The Cannonball House

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of doing a photo shoot at a historic mansion in Middle, GA. The concept of the photo shoot was acting as if I were the woman of the house during the time of the war.

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All modern photos credit to Kellie Morgan.

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We were also exploring what we might experience if my man were leaving for war when it was on our doorstep, or finally returning home to me from the ravages of battle. These pictures are an attempt to capture what might have been experienced or felt by those living through the siege of Macon.

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“Is it you?”

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“It’s me, Darling. I’m home! I had to come right to you.”

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“How glad I am you have returned to me.”

The house of which I speak is the historic Cannonball House. It was built from 1852-1855 for Judge Asa Holt and his wife Mary Palmer Holt, and cost $7,000 to build (approximately $193,424 today). The Greek revival “Half house” was designed by the prominent Macon architect, Elam Alexander. At the time of its completion, the home consisted of a men’s parlor and a lady’s parlor, two bedrooms, a sitting area, and a hallway, with a brick kitchen behind the house where all meals were prepared and eaten. The servant’s quarters were in the same building on the second floor above the kitchen.

 

Cannonball House 1910

Cannonball House in 1910

 

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At the brick kitchen to the rear of the house.

Judge Holt was a probate judge who served on the General Assembly of Georgia during the 1840s. He would not only own several plantations throughout the state, but was also a cotton broker in Savannah. With their main residence in Louisville, GA, the Holts would finally take possession of their home in Macon in 1855, using it as their winter residence three months out of the year.

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The book I am reading was from the 1850s!

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After Mary’s death on January 1, 1862 from “dropsy of the chest” (now known as Congestive Heart Failure, for which there were very few treatments available at the time), Judge Holt would live in the house by himself until March 25th, 1862 when he would marry the 30-year-old spinster Miss Nora Burke, just eleven weeks later. Judge Holt was 72 at the time of the union. Nora was the younger sister of Methodist Reverend John W. Burke, owner of the Burke Publishing Company.

Nora Holt around the time of her marriage

Nora Holt, around the time of her marriage.

In July 1864, General George Stoneman was sent by General William T. Sherman to destroy Macon, GA. Macon was a strategic spot for Sherman’s forces to destroy because it was an industrial and key city for the Confederacy. Cannons, artillery armament, medicine, uniforms, weapons, and dental equipment were all being produced for the Confederacy in Macon, GA. Macon would also be the second largest hospital city in the Confederacy, hosting eleven primary hospitals and serving over 6,000 wounded and sick by this point of the war. A secondary mission of General Stoneman was to free the Federal prisoners from Camp Oglethorpe on the outskirts of the city, prior to swinging south to free the prisoners at Andersonville. All of this was unknown to Judge Holt as he was overseeing his plantation in Louisville, but Nora was in Macon.

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“Darling, what is happening?” “Fort Hawkins is being shelled.”

 

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“Do you have to go?” “I’m afraid I must, my love.” “Come back to me.” “I promise.”

Recent flooding had caused a rise in the Ocmulgee River, which flows just two blocks from the house. This flooding caused the river to become impassible due to the collapse of the bridge, and served to keep General Stoneman out of Macon! General Stoneman was not to be stopped. With Union troops camping on the Dunlap farm (now part of the Ocmulgee National Monument) just two miles from Macon, General Stoneman ordered his artillery to open fire on the city of Macon in the early hours of July 30th, 1864. Hotchkiss Shells rained down on Macon, effectively destroying what he could while being unable to enter the city. One of these shells would ricochet off the sidewalk in front of the Holt residence, careen into the house, hitting and shattering the third pillar in the front parlor, barrel through the front wall in the entrance hall and crash through the floor, unexploded. This would be the only residence to sustain damage in Macon during the War Between the States, thus earning it the later name the “Cannonball House.” The Holts would immediately have repairs done to the house after General Stoneman moved on, and no major structural damage was done other than the pillar which had to be replaced. Both Judge Holt and Nora would survive the war.

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Cross sectional of a Hotchkiss Shell

In May 1872, Judge Holt died, leaving Nora a widow. She would remarry to Charles Canning, a widower with two daughters, in 1874. Charles would move himself, his daughters and three grandchildren, and an invalid sister into the home with Nora.

During that time, the house underwent renovation to now maintain the two parlors that were original to the house, and would now have six bedrooms, the hall, and a dining room which was in the screened in porch as an addition to the back left side of the residence. Meals would still be prepared in the brick kitchen standing to the rear.

Canning:Martin family- Charles, Nora, Lizzie Canning (his younger daughter) and Kate Canning Martin's children- Charles Canning Martin (next to Nora) and the William Martin and Katie Mar

Charles Canning Martin, Nora Canning, Lizzie Canning, Charles Canning, William Martin, Katie Martin Roberson.

In 1904, Charles’ great granddaughter, Elizabeth Martin, was born in the home where she would live until her death in April 1971.

During the year 1962, her family all gone and Elizabeth alone remaining, Elizabeth was approached by members of the Sidney Lanier Chapter #25 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, inquiring about the purchase of her home. They wanted to acquire it for their chapter headquarters, as well as to open the home for tours. After deliberation, Elizabeth would sell the home to them in November 1962, as long as she could remain living in the home. The sale was completed under these conditions, and the Cannonball House would open as a historic museum in 1964.

Cannonball House with GA flag

Today the house has three bedrooms (one not open to the public) containing period furnishings from the Holt/Canning/Martin families, two parlors which contain the furnishings of the two oldest sororities – ADPi and Phi Mu, the entrance hall and stair case, a formal dining room with furnishings from the Sidney Lanier UDC and chairs possessing needlepoint seats of the State Seals from our great Union. Also in the house is a War between the States museum with original uniforms and artifacts, including weapons created just down the road at Griswoldville, GA, where a major skirmish would happen with General Stoneman’s troops in 1864, just to name a few! The brick kitchen still stands and shows artifacts of cooking and preserving food of the time, as well as spinning and other period arts. A gift shop is also on the premises where you may purchase research material or a souvenir! Today the Cannonball House continues as a historic home and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned and operated by “The Friends of the Cannonball House, Inc.” and is open Monday through Saturday for tours and rentals.

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I hope you can see from the pictures taken here, the beauty of this house and the rich history on the premises, as well as in the town! If you are in the middle Georgia area, I highly recommend you stop and take advantage of this hidden treasure in our state!

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Special thanks to Jessie Whitehead, docent and Guest Services Coordinator for the Cannonball House, for letting me pick her brain and bug her with lots of questions! For more information, please visit www.cannonballhouse.org, call the staff at 478-745-5982, or email at info@cannonballhouse.org! Be sure to visit and take a tour. It’s well worth your time. The Cannonball House is located at 856 Mulberry St., Macon, GA 31201.

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Work Dresses

One of the things I find most helpful in historic sewing is having a pattern specific to me. The generic patterns are a great starting point, and can provide a lot of information, but most women do not fit directly into any one pattern. They may need an allowance here, a tuck there, a slightly different drape to the fabric in another place to make it look right on their body. So, I recommend making a specific pattern, either in muslins (pattern pieces made out of muslin material so it can be sewed and checked or tweaked before you cut your outside fabric) or a custom made pattern. Years ago I took a pattern making class and never in my dreams did I realize what a benefit this skills would be to me! I personally make my custom patterns either from pattern making paper (available online) or from ironed packing paper! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, right? I had a friend help me adjust the pattern to my body and how everything fits with my corset, and once we had all those tweaks completed, I drafted everything on pattern paper and now have my own personal pattern. As I have made the bodice several times, I have found I have tweaked it even more, and have adjusted the pattern accordingly. Now I have a bodice that fits me exactly and looks good!

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Pattern making! (Yes, I live in a 1960s house!)

The second benefit of having these custom patterns is you always know it is going to fit! I use the same bodice pattern for my day/tea dresses, and my work dress, just changing the sleeves or small details that make it unique to each type of dress. This last month I have been making a new work dress. I have made it through two years of reenacting with only one work dress (don’t ask me how), and it was far beyond time to have a few more. So, I have now made two so far this year. I’m going to share a few tips and tricks I have figured out along the way.

One of the biggest tricks I have found is to think about the skirt and the bodice separately. They each have specific things that need to be done on them. I personally like to work on the skirt first because it is quite time consuming. The skirt on a work dress is only 2-3 panels of fabric, verses the 4-5 in a tea dress or ball gown. I prefer three panels in mine, as there is more room to work. I finish my dresses just a couple inches off the ground, and have measurements noted for both my work dress, which will just have a corded petticoat under it, or my tea/ball gowns, which will have hoops under them. For me, at almost 5’8”, I finish my work dresses at a 39” skirt, which means I cut them out at 41” in length. Three panels of 45” fabric sewn together gives me 143” of fabric that I then have to calculate how to pleat down to my 26” waist. I know, it’s no Scarlet O’Hara, but I am telling on myself! I have found after making several of these, that I like having a little wiggle room. With as much fabric as is overlapped with the pleats and folded over for finishing the skirt to the waistband, I now finish my work dresses to a 29” waist closure. That gives me just a little wiggle room over all my under-pinnings and all the layers of fabric around my waist. I have finished these last two dresses differently. On one, I used double box pleats due to the design in the fabric. They worked PERFECTLY with the softness of this dress, the weave, and print of the fabric. It was a much nicer type of dress so this worked well with it.

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Double Box pleats

The second work dress I made was definitely made to be a WORK dress. The coarser fabric and checked print all said it was made to work. For this one, I made knife pleats all the way around. On my tea dresses, I will often change the directions of the knife pleats as I go around the skirt for a nice finish detail, but on the work dress, I had them all facing the same direction. Now that I know the math for getting all that fabric pleated down to my waist in each way, I make notes of it and keep it for future reference.

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Knife pleats

Another trick I have learned along the way is to sew the skirt panels together, press the seams open and then go ahead and attach the kick pleat to the bottom and hand stitch it in place before I ever work on the waist. I find this makes it MUCH easier to keep it flat and smooth, without buckles or puckers that will show on the skirt when it is done. It also makes it faster for sewing. I pin everything in place with the fabric laying flat, then I drape the fabric over my knees, keeping it taught by applying just a little outward pressure with my knees, and then hand stitching in between, rotating the fabric and resetting it after each section is stitched.

