Monday, October 24, 2011

Another Successful First-year Event

October 22-23, 2011

I was impressed with the effort Monroe put forward.  Reenactor turnout was rather weak, but Monroe has a lot of potential if they can keep up the community support.  They had plenty of sponsorship, plus they had an impressive five sutlers—which is more than Fort Recovery had for their second year.  One of the sutlers even had a supply of blackpowder and caps for decent prices.

Since the 9th Kentucky had the largest numbers, the four of us (plus one returning from years ago) of the 1st Tennessee fell in under Capt. Mike Hernandez.  The event commander was the captain from the Confederate Marines, so I was glad that we had enough infantry to be on our own.

The numbers were too small to have made the battle memorable, other than from our four, led by Sgt Jack Nyman, leading the Confederate forces with a skirmish line toward the Yankees.  I had neglected to clean Christine after Hartford City, so had just done a quick flushing a couple of hours before the battle, and Christine was not very happy about that, constantly misfiring until we reformed with 9th Kentucky.  Once she got warmed up, she performed admirably.  But it is rather embarrassing when you are in a line of four, and you are the only one not making any noise.

Friday night was the first time over the entire season I had to set up camp in the dark—and I am going to have to avoid doing that again at all costs.  Usually I try to defarb even the inside of my tent so that I can leave the door open, but I had to just dump everything everywhere in the tent, hoping to straight it out later when I could see what I was doing.

On Friday, I usually try to stop at a local grocery store to pick up some sliced bacon or jowl bacon for Saturday and Sunday breakfast.  I had my mind set on jowl bacon, but the local Krogers only had salt pork or the sliced bacon.  I had never really tried salt pork before, and since that is a period-correct meal, I thought I would give it a try with a twelve-ounce package.

My first mistake was thinking it would fry up like bacon.  It came pre-sliced, so I dumped half the package in my skillet.  As it fried, I realized I was not going to get enough grease for my eggs—I had to add some olive oil for those.  But I realized my biggest mistake when I took the first bite.  One time I had some jowl bacon that was rather salty, but it was still very good.  This salt pork was about ten times saltier.  I could feel it pickling my stomach as I finished off the slice.  I finally gave up on it after the fourth slice, letting Jack experience the last slice.  I was tasting that salt for hours afterward.

To correct my mistake, I tried something different for Sunday breakfast.  I soaked the remaining salt pork in my cup with water, heating it over the fire until it steamed, emptied out the water, and repeated.  Then I fried up the salt pork.  This time it was edible, even palatable.  But I am going to stick with bacon from now on.

My first impression of the battlefield when I arrived on Friday was that it seemed small.  However, once we were actually on the field for battle, I would have to say that it is actually a little larger the battlefield at Jackson MI, which held a total of four battalions fighting each other.  There is definitely plenty of room for many more reenactors.

Davis and Lincoln conspire with Sgt Jack Nyman
Dinner, catered by a local restaurant called the Red Onion, was also spectacular with pulled pork and cheese potatoes.  It ranks among the best meals of the year.

I was also surprised by the numbers of public that passed through our camp.  I am not sure if it is how we normally have our camp set up or where we normally have our camp, but we usually do not see many public pass through.  However, it almost felt like Grand Central Station with the amount of public we saw passing through—some taking a moment to warm up by the campfire before moving on.

I am not bothered by the public--in fact, I welcome them.  If it were not for the public, there would be no event.  And if there were no event, we would not be able to play on the battlefield, shooting blackpowder at each other.  So, whether I like it or not, I will talk with the public and answer their questions—basically do the living history part of it.  I do not have much of a first-person impression down, but I try a little to put on a southern drawl and get recruits to fight the northern aggressors.  If I can make the event coordinators happy by making the public happy, then there will be another event next year that I can come and play at.

