Monday, November 17, 2014

Frozen to the Ground

150th Battle of Franklin

Franklin, TN

November 15-16, 2014

I set up my pitiful excuse for a dog tent, grumbling about my need to make longer uprights for it.  One of these days I’ll get around to it.
My pitiful dog tent

No shovel, but the fire pit had to be dug.  I was assigned the detail of digging the pit, and with the assistance of Pvt Myers we moved the dirt with a hatchet and bayonet.  Pvt Foust used his ingenuity and procured a shovel from a neighboring camp and finished the pit out for us.

We were informed that firewood for Friday evening was in short supply, but more would come in the morning.  We were to take only what we needed.  We set up a stack and I piled some wood in the pit to ready a fire, but we waited to start it so that we could make a trip into town to visit the local pub for some burgers.

We first hit a few of the Franklin Battlefield sites about the town, seeing where several significant actions took place, then made our way to dinner.

A few, including Capt Sharp, stayed behind to cook their meal.  I chose to join the crew for burgers as I like to be lazy the first night after the work of setting camp—plus I wasn’t sure I had brought enough provisions to include Friday evening meal.  Within the warmth of the pub and full on what must have been a half pound of beef, I received word that Capt Sharp was having difficulty getting the fire going.  Since Sgt Kletzi was unable to attend due to surgery, I knew that he couldn’t be the source of the difficulty, so I was a bit confused as to why the captain would have trouble.  My pile included plenty of kindling plus a couple of firestarters, so a single match should be all it took to get a good bonfire.

I found my explanation when I returned to camp.  By the time I arrived a small fire was smoldering in the pit, but almost no flame nor heat came from it.  It looked as though the men were gathered around a candle trying to keep warm.  The cold had started to hit, but the fire refused to warm us due to wood that was extremely green.  It was as though the wood had been chopped down from living trees the night before.  I piled a few more logs onto the flames, but it was to no avail.  It took until well into the night before a decent flame was emitted within the dense cloud of smoke pouring out of the pit.

The night was cold.  Well, that does not quite describe it.  The night was very cold.  Bitter cold.  Artic cold.  So cold even the fire couldn’t burn.  It might not have been a night where hell was freezing over, but certainly the lake of fire needed stoking.  The morning report told us that Louisville experienced a record low of 16 degrees.  We heard mixed reports of somewhere between 18 and 22 for us.

Pvt Foust struggles to get warm.
Thank the Lord, I’m not a hard-core campaigner.  Though I used a dog tent (and a pitiful one at that), I did have a modern army sleeping bag and one of those hand-warmers.  Capt Sharp loaned me a spare Zippo hand-warmer.   I was able to keep satisfactorily warm during the night, getting a decent sleep, and ready for action in the morning.  I was far more fortunate than Privates Foust and Hampton, both of whom roughed it by going true campaign-style with only a couple of blankets and a ground cloth.  Pvt Foust had it worse with only a summer quilt and ground cloth.  No end came to his informing us in the morning of just how cold he was.

As company clerk, my duty for this event was the morning reports.  In total, we had 18 soldiers, seventeen rifles, including Sgt Carte’s as acting 1st Sergeant.  We made it through the night, but supplies were grim.  No water buffalos, though we were promised them the night before.  Sufficient water was provided within the time of our need for them, but only by a supply of one gallon jugs.  Porta johns were sufficient, but only convenient for the Yankees—we could only get to them by trudging through the Yankee camps, which fortunately was not far, but still—a little awkward.  Servicing of the porta-lets was non-existent, so by Saturday afternoon they had become unusable—but the park gave us all-night access to the permanent facilities.

Overall, there was an air of disorganization about, but it was what it was.

The battle itself went well, following a decent scenario from the Battle of Franklin, though there was a bit of confusion from not knowing the colonel’s command style, which was far different from the various battalions we’ve fallen in with in the past.

We opened forming a skirmish line, and I found my new trousers to be troublesome as the smaller pockets kept spitting out all my possessions all over the battlefield.  Somewhere is a pocket knife someone else will enjoy.

We soon advanced in waves upon the Federal breastworks, eventually failing the charge.

Saturday evening a few of us wanted to try to make for Stone’s River to see a bit of the museum, but unfortunately were delayed by a technical issue with one of the vehicles, so opted instead to run to the local Taco Bell for supper.

Upon our return, Pvt Hampton somehow succeeded in creating a blaze that stood to his reputation, warming us to the point that vests were all that were sufficient to hold back the cold.  The night was warming than the previous, but rumors were abounding of possible sleet hitting us during the early morning hours.  Some of the Rebels, scared off by the rumors, deserted.  We discussed the option of leaving, but decided it best to stay and await for what the morning would hold for us.  We had come this far and had been through the worst with the night before—we should at least see what was in store for us in the morning.

I woke Sunday morning almost too warm, not quite so tightly bundled in my sleeping bag as I had been the night before.  A light pattering of spitting rain danced on my canvas as I struggled to convince myself to squirm out of my coverings.

A glance about revealed by the absence of canvas that a large portion of the Rebel force had gone AWOL due to the weather, with the Yankees across the field soon following.  It did surprise us a bit to see the Confederate forces leaving first, as in the North we’re used to seeing the Yankees desert first at the sign of inclement weather.  We decided to join the crowd and abandon the cause, packing up our gear.  We were held up by another technical issue—one of ours locking their keys in their car—so we held on in the rain.  Soon, the captain of the other 1st TN came over to tell us the event was canceled, so once our comrade freed the keys from his vehicle, we made our way to Stone’s River to view the museum, stopping first at the Confederate Cemetery at the edge of the park.

We viewed the museum and drove around the battleground, spending little time out due to the continuous rain.  From there, we drove to the Sam Davis Homestead, where artifacts from the original 1st Tennessee were said to be.  Unfortunately, we found the place closed on Sundays, so settled for a few cameo photos of the cotton field.

We finished our day driving to the Civil War Museum in Bardstown, Kentucky, arriving about a half hour before they closed.  It was an experience to see this museum, and I wish we had more time, as the artifacts were more than could be viewed in the little time we had.  An elderly volunteer, however, offered to take us up to another location of the museum, just to the top of the hill, and show us the flag captured with John Hunt Morgan, in spite of it being after-hours.  We were able to see that among many other things in that other part of the museum.

News Article

The battle hot and heavy, I’m fighting for my home.
The Yanks have got Nashville, and the lead is falling down.
My mate Frank fires his musket, a ball takes me down.
And on this field I lay, wondering if tomorrow I'll be home.

A victory or defeat escapes my eyes and ears
For I am buried to keep the crows from feeding
Upon my flesh which finally stopped bleeding
And leaves my kin in tears.

But one day comes and I am dragged
to one corner of that field
Where with my mate Frank I lay
And rest through the years.

Time goes by and a Juniper grows
That forgotten may we not lay
Marked by a stone that all may see
That Frank and John fought and died
And now lay under the Juniper tree.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Changing of the Guard

Hartford City IN

October 11-12, 2014

Hartford City was a busy event as usual, with parade at nine and skirmish drills through the afternoon, and pay call of real cash awarded to random individuals (including myself) but it was different from usual.

For one thing, the usual Sunday morning tactical was no longer on the schedule.  It seems the Yankees got tired of always losing, and finally acknowledged they had no chance of winning, so decided to stop trying.

But this was also Col Dave Julian’s last event as colonel of the Independent Guard battalion.  Elections for Colonel, Lt. Colonel, and Major were this year.  The annual meeting had always been held in Jackson, Michigan, but due to low attendance from battalion member companies at Jackson, the election was moved to Hartford City.

After morning parade, we had a quick skirmish against the Yankees, pushing them up the hill to the rail fence.  Once finished, we rehearsed some basic hand-to-hand combat that we would do for the battle at four pm.  Many were a bit uncomfortable with this—particularly members of the 1st Tennessee (including myself, though I was on battalion staff), but they gave us the out to simply take hits in the battle before encountering the hand-to-hand.  Our discomfort was with not really knowing the Yankee companies we’d be facing.  Back in Ohio, several of the events we know the Yankees—such as the 4th Ohio, and members of McCooks Brigade, so I think we’d be more comfortable with prepared hand-to-hand with them than with these Indiana companies.

After the rehearsal for the hand-to-hand, the Independent Guard held its election.  Col Julian had announced his retirement from the position, leaving Danny Linkus from the 44th TN running unopposed for colonel.  For lt colonel, Duane Clark was running for re-election, being opposed by Richard DeWitt.  Finally, I ran unopposed for major.

Finally, Sgt Major Len Kizer had announced he was also retiring from his position.  Since the position would not be up for election until next year, Col Julian announced that as for his last action as colonel, he would appoint the replacement sgt major, appointing himself to the positon.

