150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Given it’s still July 1 here in the Central Time Zone, today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The battle has been the subject of much discussion and several movies, including my favorite Gettysburg (1993). It remains one of the largest battles in North America, with over 50,000 casualties. With this anniversary and the benefit of new technology the folks at ESRI produced an amazing interactive map of the battle, including three-dimensional animation related to the troop positions. I encourage you all to check it out at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Cutting-Edge-Second-Look-at-the-Battle-of-Gettysburg.html.

I have been following some of the internet coverage of the 150th anniversary reenactment held this past weekend and it looks like, for the most part, the event went well, though some unfortunate reenactors suffered heat injuries. My good friend Stuart Lawrence is returning home from taking part in the event and hopefully will share an after action report and pictures. Now, I am going to take a bit of time to watch the portions of Gettysburg related to the first day. More to come in the next two days on this momentous anniversary.

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News

Civil War Events Feature Minstrel Song Revival – ABC News.

Pretty interesting article on a revival of Civil War era music via reenacting. I had the opportunity to listen to the 97th Regimental String Band while at Pipestone, MN a few weeks ago and they were a great group.

While I understand some of the discomfort over some of the lyrics used in the songs, we must remember that society was different 150 years ago and did not subscribe to the same values and attitudes that we might. Such events must be understood in their proper historical context and they can serve a purpose for reflecting upon the past to hopefully open a civil and honest debate about the issues of slavery and race in America’s past.

Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News

Victorian Festival canceled as weather looms – The Telegraph: Local News.

Had to share this story with you all, as it involves my home town. I have been to this event several times before I relocated to North Dakota, and this is the first time it’s been cancelled, but what can you do about the weather, especially when it’s the remnants of Hurricane Isaac.

As a reenactor, I know I would not plan to go to the event with that kind of weather in the forecast, even if I had committed to it before, as damp weather is not good for weapons, or powder. Also, camping would be a pain in the rear with heavy rain, as the tents are only so waterproof. While a tough decision, it was the right one in light of the situation.

I wish the Nolan’s the best of luck as they deal with this sad turn of events and to all my friends in Jersey County, please be safe this weekend.

Recent adventures in reenacting

The past two weekends have been quite fun for me, as I participated in Pipestone Civil War Days 2012 from August 10-12, (we didn’t get back to Grand Forks until Monday evening due to a car problem, but made the best of it) and then set up a Civil War living history display as part of East Grand Forks Heritage Days on August 18-19. I also did a display at the Hubbard County Museum in Park Rapids, Minnesota on July 29, which was fun.

For Pipestone, I fell in with the 1st South Carolina, Company H, which was my one time this season doing a Confederate impression. It was a good time seeing old friends and we took in a concert with the 97th Regimental String Band, who played period music.  The battles were good, though we surrendered on the second day. I also experienced the fun of firing my musket in damp conditions, resulting in two incidences of unintentionally firing a double charge, as the first charge did not discharge, making the kick and flash quite noticeable. Here are some pictures from Pipestone. The best part of the weekend was the chance to have a tintype made of me using a period photograph by Dave Rambow, who I have met at several other events.

Heritage Days was good this year, as we had a bigger display and had Den Bolda and Mike Larson from Fargo join us on Sunday. Saturday, Joe, Stuart, Ethan Brazee (who was trying out reenacting for the first time), and I met several people and we figured almost 150 stopped by our display that day. We may have gained some new recruits. It was a great time and thanks to Drs. Doug and Laura Munski for providing some of the pictures on both days.

Here are the photos from all the events.

Bringing the Civil War to Ellen Hopkins Elementary School

On Wednesday, May 16, members of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (Joe Camisa, Stuart Lawrence, Den Bolda, and I), also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, brought some of our gear and presented on the Civil War to an eager group of fifth grade students at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School in Moorhead, MN. Special thanks to Mrs. Cheri Puetz for allowing us the opportunity to come and talk with her students. It was a beautiful day and we were situated in the shade. We set up a tent, as well as our colors, and a small ground cloth with some soldier equipment on display. We also dressed and wore some of our gear. It was a lot of fun and we had kids from the lower grades coming up to us and asking us questions for an hour after school let out, which was really awesome. They were really excited by our stuff and if we did not need to return to Grand Forks so soon, we would have stayed longer. There were some good questions posed and the students came away with a great introduction to their study on the war. Below are photos taken from that day, courtesy of Mrs. Puetz.

