Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Barn that Wouldn't Die

Perryville Cleanup Weekend
Perryville Kentucky

April 5, 2014

More and more the 1st Tennessee is progressing into battlefield preservation.  This weekend the Perryville Battlefield held a cleanup day where we assisted.
Over coffee and donuts we discussed the plan for the day where we would work on cleaning out an old barn and tearing it down.  The barn was built some time after the battle and tearing it down was part of the efforts to restore the battlefield to its condition at the time of the battle.
The other groups were to take out fencing that was never part of the original battlefield.

We drove to the barn and started hauling out garbage to the dumpster and tearing out boards.  At one point a tractor was used to help us haul things us.  We also discovered a rather fantastic smell that chased us out of the building on a regular basis.
After lunch the plan was to have the tractor pull the building down.  But unfortunately the bobcat that was used to pull apart the fencing fell backwards and got stuck, so occupied the tractor trying to straighten it out.
We did finally get the tractor back to the barn.  We strapped a chain to a support post and had the tractor pull it.  We had hoped that it would quickly pull down the entire barn—but it was not to be.  The first post broke in half, dragged out by the chain, and the building stood otherwise untouched.  We proceeded to the next post, with the same result.  After pulling out about half the support posts with the barn still standing, the tractor driver resorted to trying to push it over.
He made some progress, but it was still unsatisfactory.  We worked on more posts, eventually breaking all support beams in half before it finally crumbled down.

Next time we’re likely to bring some blackpowder.  The consensus was it would have both more successful, and more desirable, effects.
At the end of the work day, JR Sharp took us on a walk of the battlefield, discussing what he had learned of the original 1st Tennessee’s experience at Battle of Perryville.

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.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Become a Reenactor Part 3

It was a sunny day in September, sometime around 2003 or 2004.

My wife outfitted me in some borrowed clothes to make me look like I belonged to the 1860s--or at least make me think I looked like I belonged to the 1860s.  I wore a borrowed bowler, a borrowed civilian coat falling apart at the seams, my modern dress pants and modern shoes.

Yeah--I hadn't yet learned about the term, "Farbie".   I was wearing an outfit I wouldn't be caught dead in today.

We went to Pioneer Village, Caesar's Creek in Waynesville Ohio, only about an hour from home, where, according to my wife, they were holding a Civil War reenactment.  As we pulled up, we saw a sign charging $5 per car, so drove down the street and parked in an out-of-the-way location and slipped in the back entrance.

We wandered around a bit, looking over the old pioneer-style homes.  Eventually we wandered into a row of tents that looked much like the Rev War tents I was used to seeing.  A guy in all dark blue and bars on his shoulder came out of a tent and started talking to us a bit about the Civil War.  He was Shawn Farkus, captain of the 4th Ohio Company B.

It didn't take long before he asked me, "Hey, you wanna join us for the battle?"

Black powder, musket--my response was, "Uh, okay..."

He was able to scrounge together some sky-blue trousers and a coat.  He sold me on the acceptability of my bowler, and slipped some tarred gaiters around my ankles to hide the modern shoes.  He handed me a musket and went through some basic drills.

From that weekend, my wife and I did other Civil War events along with our Revolutionary War reenacting, falling in with the 4th OVI.  Some time the following year Capt Shawn Farkus disappeared off the face of the earth, with Vern Woodruff taking his place.  I found myself liking Civil War better than Rev War, probably because there seemed little for a civilian male reenactor to do--so if my wife was to have me join her to the Civil War reenacting, it required me to join as a soldier.  In my Rev War reenacting, I primarily did civilian reenacting--and I always felt a bit out of place.

The following summer my wife and I found ourselves downtown Columbus, Ohio for their annual Independence Day celebration, and ran into a Confederate reenacting group--the 1st Tennessee Co B.

They were there for the parade, and had rented a hotel room in the short north.  My wife--knowing no stranger--managed to get an invite back to their hotel room, and I tagged along.

Now, it hadn't really sunk in with me yet that the uniform color really only mattered (in general) on the battlefield.  Out of view of the public, a reenactor (in general) is just someone else in the hobby.  I got to that hotel room, feeling a bit awkward.  Do I tell these guys that I wear blue?  Are they just waiting to gang up on me?