I bring this up because Jack had one member of the public talk to him for awhile, and this guy said that the Yankees would barely give him the time of day.  Now I am only going on what I heard from what this one guy said, but those Yankees need to be careful doing that—we as reenactors may be there to have fun, but we cannot have fun without an event—so part of being a reenactor is to entertain and educate the public.  Do not be afraid to drop everything to talk with them—even if you sometimes have to put up with the stupid questions, like “Is that a real fire?”

It certainly caught us by surprise Saturday night when the event was holding a candlelight tour.  As we were shooting the breeze in the dark by the fire, we were unexpectedly surrounded by twenty or thirty public with lanterns.  We quickly put on our game face and tried to put ourselves into the period—but it did catch us by surprise.

At any rate, the event was good.  We had to fight to keep warm Saturday and Sunday mornings, but that is to be expected for this time of year.  The days were actually perfect weather otherwise.  It is one I definitely want to come back to next year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Change of Command

Hartford City IN, October 8-9, 2011

I think this year makes my seventh at Hartford City—but I may be wrong.  You tend to loose track after a few.

But it is also among my favorites.  I arrived early on Friday to set camp—only to find that I was the first from the unit to arrive, meaning I would be the one to set the line.  Not a problem at small events, but this is one the 1st Tennessee turns out in force.  I set my tent and fly up to what I thought would give everyone enough room, but I’m not used to the size of wall tents—it turned out I had set up about six feet too close to the fence that marked the edge of the battlefield, so I had to move a bit.  The Lewis’s set up next to mine—their fly alone was about the same length as my tent and fly combined.  It will be something I will remember for next time.

During Saturday battalion parade we held the change of command ceremony, with Capt. Evens passing command of the 1st Tennessee to Lt. JR Sharp.

Saturday was a grueling day.   Two battles and a skirmish, along with battalion drill.  Fortunately the skirmish was canceled when we saw the Yankees were not going to play.  Being the 150th for 1st Manassas, this was the battle chosen for both Saturday’s battles.  Both battles were fun.  For once, we took significant casualties rather early in the battle, only to be told that we cannot take many casualties—so for the last three quarters of that first battle we could not take any hits.  Although both battles were fun, there was not much of significances that stood out to write about, other than all of us struggling near the end to have rounds to shoot.  I forgot to reload my capbox for the second battle, but fortunately I had a small stash of Navy Arms caps that I use for capping off in my vest pocket.  Since I was at the end of the line, I felt safe using them.

The only thing that really stood out between the battles and battalion drill was that we had a couple of guys from some other unit fall in with us.  On wheels, one of those guys appeared clueless as to what he needed to do and kept messing up our line.  Pvt Silvers was getting pretty upset with him for not following his instruction. He did eventually do an acceptable job on the wheels, though.

We managed to get some Euchre in that day.  Edd Sharp joined us for the day as he is basically still the head of the unit, although he no longer fights with us on the battlefield.  He and Capt. Evens were partners, while Lt. JR Sharp, Edd’s son, and who normally has Capt. Evens as his partner, decided to choose from the best for his next regular partner—me.  And the combined strength of Sharp and I proved itself worthy as we defeated the Evens-Sharp team two games out of two.

By the way, I suppose it is a running joke, but it is because of the name of the two Sharps in our unit that we do not have any sharpshooters.

The day ended with me donning my Captain’s uniform and heading over to the 4H building offsite for the ball.  There were attempts to locate the ball onsite, but for some reason it fell through.  The weather for the event was perfect, so there really was no reason we could have had it onsite.  I was at least able to enjoy the night artillery barrage due to the later scheduling of the ball.

The ball went very well.  A few times I forgot to tell the band, the Tri-County Revelers, the music I wanted and what dance I was doing, but they did an excellent job of choosing something based on the dance I taught to the dancers.  I think the Tri-County Revelers are among the best bands I have worked with, but they do have solid experience working period balls.  They never need more than about 30 seconds before each dance to work something out.