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Fun on St. Patrick’s Day

On Saturday (St. Patrick’s Day), several of us in the 5th Minnesota, Company D, also known as the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, participated in the Fargo (ND) St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was a great time, as the weather was very nice, with the high in the low 70s, which for those of you not from the Dakotas is quite warm for March (usually we are dealing with snow still on the ground in some way and have had storms adding to the pack). Stuart and I drove down to rendezvous with our colleague Joe Camisa, who is in graduate school with us at UND and then on to meet up with the rest of the crew. Joe was quite a trooper, as he had driven all night from central Michigan and still managed to march with us.

The crowd was quite big and we marched behind the pipe and drum band, which was cool, especially when they played “The Minstrel Boy”, as we were “technically” going to portray the Irish Brigade (we’ll do that next time). We did a great job keeping our line tight at shoulder to shoulder and were able to keep in step most of the time. This was my first parade as a reenactor, but I participated in marching band in high school, so I am versed in marching for a parade. It was a good time and I look forward to doing this in the future. Below are some great pictures from the day (thanks to all who were able to take pictures).

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Photos from Heritage Days

Like last year, we participated in East Grand Forks Heritage Days, providing a Civil War display. This year, we attended both days, and had extra help in Joe Camisa and Bud Mahnke, who provided their expertise on subjects as well. It was a bit crazy, as Stuart and I had just returned from Wilson’s Creek only a couple of days earlier. Except for a bit of wind and showers, it was fun, and we were able to do several firing demonstrations with the muskets, which the crowd seemed to enjoy. We even made the local paper The Exponent, which was fun. Below are photos from the day.

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Photos from Wilson’s Creek

I have been meaning to post pictures of my trip last month to Wilson’s Creek, which was covered here and here. Most of these pictures are from my camera, but a few are from Stuart’s and other folks, who posted them to Facebook. Overall, I will say I had a decent time, despite some issues at the event surrounding logistics and battle planning. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos.

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Up Wilson’s Creek without a paddle: the good, bad, and ugly of the 150th annivesary event

Well, I am back from my trip to Missouri (Mizz-ur-ah, or Misery, if you prefer) to participate in the 150th anniversary battle reenactment, which was my first ever national event (check out Stuart Lawrence’s take on Bull Run/Manassas for another national event) and wanted to share my thoughts.

First, let me say that there is some buzz going around in one reenacting forum regarding the event with opinions coming down both ways on the weekend, with most being negative. Second, I am only in my second season of reenacting and will admit to not being as partial to primitive camping and using portable toilets as others, but am learning to like the camping. Third, this will be the first in a possible series of postings regarding the event from others in the unit I fell in with, as well as others interested, so you will get several different impressions of the same event. Finally, constructive comments on these postings are welcome and appreciated, as we could get a good discussion on this topic going, but please remember to be civil.

The trip began with Stuart Lawrence and I leaving Grand Forks Wednesday morning to drive as far as we could and stop for the night. With continued high water on the Missouri River, parts of I-29 have been closed for weeks and remain closed, which warranted a detour, but we arrived late that night in St. Joseph, Missouri, staying in a Motel 6, which was nice. We awoke the next morning, had a good breakfast and headed on, arriving in the Springfield area around 1:00 PM and set up our tent and gear. We introduced ourselves to Christian Shuster, who invited our unit to fall in with his 3rd Missouri for the weekend and waited for others to arrive. Once the rest of the unit arrived and our camp was erected, we prepared ourselves for the coming days of battle. That evening we were treated to the first of several fine meals prepared by our camp cooks (hats off to you ladies for your hard work).

Friday morning came early (before 6:00 AM), as we enjoyed breakfast and prepared for battalion drill at 7:30. We formed up for the morning battle around 10:00AM and had the first fight, which was a good one, as we charged the Federals and drove them back across a wooden bridge crossing Wilson’s Creek. The crowd enjoyed it, but it was a smaller gathering (most people being at work on a Friday). We went about our day, anticipating the afternoon battle and looking forward to an exciting national event. Boy, were we surprised.

Let me preface this by saying that I have only a slightly negative view of the event, mainly from a logistical point of view and issues with some of our higher level command that I believe contributed to a more negative atmosphere among some of the participants and the feedback on the forum (more on this later).

Friday afternoon’s battle found us on the hill in the trees waiting for the Union to move into position and give us battle. Well, we wound up shooting into the trees, which made us a bit upset. Saturday and Sunday’s battles went much better, as we expended more powder and put on a good show for the crowd. Several of us went down from a cannon shot (including myself) and were then covered by crickets, which made for a few chuckles. This was one of the better parts of the event.