The hotel room was packed.  In one corner I found a small group playing cards.  I found out they were playing Euchre.

That changed everything.

In high school, Euchre was a required course--they called it "Study Hall".  I played a lot of Euchre.  But since getting married I didn't have anyone to play.  So when I saw that game in that hotel room, I couldn't help but ask if I could join in while my wife wandered the room, making sure there were no strangers there.

We continued with both Civil War and Rev War reenacting for several years, falling in sometimes with the 4th OVI, and sometimes with the 1st TN, depending on the event and who we ran into first. My wife gave me a Federal uniform for Christmas, and the 1st TN's 1st Sergeant outfitted me with Confederate gear.  I still had to borrow a musket, but I was joining in.

Eventually, my wife started following a different direction than me, pursuing a 1st person experience with a specific character, while I stuck to the soldier experience.  Up to this point we always drove home Saturday night to return late Sunday morning, or stayed in a hotel if too far from home.  We started doing different events, and I was freed camp with the rest of the unit.

By now, this was 2009 or so.  I hadn't yet decided to dedicate to a particular unit.  At Reynoldsburg that year, I showed up with my Federal gear and camped with the 4th Ohio.  It was a one-day event at that time, where Sunday was to have a morning tactical, then end.  I discovered the 1st Tennessee was there, so on Friday night, in my Federal gear, I made my way to the 1st TN camp to play Euchre all night long.

I spent Saturday with the 4th OVI, but that night the younger crowd of the 4th ran off to the local pub--something I wasn't into--while the older folk took to bed early.  That left me with no choice but to wander back to the 1st TN camp and play more Euchre.

Needless to say, it was that event that sold me to the 1st Tennessee--and things haven't been the same since.

Am I a slave to a deck of cards?  It's funny--that first year after that we played Euchre every chance we had.  This past year, we played maybe three games the entire season.

Since that time both the 4th OVI and 1st Tennessee have changed into completely different units.  Had the 4th been what I have found them to be today, I probably would have stayed with them all those years ago.  But because of the directions that were taken, I am now a part of bringing both these units together to work together in the field.

The only constant is change.

Next time--tips to get into the hobby, and recruiting tips for units. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Become a Reenactor Part 2

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization

Before reenacting, my life was average--even dull.  I was raised United Methodist, attended a private Christian school, majored in journalism for two years at a Christian college in Kentucky, graduated with a bachelor's in business from Ohio University, and began a career as a computer programmer.

I had a cursory interest in history.  My eyes were on science fiction--the typical geekish interests of a computer nerd like myself.

Average and dull.

I was introverted.  I made few friends.  Never talked much--unless it was about Star Trek or something sci-fi.  I gained few friends through my church.

Average and dull.

And then one day, my wife made a discovery.

It was a bit before 9/11, around 2000.  My wife and her mom came home from a run.  There was a terrifying excitement on my wife's face.  She saw something cool and wanted me to join her.  West Liberty, Ohio, had some kind of festival going on where everyone was wearing clothing from the Revolutionary War time period.

You don't argue with my wife.  I agreed to go up with her to this festival--it was something to do and kept me out of chores, anyhow.  How bad could it be?

It certainly seemed strange.  There were men dressed as Native Americans, wearing nothing more than a wool covering around their waste.  Lots of tricorn hats.  I remember a lot of them.  There was an archer showing off his hand-carved bow and shooting at a target.  Campfires everywhere.

I felt very out of place.

"It is only this one time," I kept telling myself.  "It'll end soon, and we can go home, never to remember this day again."

But then, we found the dancers.  I hated dancing.

It was okay to watch.  The moves reminded me of that day of square dancing I had in my gym class in high school.  There were a couple of cute girls in the mix as they danced in circles up and down the row.  A live band that included a fiddle and dulcimer played for the dancers.

It would soon pass, I hoped, and we could move on.

That is, until the dancers opened up the next dance to the crowd.  My wife insisted we join in.

I felt very out of place.