It was a close vote, but Duane Clark was selected for lt. Colonel.

We had a long break until battle, with the individual companies going onto the battlefield for half an hour each for drill or skirmish (if the Yankees played along).  I used the break to pick up a few necessities from a sutler.

The 4 pm battle seemed to go quick.  We pushed up the hill.  The 1st TN broke off to put pressure on a company with repeaters—I stayed with the 1st, since they were on my wing, to facilitate communication with Col Julian.  Capt Sharp was pleased to see the repeaters firing normally, and not like a machine gun being fired from the hip like some cowboy—like what we see far too often.  To show his pleasure, he used the opportunity to avoid the hand-to-hand and have the 1st take massive hits from the repeaters.

The 1st TN ladies cooked dinner for us—a meal of chicken and noodles and potatoes.  The event offered food too, but I think the chicken and noodles as a far better choice.  There quantity was a bit over-estimated, perhaps prepared for twice the number that had attended, but there were a number of no-shows.

The night grew cold and I was worn out by the time the night cannon fire lit the night.  I managed drift off in my tent in the middle of the blasting.

Sunday was a slow day—breakfast, morning parade, and a 2pm battle.

The battle was a bit quick.  We faced up to the Yankees and pushed.  The faced up to us and pushed forward.  One Yankee company broke off and tried to flank us, but the 1st TN refused them, getting decimated in the process.  The battle ended with nearly the entire Confederate force marked up as casualties.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Choking in Chaplin Hills

152nd Anniversary, Battle of Perryville

Perryville KY
October 4-5, 2014

We knew the turnout for this off-year event would not be anything like the big anniversary years, but there was still enough to field a battalion on each side, though the 4th Kentucky had to galvanize for the battle each day.  I was told that 75 Confederates were expected.

I was able to keep warm in my Army sleeping bag despite the cold night, but morning came with the sounds of a drum beating away beside our camp.  We never found out who was responsible for the drum, because even Confederate headquarters was upset with the disturbance.

We were supplied with an over-abundance of rations, including hardtack, salt pork, beef, potatoes, onions, oatmeal, and more.

Larry, a new recruit, joined us that morning.  He is probably one of the most enthusiastic recruits I have ever seen—arriving nearly fully equipped with all new gear.  We drilled him a bit and gave some basic training.  He picked up everything quickly.

We held a short ceremony for Joe Bellas.  His health is forcing him to retire from the hobby, and he has contributed much over the years.  Capt Sharp presented him with an award for his service.

The battle was simple, our three-company battalion facing three Yankee companies, pushing them over a hill.

Later, Capt Sharp walked us on a tour of the battlefield, as he had done in the Spring.  The walk went well, and we learned more about the 1st Tennessee and their part in the Battle of Perryville.

We feasted Sunday morning on more of the rations from Saturday, finishing with enough left over for the next event.

We formed for the battle, and a spoonful of apple cider vinegar was given to each of us. I didn’t have a spoon, so had an ounce or two poured into my cup.

I have had various forms of vinegar before, from apple cider vinegar, to white vinegar, red wine vinegar, even drank pickle juice like it was a soda.  But I had never had more than a spoonful of apple cider vinegar before, so was not prepared for the reaction my throat took when I gulped that few ounces down.  At first, it was like I had a frog in my throat, and had a bit of difficulty talking.  But then I could not get any air, as nothing but squeaking came out with each gasp I took.  Horror came to me as it occurred that I might not get the rather necessary air I needed, as my throat nearly complete closed up.  The major turned to me and realized I could be in trouble, asking if I was okay.  When I shook my head with a no, unable to get a word out, he and a few others gather around.  He asked what he wanted me to do, which really wasn’t a helpful question since I could only gasp.  He made an attempt at some sort of Heimlich maneuver, which he fortunately didn’t get quite right or he might have broken a rib—but he did put some good compression on my lungs which did help.

It fortunately cleared up about as quickly as it came on, and I was soon back to normal—with only a slightly scratchy throat—but it was quite a scare for me and all around.

Note to self: no more than a spoonful of vinegar at any given time.

At the battle the first was sent out separately as skirmishers.  We advanced for a while, rejoining the battalion. Capt Sharp took a hit, leaving Sgt Kletzli in charge.  We pushed and fell back a few times, but eventually pushed the Yankees completely across the field.

The event proved enjoyable, and I look forward to the next big national here in 2016.  Although next year will likely be small scale like this, I am certain the 1st Tennessee will return in 2015 to be a part of this event again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Unending upon the Day

Hale Farm

Bath, Ohio

August 9-10, 2014

It was a rough ride to Hale Farm Friday evening.  I had gotten lazy and trusted the voice recognition of my smart phone when I spoke the location into the navigation.  It was the correct direction out of Columbus, so it must have been correct.  But when I passed the exit onto the I-80 Turnpike, I knew something was wrong.  I checked the GPS out, and somehow it decided to direct me to a William Tricker Inc on Tanglewood Dr in Cleveland.  How it got that out of “Hale Farm, Bath Ohio,” I’ll never know.  I’m beginning to think that Google is trying to take over the world by slowly directing us to drive into a lake—one-by-one.

I wasn’t able to get off early from work, so it was near nightfall when I finally arrived.  Last year, when I was with the 4th OVI, the Yankees were in the village, so I assumed the 1st TN would be setting up camp in the village this year.  But when I reached the deep part of the village, near the church, and ran into Capt Boham of the 4th, I thought there was some kind of mistake—but then realized I was surrounded by Yankees.  Ah—so it seems it’s an arbitrary thing as to where each side camps.  I made my way to the Confederate camp—with Col Bob Minton ribbing me for getting lost as I passed him.

I finally found the 1st Tennessee Camp, thanks to the help of Capt Sharp as he called me on my phone to direct me when he saw me driving up and down past them.  The camp was a bit out-of-the-way, in a wooded area.  The road was mud and a bit risky to take a car through, so I was left to carry my gear in.  Fortunately, I was going pretty light, having left my car packed from Greenville, so I only had a few trips.  I probably could have reduced the trips if I had packed my knapsack properly—but life has its way of keeping one from getting things done.

It was dark by the time my shebang was up, and I still had a pile of gear and blankets to sort through, but I managed to throw together a makeshift sleeping area.

Saturday morning held an early start as we formed up to attack the Yankees in their camp for a tactical.  The original start was scheduled for 6 am, but the Yankees, apparently needing some extra rest, requested the time be pushed back to 8 am.

Col Medich, as overall Confederate commander, split the battalion into two groups.  The 1st Tennessee was part of the vanguard group that attacked the village from the far east side, waiting until the sound of the second group’s gunfire on the west side to attack.   We encountered the Yankees at the edge of the village, fog hiding our and their numbers, neither of us able to push against the other.  Lt. Col Van Wey finally realized that success would come if we only held them—we were against about two-thirds the Yankee force, but our main force was pushing through the village to reinforce us.  By merely keeping the bulk of the Yankee force busy, our victory was ensured.

Formation for drill came at 10 am.  We maneuvered through some challenging drills, then went into a cavalry demonstration where we formed a square to guard against cavalry, and the 6th Ohio Cavalry charged around us, providing quite a thrill.

Back to camp for a short break, and we formed again for an artillery demonstration.  The plan was simple.  Three guns, three sections to the battalion.  The 1st Tennessee as the 4th company and the 5th company would all go down at once when the left gun fired, and the rest of the battalion going down in similar fashion.

We exited the woods and began our advance against the battery.  We marched forward at the half-step, to give the guns plenty of time to load and fire.  The advance continued—and continued—we began to wonder if they would fire.  We finally crested the last hill before reaching the guns—right at the edge of the safety zone.  We fired a few volleys to keep from looking too overly stupid, and continued to wait.  Was it a misfire?  Finally, the left gun fired—we wasted no time and hit the ground.  Shortly after, the next gun, and finally the last.

But in the time it took for those guns to fire—we would have captured and turned them if this were a real battle.

We resurrected, returned to the woods, only to turn around and head back out to start the afternoon battle.  We split into two groups, with the right wing heading up into the village to hold back the Yankees while us on the left wing fought the Yankees in the field.

The ground was a bit uneven, there were holes in places we had to be very careful about—some were deep enough to take a leg off.  It was enough of a problem that I would suggest the coordinators take effort to deal with it for next year—before someone gets hurt.

The Yankees came out of the woods against us, and we fired a round or two, when suddenly there was a call for a medic.

What most of the spectators aren’t aware of is that when there is a call for a medic—the battle stops.  Major Bill “Pork Pie” Adams was in charge of our wing, and he sent a runner to the Yankees who were oblivious of the situation—to have the halt the battle while EMTs arrived.

It turned out two of the artillery crew passed out from the heat.   Perhaps that explained the poor firing capability of the cannons.