The ball, however, ended on a rather somber note as we had one serious injury near the end of the evening.  My wife, Carol, who regularly does the area Dr. Mary Walker impression, took a spill and cracked her head pretty good.  I called in the EMTs as it was clear she was seriously hurt.  The good news is that she was able to leave without a trip to the hospital—it was apparently only a mild concussion.  But she will be suffering a pretty nasty headache for the next couple of days.

This prompted discussion with the man who I believe was the primary event coordinator.  He had fought to have the event moved onsite instead of the usual location at the 4H building.  We both agree that the issues with the 4H building are that it is a significant distance offsite—about a mile—and that the dance floor is polished concrete, which has always been about as slick as snot on an icepack.  This was the first time it was not bad for me as the soles of my boots were extraordinarily worn.  But most reenactors have leather-soled brogans and boots, many with heel plates.  Those of the board of the event do not understand how slippery that floor is under those conditions.  The reenactors who dance commonly put stuff like duct tape on their soles to keep from slipping.  It has only been by the grace of God that there has not been a serious injury before in all the years the ball has been held at the 4H building.

The distance is also an issue—I commonly am asked were the ball was afterward, only to be surprised how far away it was.  And we never see very many spectators, even though for the artillery night-fire the number of spectators are quite large.  Many of the reenactors from the 1st Tennessee like to go to watch, but with it offsite do no really see it worth their while.  Plus, many have trailers to haul around—who is going to want to deal with that?

The only issue with having the ball onsite is the weather.  If it is rainy, it will be miserable, and admittedly it is difficult to find a tent large enough to house all the dancers at this event.  But I also have to note that in the five years I have been calling this ball, I have yet to see rain during the ball—although there have been times that if the rain simply shifted by a day or so, we could have ended up with a massive soaking.

And enough about that—Sunday brought a new day.  Weather was again spectacular at upper seventies and sunny, almost too hot for this time of year.

We started the day with a tactical.  It did not quite work out like last year, and at one point the Yankees did almost have us, but there were a few things they did that gave us the advantage.  I do not know if it is a good idea to point out the one significant mistake that made the real difference for us, but when it comes to games—which is what a tactical really is—I am one that I like to help my opponent improve so that he can make the game more challenging and fun for me.  So the one thing that seems apparent to me that the Yankees could have done would be to hide a small contingent to guard the small path we came up.  Because that path was unguarded, we were able to come up behind the Yankee company guarding the hill, and surprise them.  Had a force been away from that hilltop and to the far side of that small path’s opening, they would have put us in a bind as we quickly advanced up that path to outflank that Yankee force.

Now, I might get into trouble from my captain for pointing that out—but like I said, I like a challenge, and if my opponent improves, then I am forced to improve to keep ahead of him.  The Independent Guard now claims four consecutive years of victory on the tactical at Hartford City—and I want to see that continue, but not because the opponent was simply less skilled.  I like to claim victory after I have been given a run for my money.  The victory is far more satisfying that way.

The Sunday battle also gave Capt Evens a chance to leave his mark.  We reenacted Henry Hill, using the event’s entire field for the event, with the rail fence marking the center.  The size of the field was roughly three times the size of the one of Jackson, Michigan.  Plenty of space to maneuver.  We had around ten cannons on our side with comparable numbers on the Yankee side to open the battle.  The Yankee artillery was located at the center of the field only the fence.  We advanced toward the Union artillery, and one of our Confederate units, dressed in the blue used during that time, took possession of one of the guns as part of the scenario.

We then advanced beyond the Yankee artillery, with the artillerymen changing their coats and turning their guns around to give the impression of being captured by Confederate forces.

I need to point out that there were cavalry around and on the battlefield in significant numbers, but I must apologize to them for not saying much about them—being in the infantry they do not really stand out much to me.  I am sure they are doing a great job, and I know the public loves to see them, but I am focused on my task at hand—watching men on horses galloping about, shooting each other and swinging swords at each other is not really part of my focus.

