Monday, April 11, 2016

More Civil War Reenactments

By Rob Watson

If this is the first time to read some of my stuff you might look through the list on the right for other Civil War Reenactment pieces.

I expect Civil War reenacting will eventually become boring. But this passed weekend did not contribute to that expectation. First, I read about the events and movements of the original battle. This contributed to my understanding of how the reenactors were trying to recreate history. In one respect it was a little silly. In the original, a good portion of the Confederate forces were cavalry fighting mounted against three thousand Union cavalry; represented today by three guys on horses in gray against seven guys in blue. As one might guess, cavalry is a very expensive proposition. Along with all the equipment, pistols, swords, leather goods, and uniform, there is the horse and it's equipment, transport, and upkeep. Hence, the small numbers.

In sitting about the camp talking, I steered the conversation to larger reenacting events… because I would really like to go to one of the big ones. One of the guys, who has been doing this for 30 years, told of going as infantry to Franklin Tenn. He and 9,000 other reenacters, in gray, formed a battle line facing 6,000 in blue. They formed rank after rank after rank, marching across an open field toward the Union position. He said, for the first time, and strongly, he began to feel the emotions that must have been in the souls of those men and women of that former time… fear, pride, determination, duty, urgency, desperation…

Saturday’s battle lasted 50 minutes, instead of the usual 30. We fired 24 of our 25 rounds. (For safety reasons we do not fire if anyone is within 50 yards in front of our cannon.) Otherwise we would have fired them all… the worry was if Sunday lasted as long, we would run out entirely. (only 25 more rounds were back at camp) We were saved the embarrassment by a lost child. On Sunday, the organizers halted the battle after 40 minutes to search for the child… who was shortly after found.(a deputy later told me a total of three had been reported as lost and eventually found.)(the other fact: the Sheriff's Deputies were unpaid volunteers!!?)

The battle was halted by the organizer shouting over the amplified sound system: "Cease Fire, Cease Fire, Resurrect!" The dead arose and reformed with their units. Several discharges continued for a few minutes as cannon, rifles, and pistols were cleared and made safe. Then the participating units were announced... all of them, blue and gray alike, were from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. (for my foreign readers, All these are Southern {Confederate} states.

 Another interesting note: one crew brought a small mortar. They must have been using a heck of a powder charge because it made a heck of a boom. I wanted to see it worked but they put it at the far end of the firing line. The other cannon were between us. I snuck a peek or two when I could, but it was on the ground and all I saw was the smoke from the blast. From time to time a regular cannon will make a large smoke ring when it fires. This mortar made one nearly every time that I saw.

As I sat waiting for the battle to start I noticed one of the three ‘Tom Green Cavalry’ was riding an interesting looking horse with white writing on it’s neck. So, I wandered over and started a conversation. When I asked about the writing he told me the Bureau of Land Management had done it.

Do you recall news reports of the BLM horse rescue? It was an effort by the BLM to reduce damage to western lands caused by “wild” (read escaped) horses. In this program BLM would round up the wild horses on a segment of their land and offer them for sale, on the condition they not be sold to slaughter houses. (thus reducing horse meat for dog food and sale to foreign countries)… Anyway the rider had gotten the horse from the BLM.

From several feet away, the horse looked big but not tall. A closer look showed it has rather short legs… otherwise a handsome animal. It seemed totally unconcerned by the noise and activity around it… Infantry, standing a few feet behind, frequently clear their rifles by popping caps in them… so, I asked how the owner accustomed the horse to the noises of the reenactments. His reply, “Black Cat Firecrackers”

He said he tied the horse to a post and saddled it. Then he lighted the firecrackers and tossed it away to one side or the other of the horse. At first, the horse jumped and kicked, but after several bangs began to settle down. After a while the horse seemed to shake off the noise. Then the man mounted the horse and continued with the firecrackers.

As we talked, the horse sidled over toward me and began to swing it’s head over to me, ignoring the riders efforts to move him back into position. I began to scratch it’s ears and pat its face. Wife said I looked like I was petting one of our cats.

When there were pauses in my activities during the battle, I would watch this horse. Cannon before him, cannon behind him, hundreds of rifle discharges all around, and his own rider blasting away with blank pistol rounds, the horse went where directed and never seemed disturbed by the noise.

Which brings up a memory from Pleasant Hill four years ago. A cavalry rider had fallen ‘dead’ and was holding the reins of his horse. The ‘dead’ rider had to keep rolling around on the ground to keep from being trampled by his very nervous horse. Eventually, another cavalryman came and lead the horse away so the dead rider could rest in peace.

Before all this was the playing of The National Anthem. It was played to a slow beat by a single violin and accompanied by a guitar. For both Wife and I, it was very moving. If you have ever seen the Ken Burns Civil War series, the background violin is very similar… mournful without becoming a dirge.

Until next time, keep your powder dry.

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