After a delay, the battle finally started.  We formed up in plain view of the Yankees and proceeded to fire upon them.

The battle finally ended with us routed.

Afterward we heard complaints from the Yankees that they couldn’t shoot at us because they couldn’t see us.  The crest of the hill we were on obscured us from the Yankees.

How did the Confederacy lose the war?

Pay call was to be about an hour after the battle.  We waited for over an hour and nothing.  I got a good sleep, but pay call never came.  We returned to camp.

Sunday morning had a bit of a later start as there was no tactical.  I needed to get the rations for the company, but they were not available as the bacon was locked.  The rations did arrive shortly before drill, which gave us insufficient time to cook it, but we were able to get the food started, and while we drilled, the ladies finished the cooking.  Upon our return, most of the food was ready.  The eggs were all that was left, so I quickly scrambled them.  The food was abundant—and we couldn’t finish it all.

Another attempt at Pay Call was made—and we waited.  It finally came to twenty minutes before we’d form for battle, so we returned to camp.

At this point I ran into my brother and six-year old nephew.  We didn’t have much time together, but it was good to see him.  I think I managed to give him enough a taste of reenacting that he might try it out next year.

The battle started and we made a point of advancing far enough for the Yankees to be able to see us.  No point in making them think they were shooting at nothing but blackpowder smoke.

There was a lot of kneeling and rising as we battered down the Yanks.  The 1st TN finally broke off to the left to flank the Yankees, but they outnumbered us.  We held while we could, but the Yankees pushed down upon us.

The weekend was a busy one—and a terrific time.  The schedule was too tight to do regularly, but the occasional event with a heavy schedule is good to have.  Hale Farm is definitely among the best events in Ohio.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Quiet Living History

Greenville OH

July 26-27, 2014

It seems to every event I attend, I forget one item of importance.  I forgot my skillet at Sharon Woods, so had to borrow a skillet to fry my food.  This weekend—I forgot my food.

After a rough night in my shelter due to allergies from the weather change, we had some donuts provided by the event.  Capt Sharp had plenty of extra bacon and corn meal, but required I cook the food if I were to share in it.  With the extra bacon grease, J.R. mixed in corn meal and water to make a sort-of pancake.

Most of the day Pvt John Farrelly gave the living history education to the spectators as they wandered through our camp, though we also drilled some to test Sgt Kletzli at command and put us in skirmish drills.

Being a timeline event, there were reenactors from every time period between the French and Indian War to the Civil War.  One of the groups there was a Yankee Civil War artillery group, who brought their cannon, but never fired it.  Three other artillery groups were there and fired their cannons.  One of the members of this group—I think they were something like “Ohio Valley Civil War Association”—was overheard by Sgt Kletzli to say to a spectator that it was disrespectful for a Confederate group to be there, as if we should try to forget half of America.  I don’t really know who that reenactor thinks he is or if he is representative of his organization—but the very comment left me with an extreme negative opinion of the group.  This was our third year here and their first, and what about representing a part of our history is disrespectful?  It advertised a level of stupidity of that group—the comment was highly offensive.

At supper, we wandered to the vendor area, where I purchased a gyro from a good selection.

Taking a slight break from the Civil War, J.R. and Tim Ellifrit introduced a bit of the other time-period they reenact by bringing a bazooka to test fire for a D-Day reenactment, after the public had dwindled for the evening.  I'm a little worried about the pictures we might see from this--a Civil War Confederate launching a bazooka.  It was cool to see--but at the same time, "farb" is going to be a comment we hear.  Well--it was out for just a short time, at least.  We went back to normal after they were done playing.

Evening came with the threat of thunderstorms and lightning flashed through the skies, but only a light rain washed the ground for about twenty minutes.  We gathered under a fly and J.R. read from an obituary he found of Colonel Hume Field, who served as commander over the 1st Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War.  It was fascinating to hear the story from another perspective.

I slept a little better that night, but still felt a bit like a zombie in the morning.  More donuts, and J.R. brought out salt pork, which he first boiled once to get much of the salt out, then battered them in flour and fried them in the bacon grease from Saturday’s breakfast, followed by more corn meal cakes.  I finally learned how to properly cook salt pork.

We held a couple of speed-shooting competitions for the spectators.

We drilled some, this time with Sgt Nyman in command, again with more skirmish drills.

The weekend did seem to go quickly, but perhaps it was because I felt I was in too much a daze from allergy problems.  It was an enjoyable weekend, and the organizers treated us exceptionally well—I look forward to returning next year.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Slow Yankees

Sharon Woods

Sharonville, Ohio

July 12-13, 2014

It was hot, and I was tired, so I tossed the very minimum of needs into my car for Sharon Woods, opting for a dog, my officer’s uniform, and basic gear.  I was in such a mood that I forgot completely to pack my skillet and eating utensils.

I set my dog as a shebang, hanging the ends over the front to provide a bit of extra shelter.  So long as it didn’t rain, it was plenty.  I set up against a tree to use the mulch for the soft ground, though it was sloped bad, so made it feel like I’d roll away if I wasn’t careful.

J.R. Sharp worked with Chris Edwards for most of the scenario planning.  Dave Julian took overall Confederate command, which gave me the opportunity to come as battalion major.

The 4th Ohio came to galvanize to help us with the expected low Confederate numbers.  The 9th Kentucky was also there in force.  The Confederate Marines was there as our artillery.

We formed for morning parade and I had a bit of difficulty getting them on line.  Working with the colonel, I determined that my problem was in not enforcing the companies to bring their guides to the line.  I was following a shortcut I had seen in having them simply dress to each other.

We were supposed to lose the battle Saturday, starting deep into the village and be pushed back to the field.  But the Yankees moved like a drunk slug.  It was clear they would not take ground from us—we would have to pull back and give it to them.

The battle went sluggish—the Yankees only advancing when we pulled back to give them ground.  Once we were finally pushed into the field, the men ran low on ammunition.  But the Yankees stopped to parlez, so the battle ended with us holding the field.

Supper was noodles and salad—a bit of a let-down from Ohio Village, but the meal from Ohio Village cannot be topped.

After supper, I relaxed awhile.  We could hear the music of the ball, and eventually Keisha Farelly came to me and asked if I could dance with Cheyenne, Trish Carte’s five year old granddaughter.

Making a child happy is always a good thing.  I took the short toddler to the dance floor, but the dance we were to do was the Spanish Waltz, a somewhat complex dance difficult to teach to beginners.  I tried working with her a bit with Keisha and John (who also were beginners at the period dance), and found failure.  Cheyenne was easily distracted and confused—we were making no progress—so I pulled us out to wait for the next dance.

The next dance was rather simple, being similar to the Virginia Reel, called the Liberty Reel.  It was energetic, and by the end of the dance I was drenched in sweat, but Cheyenne loved the dance.

I slept somewhat well.    The day went pretty quiet, with a couple games of Euchre.

We formed for battle.  There was a rather huge amount of attrition in the Yankee numbers, so the 4th Ohio switched to blue.

The battle started at the train depot, and was to push us back to the hill where we would defend and win.  This time the Yankees pushed much better, but clearly the 4th Ohio was also a significant portion of the Yankees we faced.

We were pushed back to the field and made a rush to the woods to make our stand.  Unfortunately, as we prepared our fight, lightning strikes nearby unsettled some of the soldiers.  Personally, I thought it was a bit early to call the fight, but the threat of electrocution was a bit too much, so we ended the fight there.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Invasion of the North

Ohio Village

Columbus, OH

June 21-22, 2014 (June 21-22, 1864)

Plans were made leading up to the assault against a little village around the area of Columbus Ohio.  General Johnston formed a small battalion to attack Ohio Village for its strategic importance, brevetting Captain J.R. Sharp of the 1st Tennessee Co B to the temporary rank of colonel to lead four companies behind enemy lines to obtain supplies and information from sympathizers in the town.

It was a melting pot of companies, with Col Dave Julian of the Independent Guard taking command of the right wing of this provisional battalion, the Copperhead Battalion, and Lt Col Greg Van Wey of Medich Battalion leading the left wing.  Capt Sharp selected me as the battalion adjutant.  The companies that joined the fight included the 1st Tennessee Co B temporarily commanded by Capt Danny Linkus, 5th Kentucky Co B, commanded by Capt Jeff Steiner, 5th Texas Co A, who I believe was led by Dave Puechel as 1st Sgt since Lt Col Van Wey normally leads them, and a consolidated company which included the 13th Virginia and 6th Kentucky, commanded by Rick Compton.

We were also given a detail of the Confederate Marines to supply an artillery piece for us.  They were apparently going to join us by way of the Scioto River.  A cavalry unit, commanded by Merle Collins was to assist, as well.

Joe Johnston’s orders were to disband the battalion at the conclusion of the objective and have all units return to their home regiments.

