Monday, May 20, 2013

The Rebel Invasion

May 18-29, 2013

Conner Prairie, Fishers, IN

We are a band of brothers

I hadn’t been to Conner Prairie since 2006, long before I started getting serious into this hobby.  The 1st Tennessee had a bad experience there a few years back—the same year I started getting heavy into this hobby—and haven’t been back since.  This weekend they chose to attend Sharon Woods, in Sharonville, but the Independent Guard went to Conner Prairie so my duties as major called me Indiana, especially with Gettysburg coming up, and I needing to be involved in the drills.

Native to the soil

The weekend started simple enough—I arrived early and set my tent next to the colonel’s, then dug the fire pit.  I loaded us up with firewood, which was pretty easy considering the wood pile was about ten paces from the pit.  A quick run to porcelain and I could see the sutlers a short hop away, so remembered my need to buy an extra set of stars for my brevet promotion for Gettysburg.  Absolutely everything was close.  Even the battlefield was close—you could practically give a swift kick to a nearby cannon and watch it roll down the hill right onto the battlefield.

There was just one little caveat—apparently the Yankees were playing at some sort of game.  They set up pickets to their camp, and all Confederates were prohibited entry.  You might think this would make sense—after all, we’re supposed to portray enemies—but this was to continue even through the night, after the public had gone home.  Even then, the occasional event where this occurs is okay—but where I’ve seen this, there is always a way around it.

Nationals make sense for this—such events are too big and where the reenactor out too much—you aren’t even interested in entering the camp of the other side.  But although Perryville played this game, they offered an out—they could enter camp with an escort.

Conner Prairie had numbers of about one hundred per side—not exactly a large event.  Often we have friends on the other side we’d like to visit with.  The 4th Ohio Company B, for example—my original company when I first started Civil War reenacting—was there.  But there was more there—the Yankee Camp was in a small period village, an exhibit called “The Civil War Journey”, and many of the Confederate soldiers had a desire to visit this exhibit.  So, the “out” we agreed upon with the Yankee commander—where Confederates could enter exhibit—was that they had to remove their coats, and women could have no confederate pins.

Fighting for our liberty with treasure blood and toil

We understood that for the public they wanted to follow this impression.  And when the public went home, the exhibit was closed.  We agreed to the removal of coats and no pins and pass the word on to the individual companies, thinking all would be well.  Of course, we as Confederates have no such restrictions.  The issue was put to rest, thinking that all was well.

But it appears that the Yankee commander must think there is a Confederate spy behind every tree.

Anyway, the Saturday battle went well—we were supposed to lose, so we pushed on the field, and then let the Yankees push us off.  I saw the 4th Ohio push aggressively, so I though about sending last company, on my wing, out to flank them to stop their advance—but alas!  They only had three survivors.  That plan was not going to work.

After that rather extraordinary feast the park supplied, I joined the Lt Colonel and the 50th Virginia for a round of cards they called “Screw your Neighbor”.  It was not something I had heard before, and as they described it, it was a rather strange game.  The best way to describe it is that it was like Uno, with a normal deck of cards, and a small, but very strange, twist.  Needless to say, I began to understand the appeal as the night wore on and a couple of them had a few shares of whiskey.  Still, it wasn’t Euchre.  But, in a pinch, it’ll do.

Sunday morning drill provided a good experience as to what we could expect for Gettysburg, as the Lt Colonel took command for drill, and I filled the Lt Colonel position.  It was a very good experience, and I learned a bit of what to expect—and how I can work with the Lt Colonel to make Gettysburg the best experience for everyone.  I am more anxious than ever for Gettysburg.

We also learned of the treatment our soldier got attempting to visit that Civil War Journey exhibit.  One report we got was that our soldier refused to remove his coat—well he was warned, and there was nothing to be done about that.  But another report of another soldier was that he did remove his coat, but he refused to remove his kepi, so was prohibited entry.

Now, we did not agree to the removal of hats.  Everyone in the Civil War period wore hats—it was taboo to go outside in public without one.  They might just as well go without trousers as without hats.  Yes, a civilian hat would have allowed passage, and many Confederate reenactors wear civilian hats (myself included most of the time), but many reenactors only have one hat—that being either a military kepi or forage cap.  So the rule for hats—which we never agreed to—basically outright blocked about half of the Confederate reenactors from entering the exhibit.

And when our rights were threatened,

So, Colonel Julian hatched a plan.

The cry rose near and far—

The Sunday battle was every bit as good as Saturday’s.  I saw a few more crowd there, probably due to the better weather (there was a bit of rain Saturday morning), and the Yankees kept us busy working to take our victory.

I did hear a small complaint from a captain or two from our battalion that the field for us to work in was too small.  They did cut off a good portion of the battlefield used in the past so the public could get in closer to the action, but I think all it did from our perspective is add to the challenge.

After the battle, we reformed, cleared weapons, charged the crowd, then marched in column behind the Yankee battalion.

All the way to their camp.

Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears the single star.

It was quite a long hike—but it was worth it.  To see their stunned faces as we crossed the bridge where the pickets had stopped our men before was a prize to be treasured.  We marched around the square, serenading them with “The Bonnie Blue Flag”.
The bridge where the Yankee pickets restricted access.

I’ll step on a bit of a soap box here and make my point—this is just a hobby, and most of us have friends of both sides—some even play on both sides.  Giving the public an authentic experience is one thing—and okay to me—but give us a way around it (removing hats is not a way around it).  In my opinion, the only place it is appropriate to completely ban the opposing sides in the hobby from the other’s camp would be at a national event—but even then, what does it matter after hours when the public has gone home?  Sometimes, we only see our friends at reenactments.  This thing that the Yankees pulled at Conner Prairie is the single big reason the 1st Tennessee has not returned.  It led to an incident they have not forgotten, and are not likely to forget any time soon.  I have to ask those Yankees responsible—of what value is that anyhow?  Would you rather there not be any Confederates at the event—perhaps make it a living history only?  The 1st Tennessee is not the only group I’ve heard that has issue with this policy.

Although the access issue mattered little to me personally, I felt angered for the treatment of men under my authority.  No, I don't offer a solution--but a solution does exist.

In spite of this, we did have fun.  It is an event I will remember--and like I said, we were close to everything, while the Yankees had quite the hike to get to sutlers, dinner, and the battlefield.  I think if Confederates go and just accept that the Yankees are to be left alone in their little corner, then the rest of the weekend can be enjoyed.  Perhaps our little escapade through their camp sent our message.

I want to reiterate that the weekend in general was good--I would return.  Set aside the issue with the Yankees, and all is good--very good.  Perhaps the best way to handle this weekend is to simply not deal with the Yankees--they are going to be trouble, so just let them be.  We were treated well by the coordinators, and it was well worth the trip.  As for the Yankees--well, that indigo dye messes with your head.  Apparently some readers had a different impression from what they read.

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