It was a simple dance--one called "Jefferson's Reel".  To simplify the teaching, each of the dancers partnered with one of the crowd, so that all I had to do was follow my partner.  I got one of the cute dancers.  They had us count with our partners as one's and two's, then our group of four took hands, and proceeded to learn the dance, walking through the steps as the dance master taught them to us.

I felt so out of place.

We went over it again, and then danced to music.

Afterward, my wife, who has never met a stranger, talked with the dance master and a few of the others.  They called themselves "The Liberty Dancers" and met every Thursday in Yellow Springs--and invited us to join them.  And since it was only a thirty minute drive for us--

At this point my wife and I were only into our fourth year or so of marriage.   I had not yet figured out that when my wife tries something--it is all the way.  She doesn't just dip her toes in to test the waters--she dives in, and it's sink or swim.

This was July.  By Labor Day, we were ready to perform for the public.  There was this big Revolutionary War festival that weekend in Springfield, Ohio.  The Faire at New Boston.

And just my luck, it was only twenty minutes from home.

Since we had absolutely no clothing relating to the Revolutionary War of our own at the time (it had all been out of fashion for about two hundred years), we were able to borrow everything.  We were able to get everything we needed, though my shoes were some beat-up modern things.  I was given a pale blue wescot, a hat blank with the sides sewn up to make a tricorn, and white trousers.  I found a pair of infantry trousers that went to the ankle to avoid the knee britches.

I felt more out of place than ever.  What had I gotten myself into?

It didn’t help that all the Liberty Dancers were very liberal in their modern political thinking, but I should have expected that when Yellow Springs was their base.  I learned it was pointless discussing elections and politics with them—I felt as if they thought Jimmy Carter was a good president.  Yes—I’m very conservative with my political views.

I later met others who were more normal thinking in the political views, but they were also the weirder ones in Revolutionary War reenacting.

The Faire at New Boston opened with a parade, where all reenactors in their 18th century getup meandered around the tent city.

There were a lot of odd creations there.  One guy was carrying around a rat, face dirtied up, missing teeth, and a huge sore on the side of his face.  He was the rat catcher—uh, but wait, I recognized him as one of the Liberty Dancers.

Oh, this was interesting.  What had I gotten myself into?

In one corner of the fair was this flamboyant Frenchman.  He wore a frilly, formal suit, a large white curly wig, and white makeup on his face.  Had it not been that he was portraying a Frenchman of 1800, I would have thought him gay.  He was making lace and demonstrating to the crowds how lace was made, but he had a whole spiel about how he normally had indentured servants to do his work, but since he didn’t have one he had to do it himself.  He tried to recruit a few kids for their assistance, promising something like a penny a month pay.  He also had an extreme arrogance about him—to the point of absurdity.

Having met this man outside of reenacting I can tell you that this is only one of his many acts.  He performs the acts in first person such that you believe he believes that he is that character.  He performs with humor and is very entertaining.  But he has a certain advantage—he is as eccentric as the characters he portrays.  He is very entertaining to be around, whether he is portraying a character or portraying himself.  You should see his son—he has snapped mousetraps on his tongue for the Discovery Channel.

Oh my, what had I gotten myself into?

Since the Liberty Dancers only had two or three half-hour shows to perform, my wife and I had a lot of time to wander around.  There were several tents of vendors selling wares, which were interesting, but kind of like wandering a flea market.  There were the strange acts that felt like you were watching the sideshow at a circus.

At the end of the day, they served all the reenactors a meal of ham and beans.  It was good stuff.  We hung out with the reenactors until after nightfall.  There were a couple of concession tents that served beer and lemonade throughout the day, but now just served beer.  And lots of beer.  The reenactors seemed to have had no tab to worry with.

Why were we here, anyhow?  They at least had lemonade when I asked for it, and there was no odd bite to the throat.  But I felt so out of place.  Can we go home now?  This proved one of the hazards of being married to someone who never knew a stranger.  Everyone at all times was her best friend—it was difficult to pull my wife away, even though neither of us drank.

We drove home, and returned the next day to start all over again.

When the event was over on Sunday, we followed a number of reenactors to a corner of the park, where the ham and beans had been served all day long.  I wondered what could possibly be so fascinating in this corner.