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Kick pleat section done over the knees

Once all that is done and I have a good crisp edge, then I start on the pleating for the waist. The other thing I have noticed by doing it this way is that I can find my measurement on the print of the fabric, and know that it is going to be the same all the way around the skirt, so I get a perfectly even hang from the waistband without extra work.

Once I pleat and pin the whole skirt, I baste the pleats in place. I learned the hard way about trying to attach the waistband without it basted. I also learned on this last dress, that it is so much easier to apply the waistband and keep anything from moving if you will pin the pleats under the location where the waistband will be attached. This keeps the pleats from moving and everything consistent while you hand stitch the waistband in place. Be sure to get enough of a bite on the fabric with each stitch while you are attaching the waistband or it either will not hold, or will not go through all the layers.

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Folded over section, sewing the waistband to the skirt. You can see the knife pleats folded over on the inside.

Once all that is done, and I know I have the right overlap on the dogleg and the tab of the waistband, I consider the skirt done for the time being and move to the bodice.

When working on the bodice, I go ahead and sew the back pieces together, and pleat the front panels on both the fabric and lining material. I press them – pressing the back seams open, and the front pleats toward the side seams – then I carefully pin and baste the pieces together, making sure not to baste the neckline or the front opening, as these will be adjusted and trimmed while assembling it. Once these are satisfactory, I sew the side and shoulder seams together.

1860s dresses have piping around the sleeves and the bottom of the bodice, if not in every seam on the bodice. I prefer just the armholes and the bottom, so that’s what I do. Piping is made by using strips of fabric long enough to go around both arm holes with some overlap, and long enough to do the whole bottom of the bodice with a 1” tab extra on each side. I like the strips to be between 3-4” wide so there is enough room for them to be folded over to encase the yarn (making the piping) and still have room for it to be included in the shoulder seam, or to become the finishing casing at the bottom of the bodice. You can either cut these out in line with the pattern of the fabric, or on the bias, depending on the design and the look you want.

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Piping made on the bias.

I have done both, and liked the look I achieved with both. I attach these with a zipper presser foot on my machine so that they can be stitched very closely to the piping and it doesn’t pull away from the seam at all. At this point, it’s time to start hand stitching.

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Piping and sleeve attached with a zipper foot.

I go ahead and fold in the front, making the placket on which I will be attaching the hook-and-eye tape. Once this is done, and I know the pattern is continuing unbroken or blending across the front of the bodice, I stitch it in place with double thread in the needle.

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Then, I trim the lining away from the neck at least ¼- ½ inch and roll the neck in place, pinning as I go. Once it is done, and I know the neckline is in the right place, and lining up correctly, I hand stitch it in place as well, making sure it does not show on the outside.

If my hook-and-eye tape tab needs to be under the edge of the rolled neck, I will go ahead and set it, making sure that it lines up right for the proper closure, and then pin it in place, that way I can stitch the neckline down on top of the tape. Sometimes I will attach the hook-and-eye tape first and then do the neckline depending on what is going on with the dress. Hook and eye tape is attached with even stitches done with double thread, making sure it is secure and does not shift while you are stitching.

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The bottom piping is then folded up and the edge rolled under forming the bottom interfacing for the bodice. Be careful to make sure your bottom hook and eye are not covered. Usually my interfacing ends up being about 1.5” deep. I stitch it in place with the same stitches I have been using for the other parts of the bodice.

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Piping attached to the bottom of the bodice. The extended fabric will become the lower interfacing.

On to the sleeves. There are several types of sleeves for this time period. Bishop sleeves, coat sleeves, and Pagoda sleeves with under sleeves were the three most popular and most represented on original dresses now in museums that I have found. Depending on the dress and the purpose for the dress will depend on which type of sleeve you use. One would only use Pagoda sleeves on day dresses or tea dresses, never something as common as a work dress, and ball gowns were usually cap sleeves or with a Bertha (That’s for another post). When doing a work dress, some people like a coat sleeve, which has two seams the length of the sleeve, no cuff, and generally fits closer to the arm. Another option is the bishop sleeve. This one has a lot more fabric and a cuff, which is easily unbuttoned and rolled up, allowing for washing dishes, work, getting bloody working on the wounded such as when I portray a nurse, or just when it’s too blasted hot and you need some air movement! I personally prefer this option considering all I do at events, and the rolls I portray. I also like that there is more air room around your arm making it more comfortable in the long run. I chose Bishop sleeves on both of my new dresses for this reason.

With there being extra fabric to the sleeve, it will not fit securely in the armhole without gathering it. Based on the research I have done, a Bishop sleeve is either gathered, smocked, or pleated to fit the hole. However, while I have read it can be pleated, I have never found evidence of pleating in Bishop sleeves, so I decided to gather these. I did a quick stitch by hand through the top edge of the sleeve and gathered it, carefully spacing all the pleats so that it was evenly distributed across the cap of the sleeve. Once this is done, I stitched the sleeve close to the piping, making sure there are no gaps.

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Gathered cap on a Bishop sleeve, attached with the piping in the shoulder seam.

At the bottom of the sleeve, you whip stitch the opening between the sleeve body and the cuff, allowing enough of an opening to roll the cuff and sleeve up. Attach the sleeve either completely by hand, or sewing the first side on and then folding it over and stitching the second side to the inside of the sleeve. Make a buttonhole with tight stitches, slicing the inside open with a seam ripper when finished, and attach the button to the opposite side, making sure it fits your wrist.

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Tight stitches on a hand stitched button hole, using authentic stitches.

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Slicing open the button hole! This keeps it tight and neat.

At this point, the bodice and skirt are both done. Pin the bodice to the skirt, making sure the bottom piping is fitting securely to the top of the pleating, completely hiding the waistband. Then stitch from a couple inches into the front, around the back, and a couple stitches onto the front on the other side of the bodice, stitching between the piping and the bodice body through the waistband, securely attaching the two pieces. You don’t stitch the front to the waistband so that there is room to open the front of the bodice and the skirt to get in and out of the dress. Once this is done, attach hook and bar closures to the tab of the waistband, making sure that the dogleg closes correctly. Then I attach a hook to the bottom of each side of the bodice front and bar closures to the waistband so that the waist band doesn’t dip down but the whole dress functions as one piece.

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Dress with the bodice open. You can see the dog leg is hooked shut, and you can see the hook and bar closures for the bottom of the bodice!

Once all these are in place, add collars, cuffs, jewelry as desired, perhaps a pinner apron over the front to protect the dress, particularly if cooking or getting dirty, then enjoy your new dress!

If you would like to see my latest dress, be sure to come out this weekend to Old Clinton War Days in Gray, GA. Battle at 2:05 pm each day!!

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New Recruit’s Perspective

Good Morning readers! I’ve been thinking lately about the soldier’s of the war. What did they go through? What was their experience the first time on the field? The fear, the overwhelming of senses. Could they make it through battle? Rather than sharing my supposition, a friend of mine has graciously shared his first-time experience with me. Check it out!

By Les Patton

It was my second re-enactment. I had only a uniform and a musket. I was given a pair of boots that did not fix too well. I told my Captain that the boots were tight. He told me that was realistic. A good portion of the Army of Northern Virginia did not have shoes. The shoes and other needed equipment were often taking from fallen soldiers after a battle.

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Photo credit: Joey Young

The unit marched out onto the field and assumed our defensive positions. We were in a trench about 10 feet in front of another mound where I could hear a cannon crew preparing their gun. It was cold and snow flurries were falling. There was a slight whiteness to the ground where the snow would melt almost as fast as it hit the ground. Ahead of me I could see about 200 feet. There were numerous trees to both the left and right but thinned out in front. There was a mist hanging over the field and
there was hardly any wind.

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I then heard my Captain give the command to load. Everyone in the company loaded as quickly as they could. You could easily tell who the veterans were. Their musket were loaded before us newly arrived recruits had our cartridges out of the box. Then for what seemed like an eternity, we waited, and listened, but heard nothing except the falling snow flurries. They fell like the stars.

Then the ground began to shake, I heard the thunder of horses getting closer. I saw a horse and rider approaching fast. I heard him say to an officer several yards from me. “The Yankees are coming.” He pointed into the trees and said they would be here in minutes.

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Photo Credit: Charleston Tintypist (Be SURE to check out her work!)

Then, I heard the shout of a word that will forever be engraved in my memory. From behind me, loud and crisp, “Fire”. Within a second, the cannons began to roar. Each time they fired the ground would shake. We laid in the trenches with our hands over our ears. It was a deafening roar. Leaves and twigs began falling all around us. Some even fell on us. The air in front and all around us turned blue from the cannon blast. I could not see more than 50 feet in front of me.

Posted by Charles Harris

From Charles Harris

We then heard the word “Rise.” We all stood up and dressed out lines. “Forward March.” At the arms port, we walked through the blue smoke. With each breath, my throat became dryer and dryer. It was a horrible taste. This was the taste of battle. Then came the command of halt. We all stopped and stood staring into the blue smoke. Then came the command of “Fire!”

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Photo credit: Matt Young

I pointed my musket and began to fire. I started to re load as fast as I could. I still could not see at what I was firing. Just aiming and shooting into the blue smoke. By now the smoke was so think I could only see about 20 feet in front of me. Which each round of ammo fired, the blue smoked, thickened. It was like a big blue blanket covering everything. The air was alive with sound. The muskets firing, the cannon roaring to our rear, The commanders shouting orders. It was a constant roar of noise which made anything difficult to distinguish.

I then heard someone yell “There they are boys, pour it into them!” I looked and saw faintly dark silhouettes appearing from within the smoke. For the first time I met the enemy, almost face-to-face. As they approached, I could hear them yelling. I could hear their commanders shouting orders. I could even hear the twigs cracking with each approaching step.

They stopped at a short distance which seemed just a few feet from us. I saw them level their muskets pointing straight at us. I could barely make out their faces when suddenly there faces were consumed by a bright flash. The person standing beside me fell to the ground. I hesitated with my loading and looked down at my falling companion. He was motionless. At that instant, the horrors of war hit me.

