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.