It started with the need to empty the left-over beer. It ended with the need to get rid of the left-over waxed boxes the supplies came in.  There was a campfire.  That pretty much says it all.

There is a tree in that corner, with a branch that extends over the campfire where the ham and beans are cooked over all day long.  It is probably thirty feet off the ground.  It has long been charred black from the annual box-burning ceremony.  I wonder if by now it has disintegrated to pure ash.

What had I gotten myself into?

There were a couple of small Rev War reenactments we attended that had battles, and I don’t remember the particulars, other than it was again at George Rogers Clark Park.  In fact, every single Rev War reenactment we went to was at George Rogers Clark Park in Springfield.

But it was at these events that had battles that I got my first taste blackpowder—and that started down a road of addiction that led me to where I am now.

I think it was my wife that pushed me into talking with some of the militia about the idea of trying things out.  It was before the battle and I had to borrow a musket, rounds, and a cartridge box.  They took me through the paces to show me how to handle the Kentucky rifle (I hadn’t even handled a modern gun before), and load it by tearing the round, pouring a little in the flashpan, and the rest down the muzzle.

Then they had me fire it.

Oh, that was sweet.  I was hooked.  Ah, the smell of blackpowder.  The nuzzling of the butt against my shoulder, lightly kicking from the fire. The smoke lingering in the air.  Oh sweet musket, where had you been all my life?

That event was just a small one with about a dozen or so militia.  I learned some of the basic commands and maneuvers.  But it was the 225th Battle of Peckuwa, at George Rogers Clark Park in Springfield that gave me a real taste of what reenacting can be like.

For that battle, I borrowed a beautiful Kentucky Rifle from the head park ranger, who also was the commander of the 6-pounder brass Napoleon cannon used for the fight.  Somehow I would up on the side of the British--which in this battle involved mainly Native American Shawnee against the American Regulars.

Someone helped to smear war paint all over my face and cover my hair with a cloth to hide the fact that I wasn't Shawnee.  And with a breach cloth and large shirt, I followed the rest of the band into the woods where we waited for the battle to start.  A group of kids were given wooden muskets to add to our numbers, instructed to stay at the far end of the battlefield so as to hide the fake muskets.

I hadn't yet learned about keeping water out of the muzzle of my musket, and when a light drizzle moistened the air, my borrowed rifle became sabotaged.

We formed up in a cornfield that was grown just for this event.  As the Americans approached, firing their cannon, then pushing it forward to fire again, we fired from within the corn--that is, except for me who could do nothing more than create a nice flash in the pan with the flintlock.

We were pushed back, and the cannon was pushed through the cornfield, and I fought my musket constantly, trying to get it to fire.  In the middle of the fight, the rains picked up.  Well, that's a bit of an understatement.  Rather, Lake Erie decided to up and relocate over our heads, dropping down such that there was more water than air falling around us.  This pretty much put a halt to our attempts to shoot.  As we took refuge  in the little wooden fort, that cannon fired the remainder of its rounds, with pyrotechnics creating little craters around the fort to simulate the cannon hits.

Eventually the rains let up and we were able to go back to firing back at our enemy, falling back into the woods to conclude the battle.  There were a couple of "Rendezvousers" with us.  I learned those are guys that are a bit different than reenactors--the best explanation I can come up with is that the big difference are that they do their things for themselves as opposed to doing it for public, like reenactors do.  They do more live-shoot competitions, collect antique-style weapons, and hang out together in mountain-man style outfits.  I could always tell when the Rendezvousers shot, because they formed our artillery response, shooting with perhaps three times the blackpowder the rest of us used.

I found, though, that there was a bit of difference between Revolutionary War reenactors and Civil War Reenactors.  When I discovered the Civil War, I discovered something more my style.

To be continued...

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Become a Reenactor Part 1

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization

With the reenacting season now over, I thought it a good idea to find something to keep this blog going for the off-season.  Here and there I've been asked the question, "How do I become a reenactor?"

