Monday, September 26, 2011

The Home Event

Pioneer Village, Caesar’s Creek OH

September 24-25, 2011

Pioneer Village holds special meaning to both me and the 1st Tennessee.  It was here that I first started into Civil War reenacting, though it was with the 4th OVI at the time, some five or six years ago.  The 1st Tennessee has considered this their home event.

A lot has changed with this event over the years.  It takes a team of people with a passion for history to keep an event alive.  One person cannot do it alone.

For us, it is not about the wool and blackpowder alone.  Nor is it about Euchre.  These are merely things we all have in common that brings us together.  We all know our Civil War history—probably far better than most college history professors.  Our discussions sometimes discuss “What if” scenarios on how things could have turned differently, if something different had happened.

We come together for the camaraderie.   I hope we can continue to return to Pioneer Village for many years to come.  It is one of the events that bring in the largest number of our unit.

But it would be even better if it would bring in more Yankees.  If I had thought to bring my Yankee gear, I would have been galvanized over.  For both days several of our numbers wore blue to help the Yankees be more presentable.  James Sturkler, of the 19th Virginia (I think), wore a blue sack coat with sergeant’s stripes on it, and when the Federal commander took a hit early in the battle, Sturkler was left to command the entire Federal force.  Made me wish I had my sack coat and had sewn captain’s bars to it—maybe I won’t hold rank for the 1st Tennessee for awhile, but it might be fun to hold rank with the Yankees for an hour.

Pvt Steve Winston also galvanized, wearing is great coat in the heat to hide his butternut.  He took a hit, and when the battle was over we raided his corpse, nearly stripping him bare, for a show for the public.  He had to walk back to camp in socks.

Saturday morning Capt Evens provided a change to our normal day.  He took us on heavy marching orders through a couple of miles into the woods, to prepare us for a national event.  We set camp near a beach along the lake, setting up campaign-style, eating lunch with whatever food we brought with us.  It gave the officers ideas for next year—we could come out of the woods on heavy marching orders to go straight into battle.  I was accused of sucking up to the captain, however, when I provided a candle in a candleholder for his lunch.  Cpl Kletzli rolled his poncho around him in such a way it looked like he was wearing an inner tube.  It looked like he was afraid of drowning or something.

I believe the event served dinner, but we chose instead to make spaghetti.  I am not sure if spaghetti is period, but it was a good meal.  After the meal JR and Capt Evens held a speed loading training session, going over the load in nine times and providing tips on how to shoot faster.  A few of the 1st did not want to go through this since they were not concerned about entering a competition, but my take was that learning to shoot quicker, though the whole nine steps, improves your impression.  After all, the actual soldier could load and shoot through all nine steps in about twenty seconds.  I see many reenactors taking forty seconds or more, and they are not even using the ramrod.  I think the one person who gained the most from this was Pvt Zach Carte.  I believe during the practice he managed to get close to that 20 second mark.

Usually I do not talk about the ball that the event has—since I generally do not go to them.  But this time I was the dance master, so it was my duty to be there.  I have never led one I was disappointed with.  I decided it better to lead a ball as an officer instead of as a private, so I put together my officer’s outfit I had been working on.  I looked good, but it has gotten me into trouble.  Lt Sharp and Capt Evens told me they are going to put my up on charges of impersonating an officer.

We even had a visit from Jefferson Davis—Pvt Winston donned his planter’s hat with civilian garb and attended the ball as the Confederate president.

The musicians were the Dedication Band, a local dulcimer band, and they played very well.  They had never performed for a ball before, but there were not many kinks to deal with.  I would love to work with them again.

We could not use Sgt Andrew Mott and Cpl. Eric Moore like last year as Moore had a gig with his band somewhere in Celina that night.  Brandi, who was in charge of the event, was worried for the past few months about finding an alternative band, since all my recommendations were booked.  She found the Dedication Band and pointed me to a few of the YouTube videos—and I knew they would work out well.

Sunday morning was an intense drill, mainly to bring a new recruit up to speed, but also to refresh our techniques.

After Sunday battle, the 76th OVI joined us for a memorial for Tom Moore and several reenactors of the 76th that have passed on.

This event is one of the closest to my home.  I want to see it continue, and I hope that passion for the event can grow with the organizers.  I remember the days when several good sutlers could be found and significant numbers on both sides would fight it out on the small field.  There were no sutlers this time, and the number of Yankees was down.  There were only two Confederate companies.  The size of the battlefield does limit the numbers that can be there, but there can be enough for an impressive battle.

