I would like to welcome fellow graduate student, Army veteran, and Civil War reenactor Stuart Lawrence to the writing staff. I am sure that he will add many interesting posts to the blog and will be a wealth of experience on reenacting and other topics.
I received the following email from Diana Escobar of The Orange County Regional History Center.
Here at the Orange County Regional History Center, we stumbled upon your blog and thought you might be interested in the Civil War events we are hosting on February 26 and March 3 2009 in Orlando, Florida.
Join the author of Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! George C. Rable for an intimate dinner, as he discusses its gripping, in-depth look at the political and social contents of the Battle of Fredericksburg. Rable is the Professor of Southern History at the University of Alabama, and winner of the prestigious Distinguished Book Award in American History.
This event is being hold on Thursday, February 26 at 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $60; Members free.
To RSVP, please call (407) 836-7010.
During this Civil War Fashion Show, mingle with characters from the 1860s during a reception and then join us in the historic courtroom for a must-see runway show hosted by Sunny 105.9′s Downtown Billy Brown and the History Center’s Michael Perkins. See men’s, women’s and children’s 1860s fasion for the civilian, military, North, South, black, white, young, and old!
This event is being held on Tuesday, March 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Cost: $10; Members free.
To RSVP, please call (407) 836-7010.
Both events are being held at the Orange County Regional History Center located on 65 E. Central Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32801
So, if you are in the Orlando area around these dates, I would encourage you to check out these events and this center.
Given this very interesting post by Brett, I thought I would bring up an interesting couple of ideas for teaching the war in the classroom and see what you all think. While understanding slavery and emancipation are essential to understanding the war years, I do feel that some classes on the war focus too much on non-military issues and not enough on battles. That is where the following ideas come into play.
The first is one I have some experience with from my days in elementary school in Illinois. When I was in fifth grade, my bus driver, who was also an avid reenactor, came and talked to our class on the war, while dressed as a Confederate soldier. It was really something cool to see and got me interested in reenacting myself (unfortunately, I do not have enough cash to get started yet, but some day) and later into public history. I think reenactors should be encouraged to present to schools, as seeing someone dressed in period attire is a wonderful way to introduce the war to younger people. In addition, reenactors do not have to just be soldiers, as civilian reenactors could portray and talk about how the war affected the home front. Further, if looking for a presentation on slavery, what better way to illustrate the evil of it than by having reenactors talk about the Underground Railroad, slave life, and African American experiences. For example, several students, professors, the college chaplain, and I participated in a play when I attended Illinois College, where we acted in several skits dealing with different contributions of my alma mater to the Underground Railroad. I would like to think that it was a great educational tool for the local children in attendance. I hope to use reenacting in the classroom when I finally become a professor, as it is a unique way to present history.
The other idea involves war gaming as an educational tool. There are many good PC games on the war that involve unit level operations and tactics. Students could have a lesson on a particular battle, then take command and see how they would lead troops. In addition to PC games, students might have a great time learning about battles and tactics of the war through more traditional war gaming, including counters and miniature soldiers. Plus, the more traditional method may be easier than attempting to link several computers and providing the software. War gaming is a very unique and fun way to get students interested in the war, as it allows them to understand what it took to lead the armies in the war.
Recall the diorama fiasco in Texas, where high school students built a diorama of the war’s last battle at Palmetto Ranch, Texas. Those students learned about the war through a unique lesson. I can only imagine how much greater appreciation those students have for history and the Civil War after building that diorama, however, when it was destroyed, I bet their enthusiasm was curtailed. This unfortunate incident does not mean that a diorama project is a great way to get students into history.
Overall, bringing reenactors into the classroom, using war games, and building dioramas are all great ways to learn about the war. There are many other great ideas to engage students, but I encourage educators to look at these ideas as potential teaching tools.
An alert reader sent me a link to an article in The Winchester Star by Drew Houff. The article discusses two historical groups at odds over battlefield preservation in the area. Below is an excerpt of the article, which can be found in its full version here.
Historical groups at odds over rezoning
By Drew Houff
The Winchester Star
Front Royal — Bad blood between two partners likely will continue, at least in the near future, if Thursday morning’s meeting of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park Foundation is any indication.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove Inc. announced on Wednesday that they would sever ties with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation due to the Civil War group’s failure to oppose an expansion of a quarry near the battlefield and Belle Grove Plantation property south of Middletown.
At Thursday’s meeting, Linden “Butch” Fravel, a member of the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, sat behind Elizabeth McClung, the executive director of Belle Grove Inc., but the two did not speak.
Fravel, in fact, left the meeting following a presentation on the ecology of the park, which includes Belle Grove and the Cedar Creek battlefield.
McClung, who stayed, said after the meeting that she was disappointed in how the two park partners have strayed from trying to accomplish things together.
