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.

Material culture and Civil War soldiers

In light of Den Bolda’s great inaugural post on Union uniform coats, I thought I would share a paper I wrote for a class I took on material culture a couple years ago that dealt with Civil War soldiers. Being involved in reenacting since then, I have a greater appreciation for the objects and materials that constituted a soldier’s life and person during the war. On Friday, I head to Fort Sisseton for their history festival, so I will be absent from the blog for the weekend, but will post soon after I return on the fun of the weekend.

Yankee Uniforms

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Civil War soldiers are commonly thought to wear blue or gray, for North and South; however that was not always the case, especially in the beginning of the war.  Although many Northern militia units wore gray uniforms early in the war, a variety of uniforms were issued by federal and state governments.  Generally, the federal government issued three standard types of uniform jackets.  Those would be the frock coat, shell jacket, and the sack coat.  There are too many exceptions to include in this brief introduction, so please know that the information provided here is very basic.  This thread will cover a fraction of the uniforms worn by Union soldiers.

The federal frock coat was primarily issued to soldiers in the infantry and heavy artillery.  The frock coat has nine buttons down the front, two on the back and two on each sleeve. They had piping on the collar and cuffs which identified the soldier’s job.  Red piping meant that the soldier was in the artillery, while light blue piping (shown below)  meant that the soldier was in the infantry.  The frock coat was the fanciest coat that a Union soldier might be issued.  It was considered to be a dress or parade jacket.  The frock coat was quilted on the front inside lining.  The quilting added weight and bulk to add to the soldier’s prestige.  Unfortunately, it also added heat on hot Southern days.  It had one inside pocket and two pockets in the tail.

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The shell jacket was usually issued to mounted troops, or troops who rode horses.  This meant that cavalry and artillery soldiers wore this.  Just like the frock coat, it had nine buttons and had trim that identified the soldier’s occupation.  The soldier was an artilleryman if the shell jacket had red piping, but the trim would be yellow if he was a cavalry trooper .  These jackets were shorter than the frock coat because they were more comfortable to wear when riding a horse.  The jacket was quilted on the inside front lining.  Also, the shell jacket had two small “pillows” on the back which are very useful for keeping the army service belt in place!  It had one inside pocket.

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The final jacket mentioned above is the sack coat.  This jacket was made to be a fatigue blouse, or a work jacket.  It was not glamorous in any way.  It was shapeless and made of thin material.  Although almost all Union jackets were made of heavy wool, the sack coat was made of much lighter wool.  This jacket was supposed to be used by the troops when they were on fatigue duty.  By the end of the war the sack coat was used by Union infantry, cavalry, and artillery on all occasions.  It became the standard Union army coat.  The sack coat did not have any kind of color trim and only used four buttons.  It was usually lined with wool flannel or cotton.  It had one inside pocket.

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One addition that I would like to mention is the state jacket.  Many Northern states produced uniforms at their own expense.  The state jackets varied in design from state to state but they were all very similar.  Many people identify the state jacket with New York, but Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and other states also distributed these jackets.  Although they were very common earlier in the war, photographic evidence has shown several examples in service later on.  State jackets did not have piping but were usually of high quality.  They were made short like a shell jacket, so that they could be issued to mounted and foot soldiers indiscriminately.  They were almost always quilted and lined with one inside pocket.  State jackets sometimes had shoulder straps.  Image

Shiloh 150 years later

Yesterday, April 6, and today mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle is significant in several ways, some which are explored in a New York Times article published yesterday. One of my buddies and fellow reenactor attended one of the 150th events last weekend and there is a buzz about them on one of the major reenacting forums. However, this battle is still one that is popular for people to read about and study, though not to the level of Gettysburg, but one of the most studied in the Western Theater.

The battle that began near Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, near a small church called Shiloh, which meant place of peace, came to symbolize the carnage that characterized the Civil War. The Union forces were pushing down the Tennessee River towards the rail junction of Corinth, Mississippi. Having achieved two important victories in February against Forts Henry and Donelson, the Union was beginning to take the war to the South, under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. It was part of the larger strategy to gain control of the major inland waterways to cut the Confederacy in two. Confederate forces were hopeful of thwarting the Union strategy by delivering a major blow in the West, which reflected the state of the war in the East that was going in the South’s favor.

On April 6, General Ulysses S. Grant had established his camp on the bank of the Tennessee River, at Pittsburg Landing, the night before and was not prepared for General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Confederate army, which was encamped nearby. The Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Union camp that morning, which sought to drive the Union away and back up the river. Though initially caught off guard, Union troops rallied and fought a bitter fight against the Confederates along a line extending from the river for over a mile to Owl Creek. Part of the Union line engaged in heavy fighting, which became known as the Hornet’s Nest, where Union forces held firm. Fighting raged all along the line, with hundreds falling, including General Johnston, who was wounded in the back of the knee and bled to death. Johnston was the highest ranking officer killed on either side during the war.

After the first hard day of battle, a storm raged, with lightning flashing, showing hogs among the dead. Wounded soldiers came to a small pond to drink and bathe their wounds, dying the water pink, earning the small body the name “Bloody Pond”. William Tecumseh Sherman approached Grant under a tree, sheltering during the storm after the first day, and said, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”

The second day, April 7 brought bad luck for the Confederates. The Union army was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, which arrived the previous night. Further, the Confederates were disorganized by the loss of Johnston, which placed P.G.T. Beauregard in command, who did not realize he was outnumbered. In addition, Confederate command was rife with problems revolving around personality conflicts and subordinates not following Beauregard well. Facing a Union counterattack, Confederates were forced back from their gains the previous day and withdrew from the field, eventually back to Corinth.

The battle was the bloodiest in American history up to that time, and some claimed more casualties were suffered than all American wars combined to that time. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing), while Confederate losses were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). In addition to Johnston, Union general W.H.L. Wallace was also killed. Though initially vilified for his handling of the battle and the cost, Grant’s career was cemented by this victory. Though rumors circulated that he was drunk and calls for his job were made, Lincoln retained him, saying “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” Sherman also emerged a hero, and was a trusted subordinate and friend of Grant. This battle is quite important for the course of the war in the West and there are several great books on it, including:

Grimsley, Mark, and Steven E. Woodworth. Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.

Woodworth, Steven E., Ed. The Shiloh Campaign. Carbondale, IL:  Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

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!

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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