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Photo Credit: Matt Young

I felt someone grab my back and pull me backwards, I then heard someone yell ‘I said fall back.” Was this command meant for me? Or was it from the Federals? I started to fall back with the rest of the unit. When the order to halt was given, I found myself surrounded unfamiliar faces. To my left I saw an individual that I have never seen before. He had long hair and a beard. Neither his hair nor his beard looked as if had been washed in weeks. His uniform was in complete disarray, Patches everywhere. It
seems as if he was wearing just a bunch of patches sewed together. I looked down towards the ground and noticed his bare feet. I asked him where his shoes were, He told me that he has not had shoes in some time. Wasn’t the ground cold I asked, He smiled and said, “You get use to it.”

Gettysburg reenactment

A reenactor rests his feet during the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa. on Saturday.

I found myself in a completely different unit. I had no idea where my unit was or what
happened to it. I found the unit first sergeant and told him I did not know how I ended up with his unit and that I had to find my unit, He chuckled and said, “you are now part of this unit.” Part of that unit I remained for the duration of this battle.

I have served our country and retired from the United States Army. Although I have been in countless deployments, field exercises and assigned to a rapid deployment unit in Operation Desert Storm, I have never felt the confusion, chaos, and camaraderie within a unit facing the horrors of battle.


 

I hope you enjoyed Les’ story, and that it gives you a small look into the life and terror of a new soldier in battle. War is not all guts and glory. Sometimes it’s fear, terror, pain, suffering, and finding out just what one is made of.

Be sure to check out past blogs to learn more, and stay tuned for more blogs in the future!!

What are some things you would like to read about?

Let’s talk about Reenactors

Reenactors are a rare breed of people. They love history, they love teaching, and they LOVE this country. Many of our reenactors are military veterans who have sacrificed and served for this country. Many more of us are military family members who have sacrificed on the home front. But, all in all, whether veteran, family member, or civilian, our reenactors truly love this country and are very patriotic.

Those of us who are serious reenactors, are historians. We spend countless hours in research, pouring over journals, records, first-hand accounts, other historian’s research, maps, troop movements, military manuals, and more. We learn and know the correct clothing designs, materials, and accessories. We know our weapons and how to use them, the equipment of the time, items that would have been used at the time, medical equipment and procedures, troop movements, the manual of arms, actions on the battlefield, we learn skills of the time, and more.

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Ladies of the 53rd working on our crocheting skills.

We delve into the thoughts of the time, the motivations behind historic events, the reasons people joined the war (and they were quite varied), the reasons the war took place, the politics leading up to the war, and throughout the war, the complications for the war and the home front – from decisions made, to the impact of the war on the country as a whole, down to the Northern or Southern housewife. We study the shortages caused by the war and how it affected the people as well as how or if they were able to overcome it. We explore the effects of the war on the countryside from the North and the South. We find out what it was like to watch one’s town shelled until it’s nothing but empty husks of once majestic buildings, or to see your home, farm, and town burned and destroyed by an invading army. We educate ourselves on the cost of war, from minor skirmishes, to 16,000 men falling in one day, to the long-term effect of losing over 650,000 men in 4 years.

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Photo Credit: Sherry Frazier

We don’t just study these things, we are impassioned by them. One cannot study these things to the point that you feel as though the people about whom you read were one’s family members, without being passionate about it. We seek to describe it and portray it from the viewpoint and context of those who were there. Only those who lived through the actual events can give us true perspectives on the issues and time that we portray. Then, we take our passion and use it as the impetus to educate any and all who will listen!

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Photo Credit: Kellie Morgan

Reenactors aren’t motivated by politics, or the whim of a time. We are motivated by history! We feel our only job is to tell the history of what happened – good, bad, or ugly – and then let the reader or hearer decide where they stand on the issue, and whether or not they would have agreed with those long ago. It is not our job to interpret the issues, only to present them, and let each person decide for themselves.

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Reenactors are like family. We say we have a reenacting family, and we truly do. Of course, we have the ups and downs, the conflicts and selflessness of any family, blessings and extreme irritations (just like a real family), especially when you have hundreds of passionate people all in one place! But for all of that, we truly get along and support one another. There are times when we may want to knock someone in the head one minute, and will go running to their rescue the next. We watch out for each other, protect each other, sacrifice for each other, and we do it gladly.

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Photo Credit: 53rd GA

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Photo Credit: 53rd GA

Not only do I write this blog, and articles for several publications, but I also travel all over my state here in the South to teach in schools and universities, and give guest lectures to whichever group invites me. I know that there is almost no place in this state, or over the line into other states, where I do not have connections within 1-2 hours, or less, who would drop everything and come to my aid if needed. I have crashed in friend’s houses, had friends look at my vehicle when there were issues, or simply say “pull up a chair and I’ll make you a cup of tea” when I show up on their doorstep. These are the type of people I find among reenactors. They will help you, pray with you, clothe you, feed you, rescue you, and literally give you the shirt off their back if needed.

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Photo Credit: Les Patton

Reenactors are also special, and a rare breed! There are things that make us happy and excited that no one would understand unless you have spent time with us. For instance, seeing what appears to be canvas rolled up with tent poles in the back of someone’s truck going down the highway and getting all excited because you’re thinking about your tent and being in camp (and very sad when you realize it isn’t a tent). Or knowing how to handle and survive in all different types of weather and hardships because you have WILLINGLY gone to events and survived in it before!

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Photo credit: Robert Carswell. It was below freezing when this was taken!

Or making and putting on clothes that went out of style 140 years ago. Or loving the smell of your stinking uniform that smells of black powder, sweat, the terrain in which you have fought and camped, campfire smoke, and more, because it reminds you of camp, your family and friends, and all the adventures and stories contained in those few yards of fabric. Or being willing to pack for a full day, to drive between one and thirteen hours to do an event for a few days, just to drive home and have to go straight back to work. Or choosing to go to the field with nothing but an outhouse or port-a-john for days, living with people who, along with you, have not had a shower in days, only to go home, shower, and get comfortable in your house with HVAC, sigh and say, “Okay, when is the next one?”

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Photo Credit: 53rd GA

When we are out of the field too long, we miss it. It is currently January, but it’s been six weeks since the last event for many of us. Just a few days ago I was speaking to other reenactors and we were all saying, “I need to get back in the field!” Now we all do not want to be camping in this cold front that’s the coldest in 30 years, but we are yearning for the day the next campaign will start and we can roll into camp in our SUVs, trucks and trailers full of gear, just to set up camp and live like the 1860s for several days.

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Photo Credit: Sherry Frazier

 

For me, not only do I recognize all these things, but also the awesome guys who volunteer to be our patients for the medical demonstrations. They recognize that the war was not just soldiers fighting, but also being wounded and killed. As a medical reenactor, I couldn’t do my role, if it were not for these guys willing to be my patients, and to make it very real. They do their own research, and listen to me and my co-surgeon as we explain the details of the case we have pulled from the records, and what that soldier would have experienced, and then they bring it to life. Boy do they do a good job with it too! Many times, it is so real that people have to leave if they have a squeamish stomach lest they get sick. These boys take it as a challenge to make it more realistic than the previous event with every demonstration we do. Who else but reenactors would volunteer to have their arm or leg “taken off?” 😀

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Photo Credit: Cathy Stancil

 

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Photo Credit: Heidi Edge

When I was in college, I wanted to be part of a group, to have my own nickname, to have a family away from home. I didn’t realize that would not happen during my education, but that I would find my “tribe” on barren fields once burned by Sherman. I never had to ask to be included – I was invited. I never asked for nicknames – they were freely given. I never had to ask to be a part of something or ask whether I was allowed – I was adopted. I have never found something in which I felt so much like myself, and yet so much a part of the greater whole, as I did reenacting. Honestly, these are some of the best people I know.

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Photo credit: Kellie Morgan

So, to all my adopted siblings, my adopted family, my friends in the GVB, thank you for being incredible, loving, patriotic, passionate, giving people, who strive to keep history alive! I’m looking forward to seeing you all in the campaigns of 2018!

Sawbones

Becoming a medical reenactor was one of my dreams. A bucket-list item truthfully, and something for which I had studied for over a decade-and-a-half. So, when the opportunity arose to be a medical reenactor of the War Between the States, I couldn’t believe my ears, nor contain the excitement!

Starting with my first reenactment on the field, I portrayed a medic. Now, two years later, I alternate between medic and assistant surgeon. Since I have treated numerous reenactors for real ailments and emergencies, the boys call me “Doc.”

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There are many things that go into being a medical reenactor. One doesn’t only have to understand the military side of reenacting, the orders on the field, chain of command, the role of infantry, and safety on the field, but also every type of wound they would have incurred and how to treat them. Hours upon hours of research go into every aspect of our portrayal. We have to know every wound, how they would have examined it and determined treatment, what type of treatment they would have given, what tools and supplies they would have used, and whether they would have even had them! These details will change depending on which battle is being portrayed and what year it was, whether or not it was a multi-day or massive casualty battle or not, whether supply trains had been captured, or the blockade had affected supplies, and even which side of the war one is portraying. That means that one has to have an understanding of each battle, the troop movements, the capture of supply lines, and how they managed.

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Explaining that his leg is shattered and we are going to have to take it off, just before I put him under chloroform.

For instance, the Confederate medical corps used Chloroform or Ether whenever they had it, and they had lower mortality rates with its use than the Union army did (None by the end of the war). On the other hand, the Union medical corps was still having occasional casualties from anesthesia complications at the end of the war. They also would not use anesthesia for an amputation on a wound over 24 hours old. They thought the complications from the anesthesia along with the wound would be more than the patient could overcome, but did not account for the shock they would incur, which would subsequently kill many.

What did they do when they ran out of chloroform, such as at the battle of Sharpsburg, or when a Union soldier had received the wound more than 24 hours prior to facing the surgeon? That is the few instances where they would have to call in strong men to hold them to the table. Thankfully, they did have access to medical whiskey (if that had not also been taken in a raid, or drunk by the staff or trouble-making soldiers, as in a few cases), and at times morphine. Morphine had just come on the scene about this time and was being put to use. It came in liquid or powder form, and was applied topically to the wound for local pain relief, or might have a small amount placed in the mouth, or injected into the arm. The problem was that dosing was not yet understood, nor its addictive qualities, and after the war America began seeing its first cases of Morphine addicts and DTs when it was no longer available to them.