Can anyone tell me where all the Yankees have gone?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Largest Event

Zoar Ohio, September 17-18, 2011

Large events have their place.  It is always a thrill to go to an event where Yankee numbers match the Rebel numbers, and there are two full battalions on each side. 

I am told that Zoar is the largest event in Ohio, and it is the largest I had ever been to (although Jackson and Hartford City are pretty close)—I have not yet been to a national event.  But it was not an official 1st Tennessee event, so only a handful from the unit attended.  Since we weren’t enough to form our own unit, we fell in with the 5th Kentucky—a good unit, but not the 1st Tennessee where most of my friends are.

It is good to sometimes fall in with different units and different battalions to be grateful for what we have.  5th Kentucky uses Gilham’s tactics, which takes a little getting used to when we always use Hardee’s.  The key difference is shoulder arms, and I learned to appreciate Hardee’s after this weekend.  Shoulder arms with Hardee’s manual of arms is to hold the rifle on your right, barrel toward your body, holding about the trigger guard, relaxed to your side.  Gilham’s holds the rifle on your left shoulder, holding the rifle butt, barrel out.  This has the unfortunate side effect that during a battle, the barrel gets hot and can tend to burn your face if you are not careful.  You do not have this problem with Hardee’s.  I kept hearing the 5th wonder how would could carry the rifle with Hardee’s tactics without wearing out, but I find it to be a natural position, plus I never worry about burning my face.

Anyway, I also learned to appreciate the Independent Guard, the battalion that both the 1st Tennessee and 5th Kentucky are members of.  The Independent Guard is more west Ohio and east Indiana, so was not part of the Zoar event.  We therefore had to fall in with another battalion.  Since there were two battalions, we could have ended up with either.  I do not know how we end up in one battalion or another, but somehow we ended up with the Army of Northern Virginia.

Since I had heard of issues that exist between the 1st Tennessee and the Army of Northern Virginia (though I do not know the details), I kept quiet about being from the 1st Tennessee outside the 5th Kentucky camp.  Somehow we (the 5th Kentucky) managed to impress the battalion as they invited Capt. Steiner of the 5th Kentucky to join the battalion.  However, the positive impression only went one way, as there was mutual agreement with both 5th Kentucky and 1st Tennessee members that there would be a forecast of frostbite over the Lake of Fire before we would fall in with them again.

I am a reenactor as a hobby.  This is not my job, I am not a real soldier, nor do I have any desire to have the full experience of being a real soldier.  I have never been in the real military.  I know that even our modern soldiers have an experience in the real world that I am grateful I do not have to.  I do not have to march 20 miles on a half-day ration and a bout of dysentery. 

And as my hobby, I expect respect from superior officers.  After all, these guys are not real soldiers, either.  I will obey superior officers as a matter of course of the hobby, but if these superior officers do not show me respect, despite my being a private, then I will simply go find a new hobby.

And that was the problem—point blank—with the Army of Northern Virginia.  Before all battles we always do inspection arms.  I expect this, and this is for everyone’s safety.  With the Independent Guard, the captain of each unit performs the inspection when we are standing in battalion formation.  The inspection goes pretty quick.  But with the Army of Northern Virginia, the battalion staff apparently does not trust their company captains, as we had to stand in formation while a single staff officer inspected each and every rifle.  This probably quadrupled the amount of time we spent standing at attention in battalion formation.  It meant that for a 1:30 battle, we were formed at 12:30 for inspection—basically marching to the battlefield almost as the battle began.

But there were other things—such as referring to each other in derogatory terms as if they were terms of endearment.  Basically, there seemed to be a general lack of respect from the top down.  Perhaps it was something you would expect to see in the real military.  But this is my vacation time.  Yes, I strive to give the best Civil War soldier impression (I am not a farb), but at the same time I have zero desire to live like a real Civil War soldier—and anyone who says they desire differently has no idea what the life of a soldier during the Civil War was really like.  And if you are reenactor that thinks differently, I would recommend you read up on books like Company Aytch, Privations of a Private, Hard Tack and Coffee, and Recollections of a Soldier.  Because if you think you would like have been a real Civil War soldier, then you do not know crap about the Civil War.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box and back to the Zoar event.  Overall, it was a good event.  I hope to return when they have it again in two years, only I hope we fall in with a different battalion.

