velocity, accuracy and lethal penetrating power.  For comparison, a flintlock Brown Bess had a variable muzzle velocity depending on powder charge and wadding, and could only hit a target with any accuracy up to about 150 yards at best.  Whereas a pattern 1853 Enfield had a muzzle velocity of 900fps, and could make multiple hits on a target up to 2,000 yards away.

The Minie ball, invented by Claude-Étienne Minié and perfected in 1849, was a soft lead slug with a cup in the base, which would expand with ignition gases and fill the grooves of a rifle barrel, making it spin like a football.  This gave rise to radical changes in the way artillery projectiles were made as well.  The Civil War had a staggering variety of different artillery projectiles used in as many different shapes and sizes as there were guns to fire them.

I don't think this is even all of them...

Some had timed fuse detonators, some exploded on contact or after bouncing once, some were linked by bars or chains to trip horses and decapitate soldiers, some exploded into smaller balls and shrapnel such as the canister type, and some were even rocket powered.  I can't find a good photo showing just how many different types there were, but you can go to any battlefield museum or the armory at Fort Delaware and see what I mean.  This was the heyday of bizarre artillery guns and radical new barrel designs.


Many consider the Civil War "the dawn of modern warfare" for many reasons, perhaps the greatest of which is the invention and proliferation of quick-reloading weapons and weapons that could fire multiple shots in a row very fast.  Any soldier with half a brain knows that "He who loadeth his weapon faster, liveth longer than his unfortunate enemy."  Early on in the war, men realized their slow muzzle-loading long rifles, while elegant weapons in the grand tradition of their forefathers, were not up to snuff against these newer inventions. A well-trained soldier could load and fire only about three shots a minute, or one shot every 20 seconds. And most of them would be killed before they could reload.

So..naturally, this gave rise to a new age in warfare: that of the repeating rifle.

One of the earliest was the Spencer carbine, meant to be carried by cavalrymen on horseback. They needed something to replace their old dragoon-style pistols because these were taking too long to reload through the muzzle with a ramrod.  So a man named Spencer came up with a shortened rifle, about a third the length of a musket, that could be held and fired one-handed and loaded with several cartridges at a time.

Here was how it worked:

The cartridges (which were encased in metal instead of wrapped in paper) were stuffed into the stock of the weapon with a spring-loaded cylinder, and cocking the lever which doubled as a trigger guard, advanced the next round to be fired.  Abraham Lincoln was given a personal demonstration of one of these weapons on the White House lawn, and after being allowed to fire a few shots himself to see how easy it was to use, he said something to the effect of "A fine weapon indeed, I only wish every soldier in my army could have one..."  The Confederates said of this weapon:  "These Yankees could load on Sunday and shoot all week!"

There were even more radical ideas to follow.  For example, the Sharps Rifle and Carbine, the first true military breech-loading rifle.  Issued to the men of the 42nd "Bucktail" Infantry after 1862, these guns had a chamber that opened up just behind the cap lock to accept a cartridge, and could be loaded in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, capped and fired.

 Men who carried these were known as "Sharpshooters".  Another famous regiment that carried these would be Berdan's Sharpshooters, the world's first recon snipers.  They wore green uniforms and hid up in trees, an early attempt at camouflage. Often, the first a soldier knew a sharpshooter was aiming at him was when a bullet went through his head.

Samuel Colt, a man renowned for inventing the first revolving pistols we all are now familiar with as "cowboy" guns, also manufactured a revolving rifle version of his weapon in 1855 that had a far greater range and better accuracy.  A picture of this is below:

There were all types and variations of these guns, including the Greene Patent Rifle, this rare bolt-action one, which looks decades ahead of its time:

....and finally, the lever-action Henry Repeating Rifle, the familiar weapon of the "Old West"



As the landscape of war changed, so did the tactics. It changed so much that the 90-day militiamen who were mustered out in 1861 would not recognize the war anymore. 

Instead of advancing across open fields Napoleon-style, men now dug themselves into fixed positions, and took shelter in trenches and behind earthworks. The winner was the side that could stand prolonged artillery bombardment the longest, and he who built his walls thicker and higher. Artillery would arc high over the ground and fall on the men's heads, or rain fragments down on them.  The first exploding shells were invented by a Lieutenant General Henry Shrapnel, and that is where we get the name for this today. Bunkers called "Bombproofs" were made to shelter the men from these bombardments, which could last for days, weeks or even months.  Messy charges were made to gain a dozen or so yards of ground, and close quarters melee combat became a bloodbath. The constant digging and loose earth resulted in mud as the spring rains came in 1864, and rats, disease and wet misery prevailed. The battlefield became a grim foreshadowing of the Great War that would consume Europe some 50 years later.

 The ever-persistent problem of keeping up sustained rifle fire and quick reloading was eventually solved by factory-made machines such as this one, invented by Richard J. Gatling.  Now, superior numbers counted for almost nothing.

Gatling Gun, 1865. example is from the Royal Artillery Museum in England.

But the Gatling gun had its disadvantages. It had to be cranked slowly and evenly, or its gears would jam up and stop firing. 

So men invented other weapons such as the "coffee mill" gun shown below, with a hopper on it to funnel in as much ball ammunition as could be loaded at once, to fire and clear the chamber as fast as possible. 

Coffee Mill Gun. example on display at the New Market Battlefield museum.
There were all manner of frightening new weapons used during the Civil war, and to discuss every pistol, shotgun, rifle, carbine, mortar and cannon in detail would make this post an actual book. So I will leave it at that.

Whew!! That was an exhaustive that took me a few years to come back and finish.  I hope you all learned a lot.