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Photo Credit: Kenny Stancil

At the beginning of the war, there was no procedure known as excision, but by the end of the war, there was an entire chapter on the procedure in the medical textbooks!

The procedure known as excision came about because of the physician’s desire to send as many boys home whole or functional as possible. If you read the records, you will see that they did not enjoy carving on boys and taking off limb after limb until they were stacked as high as the windows, or even rooftops, but for many it was the only way to save their life. If the bone was shattered beyond repair, if the blood vessels were severed, or nerve function destroyed then the limb had to come off. To leave it would mean the patient contracting gangrene and pyeamia (blood poisoning), and certain death. But for those whose bones were damaged, but blood flow and nerve function remained intact, could there be another option? The doctors found there was. They would send the patients back to the general hospitals and after they had recovered from the initial shock of the bullet wound(s) – the average soldier came in shot 3-4 times – then they would take them into surgery. During surgery, they would remove the damage section of bone, make sure all splinters or fragments were removed, and ensure that blood flow and nerve function remained intact. Then they would put the two ends of bone together and put the patient in a type of splint which would keep the limb aligned and the bone pieces together. The patient would then have to remain on strict bed rest for 6 weeks with absolutely no pressure on the limb. The idea was that if the bones would grow back together, then the soldier would retain use of his body. It worked! In fact, it worked on such a great scale that it changed the cobbler industry! Cobblers started making shoes with elevated soles so that patients who had undergone excision on their legs could once again walk as a normal man!

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Example of Excision. Picture taken while in Gettysburg, PA.

Amputations were literally a life-saving procedure. Most people think of them as barbaric, but most of the time, it was the only way to save their life or to save as many men as possible. When a soldier was shot with a .58 caliber to .69 caliber Minié ball or round ball, it could literally shatter the bone or joint. It could cause breaks for inches up the bone, or worse yet, the bullet could have lost momentum or ricocheted off another object before impacting the soldier. That impact with another object could cause the bullet to start spinning end-over-end and when it struck the soldier it would continue its momentum, causing spiraling breaks up the bone. If any of these were the case, the limb would have to be removed or the soldier would die a painful death.

The average amputation took only 12 minutes. TWELVE minutes! They had to be fast for multiple reasons. One, if the patient stayed under anesthesia for more than about 15 minutes it would kill them. Another was getting the limb off and homeostasis restored. They also had to be fast because the boy in front of them wasn’t the only one wounded and bleeding to death. By quickly and efficiently treating each one, they could get to more wounded in a shorter amount of time, and thus save more lives.

These doctors, in many cases, were innovators and world changers. Now, you did have the quacks and those without formal medical training treating some wounded (a standard for army medical doctors came into place during the war, but early war was terrible), but there were also those who changed the face of medicine. Many of the things that we take for granted in medicine today can literally be traced back to the War Between the States. These would include such things as washing wounds with cool water instead of warm. This, unknown to them, caused an environment that was unfriendly to bacteria, of which they still did not know or understand. Another is cutting out infectious areas with boarders of good tissue in order to keep it from spreading. We take this for granted today in cancer treatments and severe diseases, but it was more of a novel idea during the war. Sealing wounds came onto the forefront during the war, causing quite an argument through the Confederate medical corps, but they would eventually prove that by hermetically sealing wounds the rate of infection went down significantly. Today we do this with things like sealed dressings, wound vacs, and more.

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Example of a surgeon’s medical case

Prior to, and during the war, abdominal and chest surgery was considered certain death. To go into the chest cavity, the patient would surely hemorrhage or get an infection and die. Yet, the doctors would work on the chest superficially and take out broken pieces of ribs, or tie off surface vessels if the patient had been shot in the chest. They would cover the wound and wait and see if the lung would seal off itself and re-inflate, or if the patient would die. Abdominal surgery was viewed the same way. Most patients shot in the belly, or those who had doctors attempting to go into the belly, would die of peritonitis. Yet, all this would change with the nearly fatal wound of Joshua Laurence Chamberlain at the beginning of the Petersburg campaign. They could not let the hero of Little Round Top die, and so the first successful abdominal reconstructive surgery took place on American soil! (Those details are for another article). Now we take it for granted that surgeons can go and do surgery on whatever organ or body system is need. But that was not an option prior to these brave and innovative surgeons.

I could go on and on about the discoveries and innovations alone for well over an hour (I actually do when I’m lecturing!), but I will not bore you with them in this article. Suffice it to say that these old, barbaric “Sawbones” were hard-working men trying to keep as many men alive and together as they possibly could. Considering the carnage they were seeing, the lack of supplies, and the overwhelming number of wounded, not to mention the diseases and malnourishment which took out 2/3 of those who died, these men achieved more than one would imagine under other circumstances.

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Photo credit: Kathryn Holland. Field Hospital, Hurricane Shoals 2017

When we portray these men, when we stage a field hospital and do surgery on our men, what do we do? We attempt to think of each of these details. We strive hard to make sure that each component from our assessment, to tools, to treatment methods are to the standard of what these men had and did. We choose our cases specifically out of the medical records or journals of the doctors and nurses who treated the wounded. So, if you ever come to one of our events and see my co-surgeon Joel and myself treating the wounded, know that we have done our research and you are getting a little taste of the horror and help that these brave men endured. We hope you will join us soon!

Campaigning

By Jake Smith

digitally restored original photo

The American War Between the States, commonly referred to as the Civil War, is well-known as the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. This clash between North and South consumed the souls of over 700,000 soldiers and countless civilians. You have undoubtedly read accounts of the horrific combat and carnage perpetrated and endured by the brave men who fought on both sides, but what you probably haven’t heard much of is how these men lived their day to day lives throughout the war. Contrary to popular belief, a soldier’s life on campaign consisted mostly of activities other than fighting. Between long marches, dangerous picket duty, poor diet, camp diseases, exposure to the elements, and plain old homesickness, the boys in blue and gray faced much more adversity and hardship than we can even begin to understand.

Gettysburg reenactment

The old Napoleonic adage of “an army marches on its stomach” still rings true to this day. Today’s troops eat from pre-packaged and vacuum-sealed meals that they take in the field from which they can somewhat procure the nutrients and energy they need. This was not the case in the 1860’s. Canning was not yet in common practice and soldiers were supplied with enough rations to last for several days. To prevent food spoiling, rationed meat would be heavily preserved with salt, and armies would often be followed by long supply trains of wagons carrying food and supplies for the troops. The typical rations issued to a federal soldier consisted of mostly hardtack, coffee, and pork that was so heavily covered with salt that it had to first be scraped and boiled before it was even remotely palatable. Other supplementary items included sugar, salt, rice, vinegar, and sometimes fruit or vegetables that they would forage to break up the monotony of their diet. The Confederates were much less well-fed than their northern counterparts. There is no typical Confederate diet per-se as they ate what they could get, but most Southern soldiers’ diets consisted in large parts of cornmeal and bacon, rarely a vegetable, as well as tobacco and peanuts, as these items were plentiful in the Southern states.

112e20e35a07e6c3ca280bcd7dfee66b--camp-meals-civil-war-photosBecause of these differences in supplies, there are many documented cases of Confederate and Union soldiers trading southern tobacco for U.S. Army issued coffee. Soldiers on both sides often cooked their meals in small frying pans or improvised skillets made from damaged or surplus canteens. Troops would usually form into small groups of around five to seven men called “messes”. These messes of men were usually comprised of close friends who cooked and ate together, and sometimes combined their rations into larger pots to make meals such as stews. These larger pieces of cookware were somewhat cumbersome and were often left behind in the wake of a rapid advance or retreat. In many such occurrences, after a routed Union army had abandoned their camps, the famished Confederates would often give pause to eat their enemy’s meals and acquire whatever food and supplies they could.

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This poor diet was a major contributor to diseases contracted by troops on both sides. Over the course of the war, disease would take the lives of over 388,500 fighting men, or approximately 55.5% of the estimated 700,000 deaths. This deadly scourge did not discriminate between Federal or Confederate, nor veteran from recruit. It was impartial in its selection and affected both armies immensely. Dysentery was perhaps the most common of these plagues and was brought about by contaminated drinking water and the overall filth in the camps. In comparison to modern medical knowledge, the people of the time had a significant lack of understanding of pathogens and the transmission thereof. Therefore, latrines would be placed near streams, contaminating the water and poisoning those who drank of it. Some men with severe diarrhea from dysentery or typhoid would not be able to reach the latrines in time and would inadvertently turn the camps into an absolute cesspool of germs and bacteria. It was in this putrid combination of mud and excrement from men and animals alike that the soldiers slept, cooked, and drilled every day for long periods of time.

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The conditions of hospitals were not much better. The concepts of blood types and cross contamination had not yet been discovered, and the horrendous health of patients was a true testament to this lack of knowledge. Doctors would probe wounds with bloody fingers and use the same instruments on numerous men without washing them. This led to intense fevers suffered by the patients in the hospitals as well as a high death toll for amputees. Other common ailments of the time include, but are not limited to, malaria, tuberculosis, measles, and pneumonia, to which General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson notably succumbed after his mortal wounding at the battle of Chancellorsville. Once we look at the appalling conditions in which these men lived, we can begin to understand the reason that the death toll from sickness is so high, and why this supposedly glorious war wasn’t so glorious as it was cruel and horrific for the men who endured it.

WOW.

In the modern military, there is a saying “Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.” There is another, seemingly contradictory to the first, “Pack light, freeze at night.” These statements are both equally true. For the soldiers of the time, as well as for our modern soldiers and marines, a balance has to be struck between these two realities. When you live entirely out of the pack on your back, you have to sometimes make hard decisions on which items you bring for comfort and convenience in camp, and how much weight you want to carry, bringing you inherent bodily discomfort. This was especially true during the 1860’s when men would be in the field for years on end. From burning heat and stifling humidity, to freezing rain and snow, the elements played a large role in the misery of the men who endured them. To quote one soldier from the film Gods and Generals during a scene when two men are camping under a starry sky in the summer of 1861, “That’s fine for now. You’ll be humming a different tune when it’s raining, you’re all covered in frost, or you need me to dig you out of a snow drift.”

