Monday, September 23, 2013

Chickamudda and Camp Farbie

150th Commemoration, Battle of Chickamauga 

Chickamauga, GA 

September 19-21, 2013 

We arrived and set up camp on this farm located between Pigeon and Lookout Mountains south of the city of Chicamauga.  The views were spectacular.  We found the Pigeon Mountain Grill about twenty minutes away to eat our first night, on Thursday.

Unless Perryville last year was a Blue-Gray Alliance event, the 150th Chickamauga was the first Blue-Gray Alliance event I ever attended.  My expectations were high.  I heard that Blue-Gray Alliance events had extraordinary battle scenarios, and that authenticity was critical.  That if an event were a Blue-Gray Alliance event, you can count on having a spectacular experience.

I have never been so disappointed.

I had heard that the Blue-Gray Alliance has trouble with logistics--Porta-johns that don't get cleaned with no toilet paper, water running out, and other logistics issues.  These rumors proved true (except that firewood was in good supply, thanks to rain that prevented its consumption), but I always come prepared anyhow, so I wasn't concerned with these issues.  But I was looking forward to setting up camp in an area with other reenactors that held value in keeping the camp streets clear of farbisms, and battle scenarios that went beyond the everyday type I get at home in Ohio.

We fell in with the 5th Kentucky Co B out of Columbus, Ohio.  That level of clarification is important, because there were two other 5th Kentucky companies there in our battalion.  You see, the military organization level there was near non-existent.  Colonel Julian from the Independent Guard was there as well, falling in as the 5th KY's lieutenant, and so even though I was a private for the weekend, I was able to get a little insight as to the organizational capabilities for this event.  Colonel, er Lieutenant (titles in reenacting sometime get rather confusing) Julian found that basically by Friday of the event, nothing had been planned out.  The battle scenarios were still unknown.  He had hoped--as I had--that enough Independent Guard companies would attend so that we could stand as our own battalion.  But alas, that was not to be, so we chose to fall in elsewhere--though Julian was hoping something could be worked out whereby the Independent Guard could still go onto the field.

The 5th set up their camp in one long row.  I think Capt Steiner would have liked to have seen us forming our own street, but the ropes marking the tent rows marked the opposite side some 30-40 feet or so away, making putting our tents opposite each other in a street impractical, and basically merging our camp with three or four other companies.

This setup would not have been all that bad, except the line from one end of the 5th KY's camp to the other was quite long--perhaps over 100 feet.  And the intermingling of the other camps on the other side of the street, and at the end of the 5th KY's line, would have been acceptable had it not been that every single one of those camps were farbies--with modern coolers laying about, five gallon plastic jugs of water and plastic trash bags littering their camps, reenactors quickly switching to shorts and T-shirts after battle, etc.  The entire 5th KY had the only authentic camp in the midst of Camp Farbie.  When the lines filled and more space was needed, the battalion staff stuffed tents in the middle of the street, with one tent in line with the end of Capt Steiner's fly, directly across from the 5th KY.  And the soldier who set that tent up gets the title of Private Farbie, as he left several modern coolers laying about and many other modern gear, nearly to the quantity of all other camps combined, plus he had no idea how to set up a proper fly.  Imagine canvas stretched over four uprights, no ridge pole, tied down with nylon ropes.  When the rain came on Saturday, the fool looked as he were collecting water for the local reservoir as he sat mere inches below the bottom of
Camp Farbie with Private Farbie's fly conserving water.
the bulge in his fly, holding perhaps a hundred gallons of water.

Where were the company commanders, policing their camps to get the modernisms removed, or at least hidden?  It left me with a rather low impression of the Blue Gray Alliance.  I paid $20 and travelled seven hours to be here to commemorate the 150th anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  I expected something significant for my efforts.

But that is not the end of the story.

Thursday night did hold an all-night tactical, where those who participated would sleep on-arms and be provided rations.  We chose not to participate in this--and I'm sure those who were in the campaigner camp probably enjoyed this, but it was beyond what I really wanted to do.

But Friday held the first battle for the rest of us.  This one held some promise for me as no general public would be admitted, so this was a reenactor-only battle.  The general ordered us on a march, and his generous consideration realized that the heat of the day was putting quite the strain on his troops, so ordered us to march another half-mile up a steep hill to a nice shady zone in the woods of Pigeon Mountain.  Although the view was spectacular here, a number of the 5th KY decided that a shady location that avoided the March of Death was a much better choice and bivouacked at the bottom of the treacherous climb, to await the start of the battle, basically spitting distance for them, but a considerable tumble for the rest of us.

