Monday, September 28, 2020

Some Lame News - But A Nice Picture

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This journal will be updated a lot less often now, since I am no longer active in the Civil War hobby. Between the global shutdown and all the event cancellations due to Covid-19, my photography business put on hiatus and my own financial struggles, one of my hobbies had to go. I had to make a tough decision to sell off most of my gear and retire from 1860s living history. My rifle is gone, as well as my tent and most of my gear. You will not see many new posts on this site going forward, unless of course I volunteer for a day at Fort Delaware or I go to an event as a spectator. My reasons for leaving the hobby go much deeper than this, mainly I cannot stand the re-emerging racism and modern politics starting to loom over something that used to be fun and educational for the public.  I do WWII events almost exclusively now and have a far greater collection of uniforms and stuff, as well as a better family connection to the 1940s.

I attended one Civil War event this weekend as a spectator with a camera however, and got some amazing images with a new lens I bought last year. Like this one, which I think is my favorite from the whole day:

I took this picture of a friend at the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation in Ridley Creek State Park, during their annual Civil War skirmish this past weekend. This is what I love about the Plantation, the backdrop is perfect for reenactments. Not a single modern thing in sight. I think this photo in particular has an illustrative quality to it so I wanted to do something special with it.

I think this is my favorite photograph I have so far and I've been shooting photos of reenactments for 7 years. I liked it so much I wanted to turn it into an engraving for a story in an imaginary issue of Harper's magazine. So I did some intense Photoshop work and this is the result:

The Revolution and the Civil War were still very popular subjects for stories at a time when everybody read books for entertainment. American history was fascinating to boys and young men. They liked to read adventure stories about military exploits, discoveries, tales of sailing on the high seas (I've read some Navy stories but most of them involve pirates). Historical fiction was hugely popular. Fantasy and science fiction at this time were still fairly new & unfamiliar genres and they were very exciting, but history was no less interesting. Generally it seems young people near the turn of the 20th century were curious about what America was like "in the old days" and they longed for the simpler pre-industrial times.

Harper's, (of the famous Harper's Weekly newspaper) started making bound literary collections of poetry, humor and short stories for young readers in the 1880s called "Harper's Young People." In 1895 the name was changed to Harper's Round Table. I have a Harper's Roundtable book from 1896, the pages in it are very thin and falling apart but I have read some of it. The illustrations for these stories were prints made from engravings and were amazingly detailed.  For examples, see my 1896 Roundtable posts: Civil War Drill Camp for Boys, Passing The Winter, A Song for Christmas Eve,  The Man Who Invented Santa Claus
This image had to be turned to monochrome and layers of digital filters put on it...I upped the contrast, played with shadows and highlights, overlaid a film grain filter, added a "sketch" filter with high detail and then cropped it to fit on a page with some typesetting, as if it was from a book.

In this scene, I imagined a Confederate soldier ran away from a battle or he got lost somewhere in Pennsylvania after Gettysburg. Maybe he's seen enough of the war and wants to find his way home. Perhaps he's been on the road for a few days without food, he's tired and he can't go on much longer. So in this scene he's come across a farm, maybe he hopes he can forage an ear of corn, some carrots or a few apples without being seen. He's in enemy territory and he knows he could be shot on sight, unless he's very lucky and the family are Secessionist sympathizers. What will happen?

Flashback- 8 Years Ago

Boonsboro, Maryland. Sept 16th 2012

It had rained overnight, the ground was soaking wet. Our wool clothes were wet too, we had no chance to dry them. We got up when it was still dark, stars were overhead. Reveille was at 4:30 in the morning. Without time for anything but a cup of black coffee cooked over the fires, we put on our uniforms and backpacks and picked up our muskets to join formation. A silent inspection and the General on his horse called out "Attention, Division. Forward, March!" Then we started to march down a long dirt road in the moonlight, in a long line of hundreds of men.

 Everyone was quiet, except for shuffling feet and full canteens banging on our tin cups strapped to our haversacks. The march seemed to go on indefinitely, as the sky turned to grey and we could see our surroundings. A thick fog rose up, so we could barely see each other. A lone pickup truck drove on by us down the road, his  red tail lights fading into the murky gloom. I only imagined what the driver thought of our line of ghostly soldiers marching to nowhere.

At long last, we reached the edge of a field of corn and the Division commander called for a halt. We formed ranks and stood there like statues, facing the cornstalks that loomed over us like ranks of silent soldiers. Then day broke...the sun climbed slowly behind the trees, shining golden rays through the thick white mist. As the morning got warmer, steam started to come off our wet jackets, off the hats on our heads, off the backs of the horses.

We heard a shout from the other side of the field, and a few shots. We were ordered to load and shoulder, then the first rank of men walked slowly into the corn and seemed to vanish into the white. The sounds of a skirmish came floating back at us through the impenetrable fog. We were next. Flanked on both sides by other men with deer tails stuck in their caps, I lowered my borrowed 1842 Springfield and stepped into the field, then the volleys from the other side started and I was instantly thrown back 150 years in time.  The Battle of Antietam had just begun.