Now then, no event is perfect, and there were a couple things that were bad and one that was ugly that upset several reenactors around our camp. The bad was how our senior command staff (brigade and battalion commanders) had us formed up over a half hour before the scheduled start of the battle. This “hurry up and wait” was only problematic from the standpoint of being in the sun and heat, and while it was much more pleasant temperature wise from earlier in the week, it was still a potential hazard if not accustomed to it. Another bad issue was running out of water for a period on Saturday, which was not good. There were a couple safety issues, including a cavalry ride through our camp during the night, and, one person riding their horse through the tent areas.

The ugly part of the event were the portable toilets. Simply put, there were not enough of them, they were not cleaned often enough, and ran out of paper. They were also not set up well and leaned at times. Now, if it were possible for a human to not use the bathroom for three days, I may have attempted, but as it was, there were times that the conditions were just bad. Having only nine portables for almost the entire Confederate camp was insufficient. Future organizers take note, please have reliable facilities for us and make sure they are cleaned more often.

On the whole, while there were several things that diminished the quality of the event for several reenactors and myself, I did manage to enjoy myself. I met new people and experienced battles with hundreds, instead of dozens, of participants. Sutler row was fun, as there were several there, including a soda dealer from near my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois.

Special thanks to Capt. Christian Shuster of the 3rd Missouri for inviting us down and being and all around good guy. Thanks to the rest of the 3rd for being welcoming and having a good time. Thank you to all in the 1st South Carolina for coming down and making the best of it, and to our civilians in camp for the cooking (especially the Lenz family and Amundsons) and socializing. It’s the end of another reenacting season for me, but it was a fun one. I hope to post some pictures and video from the event in the near future. Until next time, keep researching and reading.

AFTER ACTION REPORT FOR THE 150TH REENACTMENT OF 1ST MANASSAS, 20-26 JUL 2011

The adventure began when I got up at 2:00 AM on July 20, packed the cooler and hit I-29 South out of Grand Forks at 3:00 AM.  I was the only vehicle on the road for miles and miles until I hit Fargo about 4:30 AM. I was fortunate to spend only an hour sitting in morning traffic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about 7:30 AM. I was headed to Northfield, Iowa, to meet two other members of the group out here in the Midwest, the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Company H.  I arrived at 10:30 AM and we packed up a four door Ford Taurus minus Granny sitting on top of the car.  I slept through most of Iowa and Illinois. We found the coolest road construction outside of Indianapolis and spent about two hours counting the orange cones all up and down the interstate.

We crossed into Ohio and then West By-God Virginia.  The mountains impressed the boys from the flat lands and so did the locals at the gas station.  “You all ain’t from around here, ur you??”  No, we ain’t.  We stayed in Wheeling, West By-God Virginia for the night. We left about 9:00 AM and crossed into Maryland and drove I-68 East.  We finally crossed into the promised land of Virginia about 2:00 PM!

We registered for the event and drove about ten minutes to reach the actual campsite.  Most of the group we fell in with came from the Richmond-Hanover area, although there were a few from California and Colorado.  There were about forty in all that took the field on Saturday and Sunday. The temperature was about 98 on Thursday, so putting up the tent was a good way to get soaked.  The area around us continuously filled up with new comers until we had about three hundred tents in the section we were assigned.  There were probably 300+ Confederate tents in the wooded section and about 50 cavalry horses.

The unit we portrayed for the event was Company B, 1st Louisiana Special Battalion, known as Wheat’s Tigers. Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat [6’4”, 250 pounds] created the Tigers who were basically Irish wharf rats from New Orleans [pronounced Nawlins’]and were known for fighting each other, their fellow Confederates, and the Yankees. Rumor has it that the Mayor of Nawlins’ had a city party when he cleaned out his wharf and city jail for men that joined the Tigers.  They also carried D-handled Bowie knives and used them on each other several times, as well as the Yankees, too. They rode in boxcars to get to Manassas and a few were killed riding on top of the cars due to low bridges. Ain’t no bridges in Louisiana?  

On Friday, we walked the area and avoided attending the parade in Manassas, since our officers thought the weather was too damn hot. It reached 102 by the late afternoon. We visited the over-priced sutlers and saw hundreds of items we would like to have but didn’t need.  I bought a new straw hat made in China to replace the one I had left on the kitchen table in Grand Forks.

I ran into Mike Evans, an Air Force NCO that had replaced my intelligence sergeant in Bagram, Afghanistan, in July of 2009.  Now we both we serving in the Confederate Army, trying to keep the Yankee terrorists from invading the sacred soil of Virginia!  He was in a Florida unit and arrived Thursday morning with about 45 other Floridians.