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In addition to mostly adverse climate conditions, soldiers had their daily responsibilities such as picket duty, fatigue duty digging trenches or latrines, as well as daily drill and often long marches. The men would be drilled in their units, often in excess of twelve hours daily. This included marching and maneuvering drills as well as weapons drills. All of these were essential to combat and crucial to the survival of the soldier. One famous example of the long and arduous forced marches carried out by the troops is of General Jackson’s very own Stonewall Brigade. Often referred to as “Jackson’s Foot Cavalry,” these men would often march in excess of 26 miles per day, and earned their nickname for their ability to move faster than all other infantry units. More often than not, the Stonewall Brigade would wake up before sunrise, march over 20 miles and go straight into battle without stopping for a meal until their night-time positions. This mobility was pivotal to many of Jackson’s victories in the Valley Campaign of 1862, but did not come without a cost. Due to moving at such brutal speed, many footsore men, either injured or just plain dead-tired, fell out of the ranks as stragglers. Because of this, Jackson went into combat many times without his full troop strength as well as having his regiments all beyond the point of exhaustion.

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Photo Credit: Ramon Salas

Fast forward to modern-day times. I have been reenacting for a few years now, and have recently been getting into the campaigner aspect of the hobby. For those who are unaware, there are two main types of civil war reenacting. These are mainstream and campaigner, also known as progressive. On the campaigner side of reenacting, you are often issued rations, stand picket or fatigue duties, go on marches, and sleep on the ground. The only things you have are what you carry on your back, and overall it is a more immersive experience. Although I understand it is not for everyone, one of the main reasons I have been recently re-enacting in more of a campaigner style is so that I can more accurately experience what the soldiers went through. Although I don’t wish to contract diseases or be away from home for years on end, I am able to march the distances they marched, go hungry and sleep deprived, stay out in the cold or the rain, and sleep on the uncomfortable ground. Even if only for one weekend, I am able to understand a fraction of what these men endured on behalf of their nation and each other. When you briefly learn about the war in school, it is two dimensional: just names and years on a page. But when you reenact, the people and places jump out of the book and become real. Once you read the actual letters and correspondence of the men who were there, and you understand their thoughts and relationships, you realize that these were real people just like you and me. They loved, feared, had a sense of humor, and everything else that makes someone human. When you realize this, suddenly they’re not so far away in the past. When you put on the wool and literally walk a mile in their shoes, you can begin to understand their lives and the sacrifices that they made. It truly gives you an understanding of the era and the ability to look at it in the same way that you look at our own day and time: as a participant.

 

 

Why We Fight — In Their Own Words

The issue of why we fight and reenact is very passionate and extensive. If you saw last months post, there are many reasons why we fight, and many you may not have expected. Last month’s post was so well received that it was picked up by the Camp Chase Gazette, and the Civil War Courier. I must thank the editor, Ms. Jessie Greene, for publishing it!

Reviewing the interviews I did for “Why We Fight,” I realized there were so many stories that were incredible, and so many good things people had to share, that I regretted I could not use them all. So, for the first time ever, I am continuing a theme for a second month and want to introduce you to several amazing men and women. I want you to hear their stories, in their own words…

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Photo Credit: Rebecca Partin

C. Harris–Cpl, 53rd GA, Co. K
“A friend of mine asked my why I do it. Why do I get dressed up in a wool uniform, carry an 8 pound rifle, and march around? My answer to them is always the same thing. I do it because I have questions. I want to understand the war from the perspective of the common soldier. I know that I will never truly grasp the fear and the horror of what they saw 150 years ago. But to take a small glimpse into the past and see how they cared for their uniforms, cooked and ate food, drilled and marched, and that the way they did it then is similar and also different from the way our modern military does things now. I often find myself accidentally throwing in “modern” military terms when speaking to other reenactors. I spent four years in the United States Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom and words like “Roger that” and “Hooah” always seem to keep drifting in.

“I reenact because in a way, I miss the structure and the camaraderie of the military. I get this in reenacting without the real death and loss of friends that came with being in active duty. I also do this because of the history. When I was in school, we had boring history teachers who read dry facts from a textbook and acted like they wanted to be anywhere else but there reading from the book. I found history to be more than that. I looked at history as more of a collection of stories about people and events. The choices they made and the effects of those choices. These were the real flesh-and-blood soldiers. They had mothers and fathers back home, brothers, sisters, and friends. They each had hopes and dreams for their lives after the war. For many, those dreams were cut short by shot and shell.

“I think that because I served in the modern military, it gives me a certain kinship with those who served in the past. It gives me a way to place a face and feelings to the dusty old tintypes you see in the books. I reenact because I want to learn how these soldiers’ lives were similar and different from our own. The more I learn about the history and the time, the better I can answer questions from those who see me in my uniform and ask. I do it for their memory – for the men in both Blue and Gray. I do it so their memory doesn’t fade away. Their story will live on through me, and others like me, who tell these stories. Take it from a soldier who has actually “seen the modern elephant (note: this is a term we use to note when a reenactor has had an experience as if they were actually there and fighting the war itself).” There is nothing worse for a soldier than to have his deeds forgotten. It’s the same as the old quarterback who threw the game-winning pass on homecoming his senior year in 1997. He will talk about it for years because it was his moment. A lot of soldiers are like that as well.

“This leads me to another topic that brings bad feelings: Our Civil War monuments are in danger of being removed because some feel that they offend people. What these people fail to consider is that a lot of times, these monuments were likely the only thing that a lot of families had left of their fathers and sons who fought and died so far from home. Many who were killed in action, both North and South, were buried in mass graves and their bodies were never returned home (Note: there are also many accounts of the Federal soldiers being buried and the Confederate dead being left to the animals, and there are photographs to prove it). This was a time before soldiers ID tags were in use. Communities back home would have fundraisers and charities to raise money for a monument for their loved ones. In many cases, whole towns had lost fathers and sons because they served in the same unit. Our Civil War monuments were a physical line to those who paid the ultimate Soldiers’ Sacrifice. To remove these statues is to remove a part of our history. To remove these statues is to tell those loved ones left behind that their fathers and sons, who died for their cause, were meaningless and their deeds should be forgotten. We shouldn’t allow this to happen. I would hate for 60-years from now [to see] a group removing monuments with the names of my friends who had died in Iraq because their war was “unpopular” and causes hurt feelings.”

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Photo Credit: Becky Maddox

J. Palmquist–Pvt, 61st GA, Co. B

“The reason I do this is because of my ancestors. They fought with black men who willingly went into battle because the cause was just and true. They didn’t fight because of slavery. So therefore, I fight to preserve their memory. To teach people the true past of our nation. To show them how soldiers actually lived back then.”

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Photo Credit: Rebecca Partin

L. Shockey–Nurse, 5th GA/53rd GA, Co. K
“History was ingrained into my brain since I was little. It has always been one of the many things that my dad and I have always bonded over. It was my favorite subject in school. I love reenacting because I always wanted to do it. I wanted people to know that there are two sides to the story, and whoever wins the war isn’t always right. I want people to know that you can’t get rid of history. You instead have to learn from it. The Bible is history and it is the best historical book in the world. If you try to get rid of history, that is like trying to get rid of the Bible and I am sorry – but that will never happen. Plus, if we don’t learn from history – we will repeat it! I believe in preserving history and honoring my ancestors – my family to be exact. My ancestors fought in many wars and I support them all. They laid their life on the line for me and that means the world to me! When people judge the Confederate flag, or a monument – I take it personally. That’s an attack on my family – one that I won’t stand for! So, if dressing up in 6-7 layers of clothing and wearing a very uncomfortable corset will get my point across – well then that is what I will do!”

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Photo Credit: Sherry Frazier

B. Nelson–Cpl, 16th Ga, Co G.
“We fight to protect the name and honor of our ancestors-both North and South, and protect what they stood for – particularly our Southern ancestors. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t over slavery. Slavery was an aspect of the war but it wasn’t a major issue of the war. It was an issue politically, not on the battlefield. In the Confederate army you had different ethnicities and races. You had Native Americans, Irish, British, Jewish, German, Italian, African Americans, and more-and they were integrated into white regiments, unlike the Union which made them into their own separate units and brigades and segregated them. In the South, most of them were fighting to protect their homes and their neighbors. This isn’t just the slave, this is the free man too – fighting for the Confederacy! African Americans had a major part in the Confederate Army. We fight to PROTECT that fact!

“Unlike what the media says, the battle flag is not a racist symbol! [General] P.T.G. Beauregard made the Confederate battle flag a symbol of religious, Christian beliefs. Nothing about the flag is racist at all! It is being hijacked as a racist symbol by the KKK and the neo-Nazis. Then that stereotype spreads that it was about racism and protecting the slaves, but that is not the case. We fight to protect that true fact, and to protect the memory of a war that made so much significance in our history! With the American government today trying to white-wash the American population with a history that isn’t true, basically, they are wiping the Civil War from the face of the earth as if it’s irrelevant.

“That war did so much for us. It meant so much- It divided the country! It showed us that we are not perfect as a country. It saddens me that they are trying to wash away all that we cherish. Look at what they are doing in Spotsylvania. Almost all of it has become front-line property. Recently Nash Farms is being taking away from us. It might become the same thing as Spotsylvania. Everything is becoming lost to us. We are losing monuments, we are losing all of this, because of the simple fact that they want to erase a nation that was apparently racist. That wasn’t the case during the time! They were a country separating themselves from a tyrannical rule! A tyrannical rule they saw as it was!

“It angers me that this is what’s happening. Because without our history, without knowing who we were, it’s taking away from what it means to be an American, to be free, to know where you came from! I know where I came from. I know I have ancestors in both the South and the North that fought through the War Between the States. It’s like trying to forget a bad dream. But this is what happened! You can’t change history. Those monuments should be left there as a sign saying, “This shouldn’t happen again!”

