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.
To aid the Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site, Stuart, Joe, and I headed down on Saturday to do some living history for the day. We met the new supervisor, Thomas Casler, who is quite enthusiastic and interested in reenacting as well. We put out a bit of equipment and set ourselves up in the guard-house. Though the day started slow and rainy, it eventually picked up. We did pass the time as soldiers might have (although illegally) by playing cards (our pot was coffee beans). About thirty people came out throughout the day, including one couple who traveled all the way from Philadelphia, coming to North Dakota to visit forts and the Badlands.
Several youngsters came with their parents and we demonstrated the sequence for firing the weapons and talked about our gear. We also raised and lowered the flag over the post. Overall, it was a good day, despite the iffy weather, and we had a good time helping them commemorate Memorial Weekend. Our next trip will be to historic Fort Sisseton in South Dakota to take part in their annual historic festival. Below are some pictures (courtesy of Thomas Casler) from our day at Abercrombie.
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.
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:
Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
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).
Hat tip to Civil Warriors for this awesome video of a film that is held at the Library of Congress, but was made available online via the Smithsonian. I have heard a recording of the Rebel Yell before, but this is by far the best, as you can see the actual veterans doing the yell. Though the audio quality is a bit grainy, this video represents the power of digital history in making a unique piece of American history available to the world. Check it out, as I am sure it will send a shiver up your spine.
You should also check out this interesting article on video and audio recordings of veterans.
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.