She said the values shared by the preservation groups are essential to the character of the park, making it important for them to work together.
“We are losing open space, historic land, and the context for historic sites along the way,” McClung said. “Therefore, it’s really crucial for groups whose missions are to preserve historic and natural resources to closely collaborate.
“That time has long passed for a small nonprofit to stand alone and unilaterally take action. It’s really very strangely naive and misguided for any one, small nonprofit to single-handedly believe they are protecting and speaking for a whole group.”
McClung said she was concerned that the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation had voted two months ago not to use Belle Grove’s property for this year’s re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, which will be held in October, but had never bothered to inform anyone from Belle Grove of the decision.
I just returned from my annual trip to Gettysburg battlefield this past weekend, usually an exciting and enjoyable trip. This trip had the added allure of viewing the new visitor’s center for the first time. Upon entering the parking lot to the new center, I felt as though I was entering an amusement park. There was a line of cars searching for spots in the vast new parking area. The visitor’s center reminded me of a mall, complete with a bookstore and movie theatre. The bookstore resembled a Barnes and Noble except the prices of books were much more inflated. The line to the ticket counter and theatre was roped off as if one were waiting for a rollercoaster ride. The price of admission to the twenty-two minute film was eight dollars – approximately the same price of admission to a two-hour blockbuster. The only thing missing was a Starbucks.
After this initial disappointment, my buddy and I decided the only thing that could cheer us up was a couple of hikes on the battlefield, and we hit upon two excellent ones. An hour hike/lecture around the peach orchard was very insightful; arguing that Sickle’s misplacement of troops threw a wrench into both Lee’s and Meade’s plans. After this, we took a hike with renowned park ranger, Troy Harman, all the way up to the top of Big Round Top. Troy was preparing for an anniversary hike on “What would have happened had Lee listened to Longstreet and went around the right of Big Round Top?”
After these hikes and a general survey of most of the battlefield, we observed an ironic consequence of the building of the new visitor’s center. The battlefield was not as congested as the new plaza. It seems that more people were viewing the exhibits in the center rather then touring the fields. The peach orchard hike had an audience of six people. The Troy Harman tour had much more but this is an exception given his popularity. The old center invited visitors to walk right onto the battlefield or cemetery. The new one offers people the luxury of viewing the virtual battlefield from the convenience of an air-conditioned building.
Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the old visitor’s center much more. It was small, but it was much more authentic and not as commercialized. On the bright side, for battlefield enthusiasts, the new visitor’s center may be a blessing in disguise – more room to explore the actual landscape.
I just searched for curiosity on You Tube for Civil War reenacting videos and stumbled across these two, which I thought were really well done.
“Gettysburg Civil War reenactment footage”
“145th Manassas civil war reenactment”
There are many others and I encourage you to check some of them out. Also, if you are interested in doing what the people in the videos do, check out some of my links that are related to reenacting, or search the web for units near your hometown, as they sometimes are looking for new members that are eager to learn about the war.
A while back (June 16), I wrote a post entitled “Why research is important” highlighting the annual Grierson Days held in Jacksonville, IL, in which I was critical of aspects of the event and described it as “probably one of the worst I have attended.” Not long ago (Aug. 27), I received a comment (I always appreciate comments on this site) from Ron Gray, coordinator of the event, which went as follows:
I am the coordinator for the Grierson Event. One of our reenactors sent me your web site.
As someone that is interested in making our event better, I would like you to e-mail me and let me know exactly what information was wrong, or, historically not correct, so that we can correct that.
The historical information concerning Grierson is by myself, and researched thru the many books that have been written concerning his service during the Civil War and when he was Commander of the l0th Cavalry, Buffalo Soldiers. Did you have any problem with reference to the Historical facts concerning Grierson?
The Battle and tactic remarks were made by the wife of one of our reenactors, and, by a Minister who has been involved with reenacting for a long period of time. Since I am not a reenactor, just the coordinator of the event, I leave those remarks to the people involved.
In an effort to make our event even better I would ask that you please help us by becoming involved, and, let us know exactly where we are wrong.
Since our event is free to the public, we rely on donations from our local businesses. As a result we like to let those in attendance know who the sponsors of the event are, the people that make the weekend events possible. To that end it is necessary to announce those names.
We would appreciate hearing from you.