Once the battle began, the battalions took turns entering the fight.  Being southern gentlemen, it seemed only considerate to allow one battalion enter the fight, fire a few volleys (which made sounds reminiscent of a common theater snack--with exception of the 5th KY, whose volleys sounded like a single bang), then retreat to allow the next battalion in.  As the Yankees pushed through a narrow gap only large enough for one battalion, our commanders apparently thought it inconsiderate to flank them and force them back through that hole too quickly.  Although as the battle progressed, it became apparent that our battalion would soon be left out of the fight, so we marched down to a convenient trail through the woods and single file crossed to the other side onto a road, where in column of companies we could advance and watch the first company engage a volley or two while the rest of the Confederate forces pushed on through the gap.  We reformed the battalion and rejoined the rest of the Confederate forces as the Yankees continued to skedaddle, and took a nice breather since the fight was now beginning its second hour.  The commanders discussed amongst themselves for awhile to determine what they should do next as we watched the Yankee skedaddle continue to widen the gap between us and them.

Finally, however, word was given that we should re-engage the enemy.  We tramped, tramped, tramped through the empty cornfield toward what we thought were those Yankees, and as we got within range, began to fire volleys.  But then a few of us started to noticed something about that flag those distant forces were carrying.  It seemed to be missing a few stripes.  Apparently that banner we saw was not the Stars and Stripes.  It was the Stars and Bars.  I suppose it's easy to make that confusion.  We apologized to our southern comrades, and finally decided to retire for the night.

Back at camp the 5th KY discussed a review for the battle and came up with a grade of D minus.  Yeah, that kind of cluster is not even common at home.  But sure, it was the first battle, and the first battle always goes awry.

Saturday morning began with rain.  A lot of rain.  And then more rain.  And when we had enough of the rain, it rained some more.  And then, since it was still early in the day, and the rain seemed to be letting up just enough to get the campfire going, the rain decided to really let loose.

No, there was no breakfast that morning.  But I have no complaints--that is part of the experience.  Lunchtime came, and I scrounged together the last of my cold cuts and cheese, trying to stay dry under Jeff and Trish's fly, giving up completely on any attempt to get a fire going.

The rain finally ended  early Saturday afternoon, in time for us to form up and move out for the 4 pm battle.  The march was on flat ground, unlike the day before, but it was through mud--a lot of mud.  The road was covered in the ruts produced from the artillery driving the cannons off to the battlefield, and we wondered if there was hope in being able to get our vehicles back to our campsite on Sunday.  Trouncing through the mud for the Battle of Chickamudda, our Confederate uniforms became more uniform as the brown Georgia mud covered them.

On several maneuvers it became apparent to me that the 5th KY Co B was probably the best drilled company of the battalion.  It might hold true with the rest of the field, but it is difficult to compare outside your own battalion.  We did fight through rows of standing, ready-to-harvest field corn, and it added significantly to the experience.  There were no lulls, though it was the usual forward and back that most of us dread to see--and get back home all the time.  The stalks of corn just gave us better cover than elsewhere.  I suppose that if the scenario we were reenacting was like this, then all is good--I'm admittedly a little unfamiliar with the fighting of the Battle of Chickamauga.  The 5th KY agreed this was significantly better than the battle from the night before, ranking it around a "B".

Saturday also held a night battle, though most of us chose to opt-out of it, being that the battle area was rather vast and it would be easy to get lost in the fields.  But a few, including the 5th's first sergeant and a few others that had energy to spare.  They reported back an enjoyable experience, but a command structure of confusion.

Sunday came, and I was looking forward to ending the event and returning home after the many disappointments.  Other than the numbers and the spectacular scenery, there really wasn't anything here we could not have found back in Ohio. And it was wearing, with everything a mile walk.  It was a mile to the sutlers and a mile to the battlefield.  This is not something I am complaining about, other than it is wearing.  Sure, there was some kind of shuttle service to the sutlers, something like one an hour, but its schedule was not convenient.  The Sunday battle came, and we trudged through the muddy roads, glad to see a grader clearing the mud for the vehicles.