As in any military organization, the Confederate Army, having called reveille at 5:30 AM on Saturday morning, had all units form up no later than 7:30 for a 9:30 battle.  We practiced the “hurry up and wait” method rather well.  We finally marched out with drums beating and headed toward the Yankee invader. The Tigers were supposed to attack the 2nd Rhode Island Battery and capture it.  Well, history and the script didn’t get read properly and we attacked into about 500 Yankees surrounding the cannon.  We got shot to pieces!  Then we fell back three times and moved off the field.  About thirty minutes of fame!

After we regrouped, we marched back to camp, while dozens of other Confederate units were marching onto the field.  The Yankees pushed us off the field and then ran into Jackson’s boys.  Then they ran back to Washington City!  The battle lasted about three hours and there were many heat related casualties on both sides.  That’s about true for the original battle, too.

We did the same action on Sunday, with fewer troops on both sides.  The temp on Saturday was 102 and about a 118 heat index.  Many reenactors packed up and left.  We stayed and drank water, Gatorade and whatever else was available.  I went through about five gallons of water and 24 bottles of Gatorade.  We also killed off four watermelons, two dozen oranges and other assorted fruits.  Very few alcoholic drinks were consumed due to the heat. No one left the field on Sunday the same weight we arrived with on Thursday. It was difficult to sleep and sweat at the same time.  We even had the Israeli Ambassador as a spectator on Sunday, with a bunch of Secret Servicemen.  The rumor started that we couldn’t have weapons on the field.  That rumor lasted about a minute.  Apparently he is a big American Civil War buff.

This was the first national event I went to that had an ATM set up in the field!  The vendors were selling 10 pounds of ice for $4.00.  (In past events, they usually gave one bag per man per day free.  Guess that’s history now.)  The stands were full both days, 15,000 at $45 a person, with ten tents of standing room at $25 for about 500 people.  I just wanted 1% of the gas that people bought to get there and back.  The scenario was not to historical fact, but it was okay. We heard on Sunday that the organizers were experienced in golf tournaments.  Not the same thing with 9,000 reenactors with cannon and horses.  At least the porta-johns were cleaned three times a day!  Although few were cooking, fires were only allowed above ground.

So, why did so many reenactors go to Manassas, camp out and suffer though 102, 102, 102 and 98 degree days?  Because the 150th anniversary only comes around once!  And, as a Southerner, we won the first one big!  Shooting across the field at a long blue line that was invading Virginia must have been an incredible feeling for the Confederate soldier in 1861.  Of course, in 2011, no one was worried about having their head shot off either!

We had a cluster trying to pack and leave on Sunday,  We finally drove the long gauntlet to get out to go to a hotel and shower, sit in the pool and drink a cold beer!  We left on Monday morning about 8:30 AM and drove until 2:00 AM Tuesday morning to get back to Iowa.  I then drove on to Grand Forks arriving about 10:30 AM.  And that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Your Obedient Servant,

Private Stuart Lawrence
Company B, 1st Louisiana Special Battalion

Sun coming up at 6:30 AM 23 July 2011 at Manassas, Virginia.

L to R: Bill Feuchtenberger, Stuart Lawrence and Gary Mitchell ready for battle!

Flag Day at Fort Abercrombie

Last Saturday, several members of the Fort Abercrombie Garrison and I assisted the site in celebrating Flag Day. It was a fun day of educating visitors on the fort, the frontier army, and the Civil War (yes, Fort Abercrombie is a Civil War site in North Dakota). We set up a small display of tents and equipment used by soldiers and engaged the visitors when possible. In addition, we assisted in retiring several flags through burning, including one of the site’s old flags. We raised that flag one last time and saluted it, folded it, and retired it. It was truly an honor to take part in this.

One of the cool parts of the day occurred earlier, when WDAY came out and filmed us practicing folding the flag. Also, yours truly was interviewed and the segments appeared on the six o’clock and ten o’clock newscasts that Saturday night, so potentially 200,000 people got to see what we did and our passion for history.

Click here to catch the videos (there are two segments)

Here are some pictures from the day as well.

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Photos from Fort Sisseton

Here are some pictures from this past weekend. Thanks to Scott Allan and Robin O’Neill for taking the pictures.

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An awesome weekend at Fort Sisseton

This weekend, I participated in the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival, which is held annually at Fort Sisseton in South Dakota. It was the most unique and wonderful experience I have had reenacting. My friend Stuart and I arrived at the post late Saturday morning and quickly set our camp up and got acquainted with those camping next to us. We attended as part of the Fifth Minnesota Infantry, Company D, but by the end of the weekend, we were members of another unit as well (more on that later).