There was a Saturday morning tactical that I had nearly forgotten--it was not memorable.  Most of the time was spent waiting for something to happen, and when it finally did, there were judges who kept interrupting to say, "Captain, two of your men just took hits--take them out of action".  Strange way to perform a tactical.
The battles for both Saturday and Sunday were to be 1st Manassas, with the Yankees winning Saturday (try to explain that one).  Unfortunately, Billy Yank was being Billy Yank and didn’t push like they should have—pretty much leaving the field before the end of the battle before we could pull back closer to where the public would have a good view of us—we had to walk off the battlefield to give the public some kind of idea that we lost (which felt pretty weird).  Sunday battle, however went well as the colonel pretty much had it in his mind that if the Yankees did play like they should, we would simply run over them.  But the Yanks did their job and made us work for every inch of ground.

Sutlery was excellent.  I think there were around ten or so sutlers, although most were smaller sutlers.  There were one or two large ones there.  The odd thing was that the place I found that had the best things was a local antique store across the street from the sutlers.  They must have pulled out a few odds-and-ends of reenacting gear just for the event.  They had a $45 civil war cot and a few other items at good prices.  Zach bought a pretty good shelter half with an end for only $25.  I would have bought it myself if he hadn’t of found it first.

And, like I said at the start, this wasn’t the 1st Tennessee. I am not much for sports, so I decided to stay in camp when the rest of the 5th Kentucky left for the local tavern to watch the OSU game.  And without anyone to get a good Euchre game going, I turned in early.

My new palace
But that was okay.  I got to enjoy my new palace.   For the past two years I had been camping out in a small 5 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot A-frame.  I was used to moving around in it on my knees, having all my gear piled around so I could hardly move, anyhow.  But this last week I bought a large A from someone who used to be part of the 1st Tennessee but was getting out of the hobby.  He told me it was made by Big Dave.  It was seven feet tall by nine feet long, and had a fly to boot.  It was a freakin’ palace!  I had so much space in that thing, I did not know what to do with myself.  I think Zach got a good laugh from me as just about every time I would go into that thing I would say, “This is a freakin’ palace!”

Zoar is a town full of historic buildings, which helped a lot for providing a good time-trip.  The battlefield looked like it had been left to grow, but was hit with a bush-hog a week or two before the event.  There was not any grass on the field, but it also was not problematic to perform our formations.

I still missed not having enough of the 1st Tennessee to form our own unit.

Canton Rep news story

Monday, September 12, 2011

Assault at the Fort

Fort Recovery, September 12-11, 2011

I did not get much Euchre in this weekend, but it was an excellent time anyhow.  About the only cards I got in was about half a game before each of the battles.

Much of the time spent was with chatting with each other in camp, which was good since I think I am nearing burn-out.  I still have an event every weekend through the second weekend of October.

Saturday battle went far longer than I expected, and was probably the longest for the season so far.  A bridge occupied the middle of the battlefield, with a creek flowing through, dividing the field and providing a spectacular objective.  The event hired some pyrotechnics for simulating artillery hits to go with the cannon fire, and these guys were serious with their explosives, as dirt was nearly constantly raining down on us.  We advanced down the main hill toward the bridge, held by the Yankee forces.  Numbers were not huge—a little smaller than Reynoldsburg—but this is only the second year for the event.

We advanced on the bridge and were pushed back—the fighting was intense.  I had around 60 rounds stuffed in my cartridge box and completely emptied them out.  The battle finally ended with our surviving forces having to scavenge rounds from the casualties.  Now that is when a battle becomes memorable.

Artillery night-fire is common at the events, and Fort Recovery was no different.  But this was enhanced with a spectacular fireworks display set up to respond to artillery fire.

A Sunday morning tactical was planned, and I was looking forward to it, but the heavy rain Saturday evening made us fear that the Yankees would bail.  Our forces had something special planned for the Yankees for this tactical, but the event coordinators were the ones who canceled it—so I cannot blame the Yankees this time—as they told us that the grounds that were to be used for the tactical had turned into swampland.

Sunday battalion parade began with charges being filed against Cpl Moore for fraternizing with the enemy.  A card had been found in his gear inviting him to a date with Abraham Lincoln.  And his judgment became set when Mr. Lincoln himself approached the battalion to pin an award on Moore’s lapel.  Moore’s reaction was priceless, since he had no warning.  After the battalion drill, a tribunal was held to determine Moore’s guilt to the charges, with Moore, a lawyer in civilian life, defending himself.  In true attorney fashion, Cpl Moore offered an astounding off-the-cuff defense, claiming to have been co-counsel for Mr. Lincoln on a case prior to the war.  With proper argument, this could have saved him—but his sentence had already been determined, and with a raise of hands from a majority of the 1st’s (including Cpl Moore’s) guilt was determined.  He was placed in front of a bail of straw and blindfolded.  And upon a company volley, he fell dead to the ground.

