Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Raiding McConnelsville

July 9-10, 2011

This event is one that the 1st Tennessee goes to with mixed feelings.  There are those of us that like the event, and those that don’t.  It almost didn’t make it on our schedule this year, save for a barely large enough vote.

I like this event.  But it takes a lot for me to give a thumbs-down to an event.  If you attended the last year of the Granville, Ohio event (some years back), you experienced one of the few events I would give a thumbs-down to.

One of the things that turn off some of our members is in-town battles.  They consider this too farby due to the asphalt and street signs that we end up fighting around.  Personally, it doesn’t bother me—it’s a change of pace from normal field fighting.  Just don’t die on the asphalt—it can get so hot you might start thinking you’ve arrived at some fiery destination instead of the Pearly Gates.

McConnelsville’s Saturday battle is in-town while the early afternoon Sunday battle is held at a nearby farm.  They have followed this pattern for years. 

This year, however, the Saturday battle had some kind of strange scripting.  The script called for us Confederates to take the town with a small skirmish and the basically pillage—er “forage” for pre-established bounty, which included some apples and a few other period-type things.  In order for us to accomplish this, the battle was basically put on hold for a while until our pillaging was complete and the announcer called for the arrival of Federal troops.  This downtime for us was very awkward—we are not used to this kind of thing.  The 1st Tennessee is a disciplined group.  We portray the Rock City Guards, and as such were all volunteers.  Our research showed that nearly all of the original soldiers had significant wealth, ranging from today’s equivalent of lower middle class merchants to wealthy planters that owned multiple slaves.  Although we wear the expected not quite matching and patch-repaired uniforms, we aren’t the ragtag group associated with the Confederate Army.  We aren’t perfect, but we are well drilled and are proud of our skill in formation.  Therefore, when we’re expected to act like the Federals at Fredericksburg, we feel out of place and grumble our disappointment.  I think the highlight was when Zach made off with the gentleman’s top-hat that seemed to be part of the bounty.  He left it in his tent back at camp—only to have the owner hunting camp-to-camp for it.

The complaint I heard concerning the pause in the battle was that when we go into a fight, we get an adrenaline rush, and that pause causes a letdown.  I never get that adrenaline rush (although I do enjoy the battling) so I think, as a side note, that event coordinators need to realize that we reenactors are not entertainers.  Yes, what we do entertains the public—but that’s not our goal.  We are educators, and in camp we will talk the public and educate them about the life and the times of the Civil War, but probably the best analogy to the battle is to consider that we are merely playing a game when we go out to fight.  We follow basic rules and one side wins—only we usually know which side will win before the game starts.  When something outside our paradigm is thrown at us—we’ll tend to get a little upset about it.  Maybe this is a flaw in reenactors, but if the event coordinators will keep this in mind, then when they need something unusual to happen, then perhaps things will work out better with the use of entertainers for those special things.

As Saturday wore away and Euchre playing picked up, our lieutenant showed me the script for the Sunday battle.  The battle was scripted?  The very concept shocked me.  I had never been to the officers’ meeting used to plan the battle, but I always imagine them to go something like this:

Federal Commander: Heads or tails?
Confederate Commander: Heads.
Federal Commander: Tails—the North wins today.
Confederate Commander: Okay—We’ll come in on the west side of the field and push you from your positions at the breastworks.
Federal Commander: Sounds good—we’ll fall back and have our company in reserve flank you to push you back.
Confederate Commander: Yeah—sounds like a plan.  See you at 2.

And so the battle would be fought.  If there is artillery, they’ll shoot at each other for awhile until they’ve used up enough ammunition.  If there is cavalry, they’ll dance around the field swing sabers and taking pop shots until they get bored.  Then we’ll come on the field and kind of—sort of follow the rough idea from the officer’s meeting.  The battle rarely goes anything like it was planned—or so our officers tell me.

But, the script for the Sunday battle at McConnelsville read like a chapter out of the Civil War Times.  Every cannon shot was noted, along with the response.  It described when the infantry should shoot and where they should be on the battlefield and when.  The entire script was roughly two pages long.  It scared me silly—it sounded stupid—like some kind of children’s story or comic book.

I have to give the Sunday battle credit.  Somehow it all worked.  The battlefield is a good-sized hill and somehow every year we seem to always have to climb it to the Yankee position at the top. 
The Sunday battlesite from my perspective among the casualties

Marching to our positions on the battlefield, we had to march through a swampy manure field.  I only mention this so that next time we remember to go around it.  Our lieutenant nearly disappeared when he got his boot stuck to his knee in it.  Big Dave had to pull him out.

Lt Sharp intentionally deviated slightly from the script early on, moving us into position to attack the Federal artillery and firing a couple of unexpected volleys, but otherwise the script was followed.  I was surprised to hear this because it seemed to go so well.

Sutlers were a definite issue.  There was only one, unless you count the going-out-of-business sutler that lasted about an hour clearing everything out at incredible prices.  I heard they had some great stuff—but I missed it all except for the $20 8 ½ size brogans that only Pvt Silvers could wear.  At least he got a deal out of it.

Powder was nice—there was a half-pound bounty for all soldiers

Personally I liked the event, other than the issue with the battle—and they could do something to improve the food—it wasn’t bad, but I just think there was room for improvement.  The Saturday breakfast of nothing but biscuits and gravy with biscuits that were a bit dry could have been better (I would have fried my usual bacon and eggs had I known this was what to expect), and the Saturday “Cowboy beans” really needed a bit of work.  Mercer, in the rank behind me, suffered from them at the Sunday battle when they finally caught up to me.  I didn’t partake of the Sunday breakfast (same as Saturday’s, except with the addition of scrambled eggs).  

However, by the sound of many of the members of the 1st Tennessee, it seems unlikely we will return next year.  If the event does not conflict with an event on the 1st Tennessee’s schedule, I’ll find my way out if I can get a few to join me.  In a worst-case scenario we’d just fall in with the 5th Kentucky—unless we had enough numbers to form our own unit.  But we won’t be going in force like we did this year—our numbers were somewhere between 20 and 30 for the Sunday battle.

Zanesville Times Recorder article
McConnelsville Facebook page
News report on WHIZ

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