I did note a skirmish line of dismounted Yankee cavalry with Henrys.  Although the battle was an early-war battle and Henrys were unlikely, they fired those things like they should—taking the time to aim each shot so that each shot counted.  No machine-gun fire.  I made a point of watching them a bit for what they were doing.  Their shots came quick, but their shots came sure.  Kudos to them for doing it right.  Keep it up.  I also heard others from the 1st Tennessee happy about what they saw from that unit.  I only wish I knew which unit it was so I could name them here.

Our battalion had formed on the far side of the fence to advance on the Yankees, splitting into two wings.  Capt Evens saw an opportunity, and I think he upset our major by taking an impromptu charge on the Yankee force, pushing them into a retreating run.  He then had us double-time it back to the battalion wing, only to do it again.  I figured out later that the 4th OVI, my old unit, was part of that Yankee force we kept charging.  I would love to hear there opinion—I hope we made it as enjoyable to them as it was to us.  At one point we flanked the Yankee force and followed them down the hill as they did an organized retreat, forcing them to refuse their flank.  It looked like we had them pretty well boxed in against the public.  If that did not get the Yankee’s adrenaline rushing, nothing would.

Capt. Evens succeeded in making his last battle a memorable one.

This event marks the last of the year for most of the 1st Tennessee, so I will not see many of them until next year—though I will see many at next month’s Euchre tournament and a few at Monroe in two weeks and a few at Guyandotte the first weekend in November.  This has been the longest string of events in a row for me—at about seven, attending an event every weekend since Jackson the end of August.  I can tell you that even for someone addicted to wool and blackpowder, it is really too many in a row.  I am glad for a break, even if only for one weekend.  I almost even had a bit of a dredge—almost—of coming to Hartford City due to the long string of events.  I really wish there were more in the early part of the season and less in the late part.  I do not mind the events in the hottest part of the year—I can take the heat (yeah, I know I missed 1st Manassas with its 105 degree temperatures).  If you are an event coordinator looking to schedule your event, please consider earlier in the year—just not opposite some other established event.

And with that, I will be back in two weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Walking Through Time

Auckerman Creek, Eaton Ohio, October 1-2, 2011

When I first arrived at Auckerman Creek, near Eaton, Ohio, I began to wonder if there would be anyone I knew there—or at least if there would be anyone there.  One tent from the Indian River Regulators was set up, but no one was there.  An old Rev War friend—Mike Thompson was there, at least.  I knew Cpl Jeff Carte was on his way, but there was no one to tell me where to set up, so I set up where we were last year.

The weather Saturday reminded me of last year—cold and windy.  At least there was no rain.  And without Pvt Steve Winston to build our fire pit, the job of starting the fire fell to the first one up.  We had dug the pit the night before, but since it was just the two of us, we saw little point in starting the fire, and instead hung out with the Rev War guys until we turned in.  Since I was the first up Saturday morning, I did my best to start the fire.  I have not yet gotten some flint and steel (though I think that will be on my shopping list for Hartford City next week), so I disgraced Winston and soaked some paper with rubbing alcohol and tried to light a match to it.  But that wind was so high it kept blowing out my match before I could get the alcohol lit.  I wish it had occurred to me to steal some hot coals from the Rev War camp.  I finally won the battle with the wind when I switched to using a lighter.

Sgt Shaw had to bail due to illness, so we did not have the wind break like last year.  Capt Evens was there, but as a Regulator, so Carte and I teamed up against Evens and another Regulator for some Euchre.

The other Confederate Unit that we had last year—I think it was the 27th Virginia—did not show up, except for one, so any hope of any kind of Civil War thing was pretty much gone.  Jeff and I did our best—but there was not much in the way of crowds.  Like last year, there was an antique auction.   But unlike last year, there was some very slim pickings.  Nothing at all caught my interest.  It was odd seeing the Virginia reenactor wheel off an old scooter to his car.

Pvt Tim Elifrit was there as well, but since he reenacts about five different eras, he chose the one with the best guns, attending as a WWII British Commando.  There were rumors that Lt. JR Sharp would be there as a Russian paratrooper, but he never made it.  Well, with so few reenactors present, we at least got extra helpings of Elifrit’s wife’s superb cupcakes.

