Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Civil War Plus...

By Rob Watson

As you may know, I do a fair amount of traveling to attend Civil War Reenactments. Most are just sitting around camp and swapping old stories then standing out on a simulated battlefield loading and firing a simulated Civil War era cannon. Last month at, Pea Ridge, was an interesting change in the battle and events in camp. This month almost everything was different and interesting. We left a day early so we would not be rushed to get set up.

D'Arbonne State Park was the site of our event. They had improved camp sites with electricity (for our popup camper) so Wife decided she would like to go with me. I made reservations and was allowed to pick and reserve a campsite. I looked on the map for the most remote site and chose it. (These sites are removed from the 'period' sites where the reenacters camp in their simulated military units in canvas tents.)

The first pleasant surprise was the park itself. D'Arbonne State Park is situated in the steeply rolling hills of North Louisiana. It is set beside D'Arbonne Lake. The area is heavily wooded with large pines and oaks. It is large, clean, well maintained, and all together, a very attractive place.

Our next surprise was the campsite. It was not remote. It was completely surrounded by other campsites... the map I chose from failed to show the 50 or so additional sites in the area. All the campsites were well spaced from each other and lay beside the paved road. The road formed a large loop leaving a covered pavillion and open space in the center. This area, as well as all the campsites were in open woods and was almost completely shaded. I was, at first, irritated by a dozen or so portable canopies set up in this open area, even though they were several yards (meters) from our campsite. During the evening, an excellent pianist played some of the old 'swing' songs from the 50's.

Wife has an attractive Civil War era dress, so I asked before we left if she wanted to take it. "No, I would rather just be a spectator." In the process of setting up the camper and searching for our "regiment", Wife mentioned that she had thought of being a soldier. "I would rather be a soldier than a 'woman'. (Reenactment rules state that female soldiers have to look like men) I was surprised and very pleased by this development.

Fortunately, Wife's becoming a soldier was easily accomplished except for disguiseing her womanly shape. I had brought two sets of uniforms. (I selected my uniforms to be oversized for me so that I could wear winter wear underneath.) Wife put my pants and shirt on over her regular clothes, and with the suspenders strategically placed, took on the appearance of a slightly plump soldier. At the soldiers camp, the captain had a spare pair of period shoes, cappie, and a gray wool jacket to complete the uniform. She was then introduced around camp as 'Sam'.

The administration for the battle requested our battery put out three cannon, which left each gun short handed. In such cases, large children are sometimes allowed to 'run powder'. That is, they take the powder charge from the ammunition box (limber) and carry it to the number two gun crew member for loading the gun. However, no such children were available. 'Sam', not really familiar with this task, was reluctant to join the gun crew but agreed anyway. After several practice drills, which are always done for safety reasons, Wife became comfortable with her assigned task.

Remember the dozen canopies that surrounded the large pavillion and first irritated me? Well, on Saturday, early on the day of the first battle, as I returned to our campsite from the room of requirement, I encountered a pleasant senior citizen. She was cleaning tables in the pavillion and engaged me in conversation. She was a member of a group called D'Arbonne Dutch Oven Cooking Society, and they meet at D'Arbonne State Park on the third Saturday of every month to have a cookoff. This month was special because they had invited other societies for a regional cookoff. She invited Wife and I to join them for lunch. After some thought, I asked if it would be an imposition if I brought a dozen or so Civil War soldiers to the event as well. "Oh, yes, by all means, every one in the park was invited."

When 'Sam' and I got to the battery camp I passed the word that we had all been invited to lunch with the 'cast iron cooking society'. This was welcome news as there was a burn ban in place because of the very dry conditions. No one could cook on the ground as they usually did. (some said they were planning to eat hambergers at one of the sutlers... but, they later discovered the hamberger guy never showed) Ten of us piled into a truck and drove to the cookoff. We were fortunate to arrive early because when the line formed for food we were at the head of the line by accident. We were all in our Rebel uniforms because we had to hurry back to take our place on the battlefield. We had gathered at the raffle ticket table when people asked us to pose for pictures. We moved off to the side and formed up. Several people came over with their cameras to take pictures. Where we stood became the head of the line for food. We were fortunate in that the line for food reached nearly to the street. It would have been longer had the people not been four abreast.

There were 60 or so pots of food lined up on the tables. I, at first, tried to get something from each. It became clear this was an impracticle idea because my plate was large, but only 1/4 the required size. Turns out, each of the soldiers had the same idea and the same problem. Much of the food was 'different' in appearance and excellent in taste. I had left room for only 2 of the ten desserts. All of the time we were there, excellent, live, Blue Grass bands were providing the music.

Back at camp we were greeted with "lean hungry looks" by those who chose not to go with us. We lunch goers staggered around groaning from the great overload of food. Some lay down for naps. Then came time for battle.

Even our battlefield was unique. Normally we fight on broad, open pastures. Here we were in heavy woods. There was just enough space between trees that we could see that our field of fire was clear of people (a safety requirement). The colonel complained that he had forgotten his binoculars. "What for?" says I, "You can't see 50 yards anyway." In fact we never saw the enemy and seldom saw our own infantry. Our three guns booming and smoking away was the whole show on our end. Sam did very well at her assignment and later claimed to enjoy it.

After the battle, Sam and I walked over to the air conditioned Visitors Center to listen to a noted author describe his future book on Nathan Bedford Forrest (famous Civil War General). When walking, Wife and I normally hold hands. In this case, Sam refused to hold my hand explaining, "This is not Brokeback Mountain." NBF is one of my favorites. This author chose to describe events from his life and times that are not normally covered in other books on the man. It was very Interesting. I learned a lot. This guy also has a book out on Richard Taylor,(famous mostly in Louisiana) another of my favorites.

Returning to our campsite showed the whole cookoff crowd and their canopies had completely disappeared, as did many of the campers around us. It was then that I noticed some of the campers had marked off their spaces with strings of Christmas lights.

Sunday morning, Wife and I showered at the nice, new, clean, facilies in our campground, then dressed for church. After the service, visitors were asked to identify themselves. I was asked for our life history... I gave the short version.

The Sunday afternoon battle was a repeat of Saturday... smoke, noise, and trees. We moved the cannon back to camp by hand. Sam turned in her borrowed uniform parts and became womanly again. We said good bye and hit the road for home. Of course, there was no actual battle at D'Arbonne Landing but a good time was had by all at the 'reenactment' there.

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