Benjamin H. Grierson Days
Now, normally I would jump at the challenge to answer this comment and defend my post, but two problems developed. The first was the simple passage of time, which prevents me from remembering the specifics of the event. The second was the tone of my post itself. While I defend the call that I made regarding the announcing at the event, I wrote the post in the heat of the moment on the day of and did not write down either in the post or at the event specifics to address. Therefore, my tone came off as more confrontational than I wanted and I regret that. The end result was that I called in the cavalry on this one (pun intended) and asked my father to saddle this one, as he picked up on more of the problems than I did. His reply to Mr. Gray is both in the comment section of the original post and follows as well:
Since the event occurred about two months ago I forgot most of the exact words spoken at the re-enactment. For that I apologize for not making notes for future reference, but I do remember the overriding perception that I received. Perception is everything when engaged in public events, and your narrator seemed very unprepared and uncomfortable. Since the same person narrated the event last year, I know that is not the case. However, that perception came across, and many of the explanations seemed vague, and inadequate.
I am not a re-enactor, but I hold a B.S. in historical studies and know much about military history. This comes from my 24-year career in the U.S. Army, and my access to military history documents in the libraries where I served. One of the units in which I served, the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, held the sobriquet, “The First at Vicksburg.” The Vicksburg Campaign represented a significant part of that unit’s history, and a source of “lessons learned” instruction. When I visited the Vicksburg battlefield on vacation in 1995 I found the memorial commemorating that unit.
However, my interest in the western theater of the Civil War goes much deeper than my military service. Like most other Illinois soldiers, the men from my county, Jersey County, served in this theater. One of my ancestors died from wounds he received at the Battle of Parker’s Crossroads. Leander Stillwell, of the 61st Illinois, lived in Jersey County and his name is on the plaque inside the monument dedicated to Illinois soldiers.
I too possess a significant number of books regarding the Civil War, including many works by Bruce Catton and the Time-Life Book series copyrighted in 1983. The Time-Life series has one volume, titled “War on the Mississippi,” which dedicates pages 86 through 96 to Grierson’s Raid. Had your narrator read from this text verbatim it would have sounded better than what was spoken. For example, your narrator said, “Grierson led three groups of soldiers,” or words to that effect. What is a group? Grierson led a cavalry brigade of 1,700 men, consisting of the 2nd Iowa, 6th and 7th Illinois Regiments and a battery of horse artillery. A more detailed description provides a clearer picture of exactly what Grierson commanded.
The narrator further gave the impression of Grierson as a “military genius,” that deeply affected overall American history. Grierson did prove himself a superb cavalry commander, as noted on page 88 of the Time-Life book I previously cited. The direct quote from Sherman to Grant in December of 1862, “The best cavalry officer I have yet had.”
Regarding Grierson’s career following the Civil War, I consulted Robert M. Utley’s, Frontier Regulars, about the Indian wars of this period. Unfortunately, the Army of that time suffered from the same neglect and mismanagement that all “peacetime” armies endure. On page 362 Utley states that Grierson received his commission as a colonel largely because of his raid. While not confirmed, I believe that Grierson received command of the 10th Cavalry because it was the last one formed. This made him the junior regimental commander of the Army’s cavalry units, and placed him in a black unit as well.
Unfortunately, military personnel possess the same weaknesses as the society from which they come: petty jealousies, bigotry, and nepotism. The Army became very “class conscious,” reflecting the dissension between West Point graduates and Volunteer officers. Much like civilians regard university credentials and “college rivalries,” or a college education over practical experience.
White officers serving in black regiments suffered the same discrimination as their black soldiers, including deliberate ostracism. Furthermore, Grierson received the enmity of General Philip Sheridan, who deliberately made Grierson’s career “frustrating and undistinguished.” Grierson did distinguish himself during the 1880 campaign against the Apaches along the Rio Grande. However, both the War Department and the media deliberately underrated the performance of black units, and the officers that commanded them. This does not detract from Grierson’s many accomplishments; it merely places them in the historical context.
With the nation’s steadily declining number of veterans, the general public knows little about battle tactics. Furthermore, with the deplorable history education in our schools, most know little about the Civil War. It seems that the current interest in re-enactment is the most visible source of education concerning the Civil War battles. Therefore, it is imperative that those engaged in this endeavor provide accuracy and enthusiasm in maintaining our heritage. From what I noticed those actually engaged in the battle met, and exceeded, those standards, and for that I commend them.
While I do not endorse using Hollywood for history lessons, the John Wayne movie, “The Horse Soldiers,” is based on Grierson’s Raid. It does reasonably well at following the events, and must be taken in context as a Hollywood movie. However, since most Americans get much of their “education” from Hollywood, at least they get an idea.
Again, this event occurred about two months ago, and the events of work and other human events have erased much of my memory. Therefore I am unsure of whether the following subjects were included in the narration, or not. I will include them now for the purpose of ensuring that they are not overlooked. For example, by 1863 the Union cavalry became a serious challenge for the previously dominant Confederate cavalry. Partially this occurred because the Union began using Western farm boys, such as those in Grierson’s brigade.