Our information told us that we would be up against the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Col Bob Minton.  I am not certain of all the Yankee companies that were involved, but I do know they included the 4th Ohio Co B—commanded by Trent Boham, 41st Ohio (I don’t know who commands them), and a consolidation of the companies from McCook’s Brigade, commanded by Andrew Mott.  We were concerned about the two artillery pieces that they had to defend with, too, but we knew, at least, that they had no cavalry.

The space we had did not suit well for organized streets for our camp, so we camped in rather disorganized array.  The various units were at least able to camp together. I supplied each of the infantry units with blank morning report forms.

We held a brief parlay with the enemy in the village square Friday evening, perhaps hoping the Yankees would see our numbers and avoid harassing us.  All commanding officers were there and we each introduced ourselves.  But the meeting ended only with the certainty that a battle would occur Saturday afternoon.
Early Saturday morning I received the morning reports and held the officer’s meeting, making the basic plans for the day.  Word of the impending attack also apparently had become known to the local reporters, as we were accosted by them.  Capt Sharp tried to avoid meeting with them, delegating private Bob (whose last name escapes me) to the task, since he is a teacher and had the ability to sound knowledgeable, without giving away any of our plans.  But those reporters are tricky.  They somehow cornered both Capt Sharp and I, involving us both in the interview.  I’m sure I sounded like a stuttering fool, but Capt Sharp seemed to come through as a sharp-tongued serpent.

Having passed that first test, we formed the battalion for drill, but things seemed sluggish.  It felt as if we were leading a pack of turtles with ropes.  The drill was to rehearse our assault against the village, but all the companies were slow to follow the commands, and it seemed difficult to keep them organized.  Perhaps it was the heat.  We troubled ourselves to understand the unusual difficulties we had.
Again under a flag of truce, a ceremony was held for Edd Sharp, former captain of the 1st TN.  Honors were granted to him for mapping the trail under which John Hunt Morgan traveled in his invasion of Ohio.
Fortunately, we received word that the Yankees were having similar difficulties.

We started the battle outside the gated area for the village.  A Yankee company approached our camp, and we began the assault.  This company extended in a skirmish line, but collapsed quickly.  We chased them into the area where they played rounders, where that company was joined by at least two more Yankee companies.

All was going well.  We pushed the Yankees into the town and continued to decimate their forces.  But the Yankees had a stronger force there than we expected.  Yankee reinforcements entered the village from the north side and pushed us out.  Back in that rounders field, Lt Col Van Wey took his wing to flank on the Yankee’s left, while the rest of the battalion spread out to cover the right.

The area through which the Yankees could come out was tight.  As they exited the town, their battle line was more of a battle ball, with confusion hitting at every corner. It bought us a little time to get ourselves into some organization, but we knew we would not be successful in taking the village.  We fell back.  The Yankees pursued us a little, but broke it off before getting too far from the town.

They were at least kind enough to escort their captives back to us.

That evening the Yankees agreed to a flag of truce while a local Amish family—the Der Dutchmans—supplied food for soldiers of both sides.  Having gone hungry all day, it had been a long time since I had eaten that well, with a couple of pieces of broasted chicken, fresh green beans, potatoes and a roll, not to mention an exceptional peanut butter and chocolate pie for desert.  I think perhaps these Amish had an underlying purpose in their generosity—I believe that they hoped our overstuffed soldiers would be too weighed down from the food to be able to fight the next day.

The village’s tavern opened for a few hours under that flag of truce.  I watched soldiers of both sides spend time together, completely forgetting this War, laughing and having a good time.  It was a terrible thought that these men would be killing each other tomorrow.

It had been a long day and I was weary.  Capt Sharp discussed some business with me, which went to the early hours when we retired.  At some point during the night, I was told that one of the ladies that were with the 5th Kentucky became seriously ill and nearly died.  She was discovered passed out late by a couple of the 1st Tennessee guys as they returned from visiting their friends with the 4th Ohio.  Capt Sharp provided assistance and sent out a telegraph to the local medics, who promptly took her to the nearby hospital.  I received word later that although she is in intensive care, she is recovering.

I slept well.  As this was one of the warmest nights of the year so far, I experienced one of my first nights not shivering, and barely needed a blanket.

I awoke at daybreak and made my morning ritual, including a pot of coffee.  I managed one cup out of my pot—but when I went for a second I was disappointed to find the pot empty.  At first I was ready to find someone to blame, but then saw a small pinhole that had released all the remainder of my coffee onto the campfire.

Our numbers dwindled some as a few deserters lost the courage to face another battle against the Yankees, but we still held a significant force.  We received word that the Yankee numbers had dwindled a little as well.  Now, instead of numbers that exceed three soldiers to each our one, they only doubled our numbers.
Word also came to us that the Yankees intended to attack us in our camp from the south, so we quickly advanced to the village, taking it without incident. The Yankees completely abandoned the village in their enthusiasm to hit us.

But our victory was not to last.  The Yankees came at us hard.  We sent Capt Compton’s group out as skirmishers first, but they were forced back once the remaining companies obtained positions to defend our take.

We covered the gaps between each of the buildings on the south side of the village.  I ran back and forth between each of the companies to ensure a path of communication between them and Capt Sharp.  And the Yankees kept coming.

They pushed us back into the village square where we made our stand.  With numbers dwindling, the Yankees started to break, giving us the chance to push back and keep the village.

But I took a hit in my shin.  I knew the farmhouse on the northwest side of town was sympathetic to the Southern cause, so I had a private help me up and assist me to this home.

There, I, uh, changed my hat and coat and transformed myself into a civilian.

I met with photographer John Rys and proceeded to assist him as he photographed the aftermath of the battle.  He handed me the exposed plate, which I carried to the dressmaker’s shop where he had set up his lab, returning with a new plate for him to use.

We found Private Tim Ellifrit of the 1st Tennessee dead on the road.  We tried a few different poses for him, trying to convey an emotion that would attract the attention of some publishers.  First I rested his musket on his belly and put his hand on it, but something about it didn’t seem right.  So we moved the corpse over to a tree and tried to sit him up—but apparently these Confederate soldiers are getting fed much better than what we have heard—or maybe it was just the Der Dutchman meal from the night before still being digested.  Anyway—he was too heavy for me to pull him to the tree in my present weary state.  Perhaps if the battle had occurred early in the morning I would have been fresh and able to pull him up.  I settled on simply resting his head on his haversack.

John still was not satisfied with the pose, finally pulling out a small photo of his wife and placing it in the soldier’s hands, to make it appear he died viewing his love.  I had to agree the photo would definitely be a candidate of choice.

I do hope you enjoyed my first person attempt at telling my story of the Ohio Village Reenactment—it is a means to reflect the level of immersion the event is trying to reach for spectators, taking this hobby to the next level beyond simply blowing powder at each other for 45 minutes, then blowing a bugle to have everyone get up and walk off.  To me, this event is again an unqualified success—meeting the success of the year before.  As the battalion adjutant, I was worn weary with my duties—but it was worth every effort.  And Capt Sharp gave me the highest of compliments for my efforts.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Captain in Blue at the Reformatory

