Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Civil War Battle Re-enactment: Pleasant Hill, Mansfield

By Rob Watson

As a student of the American Civil War, having read Bruce Catton's four volume set and Shelby Foote's three volume set, along with numerous other books, and watched the Ken Burns series twice, recent events have combined to expose my massive ignorance on that subject. The first event was a series, in a small local paper, of the history of the Civil War in Louisiana. The second was a three day excursion to Pleasant Hill Louisiana for their 33rd annual reenactment of the battle in that tiny town.

Bruce and Shelby, both, mostly ignore the events in Louisiana, except for a page or two on Port Hudson and New Orleans. When, in reality, there were frequent clashes around Morgan City. Baton Rouge exchanged hands twice. The Red River Campaign was an effort to capture the rest of Louisiana and all of Texas.

In March and April of 1864 40,000 soldiers and sailors under Union General Nathan Banks, supported by Admiral David Porter's fleet of river gunboats set out to capture the Red River valley, the capitol of Louisiana in exile: Shreveport, and Texas. They captured Alexandria then Natchitoches. On the afternoon of 8 April, they met General Richard Taylor (son of President Zachary Taylor of Louisiana) Three miles south of Mansfield.  Discouraged by this group of Louisiana and Texas Rebels, the Union boys lost interest in their quest and retreated to the even smaller town of Pleasant Hill. Here, on the afternoon of April 9, Rebel forces under Taylor engaged Union troops under Banks and fought the largest (and almost universally ignored) Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. (to add insult to injury, the National Park service preserved the Mansfield battle site and ignored Pleasant Hill)

Fortunately, the owner of a part of the four square mile battlefield, and descendant of the original owners (and participant in the battle) established a re-enactment of both battles on his property. His descendants carry on the events. The house seen in The background of some of the photos is that original house, on the property during the battle at Pleasant Hill.

Friday was "School Day" for area students to visit the encampment and talk to the participants. Visitors were encouraged to wear period clothing...

Saturday: the parade was at 10am this morning. it was disappointing. There were lots of local people and cars and fire trucks etc. a small group of cavalry. a small group of union infantry and a smaller group of rebel infantry. Below is Union Infantry riding to the parade. They marched in it. The Rebel unit was smaller.

I looked up the guy from the cowboy shoot-em-up that had given me the information on this event. I visited with him and a small group from his unit before the first "battle". I spoke to him again afterwards. They were assigned to be Union Soldiers and operated their cannons on the union side. (The union and rebel cannoneer uniforms are similar, red caps, sky blue pants, just change the coat... which they all had.) These guys had done three events in Louisiana this year. They are going to the 150th anniversary and reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg in July.

While waiting for the re-enactment to start I shared my shade tree with a woman who's family has just gotten into re-enactment. They started four months ago and this was their fourth event. The husband, two boys, and their girl were all in the battle. All but the girl were in the union cavalry. The mother and their youngest child were in period dress. They are from Palestine Texas and home school their children. Below, True Southern Ladies visiting the troops.

The battles both days were held on the ground of the original Pleasant Hill battle. The land has been in the same family from the 1840s and the re-enactment was started by a descendant of the original land owners. The announcer was a great... nephew of those people. The original house still stands there but I did not take time to see it... maybe Sunday. The event Saturday was a re-enactment of the Mansfield Battle. Sunday is to be a re-enactment of the Pleasant Hill fight. Below: Recruits in training. You are missing several photos and a video of them trying close order drills.

For the individual it is less expensive to be in the artillery. (about $300 for the uniform plus the infantry must buy a musket for another $300-$400 plus leather belt, cartridge box, plus...) The guy who owns the cannon, of course, is several thousand dollars into it. Some had just cannon. The unit I visited had four. (They tow them onto the field with their trucks.) some have caissons (ammunition carriers) and one group had cannon, caisson, mules to draw the hardware and horses for the cannoneers. (This guy was the one who sold the powder... at nearly half price... for all the weapons) At $10 to $18 a pound for powder, most cannons shoot 1/3 pound charges. The powder supplier has a larger gun and shoots two pound charges. The regular cannon make a big blast. The big one can be felt as well as heard. Below is Robinson's Battery lined up in the rear of the union position. These are full size, civil war era, field piece replicas. (12 pounders)

The large cannon, caisson, mule team, outriders and gun crew:

From time to time the viewers would see a simulated shell explosion... a large white puff of smoke not associated with a cannon:

The battle opens with a small rebel unit advancing onto the field: at the side is the first of five rebel cannon.

 Followed by a union artillery barrage, answered here by a rebel barrage.

Larger units: The dead are on the ground. Being dead is voluntary. I asked how one determines when to die. The answer: when they get tired of the goings on. Some dead lay there for more than an hour as the battle raged around them. On the second day the big cannon fought for the rebels. When it rolled onto the field and set up over ground where an infantry fight had occurred and several dead lay, the dead resurrected themselves. Later, a Union Cavalry officer was "killed" near me. He spent the rest of the battle trying not to be trampled by his own horse (which was remarkably calm considering the dozens of cannon blasts and thousands of musket shots all around him)


 The big cannon being loaded:

and fired:

Next April 5, 2014 will be the 150th anniversary reenactment of Mansfield/Pleasant hill. The organizers hope to have an extraordinary show. If you come, plan for three days. April is a pleasant month in Louisiana, sometimes cool, sometimes damp but, otherwise pleasant. If you bring black round toe boots, sky blue pants belt loops removed, suspenders, any old dress shirt with the collar wings cut off, a slouch hat or straw hat and $100 for the uniform jacket of your choice, you can help fight for your side (or both sides if someone loans you the other jacket) in the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill... probably in the artillery.

The doctor, keeping his records:

Of his amputations:

A rebel cavalry unit advances onto the field:

1 comment:

  1. Great photos and blog. You gotta love these re-enactors. They really embrace history.