“I really hate what is happening. We need to fight. We need to go to events. We need to bring the attendance up and let people see that we love what we do! It’s like Irwinville – If we can’t get those numbers up, we’ll lose places like Irwinville [Note: Irwinville, GA is the location of the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis], we’ll lose Pickett’s Mill. We’ll lose all of those places. We’ve seen what happened at Nash Farms, and that’s something we need to think about as reenactors. What will be next? Clinton? Olustee? Manassas? Andersonville? Which ones? It’s something that every reenactor needs to think about. And it should spark a movement that every reenactor should embrace. We need to keep teaching, we need to keep going to these events, so that the memory of these soldiers will survive. Without those memories, we won’t be able to know where we came from. America has a terrible past, we know that, but it’s our duty to teach it so that history does not repeat itself. Because it is my opinion that history does repeat itself. ”

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J. Smith- Pvt, 16th GA, Co. G
“You know, when I first started reenacting, it was just because I like history and it was fun, and when I found out about my lineage, it was a way to honor my ancestors. Now it is to protect our honor, history, and culture. To fight back against the lies and hateful attacks set against us simply because we are different. The more they push reconstruction, the more proud I am of who I am and where I come from. So in essence, it is having the opposite of the desired effect. From now on, I will be more proud every time I put on the Gray.”

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Photo Credit: Jerry Chesser

J. Reno–Capt. 5th GA Vol. Cavalry
“Thirty-five some-odd years ago, I decided to dive into my ancestry and genealogy. This was a time before computers and Internet. It was a time of family Bibles, census reports and microfilm. The history I have found on my hunt for my ancestors has been incredible; and the journey is not over.

“Being born in Atlanta, Georgia… seeing Gone With The Wind in the Fox Theatre on grammar school field trips… and walking the battlefields of North Georgia with my family… I always considered myself a Confederate; just like everyone else.
As a youngster, I was fascinated about the War Between the States, this War of Northern Aggression, the Civil War. I was told amazing stories by my grandmother -stories of men [who were] veterans of that war. Stories of my ancestors that were deaf from service in the artillery, stories of Confederate uniform trousers that were made into kid’s pants after the war, the story of my great grandmother who watched all of her worldly possessions be destroyed by the Yankees, minus a glass cream pitcher she clung to in her arms.

“My family had lived in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Alabama. I learned my Alabama ancestors were dedicated Confederates. Private James Beard, 26th Alabama Infantry, captured during the Fort Henry & Donaldson campaign, died of smallpox as a prisoner of war at Camp Douglas, Chicago, Ill. Sergeant Samuel Green, 55th Alabama Infantry, captured after watching his unit be shot to pieces at Peachtree Creek during the Battle of Atlanta. Brothers in the 4th Alabama Cavalry – their families being severely punished by the Yankees for being “secessionist.”

“My Eastern Tennessee kin were harder to find. I ran into dead end after dead end during my search. Then on a trip to Chattanooga I was given a copy of a document belonging to an ancestor. Discharge papers, from the Federal Army. My Tennessee kin had joined with the Yankees? I could not believe it. Not only my GG Grandfather, but his whole family (males of military age) had joined the 9th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, U.S., in September of 1863.

“Then I stumbled upon a most interesting fact. My Great Grandparent’s fathers served on different sides during the war. Could it be? A husband and wife who’s fathers fought each other during the conflict? It was true; Elbert Reno, son of Private William Reneau (Reno) of the 9th Tennessee Cavalry, U.S., married Mary Posey daughter of Private Hesekiah Posey of the 35th Tennessee Mountain Rifles C.S. and William Reno and Hesekiah Posey were from the same neighborhood, Hamilton County, Tenn.

“So I am asked, why do you fight (reenact)? I would answer “only for a few reasons.”
I would like to see my family history kept alive and shared. I can’t imagine how much information would have been lost if I had not started my search many years ago.
It gives me joy to see a child’s eyes light up when they can talk to a soldier. When they can ask questions, touch a saber, learn the soldier’s daily life. I want to honor those men that marched off to war for what they believed in. To remember the families who were left behind to try to survive. The people of that time endured suffering that we could never imagine.

“Lastly, I do not know if the scars from that war will ever be completely healed; but the county was not torn badly enough to keep a man who’s father fought for the north and a girl who’s father fought for the south to come together and make a family… my family.”

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Photo Credit: Sheila Chasteen

S. Chasteen- Pvt, Cobbs Legion
“Well, I fight because I have such a deep rooted connection with the war. I feel like people now forget about the war and the individuals who fought in it, so there is some duty and obligation that you get when you start reenacting. This war is a big section of my life and what defines me as a person because it’s my history. It’s what makes me who I am today, and I plan on preserving the memory because if I don’t, I’m doing them a disservice. As an American, this is something we should all strive to do –remember – and that’s why I fight.

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Photo Credit: Kenny Stancil

K. Banks, Pvt, 16th GA, Co G
“Growing up, reenacting wasn’t really my thing. Being in a family who forced me to always go since I was a baby, I really had no choice. To be honest, I flat-out hated it. I hated the outdoors due to the gnats and other bugs during the warm months; and I hated having stiff joints during the cold months. But, the one thing I hated all year around was packing for events. Once I matured, I understood the life a lot more. I grew to love it. How? Because there’s a bond among one another within my unit. That’s what I grew to love. Then I started thinking, “I want that. ”

“So, at 15 years old, I shocked my family and took up arms and joined my guys on the field. Never have I regretted the sweat, blood, and tears on the field (that’s when the best battles happen). Nor have I regretted sitting around behind the lines cracking jokes with the guys. There are times where the battle seems so real that when I see one of my guys fall, my heart screams. That’s how it was back then. They had a close family. There were disagreements, but which family doesn’t have some kind of issues?

“I get told a lot that, “you’re as good as any man that ever tore a cartridge.”  Words cannot explain how much I hate being told that. Hear me out: Once you start the hobby (yes, I said hobby), those words mean a lot. Feels like you’re doing great in the ranks and it boots up your confidence. However, once you get past your big arrogant, know-it-all, newbie phase, you’ll find out that those words are a flat-out insult to those men who actually went through hell on earth.

“Aren’t those the men and women we are supposed to honor? I fight and I do what I do to honor them! But, it’s more than just dressing out and doing memorial services now, it’s in the heart.

“People these days are literally trying to erase history but it’s always going to be there. Always. Even dressed up as a lady, on the field as a nurse, or in full uniform with my guys, I’m still doing my part. I maybe a “soldier” but never will I compare to those people 150+ years ago. My over all job isn’t to be a soldier- my job is to keep the memory of my ancestors and the unknown graves alive.”

Credit Becky Maddox

Photo Credit: Becky Maddox

J. Morgan, Major, PGL Left-wing commander

“I started Re-enacting at the age of 14. I have always been interested in the War of Northern Aggression, the “Civil War.” I started re-enacting because I love being on the line and firing my musket. Now I do it to educate the public on the truth about the War. I want to preserve our Southern Heritage.

“As an officer, I have a responsibility to the safety of my men. But at the same time, I have to focus on the field and how the Federal and/or Confederate counterparts are moving around the field so as to see how to respond to their movements. I have to remain cool and focused.

“Since my time in the U.S. Army, this hobby gives me a since of purpose and camaraderie. These special people have become my family. No matter the race, creed, or faith, these people are my family. I do it for them, and to honor my ancestors.

“I remain your humble servant, Major James C. Morgan, Phillip’s Georgia Legion, Left Wing Commander.”

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Photo credit: Heidi Edge

H. Poythress- Commanding Colonel, Georgia Volunteer Battalion
“Not long after I left the modern military, I was a student at Georgia College in Milledgeville. I commuted daily from Macon that spring quarter. One afternoon in early May I was passing through Gray on my way home and saw the tents set up in the fields for Old Clinton War Days and decided to go into town and see up close what was happening. That was in 1991…..

“Since that day I have totally and whole heartedly committed to the reenacting community in my home state of Georgia, and in many ways far beyond. I have traveled all across the American Civil War sphere of influence, ranging from the great pilgrimages, to the fields and stone walls of Pennsylvania, to mud holes in Mississippi and Arkansas, in the quest to absorb, consume, reflect on and protect every morsel of the Civil War experience; and it has blessed me beyond anything I can imagine.

“The events of the last few months and the actions of the haters of the “Left,” the “Liberals,” and the “Progressives,” toward Confederate history have left me angry and more determined than ever to buckle on my armor and prepare myself for what has become an unabashed and unrestrained genocidal drive toward the South and the memories of its fighting men of the 1860’s. These events are not new: Over the years I have marched in parades where opponents of anything and everything Confederate lined the sidewalks and hurled insults toward us and threatened boycotts on local business where the parade was being held. I have been denied the opportunity to present a complete presentation on the War to school children by being told that weapons or flags or the mention of certain figures could not be a part of the program. I have participated in rallies when State flags were being changed without the consent or will of the majority of its citizens. Even friends of mine as deeply rooted in the same cause of historical awareness and preservation were denied service at restaurants.

“But it is different now. Most recently, I have watched with sadness and a heavy heart [to see] the desecration and removal of monuments to the South’s Heroes-the one defining icon reminding us of what makes us who we are and what we should strive to be:

Brave.

“Brave and unafraid to stand up and fight for our homes, our families and our neighbors in spite of the entire world bearing down on us.

“I seriously doubt those people who are so offended by these monuments have taken the time to truly educate themselves on the history of the War, its causes and its aftermath on the South; and I seriously doubt any of them really care to, or ever will. All they see is the modern one-dimensional “insult” of being offended. The feelings of anger and helplessness that many of us feel as these events continue to occur with deliberate belligerence and impunity with no end in sight or possible compromise with the enemies of our history and culture will, in time, force many of us in a position to act.