After we set up and donned our uniforms, we joined fellow reenactors Den Bolda and Mike Larson in interpreting pay call in the north barracks, with the non-commissioned officers’ quarters being a temporary adjutants’ office. Den portrayed the Regimental Adjutant, Mike portrayed the clerk (dressed as a Sergeant with the United States Sharpshooters), and Stuart and I were two privates serving as the armed guard, given that it was pay-day. It was a fun time, as we discussed the payment process in the army, the creation of greenbacks, and uniforms of the army in the Civil War. After this, Mike and I were part of a Gatling Gun crew, with Mike firing the weapon, while I served as the ammunition bearer. It was a lot of fun and the crowd appreciated the display.

Later that evening, we participated in an event that really set this event apart from others, as a grand march on the parade ground took place, followed by a ball. We were decked out in our best uniforms available and escorted lovely ladies dressed in fine evening gowns. The ball lasted until almost midnight, with many chances to dance period dances (Stuart enjoyed the Virginia reel). After the ball, we retired to the camp and socialized for a bit more before turning in.

The next morning, I drilled with the 13th US Infantry Regiment and participated in the flag raising on the post. The 13th Regiment has a place in my life, as my dad was assigned to it when I was young and we were stationed in Baumholder, Germany. The motto of the 13th was “First at Vicksburg”, so it was a pleasure to drill with them. In the afternoon, I first interpreted in the post hospital, portraying an injured soldier. Stuart also played an injured soldier, suffering a head wound, and laid down on the hospital bed. It worked quite well, as he actually fell sound asleep for a few minutes and was still, which caused one couple to ask if he was real (I am not kidding, either). We played off the story that he was kicked in the head by a horse, and I injured my arm trying to catch said horse.

After that impression, I had the distinct pleasure and honor of serving on the Gatling Gun crew again, this time firing the weapon. It was an awesome experience and those who showed up were pleased. After this, I returned to camp for some socializing as the event wound down. The event ended and we returned to scenic Grand Forks that night.

Overall, I met a lot of great people at this event and will join yet another unit, the First US Volunteers, Company F, Galvanized, which is part of the Frontier Army of the Dakota. They are a great group that have a very family atmosphere and do events at state parks around the area. This weekend was great (I even met a guy portraying Custer, which was interesting) and I’ll be at Fort Abercrombie this coming Saturday for programming dedicated to Flag Day. I will post some pictures from this weekend in the next day or two, but will give you the link to the event program. On a side note, I hope you all like the new look of the blog.

Joining the Fort Abercrombie Garrison

Last weekend, I had a blast interacting with another unit closer to Grand Forks. It had the added bonus of being Union, which allows me to portray both sides in a given season, as I also fall in with Co. H. 1st South Carolina Infantry. Called the Fort Abercrombie Garrison, after the fort in southeastern North Dakota, but also known as Co. D, 5th Minnesota Infantry, it consists of several men from the Fargo-Moorhead area, as well as two (yours truly included) from Grand Forks.

Last Sunday, I drove to Detroit Lakes, MN to the Becker County Museum to join elements of the Garrison providing an interpretive display on the war to visitors for International Museum Day. It was great and, according to an article on DL-Online, over two hundred showed up. We set up a tent, two cannon, and displayed our equipment. We were dressed in a variety of Union uniforms and discussed the equipment and life of soldiers in the war. We also took the opportunity to tour the wonderful museum, which has many great displays and had several artisans on hand to demonstrate various skills. It was great fun and I even had the chance to recruit for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is always a plus. I will also share a couple great pictures of us from the event. If the weather holds, I may be heading to Abercrombie on Sunday for their opening weekend. I look forward to being involved with this unit in the future.

in he museum

Den and Megan Bolda and I talk inside the museum. I am on the right.

I am in the middle hidden by the arms.

This blog is four years old today

I can’t believe that this blog is four years old already and what a four years it has been. We recently broke the record for our best day, which happened to be the 15oth anniversary of the start of the war. We are on our way to 125,000 hits and I fully expect to hit 150,000 by year’s end. We have been averaging around 100 hits or more a day for several weeks and are embarking on covering the anniversaries of major events of the war as they relate to the sesquicentennial. I will soon begin a project involving podcasting for the blog and will also cover my adventures in reenacting and living history this summer, especially my trip to Wilson’s Creek for the anniversary of the battle.

Today, I will celebrate with my family, as my cousin graduates from UND with his Bachelor’s degree (congratulations Chad!). Tomorrow, I head to Fort Abercrombie to participate in Museum Day with the Fort Abercrombie Garrison reenacting unit, while my colleague Stuart will be at Nashua, Iowa again this year. I am looking forward to the shorter trip and the chance to reenact as a Union soldier.

As always, thank you very much for your readership and wonderful support. Have a great weekend, and, Happy 4th Birthday Civil War History!