Ohio State Reformatory

Mansfield, Ohio

June 7-8, 2014

The Ohio State Reformatory has come into a bit of fame for a few reasons, including being the filming location of “The Shawshank Redemption”.  This weekend we were there to hold a Civil War living history.
Being the first year, numbers were small, but the huge old building had a lot of history.  Bob Minton of the Army of the Ohio led a group of Yankees.  JR Sharp led the 1st Tennessee.  Bob Mergel was there for the Topographical Engineers.  The 110th OVI was there with their Henry’s, the original regiment having been mustered out of Mansfield.
I arrived Friday evening and set up my dog tent.  Trying to correct some of the problems from Painesville, I used a rope for my ridge instead of the pole.  The dog tent did stay up better, but it was still rather pathetic.   I am left with having to fabricate taller uprights.
As the sun set, our hosts led us through a ghost tour of the building.  We were led from room to room and told of some old story of how someone died there and was still haunting the area.  JR and I kept looking for a way out to return to camp and escape the sheer boredom, but the place was a poorly lit maze of twists and turns—and we would have gotten lost.
The night in my dog tent proved a bit cold as I had forgotten an extra blanket. I did have my army sleeping blanket which keeps me warm even in freezing weather, but it was still in my car, and I was too lazy to get up to extract it.
Morning finally came, but when I readied my pan to fry my bacon, I realized I left my cooler in JR’s tent—and with the captain sleeping with his wife, I felt it unwise to intrude just to get my bacon and eggs.  When JR did finally rise, I quickly relocated my cooler to the company supply tent.
The day was pretty light and easy, with the occasional member of the public passing by and asking questions.  One reporter from the local paper revealed just how clueless she was when she interviewed Jared.  She asked that since we represented Confederate soldiers, did that mean we also supported their ideals, including slavery?
To even ask such a question is rather offensive, perhaps even bigoted.  It also showed a lack of understanding of what the war was about.  Jared proceeded to explain and instruct the reporter.
When time for drill came, I realized I had forgotten to bring a sufficient supply of my own water, so filled my canteen with some Poweraide.  I very strongly recommend against this.  I learned the hard way on this one.  About halfway through drill I noticed the drink gaining a strange and nasty taste.  By the end of drill, the Poweraide was downright disgusting.  All I could figure is that something in the drink reacted with the inside of my canteen.  And unfortunately, the side effects that I knew were about to come on were inevitable.  From within half an hour after drill till about supper I had the authentic Civil War experience, making regular rushing runs to the porcelain facilities as my system dealt with the Georgia Quick Step.  Fortunately, JR had a couple of Immodium pills that settled me in time for the pulled-pork supper.
Early afternoon we held a pay call.  As company clerk, it was my responsibility to hand out the pay.  As each member of the 1st TN came forward, I checked off their name, announced their rank, and their pay.  I’m sure normally their pay would not have been announced, but I presumed this was for educational purposes.
However, when Pvt Chad Cochran came forward, I did something different.  Using the excuse of his being late to morning formation (he had overslept), I refused his pay and handed him over to guards for court marshal.
Defended by Jared Springer, Chad faced a tribunal presided over by Capt Sharp, with George Moore prosecuting.  Witnesses were brought forth and questions, with Chad eventually being found guilty.
George read the list of possible penalties for desertion, which was the charge made against Chad.  The penalties included a list from refusal of pay to execution.  Since the Confederate army needed every rifle, George recommended leniency and suggested he only be served bread and water for two weeks.
After supper we were placed at several stations within the building for an evening candlelight tour for the public.  I was at the first stop in my officer’s uniform.  Captain Sharp donned a Union brigadier general’s uniform, while Bob Mergel portrayed a lieutenant general in overall command.  We performed a short skit whereby Mergel held a war council, planning his attack on Atlanta.  I came in with a Yankee prisoner to perform a prisoner exchange, and the sketch ended with a drunk Yankee facing the general to be taken for court marshal.  We performed the skit about six times.
Other reenactors located themselves at various stations within the building.  Col Minton stationed himself as a guard over Steve Winston, who portrayed Jefferson Davis.
After the series of skits, we exited to the front lawn where we grabbed our muskets.  The union lined up against one side of the building with an artillery piece and a company, while we formed a skirmish line on the other side of the building.  Being dark, we only knew would could not advance more than twenty feet.  It wasn’t a battle, but more of a night fire at each other.
But apparently one local resident was not amused.  Threatening to call the police he ran to the border fence by us, shouting at us.  It was both amusing and annoying.  We pretty much told him to go ahead and call the police.  Since there was already a car on site—their response should be pretty quick.
We ended the skirmish with the artillery signaling by securing their piece.  We then formed a single battalion with the Yankees and followed the command of Bob Minton for several final firings, all sounding near perfect.
I slept much better that night than the previous—I used my army sleeping bag as a blanket and was plenty warm.  However, I woke Sunday morning with threatening storm clouds looming toward us.
I find it quite amazing just how quickly a dog tent and all gear inside could be tossed into a car.  I must have had the whole thing down and away in ten minutes.
Most everyone else had wedge tents, so left their tent up when the rains hit.  The rains were heavy at times, but we were located on high ground.  The Yankees, however, were not.  A few wound up floating in the lake that formed.
The rain pretty much ended the event.  There were a few clearings from the rain, but never enough to bring significant crowds.
Overall the event went very well, in spite of the rain.  Many were discussing how we were looking forward to next year.  Our hosts discussed also that instead of a ghost walk for his, they will more likely focus on the history of the building—something which all of us are much more interested in.  We built a friendship with these Yankees we hope will further the cause of this hobby.

Local News Article

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On the Lake in Blue

Painesville OH

May 24-25, 2014

Capt Trent Boham of the 4th OVI contacted me about an event up on Lake Erie in Painesville, Ohio.  He was going up with a few of the 4th to consolidate with the 25th OVI and the 83rd PVI to form a decent-sized Yankee unit, and invited me to tag along.

We were assigned as 5th company in a five company battalion.  The battalion was led by the captain of the 41st OVI.  The Confederate forces were led by the Army of the Shenandoah with members of the 5th Texas falling in.

The grounds were small—only 8 acres for the entire event.  The Yankee numbers were solid, but the Confederate forces were in substantial need.

Since I rode in with Trent and the 4th’s Cpl Aaron, I packed light, bringing little more than my dog tent and basic essentials.  I had some cherrywood branches I used for poles that I brought along.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t really had much a chance to use them, normally setting up my A-frame.  To my dismay, the dog was a bit unstable, tending to fall over at a slight breeze.  The rare times I had set up the dog in the past I always used ropes to stabilize the shelter, but this time I realized that ropes shouldn’t be needed, so struggled to figure out why the tent would not stay up.
I had two ends to use to guide the width of the tent, and it finally occurred to me that my uprights were too short—the canvas did not have enough tension.
I was able to get to use a couple of logs to give the needed extra height, and was able to secure the tent despite having arrived at dark.  The permanent solution would be one I would have to work on later at home.

I met with some of the members of the other companies that were consolidating with the 4th OVI.  Some were NCOs—but all conceded their ranks, insisting to go only as privates.
The entirety of 5th Company--the 4th OVI Consolidated.
Particularly memorable was Ghost James, a private with the 25th OVI.  Ghost had joined Trent at a grill at Gettysburg last year, and Trent managed to goad him into eating something known as “Ghost Wings”.  These were chicken wings cooked with a sauce made with ghost peppers—which are apparently the hottest peppers in the world.  The story I was told was that Ghost first had to sign a waiver before they would bring the wings out for him to eat.  The waiter the brought out the wings while wearing chemical gloves and a gas mask.
Now—personally, the waiver would have been enough to stop me.  But James was one who would never turn down a dare.  He ate into the first wing and started on the second.  Trent noticed he still had meat on that first wing, so made him return to it.
Before he could get into the third wing, Ghost suddenly leapt from the table and rushed to the restroom.  After some time had passed, a waitress came out and said that James was asking for his captain, who was also eating with them.
Trent followed the captain into the restroom where they found Ghost in a stall shaking in an uncontrollable fit, blood dripping from his nose, eyes swollen shut, with a waitress dabbing milk on his face, saying, “You’re so brave—WE NEED MORE MILK!!”
He had somehow spread the pepper oil over his face and into his eyes.  Paramedics were called in.  They said he had to wash the pepper oil out of his eyes or he could go blind—so he immediately struggled over to the sink and begged them to get started—barely feeling the burn of the soap in his eyes over the pain of the ghost pepper oil.
To this day, Ghost cannot eat anything spicy.   He’s even lost a significant amount of weight.

The night was cold.  The weatherman had predicted a low of 50, so I thought simple blankets would keep me warm.  It must be nice to be paid for a job where you really have no clue because the temperature actually dropped to near 40, and I was constantly awakened shivering from cold.

The event promised plenty of food, so Trent and I only worried about Saturday morning meal.  He provided the eggs while I provided the bacon, cooler, and cooked.

Saturday we drilled first as a battalion, covering the few basic maneuvers we would do for the battle, then breaking into company drill.  Capt Boham led us through a few basic maneuvers, then into On the Right By File into Line—which the consolidated company struggled through—but did manage.  What I found curious was the overall Yankee commander—the captain of the 41st OVI—noticed our efforts and commented on how unusual it was for him to see companies able to pull that off so well—if at all.
The battle was unscripted—the only thing planned was that the Yankees, with their superior numbers, would win.  The surprise to me in this is that the commanders actually admitted it was to be unscripted.  Usually details are planned out as to how the battle is to go—then when the first soldier steps foot on the battlefield, the whole plan goes to pot.  I think it’s better just to admit that there is no plan.
And the battle went well.  The colonel first sent 1st company out as skirmishers, followed by us, 5th company.  We took the extreme left, steadily working our way farther left to flank the Rebels.

The Confederate forces were behind rough ground filled with large shrubs, thorns, swampy ground, and a few trees.  The undergrowth was thick and only a handful of Confederate forces were ever visible at a time.  As we pushed around, we found ourselves deep in this thick, and Capt Boham thought this to be an opportunity to take the enemy flag, pushing further to the left.
However, in the thick, Cpl Aaron lost track of the rest of the company.  He pushed forward, straight into the enemy.  He reached the clearing where the command staff stood with the flag.  Ready to rush forward to take the flag, he suddenly realized that he was alone—with no idea as to where the rest of 5th company was.  He was fortunate that he probably had surprised the Confederate forces as much as he was surprised because he was able to make a hasty retreat.