“I have always revered and respected the soldiers and citizens of both the Confederacy and the Union during the defining moment in our history as a Nation. War, any war, is a terrible abomination begat with sacrifice and suffering that consumes both sides with hate and distrust that last generations after the treaties have been signed and the troops returned home. I hope that many in the living history community feel as I do by presenting the War in a rational, fair and balanced and most of all intelligent way to anyone they converse with on the subject. We in the Civil War historical community are, at times, are our worst enemy and do much more harm to our cause, our ancestors and our culture, when we do not take the effort to educate ourselves completely on the War. Everything we do is stereotyped by others who do not understand or appreciate what we do, or why we do it. Everything from the smallest detail of our impressions when displaying ourselves to the public to understanding the facts of the War’s politics, events, timelines, and outcomes is imperative and crucial to our credibility. That is in reality “why I fight.” Our enemy is ignorance.

 

 

Why We Fight

Many people ask us why we do what we do. Why did we choose to be reenactors and living historians? Why do we choose to represent an unpopular war, especially in this day and time? Why do we choose to represent the Confederacy? Don’t we know that we shouldn’t have anything to do with the War Between the States?

The truth is, the answers vary as much as the people they represent, yet they all follow a few themes: Bravery, honor, respect, remembering men of every color who fought (that includes white, black, and red), remembering our ancestors, learning our family history, coming to terms with unpleasant facts, protecting the memory of the brave black men who fought for the Confederacy as well as for the Union, learning from a war that changed the face and future of this country, honor among enemies, and more.

 

This topic is one about which we are very passionate, and one that garners great emotion. You see, as living historians, we experience these things in a way that few people do. We don’t just live and learn the customs of the times, we BECOME these people and experience part of what they experienced. Searching primary documents to understand everything from the politics of the day, to the correct color or trim on a uniform, to getting inside the mind of a particular person who lived through this horrible war, we slowly understand who they were and why they did what they did. It gives us a unique insight into the war and people of a lost and largely misrepresented era of history.

 

For many of us, the fight began to honor our ancestors, for some to find out who they were. Many of us grew up knowing we were the descendants of a Civil War Soldier, but either needing to know more, to understand, or to find them, led us down this path. There is no better way to understand history than to touch, taste, wear, and smell it. It becomes a time portal to the time in which they lived, and to experiencing one small taste of what they lived through.

For the majority of us, we fight to protect the name and honor of our ancestors-BOTH Northern and Southern, but particularly our Southern ancestors for they are the most under attack. Contrary to popular belief, we fight to honor all colors and peoples who fought in the war. In the Confederacy, we have records of whites, blacks (both FREE and slave), Irish, British, Jewish, Scottish and other Europeans, and they were in integrated regiments! The Union created segregated units for their black soldiers, but here they fought side-by-side with whites and others. Jews fought on both sides of the war, but were celebrated and remembered in the Confederacy whereas General Grant expelled them from his army. We fight to remember them.

Confederate Jews

 

Many blacks fought on both sides of the war. Many people are familiar with the movie, “Glory” which is about the formation of an all-black Federal unit, and it should be remembered! But what about all the black men who fought for the Confederacy? There is a first-hand account of a black Confederate who had become the last man standing in the area. His uniform was bedraggled and nearly in rags, shoes were falling apart on his feet. He was approached by Union forces toward the end of the war and asked why he was fighting. His response? “Because you are HERE.” He was fighting for his home! One of our reenactors fights to remember his ancestors who fought side-by-side with black men who ”willingly went into battle because the cause was just and true. They didn’t fight because of slavery, so therefore, I fight to preserve their memory; to teach people the true past of our nation.” There are account after account of Southern blacks screaming, “The Yankees are coming!” and running in fear, and there are also stories of those who chose to take the underground railroad to freedom. ALL of their stories deserve to be told.

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Some of us come from families who were divided. Imagine my friend’s shock after having known about his Confederate great-great grandparents, he found out he also had Union great-great grandparents! Literally, his great grandfather and great grandmother’s fathers fought against each other during the war, but were able to see past that and allow their children to marry! When asked why he reenacts, he says, “only for a few reasons. I would like to see my family history kept alive and shared. I can’t imagine how much information would have been lost if I had not started my search many years ago. It gives me joy to see a child’s eyes light up when they can talk to a soldier. When they can ask questions, touch a saber, learn the soldier’s daily life. I want to honor those men that marched off to war for what they believed in. To remember the families that were left behind to try to survive. The people of that time endured suffering that we could never imagine. Lastly, I do not know if the scars from that war will ever be completely healed; but the county was not torn badly enough to keep a man who’s father fought for the north and a girl who’s father fought for the south to come together and make a family… my family.”

My friend the enemy by Mort Kunstler

“My Friend the Enemy” by Mort Kunstler

Some of us (in fact, many of us) are veterans, and miss the structure and camaraderie of military life. For some, it allows them to step back into that role, to deal with death during war in a “safe” place, because this time, their buddy will stand up and live again at the end, where they know all too well the opposite happens in war. It allows us to know and understand first-hand the choices they made and the effects of those choices. To quote one of our veterans, “These were real flesh and blood soldiers. They had mothers and fathers back home, brothers, sisters, and friends. They each had hopes and dreams for their lives after the war. For many, those dreams where cut short by shot and shell. I think that because I served in the modern military it gives me a certain kinship with those who served in the past. It gives me a way to place a face and feelings to the dusty old tintypes you see in the books. I reenact because I want to learn how these soldier’s lives where similar and different from our own. The more I learn about the history and the time, the better I can answer questions from those who see me in my uniform and ask. I do it for their memory- for the men in both Blue and Gray. I do it so their memory doesn’t fade away. Their story will live on through me, and others like me who tell these stories. Take it from a soldier who has “actually seen the modern elephant.” There is nothing worse for a soldier then to have his deeds forgotten.”

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“Kings of Kernstown” by John Paul Strain

Many may be unaware that by an act of Congress in in 1957, all Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines that fought in the Civil War were made U.S. Veterans (U.S. Public Law 85-425, Sec 410, Approved 23 May, 1958; http://uscode.house.gov/statutes/pl/85/425.pdf). That means, to disrespect and dishonor Confederate veterans, one would be dishonoring AMERICAN veterans. We must represent and portray both, otherwise, how will we understand the war?

 

Many of us find they remind us of who and what we should be: honorable and brave. As our battalion commander so eloquently stated, “Brave and unafraid to stand up and fight for our homes, our families, and our neighbors, in spite of the entire world bearing down on us… I have always revered and respected the soldiers and citizens of both the Confederacy and the Union during the defining moment in our history as a Nation. War, any war, is a terrible abomination begat with sacrifice and suffering that consumes both sides with hate and distrust that last generations after the treaties have been signed and the troops returned home. I hope that many in the living history community feel as I do by presenting the War in a rational, fair and balanced, and most of all intelligent way to anyone they converse with on the subject…In reality the reason I fight [is because], our enemy is ignorance.”

 

We fight for honor. Not just to honor our ancestors, but learning honor from them. Robert E. Lee was the commanding General of the Confederacy. However, once he signed the armistice in the parlor of the McLean house on April 9, 1865, he became the largest proponent of restoration. He stated, “The interests of the State are therefore the same as those of the United States. Its prosperity will rise or fall with the welfare of the country. The duty of its citizens, then, appears to me too plain to admit of doubt. All should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war, and to restore the blessings of peace. They should remain, if possible, in the country; promote harmony and good feeling; qualify themselves to vote; and elect to the State and general Legislatures wise and patriotic men, who will devote their abilities to the interests of the country, and the healing of all dissensions. I have invariably recommended this course since the cessation of hostilities, and have endeavored to practice it myself.” (Letter to former Virginia governor John Letcher (28 August 1865), as quoted in Personal Reminiscences, Anecdotes, and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee (1875) by John William Jones, p. 203. Retrieved from: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee#1870s). In one instance, a Southern woman was teaching her son to hate the Union troops after the end of the war and asked General Lee for his help in the matter. He responded, “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.” (quoted in The Life and Campaigns of General Lee (1875) by Edward Lee Childe, p. 331. Retrieved from: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee#1870s).

What about the honor and respect shown between Confederate General John B. Gordon, and Union General Joshua L. Chamberlain at the final surrender of arms on April 12, 1865? Chamberlain wrote, “Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper…but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!… They fix bayonets, stack arms; then, hesitatingly, remove cartridge-boxes and lay them down. Lastly—reluctantly, with agony of expression—they tenderly fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart-holding colors, and lay them down…”

Salute_of_Honor-Mort Kunstler

“Salute of Honor” by Mort Kunstler

In response, General Gordon stated what he witnessed, “When the proud and sensitive sons of Dixie came to a full realization of the truth that the Confederacy was overthrown and their leader had been compelled to surrender his once invincible army, they could no longer control their emotions, and tears ran like water…” (Retrieved from https://historicaldigression.com/2015/04/09/generals-joshua-l-chamberlain-and-john-b-gordon-at-appomattox/). These two men, two opposing Generals who had fought fiercely against each other, whose armies had tried to destroy each other, now faced one another in a time of greatest victory (and for a lesser man what might be a time of gloating), and a time of utter crushing sorrow. Yet, these men showed each other – their enemy until just 3 days prior – the honor and respect shown no greater man. These men, and their actions, deserve to be preserved and remembered as well.

 

Another reason we fight is to remember the history so that we do not repeat it. Would it be easier to sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened rather than coming face-to-face with the uncomfortable and unpleasant facts? Of course it would! As living historians, we have to face these unpleasant facts head-on. We have to acknowledge them, and even portray them, in order that the truth be told. Would we like to erase slavery? Yes. Would we like to forget the atrocities committed on both sides of the war? Yes. Would we like to forget our homes burned, our women ravaged, and our land and communities destroyed first by war and then by carpet baggers and martial law? Absolutely. At times, it’s like a bad dream from which you want to wake. But it IS what happened! We can’t change what actually took place in history. We need to have it in the open so that we, and others, may learn from it.

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Photo Credit: David Chaltas. Fiddler’s Green, 2016.

We do these reenactments, we support the monuments, and preservation of our flags, artifacts, and battlefields as a way to say, “This should never happen again!” We should learn what was accomplished for good, we should hear the stories of those who overcame unbearable odds, and we should hear of the cold-blooded atrocities on both sides, and learn from them. No one in that war or around that war came out unscathed. The war broke our country in two, and it was rebuilt differently than it had been before. It changed the landscape of America politically, topographically, and historically. Therefore, we too, have not escaped the touch of the War Between the States.