I've thought about answering the question with humor.  After all, most of us are a bit nuts.  On overly hot days--say in the nineties--we'll don wool trousers over cotton drawers, followed by a wool vest and wool jacket, a hat, a large leather belt with a cartridge box, percussion cap box, and bayonet hanging from it, a canteen full of water (a half gallon for those fully prepared), and a haversack full of various food items.  For the excessively zealous, we'll also wear a 30-pound knapsack on our backs, or a quilted bedroll around our neck.  And of course, there's the 5 to 10 pound musket on our shoulder.

And on wet days we'll add a poncho to keep our gear dry while the rest of us gets soaked to the bone (remember it's wool?) with mud up to our thighs.

And with all that on, in the heat of the day, we'll gather around the campfire with the smoke stinging our eyes just to add a bit of reenactor perfume to our countenance.

And on overly cold days we'll add a heavy greatcoat (a wool winter coat) to the mix along with fingerless gloves so that only our fingers, ears, and noses get frostbit.  The smart ones protect their ears by flapping the greatcoat's cape over their head, but then any chance of seeing is gone.

When night falls, the daring will sleep on the ground between some tar-painted canvas and a rubberized poncho beside the campfire with a stack of logs--waking every so often during the night to throw another log of the fire, hoping they don't turn in their sleep and end up in the fire.

On the really cold nights, we sleep in our clothes, with a greatcoat or two on top of a ton of blankets to keep warm by, only to be immobilized by the weight of the blankets, yet still shiver from the cold.

Sound like fun?

I think it's a blast.

Of course, the height of the weekend is the battle, with only rain being the only show-stopper for the thrill (powder does not burn too well when wet).  But even if it does rain, it's got to be a hurricane-level downpour to put a stop to our battles and our fun.

But there's also the time spent with friends who also share an interest in reenacting.  We are all sorts of people--some are doctors, some work maintenance, some are architects, others police officers.  Others, like me, are computer programmers, while still others are engineers.  There are janitors and assembly-line workers among us.  One I know is a city attorney who plays in a rock band.  Heck, we've even got a comedian.  As disparate our lives are, we all share one thing in common--Civil War reenacting.

So, now that I've sold you on all the perks, how does one become a reenactor?

Every reenactor has a different story as to how they got into the hobby.  A few in the 1st Tennessee started as kids, even before they were old enough to carry a musket (16 is the minimum age to carry a musket on the field for the 1st Tennessee and for most companies).  Others got into it late in life, stumbling on a reenactment, and offered a taste of the experience.  When you find a good unit, they usually have enough spare gear to outfit you until you can get your own stuff, so you shouldn't have to dump a bunch of money down right away to get started--but you certainly can get the bug quick.

I'll start by telling my story, and finish by giving some tips as to how to get into the hobby, and how you might select a unit to join with.   I'd love it if you found the 1st Tennessee Company B and join with us--but there are plenty of good companies out there--and some may be more suited to you than others.

Some time in the early 2000s, when I was still in my thirties, my wife dragged me to a Revolutionary War reenactment.

"Rev War?" you might ask.  "I thought we were talking Civil War."  Yeah--I'm getting to that.

To be continued...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Closing the Year

Monroe, Ohio 

October 26-27, 2013 

It was a long year of reenacting, with Monroe making number 18 for 2013 for me.   I arrived Friday evening, but no one else from the 1st Tennessee was going to be there that night.  The weather was also going to get cold.

Jim Kletzli was going to come in the morning, so I decided to camp in the comforts of home and ride in with Jim in the morning.  Normally I might have stayed, but for as many events as I attended, I felt it better to avoid miserable nights for my last event of the year.

So, we arrived Saturday morning, falling in with the 9th KY.

The event was pretty quiet.  The cold and winds kept the crowds away all day Saturday, so when we went up against the Yankees, chasing the 7th KS into the woods, it was pretty much for ourselves.  The cold was such that this was probably the only event, except possibly for Hurricane in March, that required wearing the greatcoat all day, including during the battle.

Sunday went just as quick, though the weather was better.    Spectators showed up and wandered the camps.  We formed up for the battle, advancing onto the field.  We blasted a few company volleys, when suddenly we realized the 7th KS had taken position behind us.  Basically, we were in a crossfire.

It didn't end well. It was pretty clear--the Confederates lost.

But, getting caught like that was a good way to wind the year down.