Moore is quite the ham.

Sunday battle was even better than Saturday, since this time the Confederacy would claim victory.  Our battalion boxed the Yankee forces at the bridge, given them only one exit across the other side of the creek.  The 1st Tennessee charged the Yankee force to push them, General Jackson style, over the bridge.  Our four companies advanced across the bridge, with each company (starting with ours) firing a volley, and then wheeling by platoon to allow the next company through.  After all companies passed us, our two platoons wheeled back into company line and about-faced to advance forward through the other companies, only to find ourselves somehow inverted within our platoons.  Capt. Evens quickly corrected the situation with an “Uncluster yourselves” command.  We were supposed to stop at the end of the bridge to fire another volley, but an opportunity presented itself and Capt Evens ordered us into a double-quick and charged an artillery piece.  I have never seen an artillery unit retreat with their weapon like that unit did—it was a smaller gun, and thus lighter, so the men were able to grab the carriage and run with it.  It was a bit tough to catch up to them—it was hard to believe that a cannon could be moved as fast as they moved it—but in the end we succeeded in capturing the gun.  The battle continued with us to the rear of the Yankee force, forcing their further retreat.  At the end, we faced and advanced against my old Yankee unit—the 4th OVI.

I did not visit any of the three sutlers there as my need was limited and the distance from the Confederate camp was long (Yankees had a nice short stroll, though).  The Confederates again outnumbered Yankees, but hopefully with the great efforts the event coordinators put, we can find this growing next year with more reenactors and more sutlers.  Lt. Sharp expressed his satisfaction for the event, and I know we all enjoyed it, so it is likely this will be a strong event for us next year.

Video of Battle

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Beans in Blue

Durbin Bean Bake, September 4-5, 2011

Having an event on a holiday is always a bit different.  The Durbin Bean Bake was one of those different events.  Started sometime around the 1880s, this annual festival was originally organized by veterans of the 40th OVI.  As such, and since we were the only unit there, most of us dressed in blue.  A few of us stayed in gray to represent Confederate opponents, but since we had the option to go blue or gray, I did not have a choice but to go blue.  It actually only occurred on Labor Day itself.  Sunday, the day before, we spent the day for ourselves.

Sgt Mott put on Lieutenant blues and was the primary coordinator for the weekend.  Cpl Moore (Girth) assisted more on Monday, since he was pretty much the hometown hero—being on the Bean Bake Committee and all.  Sunday started pretty normal—I fried up my usual bacon and eggs, then went into some Euchre as the day proceeded, with no other expectations.  Around 11 am, however, Sgt (er, Lt) Mott started up a couple of simple games to pass the day.

The first game broke us into two groups of four, with both Mott and Pvt Winston abstaining.  They set up small ropes about two feet above two separate fire pit and gave each group a small and equal amount of wood, along with some char cloth, some kind of fungus useful for starting fires, a small piece of twine, and a flint and steel.  The object was to be the first team to burn through the rope.

My team consisted of Sgt Gary Shaw, Kevin Feeman, and Zach Carte.  We quickly decided that I would start and manage the fire, while Shaw would chop the single half-log into small pieces.  We also had a single nine inch 1x6 board he would work on.  Feeman and Carte would use knives to produce shavings from the few sticks we were also provided.

Winston and Mott were excluded because they both had extensive experience with building fires from flint and steel.  Other than that, any of us that had started a fire always cheated with fuel and a match.  My only experience with flint and steel was firing a flintlock. As we gathered the materials to start, I made sure to note where the sharpest part of the flint was.  At the start, I shredded up the twine, put a couple of shavings on top along with a little piece of the char cloth, then struck the steel with the flint.  I got a spark right away, but it took about three strikes to hit the char cloth.  I was surprised how quickly it produced a hot coal.  Within a minute I had some good flames coming from the tinder.  I glanced at the other team and realized we were well ahead of them.  But then I realized I had a problem—Feeman and Carte did not have enough shavings ready for me.  I had jumped the gun getting things started, and now I was rushing to assist in getting shavings added—but it was too late.  All the twine was now burned up and the fire was out.