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Dead Confederate Soldier, Harris Farm, Spotsylvania. Colorized by Shelby Chasteen, (used with permission).

 

I will end with the first-hand story shared with me by my good friend, Dave Chaltas. His story moved me to tears, so I wanted to share it as he relayed it to me. These are his words:

“When I was a lad, I lived with my uncles for a while. All three of them had served in the military…Uncle Charlie served in World War II and was severely wounded. Uncle Arlie was in World War II and wounded in Korea. He received the Bronze Star for Valor along with the Purple Heart. Uncle Arnold served in World War II and was awarded three Bronze Stars. I vividly recall one summer evening sitting on the porch listening to them reflect. Uncle Charlie called me over and told me to sit beside him on the steps. He began talking about my ancestors from the Revolutionary War up to the current time. He was filled with emotion and then hesitated before continuing. When he regained his composure, he shared with me the following story.

“He talked of a grand reunion fifty years after a battle known as Gettysburg. Now, I had no clue where Gettysburg was located, nor was I very interested at that juncture. My uncle continued talking and said that, in 1913, men who wore the Blue and Gray gathered to mark the locations of different battles and to reflect upon the sacrifices of American lives. Someone suggested that these old men recreate the fabled Picket’s Charge. Those men, who had [been] lads of twenty were now seventy. Men of thirty were in their eighties, some were in their nineties. They consented to do so with the spectators following. Old men stepped out in columns, as the drums of a distant war once again guided their movements. Descriptions of the march toward the angle were described in detail. When they reached Emmitt’s Fence, a grand cannonade was presented. As the rebels reached a certain point, the weathered Federal forces were given the signal to fire.

“I can recall the tears trickling down my uncle’s face as he continued and I can quote his words verbatim. He said, “There went across the land a great gasp that meandered across the field, but it was not the spectators. It was the Union soldiers. Realizing the significance of the moment, those soldiers guarding Cemetery Ridge threw down their weapons, crossed the breastworks and as quickly as their aged bodies could go, ran to the embraces of the Rebels who had been their enemies but now were brothers once more. And from the ages rose the Phoenix.”

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Union and Confederate Veterans at the Wall after Pickett’s Charge reenactment 1913. Photo Credit- The Guardian.

 

“My Uncle stiffened with pride and I will never forget his words and his charge to me. He said, ‘Some of our kinfolk were there, and it falls upon our shoulders to remember the sacrifices of both.’

“At that moment, the mantel of enlightenment fell upon my being and I became a new creature. I vowed to find out more of my ancestors and to honor them and more importantly stand in their shoes while they rested in the land they loved. Since that time, I have discovered that a person will never truly know who they are until they know who their ancestors were, for it is in history that gives us hope. I stand to honor God, Country, and the memory of all my ancestors who have served. I revere their monuments and honor their Veteran Memorials and Monuments. I follow the wisdom of the Bible when it says in Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” It is my duty. It is my honor. It is my responsibility to guard the stones of yesteryear so that the rising generations will remember and not be condemned to commit the mistakes of the past. Therefore, I stand for those who cannot.”

I could not have said it better myself.

 

***In preparing for this article, I have spoken to many reenactors and heard from their own mouths the reasons why they fight and reenact the War Between the States. I have included some of their stories in this article, and want to thank each one for their time and feedback. To your honor, gentlemen, and the honor of those who went before us!

 

Thank you

I would like to thank the SCV camps in Hartwell, GA, Jefferson, GA, Jones County, GA, and Cassville, GA for inviting me to speak on medical practices during the War Between the States, or the Unsung Heroes of the War Between the States: Women in Medicine. It was a pleasure to be able to come speak and share my passion with each of your camps!

 

SCV Jefferson May 2017

Speaking for Jefferson, GA SCV. Photo Credit: Shelby Chasteen.

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Being introduced at Jones County, SCV. Photo Credit: Beth Colvin

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Photo Credit: Beth Colvin

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Questions after the presentation. Photo Credit: Beth Colvin

Elements of Reenacting

What do camp fire smoke, sweaty wool, gunpowder, wet canvas, freezing cold, fainting heat, and the great outdoors all have in common? Well, if you are a living historian, they are all things you experience and love.

Yes, love.

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Photo credit: Robert Carswell. Nash Farms Battlefield 2015-Atlanta Campaign

 

Some call us crazy, some call us impassioned, some say we live in the past (you think? ;D), some say that we can’t let go, and some say a whole lot of other things which shall not be repeated by a lady such as myself. Something special happens when one decides to become a living historian. We sign up for days of hardship, nights where one cannot get warm, heat that puts grown men down, marching in Brogans until our feet feel as though they will fall off, and days without running water, plumbing, or electricity. Yet, we thrive on it. We can’t get enough of it, and when there is an extended time between events, we miss it.

Kaitlyn, CSA at Old Clinton 2016

Photo Credit: Becky Maddox

We have a saying when someone comes to take part in an event and leaves with the passion coursing through their veins and a gleam shining in their eyes, that “they have been bitten.” At times we teasingly warn them that if not treated, it becomes a full-blown illness from which they cannot recover. My company teases me that I came in already “bitten,” and in a way, it was true. It had been slowly festering in me since my childhood with my first doses of living history, particularly with the War Between the States. Once I took the field at my first event as a reenactor, it was like a second dose. By that second event, there was no chance. I was hooked! It had bitten me so well that not only did I know it, but my company and reenactors from other companies could tell as well! Smells, and other sensory triggers that were once less than desirable, such as sweaty wool, now smell wonderful to me. Recently I drove by a location where they were clearing land and burning a pile of wood. That smoke wafted in through the air vents in my car with the fresh air, and all I could think about was being in the field with my company.

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Photo Credit: Les Patton. Occupation of Sandersville.

These weekends are not only about the events, and the fun we have, they are about so much more. There is a brotherhood among many in the reenacting world, particularly among certain groups. There is a family bond for others, like those in my company. I have friends across company lines, and many of them are quite close. I talk to some of them weekly, if not several times a week! But we also realize we are there for a purpose. We don’t just go out there to play soldier or hang out with our friends, we go to honor those who went before us. We go to honor those who fought, sacrificed, and died- on both sides.

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Photo Credit: Les Patton

My reason for being there is many-fold. First, I LOVE the history. I have been studying about it diligently for more than a decade and a half! Once that interest started, I have never fully been able to get over it. I have read, studied, explored, visited museums and battlefields, just because I love it. However, for me there is a special niche within the history that particularly holds my heart, and that is medicine. So many of the changes within the medical profession can be traced back to the War Between the States, whether surgically, women becoming nurses, the formation of an Ambulance corps, the skill of triage, creation of dog tags and so much more, all have their roots in the WBTS.

 

Second, depending on the event, I portray either a nurse, or medical corps. While I love nursing and think of these women I portray nearly like sisters, I find that I prefer being medical corps for many reasons. First of all, I get to be near the action. I hear the shouted commands, feel the concussion of the artillery, and I get a nose full of the smoke from the black powder as a volley is fired. I get to be in the thick of it, you might say. Being part of our medical response team, it also means that I am close to our guys if anything happens for real, and it certainly has! I am close enough I can monitor them and watch over them along with my fellow nurse, Lisa. But we are also there adding another layer to the event which was not present regularly, until the last year or so, and that is representing the wounds of battle and their care. Sure, guys would get “shot” and fall, and you would see many men “dead” on the field, but now we get to show the audience one small taste of what that carnage may have been like. Now they see guys go down and bandages applied with blood staining them, checking wounds, getting some men back on the line, and some drug to the rear. Some of our guys are good actors and will be screaming and writhing when they get hit and while we are treating them. We hear reports of audience members talking of how real it makes everything seem. All of a sudden, they aren’t watching a performance, it’s as though the guys really are shot and down. Suddenly the war seems just a little bit more real, and that makes it worth it!

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Surgery after battle and out of chloroform. Photo credit: Sheila Chasteen.

So how do all the smells I listed at the beginning apply? The campfire smoke means camp with your second family. It means evening time without the rush, sitting around the fire telling stories, trying to stay warm, or sharing our latest research so that everyone can learn from each other. It means food full of flavor, coming off the open fire and having a delightful meal.

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Photo from Chuck Harris

Sweaty wool reminds us of marching, suffering under the heat, and a brotherhood brought about by mutual sacrifice and sometimes misery. It means living in our ancestor’s footsteps for a few days, and getting a very small taste of what it was like for them and all they suffered during this second War of Independence.

Chuck Loading rounds-Shelby edits

Photo Credit: Shannon Herron, edits by Shelby Chasteen.

Gunpowder means battle and fighting a common foe. It means adrenaline, fear, ire, and passion all rolled into one. It means trying to do justice to our ancestors in how they fought and who they fought, as well as how they died. It means dealing with the carnage of war in a safe place, where the buddy you just shot will get up once the battle is over, whereas our ancestors were at times fighting and killing their own flesh and blood.

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Photo Credit: Les Patton

Wet canvas means days of camping in all kinds of weather. Rain, snow, heat, and glorious weather have all played upon those surfaces. It means a few days getting back to the basics and back to nature. It means a few days disconnected from the 21st century and its technology and being able to slow down, take a breath, and really live again.

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Nash Farm Battlefield-Battle of LoveJoy Reenactment 2016

Freezing cold, fainting heat, and the great outdoors – well, that just means reenacting! Would I do it again? Absolutely. Every chance I can, whether through lectures, living histories, or reenactments. But as we must still hold down jobs and life in the 21st century, I am grateful for the chance to time travel several times a year, to spend time living before the era of technology, spending time with my second family, and getting back to the basics and one of the topics I truly love. Until my next event, I will have to remember the memories that are brought on by the smell of burning brush, or the black powder smell after fireworks are fired, or smelling the well-used (and full of odors) uniform coat that sits in my office even as I write this. Until then, I wish my reenactment family many blessings. To all of you, my readers, I hope I have inspired a passion for the history of this nation all the way back to its founding, and a gratefulness for all our ancestors- who sacrificed and died for their beliefs. To those who came before and fought this terrible war, both Federal and Confederate, I hope to continue to honor you well.