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.