Grierson’s Raid occurred as part of Grant’s overall Vicksburg strategy, partially for keeping the Confederates off balance. Most of our historical reference, and most Civil War studies, focus on the eastern theater. The Army of the Potomac enjoyed many advantages over the Army of Northern Virginia, such as personnel strength and equipment. However, Grant’s Army of the Tennessee did not, particularly given the long line of communication that he defended. Grant must keep his Confederate counterpart guessing, and keep Confederate forces stretched thin and unable to concentrate against him.
I noticed “General Grant” at this past year’s event; why not erect a tent for the purpose of “Grant” explaining his strategy? One of the area colleges may possess maps and other documents for enhancing this discussion. Maybe this is impractical for you, given your reliance on donations, etc., but it provides a context for Grierson’s Raid. Regarding context, explain the importance of Vicksburg for both sides, and how the Union victory hastened an overall Confederate defeat.
Part of my duties as a non-commissioned officer in the Army included giving classroom instructions. No matter how much I believed myself a “subject matter expert,” I rehearsed until this instruction became “second nature.” I do not know whether your narrator is a public speaker, but some prior rehearsal would definitely benefit the event.
Regarding my participation in the event, I wish I could become involved in such things. However, Jersey County is a significant distance from Jacksonville, and involves a one hundred mile round trip. Furthermore, I work for the U.S. Postal Service, and my work schedule normally includes Saturdays. I just happened to make the past two years’ events as a matter of luck. My son graduated from Illinois College and knew the exact days of the event, which helped greatly. Over the past two years the event also occurred when I happened to be off on those particular Saturdays.
I hope my comments have proven helpful without sounding condescending, for that was not my intent. However, I do not believe in “sugar-coating” things and normally speak my mind. Some better preparation by your narrator would make your great event even better.
William F. Sauerwein
1SG, U.S. Army (Retired)
Let me restate this again with regard to the event, I applaud the reenactors, they did a wonderful job. My problem was with the announcers and their apparent lack of preparation and professionalism. To offer my own answer to Mr. Gray’s request for ideas for improvements, I submit the following suggestions:
1. If you want to explain aspects of the battle and recognize your sponsors, create pamphlets that will do this where the sponsors can have advertising space, and, it will allow you to write down what you want to say, which will make the presentation of ideas better.
2. Have a speaking presentation prior to the battle. If printed materials are out of the budget, then have a presentation explaining Civil War battles and armies, as well as the significance of Grierson prior to the battle.
3. Tell the announcers to shut the microphone off when not announcing, as it both amplifies the weapons, which do not need the help, and allows the crowd to hear the announcers laughter and private conversations.
If even one of these suggestions is followed, it will go a long way to making the Grierson Days event more successful.
My dad and I went to Jacksonville, IL today to attend their annual Grierson Days, which honors Gen. Grierson, who was a resident of Jacksonville. He is best remembered for his raid into Mississippi with his cavalry that is portrayed in the John Wayne film The Horse Soldiers. This raid, which led to the destruction of the railroad supplying Vicksburg aided Grant in his victory against the Confederate stronghold. Now, back to the event.This event is one of the biggest reenacting events in the state, if not the Midwest. It is held every June in Jacksonville and brings many participants and vendors, including the well-known Fall Creek Sutlery, which is the best known dealer of reenacting equipment. One of the big highlights of the weekend event are the two “battles” between Union and Confederate “forces.” Now, I have been to many events (most at my hometown during their annual Victorian Festival) and most are very good. However, the event at Grierson Days is probably one of the worst I have attended. Let me make this clear, THE SOLDIERS PARTICIPATING IN THE ACTUAL REENACTMENT WERE WONDERFUL AND DID A GREAT JOB. You may be asking then, why am I saying this is the worst event I have attended? The answer is the announcers. This is the only reenactment I have been to where there are announcers during the battlefield.
Here are my problems with the announcing. First, is the announcing itself. This takes away from the experience as well as amplifies the sound of the weapons. They could have explained the differences in troops and weapons and the overall war before the battle, but did this during it, which breaks concentration on the battle. Second, was that the announcers kept the microphone on when they were not commenting, which caused the crowd to hear their laughing and conversation while trying to pay attention to the battle. Finally, the announcers were blatantly inaccurate and stated things regarding the battle that were obvious to those watching and did not need to be mentioned.
I understand that not everyone has great knowledge on the war, but this was ridiculous, as the announcers were misinforming attendees because they chose not to research and verify if their information was correct. On a whole, the battle was good, but would have been great had the announcers just shut up. They did not know what they were doing and took away from the great experience that attendees may have enjoyed. Here is the lesson, research before commenting to large crowds on historical matters, as you may look foolish if audience members are educated on the subject. To those in reenacting, keep up the good work and always research to maintain accuracy when presenting to people.