Fortunately, I still had a good amount of char cloth and that fungus.  I couldn’t break up the fungus, so I just threw it in and got a hot coal on it.  A couple of times I looked up to see someone stopping to watch me and I had to push them to get more shavings.  We just kept throwing more shavings on the pile and I kept blowing on that one small hot coal, certain I would lose it altogether.  At one point Mott gave each team a splinter soaked in pine sap, but that seemed more trouble that it was worth.  With perseverance, we finally got a flame.  At that point it was simply a matter of getting all the shavings on the pile ablaze, then adding the kindling that Gary made of all the remaining wood.  I piled it up in a simple teepee fashion, stacking it as high and heavy as I could.

I again glanced at the other team, and it looked like they also had a fire, but I noticed they were stacking the wood strangely.  Instead of forming a teepee at the start and stacking on top of that with as small pieces of wood as possible, the and placed nearly all their wood flat.  Although they had chopped the wood smaller, they only produced about ten or so pieces. We probably had thirty or more.  And with the three last sticks, they formed a small pyramid.  I was confident.

Zach and I got into a rhythm blowing the flames until they reached well into the rope, then simply stepped back and watched it finish.  The other team accused us of stealing extra wood—and I guess the stack we had did look like a lot more wood than theirs, but it was the same amount—we had simply chopped up a lot more and smaller pieces.

It was a fun game, and the women had arranged some prizes for the winners.  Gary got some candy.  I got a harmonica.  I guess I am going to have to learn to play.

The second game brought Steve Winston on my side while Gary Shaw was excluded.  Gary was to be the judge.  We were given various food items, and the idea was we were to cook up a meal for Gary to eat.  It took about an hour to cook everything up. We made some Gumbo, with a vegetable side and fried apples for a desert.  I did not pay too close attention to what the other team made, other than the main course was a soup, but I did hear something about them caramelizing everything.

We finished up the day—except for more Euchre—with a three team tactical with three to a team.  Zach Carte and James Sturkler were on my team.  We all enjoyed it, but I think there were some kinks that need worked out for next year.  Each team was given five challenges, with the order than we had to respond whenever engaged in battle.  We got confused somehow in that the order of the challenges were to be first from Jen Mott, then Andrew Mott, then Jen Mott, then Andrew Mott, and finally Jen Mott—or at least that seemed to be the explanation to me.  Jen gave a Civil War trivial question whenever approached, while Andrew gave some kind of physical challenge.  The trouble was that after the first challenge—given by Jen—we started getting confused as to the order of things by first trying to return to Jen for the second challenge, who redirected us to Andrew, but then we somehow thought all remaining challenges were to come from Andrew.  Shaw’s team also experienced some kind of confusion—he told me they had a difficult time cornering Andrew since he kept moving around.  In that confusion somehow we skipped a step.

I know the Mott’s will probably read this, so I want to make sure they understand that we all had a blast, in spite of the issues encountered.  I am sure if time is taken to examine what did not work and what did, then these issues can be resolved for next year.

Monday was the actual Bean Bake.  We were a part of it since Mercer, Mott, and Girth are all from the area.  For most of the time we pretty much did a living history—although surprisingly with the weather dropping from 97 on Saturday to 60 on Monday, we had more public hanging around us to keep warm by our fire (the only one on the grounds) than anything.  Lt. Sharp showed up to participate as well-this time as a private in blue. 

In the early afternoon we set up a silly skirmish with three of us dressing gray to attack the rest of us in blue.  We seemed to have way to small an area to work with and somehow ended up doing more fighting among cars in the parking lot than in an open area, but it was fun.  A good opportunity to work out some more kinks for next year.

The last piece of participation for us was to stir the beans.  Most of us thought it was to be little more than a photo op to have us all up there stirring all the pots of beans, and then we would be done with it.  But time seemed to pass with little concern.  I do not know how long we were stirring, but my arms are still hurting—three days later.

We finished up the day with a challenge from JR for a speed shoot competition.  I blew any chance of winning early on when I forgot to ram paper and had to pick my first tube off the ground to shove it down the barrel.

The Durbin Bean Bake is a laid-back event that we look forward to, even though it really is not much of a Civil War event, and we have to go Federal.  It is only one day of living history, with the rest of the time entirely for us as we see fit to spend, far out in the country away from anything that could interfere (or interrupt).  I look forward to next year, and hope that perhaps the Bean Bake Committee seriously considers allowing us to invite a Yankee unit to expand the Civil War representation to the festival.