Ohio State Reformatory
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.
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.
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