After the battle, the event held a speed shoot competition for a pound of powder.  Had it not been for that bounty, I probably wouldn’t have worried with it since I’m now spending more time on command and a bit out-of-practice with my speed.  But that powder bounty was too enticing.
Six competitors put their name in—two Confederates and the rest Yankee, including myself.  I expected to have a good showing, even if I were a bit out of practice.
They went over the rules, which had me a little concerned.  They covered nitpicking details, such as only being able to return the ramrod with your little finger—even emphasizing that you would have to repeat returning the ramrod if caught returning without using the little finger.  I was certain I could abide by these rules, but since I was not used to being concerned with that—only with the actual actions without the details the manuals specify—I rehearsed a few of the motions to be certain I would do it right.
The first competitors started and I found my concerns to be unwarranted.  Those details the judges warned about were completely missed.  The Yankee competitor slammed the ramrod back in using his whole hand.  On load he placed the butt outside his left foot instead of between his feet, and the judges didn’t notice.  It gave me relief because it also meant I could focus on getting into a fast rhythm over perfect motions.
My turn came and I faced against a short Confederate NCO.  The consolidated 4th OVI chanted my name. We started and he fired the first shot a few seconds before me.  But was able to get into my rhythm, and my second shot was about three seconds faster than his.  I simply needed to keep the rhythm, and I was certain to win.
Except that my third cartridge decided not to cooperate.  I had a little difficulty pushing the tube into the barrel and could see my competitor pulling his ramrod out of the corner of my eye, so I was falling behind.   I pulled my ramrod and tried to push the charge down—and it seized about a foot down.  No matter what I did, I could not get it rammed any lower, even bending the rod in the process.  My competitor fired his third shot and my chance was done.  I gave a few more pushes on the ramrod—finally giving up and firing off my final shot—which fizzled more that banged.

Our meal that night was catered by Boston Market—an excellent chicken dinner.

Saturday night was not quite as cold as Friday night, so I was able to get a bit more rest, though I did find myself dozing off a few times during Sunday in my chair.
No drill, no battalion parade, no flag raising—it was an easy morning after the pancake breakfast.
We did set up a scenario with Howard of the 83rd PVI.  We chased him down as a deserter and brought him before the colonel for court martial.  Upon being found guilty, we took him before the firing squad.  There was only one lone soldier made the entire firing squad.  Since I and Ghost were part of the guard detail that brought Howard to the colonel, I suggested to the first sergeant that we load and become part of the firing squad—but just as I finished my suggestion, I heard a bang and saw Howard go down.  I guess that lone shooter had a bit too much of a hair trigger.  He didn’t even wait for the commands to shoot.
But Howard wasn’t done.  He struggled up, groaning in pain.  “You call that a shot?”
So, our 1st Sgt Kinder bayonetted him.

Our hearts weren’t into the Sunday battle as much as the day before.  We were to lose, despite outnumbering the Confederate forces something like 4 to 1.  The Confederates had lost a significant number in the night, and their battalion looked smaller than a company—though they did have good musicians—which the Yankees lacked.
In order to try to give the Rebels the edge, we were instructed to not go into skirmish lines—staying compact in company formation.  For me, the battle didn’t last long.  Our first push into the bushes, I took a hit.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Yankees in Gray

Conner Prairie

May 17-18, 2014

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization. 

Conner Prairie gained a reputation for being very strongly favoring of Yankees and not so supportive of Confederates.  In the past, the Yankees placed pickets to prevent access to the Confederates to the park’s Civil War living history village, even though there really was no reason to. One incident in particular even caused the 1st TN not to return until this year.
This year we were given promises that access would not be restricted, so we hoped for the best, and all worked out.  I hoped, though, that none of our guys would bother the Yankee camps.
We did have a guest company fall in with us that hadn’t been part of the Independent Guard before.  This company came to us as the 4th Florida, but they were more used to wearing blue as the 4th Ohio.  We welcomed them in our ranks.
The 4th Florida was a little small in numbers, but the 154th Tennessee was able to fill them out with only a few of their numbers attending.  The 50th Virginia carried the colors as is their preference, being filled out with members of another company.  Also joining us was the 44th Tennessee, being a strong force, along with the 4th Virginia and the 1st Tennessee.  The 1st TN was a bit weak in numbers, but were helped out with three members galvanizing from the 7th Kansas.
The Saturday battle was rather simple.  The 44th TN was sent down to the left flank to face the cavalry.  The 1st TN faced Henrys on the right flank.  I took position between the main battalion force and the 44th TN to relay the colonel’s commands.
Unfortunately, the Yankees pushed us hard, with the Henrys firing like shouldered Gatling guns, blazing away like a farbie Rifleman.
The battle concluded with our numbers nearly completely decimated.
Sunday started as any Sunday—rather quiet.  I warmed my breakfast over a brazier Capt Sharp was using to keep him and Pvt Marcotte warm underneath the company fly.  We had morning parade and a very brief drill.  The rest of the day was clear until first call at 1:30 pm.
We formed up and advanced down the hill. The 44th TN led the way as vanguard, facing the cavalry and dismounted cavalry with their Henrys.  The 4th VA advanced to the right flank into the woods to hide from the Yankees.
I took position halfway between the 44th TN and the main battalion to act as messenger for the colonel.
The rest of the battalion advanced forward, facing the main Yankee battalion, but before advancing past the 44th TN, the IG double-quicked into position on the 44th’s left, pushing the Yankee cavalry back.
As the Yankee battalion advanced and the cav were put in check, we moved back into the center of the battlefield to face on the Yankees.  The colonel sent the 1st TN up the right flank to face down the unit of Henrys, while the 4th VA came out of the woods.  With so much going on, confusion could be seen within the Yankees.  The Henry unit fired away with reckless abandon, and when they were completely unloaded, the 1st TN charged upon them, forcing them to break and run, unable to reload in time.
With the Henrys out of action and the cav pushed back, we surrounded the Yankees.  We started pushing forward into the Yankees, accelerating as we saw that the Yankees had gone into disarray.   The battle ended with the 4th FL taking the Yankee flag and the 1st TN capturing the Yankee colonel.
The battle was good, with constant action and maneuvering.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Wilderness

150th Battle of the Wilderness

Spotsylvania, VA

May 3-4, 2014

The trip was long.

I set my tent in a tight corner by the Colonel's tent.  The Independent Guard had two of the their companies—the 50th Virginia and the 5th Kentucky—in attendance, and the 2nd Florida joined us.

The morning was early.  I woke to the 4 am sound of drums in the distance.  We wrestled up and all were strongly encouraged to participate in the tactical that would have us marching out at 5:30.

The march was long, but took us into the woods where, I was told, parts of the original Battle of the Wilderness was fought.

I had never been involved in a tactical of the scale that we had—I never saw all the reenactors involved.  In the woods, the fighting was different than I was used to.  I've done this on the small scale, with a few companies wandering around—but never with several full battalions, struggling to keep their lines as trees, creeks, and underbrush got in the way.

It became a battle of confusion—Yankees first coming at us from one direction, then another.  At one point, the 5th KY, established as the third and last company of the battalion, somehow got turned around and ended up on the right wing.  And first company—the 2nd FL—vanished as they pursue some Yankees deep into the woods.  The experience was of one of the best tacticals experienced.

The afternoon battle took us onto a field that would have been huge for the numbers we're used to, but for the numbers that were there, it was a bit small.  The field was perhaps 100 yards wide, and Confederate soldiers line the entire back end of the field.

The battle was relatively uneventful.  We pretty much lined up toe-to-toe against the Yankees and blasted away until they left the field.

Courtesy Roddell Durbin
The Sunday battle held more excitement.  We were to advance into the mule shoe of the Battle of the Wilderness, but in a bit of confusion, the ANV Division completely blocked the path for us and the battalion we were relieving—so we adjusted and took up positions in the trench beside the shoe.

We were able to adjust, but it put us into a part of the scenario that we weren't fully aware of the details of.  Originally the Yankees were to take the trenches where the battalion we relieved was located three times, with the third time pushing the battalion away to where the reserve battalion would push the Yankees back.

Instead, that Confederate battalion left early—probably because the Yankees were late in their first push, so we encountered the second and third overruns, which led to terrible confusion when the Yankees expected us to break, and we didn't.  There was a bit of an argument, but someone finally pointed out that now it was starting to look stupid—so we pulled back, and the battle promptly ended.

Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend.  Sometimes these fits of confusion add to the experience.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Start of an Alliance

Spring Drill

Huddleston Farmhouse
Cambridge City, IN

April 27-27, 2014

Reenacting season started this year with spring drill, but this year was different.  This year we cooperated with the 4th Ohio Company B and with the 7th Kansas to drill at the Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City Indiana.
We began with setting up camp.  I rode in with Trent Boham, captain of the 4th OVI.  Joe Frost, who manages the property, opened up the barn for use.  The 4th OVI chose to quarter in the barn, while the 1st Tennessee and 7th Kansas camped outside.  The weather was perfect for the weekend.
Saturday started early.  Capt Sharp began the day on a short classroom session to prepare us for the year.  We then went into some individual company drill.
After lunch, as part of our cost for use of the property, we worked on chopping up some firewood.  Joe pointed out a couple of trees to chop down, and Jared Springer of the 1st TN started on the first tree with a chainsaw.
Unfortunately, the tree was not completely cooperative, falling into a neighboring tree instead of dropping to the ground.  An additional complication was that the 4th OVI’s 1st Sergeant—Brendan Kinder—set his tent in a zone that was at risk for being hit by this now precariously balanced timber.  Jared attempted to further notch the trunk to guide the tree down the originally planned path, but only succeeded in further complicating the situation by getting the saw stuck.
We tied straps around the tree and with effort managed to free the saw. With further effort, we pulled the tree off its stump, but it refused to release its grip on that neighboring tree.  We changed the direction of our pull, but only managed to cause the trunk to roll and slip dangerously close to falling on Sgt Kinder’s tent.
With further careful cuts and pulls, we finally managed to cause the tree to fall, safely missing Sgt Kinder’s tent, and relieving our concerns.
Jared brought a log splitter, so we chopped up the wood.  Once we finished the first tree, Jared cut down a second tree and the 4th OVI chopped it.  In total we provided about a chord and a half of firewood.
The wood cutting went longer than planned, so we pushed further drill off until after supper.  We made a trip into Cambridge City, finding a Mexican restaurant where we could feed.  A word of advice, though—Mexican is really not a good food choice in the middle of a weekend event.
We returned to the farmhouse and proceeded to form up for battalion drill, with the companies of opposing sides forming together.  The light was quickly waning.  The 7th KS combined with the 4th OVI.   Since Capt Boham was also the adjutant for 2nd Battalion of Birney’s Division, we put him in the adjutant’s role for his drilling.  With Capt Sharp acting as Colonel, and I taking the Lt. Colonel role, we went through battalion parade and a number of battalion maneuvers. With both captains now at battalion level, various NCOs of both companies were brevetted to commander positions to give them the experience of fulfilling those roles.
The next morning came too quickly.  We did some more battalion drilling and then finished with company drill.  Capt Sharp let every soldier from Sergeant to private of the 1st TN the opportunity to take command and lead the company around.
It was a good weekend, and the start of an alliance.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Barn that Wouldn't Die

Perryville Cleanup Weekend
Perryville Kentucky

April 5, 2014

More and more the 1st Tennessee is progressing into battlefield preservation.  This weekend the Perryville Battlefield held a cleanup day where we assisted.
Over coffee and donuts we discussed the plan for the day where we would work on cleaning out an old barn and tearing it down.  The barn was built some time after the battle and tearing it down was part of the efforts to restore the battlefield to its condition at the time of the battle.
The other groups were to take out fencing that was never part of the original battlefield.

We drove to the barn and started hauling out garbage to the dumpster and tearing out boards.  At one point a tractor was used to help us haul things us.  We also discovered a rather fantastic smell that chased us out of the building on a regular basis.
After lunch the plan was to have the tractor pull the building down.  But unfortunately the bobcat that was used to pull apart the fencing fell backwards and got stuck, so occupied the tractor trying to straighten it out.
We did finally get the tractor back to the barn.  We strapped a chain to a support post and had the tractor pull it.  We had hoped that it would quickly pull down the entire barn—but it was not to be.  The first post broke in half, dragged out by the chain, and the building stood otherwise untouched.  We proceeded to the next post, with the same result.  After pulling out about half the support posts with the barn still standing, the tractor driver resorted to trying to push it over.
He made some progress, but it was still unsatisfactory.  We worked on more posts, eventually breaking all support beams in half before it finally crumbled down.

Next time we’re likely to bring some blackpowder.  The consensus was it would have both more successful, and more desirable, effects.
At the end of the work day, JR Sharp took us on a walk of the battlefield, discussing what he had learned of the original 1st Tennessee’s experience at Battle of Perryville.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Battle in Winter

150th Battle for Olustee

February 15-16, 2014

Sgt Jeff Carte, his wife Trish, and I packed together in our horseless SUV on our trek for reenactment during the worst part of winter.  The ground was white and the weather maps showed that the worst part of the latest storm would be gone in North Carolina just as we passed through.

All seemed good.  We made good time, leaving Thursday to take our time down and possibly enjoy some of the sights on the way.

Trouble with snow ahead
Unfortunately, when we reached Dobson, North Carolina, on I-77, we learned that the South is ill-equipped for dealing with a significant amount of snow.  The amount they got would have been challenging for Ohio, but we would just need to add a bit of time to our drive.  In North Carolina, forget it.  It was the apocalypse.  Six hours we sat, car shut off, waiting for traffic to move again.  As the hours passed, we remembered more and more of the story of Atlanta two weeks prior—where cars were trapped for 20 hours—or something like that.

Trish said, “Look at the bright side, at least we haven't had to wait as long as those in front of us.”

I responded that a couple of pennies out of a hundred dollars really doesn't make much of a difference.

But fortunately the National Guard arrived and somehow things cleared up.  We passed the piles of snow. Past snowmen on the side of the highway, built by children looking to pass the time.  Through the single lane of cleared highway.

We had planned to arrive at Olustee early Friday, but because of that delay we only managed to get there with just enough daylight to set our camp.  The sun and warmth of Florida gave us hope for a good weekend.  Temperatures reaching the 60s, and barely a cloud in the sky lifted our spirits from the winter depression.  I made sure to send a text picture to Capt Sharp of every palm tree I could find.

The park was away from everything.  The nearest town, Lake City, was a good fifteen minutes drive away.  We have all done so many town events that Trish momentarily mistook the brightness from the moon for a streetlight—hoping the park would turn it off before we went to bed.

There was no other light beside the moon, the campfires, and candlelight. The forest of pines and brightness of the moon made it difficult to see any stars.

At morning reveille we fell in for roll call, followed by getting bused off to Lake City for the parade, where they served breakfast while we waited for the start.  The walking of that parade was not a good start after having been away from activity since October.

We fell in with the 3rd Florida, Co A.  Capt Dennis Short has an interesting and effective method for recruiting for his company.  The 3rd Florida brought sixty rifles to the field, which is significant for any company, even if it is a national event.  What Capt Short does is to have special packages that he rents out with all the gear needed for the weekend.  This has the benefit of giving people a chance to try out the hobby without dumping any real expense up front.  The catch is that about a third of our company had never been in battle before—all fresh fish.  It was a different experience, and it made me miss the 1st Tennessee, which is made up primarily of veterans.

The Saturday battle was short the needed number of Yankees, so the entire 3rd Florida galvanized.  Sgt Carte had no Yankee gear, so had to borrow a kepi and coat.  Unfortunately there weren't any trousers to spare, so he went out with his white and blue pillow tickling cotton.

We marched out to the battlefield.  It was a long walk.  Several miles passed, and by the end of it I began to realize how bad my boots were.  The pain I felt left me barely able to walk.

Pushing through the pain, we pushed into battle.  At one point, the inexperience of the troops became an abundance of confusion.  The colonel ordered a change of fronts—whereby the battalion would basically turn ninety degrees to the right.  The maneuver calls for each company to perform a wheel.

Capt Short ordered, “Right half-wheel, MARCH”, and immediately Chaos Theory proved a reality.  Jeff and I, and a few others (including Capt John Fross of the 4th Texas, here as a private) were left behind while the rest of the company marched in random directions at varying paces.  The words I shouted were, “Hey, where is everyone going?”

As chaotic as it was, Capt Short did a good job of regaining control and getting us roughly where we needed to be.  I'm not sure many captains would have the patience he had in the situation.

We marched back to camp, with me hobbling the entire way, struggling to keep in step.  My feet were suffering—I had no choice but to replace my ill-fitting boots with a new pair.  My fortune was that a pair I had been eyeing at Rum Creek were still available.

At least Sunday had no parade.  My feet improved and the new boots making a definitive difference, I still hobbled my way around.  Morning held a memorial, with most of the morning free for breakfast.

When we formed up for the battle, this time in a proper gray, chants of “Sword” were heard.  The entire battalion chanted it until an old general came forward with a sword, marching down the entire length of the battalion as he held it up.

The story was that this general was at the 125th Gettysburg.  A Yankee tried to take his company's flag.  The general used the sword to punch that Yankee and protect the flag, and the story has become legend with these Confederates.  Apparently, they hold this ceremony with the sword every year.