Sunday battle was worse the Friday's.  The fighting itself, when it occurred, was acceptable, pretty much the forward-and-back we came to expect.  But there were lots of time spent waiting on commanders to figure something out.  The best way to describe the Sunday battle is as follows:  march-march-march, shoot, shoot, forward, back, march-march-march, wait-wait-wait, march-march-march, shoot, shoot, forward, back.  It was kind of like a dance by a couple of lame pigeons.  We'd fight a little, march a lot, wait a lot, march some more, then fight a little.  At one point, we were within range of the Yankees, on their flank, perfect position to completely crush them (although it would have completely blown the scenario), and instead of engaging, we were given the command, "Rest"--all within perfect viewing of the spectators--well I suppose it was perfect viewing if you had a good set of binoculars.  The whole thing was pretty far from them--I'm not sure how much they would have enjoyed it since we must have looked like little lines of ants blowing smoke at each other.  At another break, while waiting on the commanders again--and watching the Yankees stand around just as bored as us, one of the 5th finally got fed up and started shouting, "DO SOMETHING!"  Finally, against orders, members of the 5th KY just starting popping rounds off.  I was about to do the same (does it really make sense for us just stand and look at each other, admiring each other's uniforms?) when we were finally marched at the flank up to a nice conveniently flat spot to cross the road.

Well, after the battle, we were all interested in getting home, so a grade wasn't discussed, but I'm sure it ranks about how Friday's battle went.

With the event over, I'm glad it is, and I'm left wondering, "So what's so special about the Blue-Gray Alliance events?"


  1. Russ,
    The Chickamagua BGA event was not a typical event. MOST of them are excellent, Gettysburg included. Chickamagua, on the other hand, was not. Most of the BGA are well organized, battles well planned, amenities are exceptional, especially the porta johns. Basically, from what I was told, the event was held on the overall commander's property and he pretty much was an egotistical blankety blank. Part of the other problem was the rain, which made logistics a nightmare, which at ANY event, logistics are a nightmare when it rains, no matter who puts it on. I'm not making any excuses about the event, it was a horrible one by BGA standard. However, you must understand the background to understand the probable causes of it being a bad event. DO NOT JUDGE one BGA event as a typical event.

    Kevin Feeman

  2. I appreciate the comment.

    I don't knock an event when whether goes bad--that's not anyone's fault.

    But any one event reflects on the organization that stamps their name on that event. I hope Chickamauga is atypical of BGA. But they did push it as being a great event to come to--and yet I experienced the opposite. I am willing to give BGA another chance to prove Chickamauga was atypical--but they will have to learn from the mistakes made and correct them.

  3. Sounds like a bust. We just hosted the Battle of the Hook (1781) in Virginia and the event came off very well (although much smaller in comparison to ACW). I agree with the disappointment of seeing coolers, trashbags and such. There is no excuse for it (i.e. if you have modern amenities keep them in a tent). It also drives me nuts when people hange into 21st cen clothing-like milling about the fire in the morning in what they wore in their tent). Again, no reason to do so. How would you address that with the individuals, event organizers? Interested in your thoughts.

    1. Oh, that is a GREAT question! It's not as simple as it sounds. The way we handled it while there, being the ones at the low-end of the totem pole--was simply to gripe about it, which really doesn't solve anything, though it is probably the way it gets handled in most situations. Yes, we could have gone to the battalion staff and said something--but we didn't. Would that have been a good idea? Would it have solved anything? Good question--chain of command would have been for us privates to talk to our captain, who would talk to battalion staff. But, when you're a visiting company (not normally part of that battalion), do you really want to be the pricks of the battalion?

      After that experience, I vowed that when I'm attending as major of my battalion, then I'll exercise due diligence and police the companies, ensuring proper authenticity--though I admittedly forgot to do that at Hartford City (fortunately, I have never seen any real issues with any of the Independent Guard companies). My intention is not for being some kind of Nazi, but simply walking through each of the companies' camps, meet briefly with the captain to greet him, and note any obvious problems (coolers out in the open, etc)--expecting that he'll take care of it. I might follow up the next day to ensure it was taken care of.

      Without question I feel the biggest responsibility for policing the camps belongs to the battalion staff. At an event like Chicamauga, I can't expect the event organizers to be able to do anything about it--that would be more responsibility that is manageable.


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