We made an odd attempt at a battle, with Evens using an old pump-action shotgun, Carte and I with our muskets, and I wielding  my 1860 Remmington pistol, Elifrit tried out three different machine guns, and Rob Applegate, a WWII reenactor doing a  German soldier bit.  I am not really sure who was on who’s side, but Carte and I were not much of a match with our three rounds a minute to the WWII guys and their 500 rounds a minute.

I had brought all my reenacting gear—and I do mean all—to try the chameleon thing that Elifrit had done last year.  I started the day in my normal Confederate private gear, switching to my Captain’s garb (like I did for last week’s ball), then switching to Yankee.  Even tried on an old coat I had used for the few times I had done some Wild West stuff at the Annie Oakley Festival in Greenville.  It was kind of silly fun, but it wore off before I got to my old Rev War gear—I thought I might switch to that Sunday.

The event did provide an excellent Saturday supper, with pulled pork, barbecue beef, bean soup, pies of various kinds, and cider.  Somehow we had missed out on this last year.  Carte and I had talked of running to Eaton for food, unaware that supper would be provided, so we were very pleasantly surprised.

Sunday’s weather was much more pleasant—a perfect 50 to 60 degree temperature for wool with only a light breeze, and sunshine.  But then the even set up a demonstrator next to our camp that made me decide to put my first thumbs down on an event since I started this blog.  I have always said that it will take a lot for an event to make me disappointed in it.  Sunbury came close this year, but I still enjoyed it.  In fact, the only event I have ever encountered before now that I would call a disaster would be the last time the Granville Ohio event was held (the food there was so bad, it has become legend).  But when Auckerman Creek had an artisan set up next to us who made his art with a chainsaw, and demonstrated his work by running that chainsaw most of the day, I was about as disappointed as possible.  Had it not been for us able to sit with the WWII reenactors some distance from the chainsaw, I would have packed my gear and left by noon.  There would be breaks, but the chainsaw was so noisy, Carte and I were chased out of our own camp.  The only saving grace was that the event coordinator did acknowledge this issue as we were leaving at the end of the day and said she would try to locate him elsewhere next year.

We did try more with a Sunday battle, but Evens only came for Saturday, so the Nazi ganged up with us against the British commando.   Not much of a battle, as the two of us would do company volleys while the machine guns rat-a-tat tatted away.

I never tried on my Rev War gear—instead opting to sell it to the guys at the Rev War camp.  I was never so glad to be rid of it.  It had been hanging around in storage for four years or so, and I was never going to be wearing it.  I am not sure if I sold it for anything close to what I had paid for it, but I did get a good amount of spending cash for Hartford City.

As we packed our gear, the event coordinator asked about the 1st Tennessee, and when she found out we like battles, she said that next year they might try to get something like that going for us—which I took to mean that we might have some Yankees to shoot instead.  I did not have the heart to tell her that our plans for next year are to go to Perryville, which I hope will be on this first weekend in October to avoid conflicting with Hartford City.

To be honest, had the event coordinator not acknowledged the issue with the chainsaw, I had decided I would never return.  But I am an easy guy.  The respect of that simple acknowledgement was enough that I would be willing to give Auckerman Creek another try—so long as an event like Perryville did not conflict.   Since Perryville is a national event, and one that the 1st Tennessee was actually at during the Civil War, and since 2012 is the 150th year since that battle, it is unlikely we would pass that up.

There were other things that worked against Auckerman Creek.  There was the weather and lack of reenactors and crowds. But I have also done a long string of back-to-back events.  I have done every weekend since the last weekend in August, and I still have one next week.  I do not recommend that for anyone.  I may be addicted to wool and blackpowder, but I still need a break from that for the real world once in a while.  It would be much better if there were more events early in the year and less late.  By April and May I am itching to get back into wool, but I have found that with such and long string, and now the weather starting to get cold, I am starting wear.