The battle went well, but did not last long for me.  I took a hit about halfway.  With my feet they way they were, I kept my cap ration down, and went down when I ran out.

Back in camp the Cartes and I took a moment to relax to a pineapple while everyone else packed up.  Worn out, I think both Jeff and I realize we need to work out a bit more before the next event.  We both ached.

There was a bit of sadness at having to leave the sunshine and warmth of Florida into the grey and cold of the north.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to become a Reenactor Part 4

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization

Each and every reenactor has their own story of how they came into Civil War reenacting.  Now that I've covered my own story of how I became a reenactor, starting with Revolutionary War reenacting through becoming dedicated to Civil War reenacting with the 1st Tennessee Co B, I have some tips for those who aren't in the hobby, but might be thinking about trying it out for yourself.

First off, this hobby isn't for everyone, but just because you're not a history buff doesn't mean you won't find enjoyment in this hobby.  I, for example, started this hobby with little to no interest in history—I was a sci-fi geek.  Though probably a majority of Civil War reenactors seem to be able to tie some kind of heritage back to the Civil War—usually they have a great-great grandfather or something that fought in the war—this also is not a pre-requisite.  Back to me as an example—my own ancestry did not immigrate to America until the early 1900s—I have no tie to America prior to the 20th Century.    Yet, I found Civil War reenacting both entertaining and educational.

Going Blue or Gray is nothing more than a personal choice—often one side is chosen over another simply because the person's ancestor fought on that side.  The philosophies of the time are alien to us today.  Both sides need reenactors—and all of us try to be friends with each other.  You can find enjoyment regardless of the side you choose to portray and it is not uncommon for reenactors to do both sides.

The best way to start is to visit a Civil War reenactment in your area.  Get there early and spend the day.   Depending on the event, you are likely to find a lot of tents near where you come in of reenactors doing demonstrations and selling wares.  When looking to enter the hobby, you might talk with some of these, but you actually want to move past them to the camp of tents usually located off to one side. Those up front are generally the sutlers or first person impressionists who work by themselves.  When entering the hobby, you need to find the groups—the units that form for the battle.

If the event is small, there will likely be two groups, one for the Yankee side, and one for the Confederate side.  A larger event will have a lot more.  The smaller events are better for getting into—the reenactors will be more able to spend time training and preparing you.  Find a group that welcomes you and wants to help you out.  Once you find a group that you like, see if they'll let you fall in with them for the day.  If they are a group you want to fall in with, they will spend time teaching you the maneuvers and the handling of the rifle.

Any reenactor that has been in the hobby awhile will have gear they can loan for the day, so if they are interested in having you join them, and have had a chance to train you for the battlefield, they will find enough to get by for you.

I have heard of groups expecting you to get all your gear before they even allow you to join them.  This is really too much to expect, because you need to first find out if this hobby is even for you.

If you do find a group to join, you will be expected to get all the reenacting gear you need as quickly as possible.  This will take time, and can be expensive.  You should check with the group, and should seek their advice on the particulars to keep in line with the impression they are presenting.  There are a large variety of things you can get, and many won't be appropriate for your unit (or even the time period).  Purchasing the wrong thing will prove only a waste of money.

The first thing you should get are shoes.  This is usually the most difficult thing to borrow.  Your rifle will need to be next.  After this, follow the guidance of the group.

Finally, pay attention to the training they give you—particularly safety training.  You will be handling explosives and a real firearm—the risk to life and limb is real.  Safety among reenactors is of utmost importance; the quickest way to be booted from the group is to ignore safety.

If you are already a member of a reenacting group, reading this for ideas on how to recruit, there are all sorts of things you can do to let people know about your group, but if you will lose them if you don't properly welcome them into your group once you have them.

Be prepared for the possibility that the prospect will not be a fit for your group.  I have seen a few prospects for the 1st Tennessee not work out for various reasons.  But be willing to help them out as much as you can.  Having a spare musket is critical—how else will they be able to join you?  This is the single most expensive piece of gear—someone new to the hobby will not be willing to purchase a musket—or any gear—until they know they want to make reenacting their hobby, so you need to be understanding of this.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Become a Reenactor Part 3

It was a sunny day in September, sometime around 2003 or 2004.

My wife outfitted me in some borrowed clothes to make me look like I belonged to the 1860s--or at least make me think I looked like I belonged to the 1860s.  I wore a borrowed bowler, a borrowed civilian coat falling apart at the seams, my modern dress pants and modern shoes.

Yeah--I hadn't yet learned about the term, "Farbie".   I was wearing an outfit I wouldn't be caught dead in today.

We went to Pioneer Village, Caesar's Creek in Waynesville Ohio, only about an hour from home, where, according to my wife, they were holding a Civil War reenactment.  As we pulled up, we saw a sign charging $5 per car, so drove down the street and parked in an out-of-the-way location and slipped in the back entrance.

We wandered around a bit, looking over the old pioneer-style homes.  Eventually we wandered into a row of tents that looked much like the Rev War tents I was used to seeing.  A guy in all dark blue and bars on his shoulder came out of a tent and started talking to us a bit about the Civil War.  He was Shawn Farkus, captain of the 4th Ohio Company B.

It didn't take long before he asked me, "Hey, you wanna join us for the battle?"

Black powder, musket--my response was, "Uh, okay..."

He was able to scrounge together some sky-blue trousers and a coat.  He sold me on the acceptability of my bowler, and slipped some tarred gaiters around my ankles to hide the modern shoes.  He handed me a musket and went through some basic drills.

From that weekend, my wife and I did other Civil War events along with our Revolutionary War reenacting, falling in with the 4th OVI.  Some time the following year Capt Shawn Farkus disappeared off the face of the earth, with Vern Woodruff taking his place.  I found myself liking Civil War better than Rev War, probably because there seemed little for a civilian male reenactor to do--so if my wife was to have me join her to the Civil War reenacting, it required me to join as a soldier.  In my Rev War reenacting, I primarily did civilian reenacting--and I always felt a bit out of place.

The following summer my wife and I found ourselves downtown Columbus, Ohio for their annual Independence Day celebration, and ran into a Confederate reenacting group--the 1st Tennessee Co B.

They were there for the parade, and had rented a hotel room in the short north.  My wife--knowing no stranger--managed to get an invite back to their hotel room, and I tagged along.

Now, it hadn't really sunk in with me yet that the uniform color really only mattered (in general) on the battlefield.  Out of view of the public, a reenactor (in general) is just someone else in the hobby.  I got to that hotel room, feeling a bit awkward.  Do I tell these guys that I wear blue?  Are they just waiting to gang up on me?

The hotel room was packed.  In one corner I found a small group playing cards.  I found out they were playing Euchre.

That changed everything.

In high school, Euchre was a required course--they called it "Study Hall".  I played a lot of Euchre.  But since getting married I didn't have anyone to play.  So when I saw that game in that hotel room, I couldn't help but ask if I could join in while my wife wandered the room, making sure there were no strangers there.

We continued with both Civil War and Rev War reenacting for several years, falling in sometimes with the 4th OVI, and sometimes with the 1st TN, depending on the event and who we ran into first. My wife gave me a Federal uniform for Christmas, and the 1st TN's 1st Sergeant outfitted me with Confederate gear.  I still had to borrow a musket, but I was joining in.

Eventually, my wife started following a different direction than me, pursuing a 1st person experience with a specific character, while I stuck to the soldier experience.  Up to this point we always drove home Saturday night to return late Sunday morning, or stayed in a hotel if too far from home.  We started doing different events, and I was freed camp with the rest of the unit.

By now, this was 2009 or so.  I hadn't yet decided to dedicate to a particular unit.  At Reynoldsburg that year, I showed up with my Federal gear and camped with the 4th Ohio.  It was a one-day event at that time, where Sunday was to have a morning tactical, then end.  I discovered the 1st Tennessee was there, so on Friday night, in my Federal gear, I made my way to the 1st TN camp to play Euchre all night long.

I spent Saturday with the 4th OVI, but that night the younger crowd of the 4th ran off to the local pub--something I wasn't into--while the older folk took to bed early.  That left me with no choice but to wander back to the 1st TN camp and play more Euchre.

Needless to say, it was that event that sold me to the 1st Tennessee--and things haven't been the same since.

Am I a slave to a deck of cards?  It's funny--that first year after that we played Euchre every chance we had.  This past year, we played maybe three games the entire season.

Since that time both the 4th OVI and 1st Tennessee have changed into completely different units.  Had the 4th been what I have found them to be today, I probably would have stayed with them all those years ago.  But because of the directions that were taken, I am now a part of bringing both these units together to work together in the field.

The only constant is change.

Next time--tips to get into the hobby, and recruiting tips for units.