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!

Call for Papers for the Society for Civil War Historians Conference

CALL FOR PAPERS:

The Society of Civil War Historians will host a conference from June 14 through 16, 2012, at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Kentucky.  The SCWH welcomes panel proposals or individual papers on the Civil War era, broadly defined.  The goal of the conference is to promote the integration of social, military, political, and other forms of history on the Civil War era among historians, graduate students, and public historians.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is September 15, 2011. Proposals should include a title and abstract for the papers (approximately 250-300 words) and a short curriculum vitae of participants. Panel submissions should have an overall title and statement about the thrust of the session.

Proposals should be submitted as one PDF sent electronically to RichardsCenter@psu.edu.  For information, see the Society’s website:  http://scwh.la.psu.edu or contact the Richards Center at (814) 863-0151.  Final decisions on panels will be made at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Baltimore.

Author’s Note: If you are not already a member, please consider joining, which you can do by clicking here.

NEW PBS DOCUMENTARY “THE WAR OF 1812” EXPLORES THE TRUTH AND MYTHMAKING OF HISTORY

Though outside the main scope of this site, I thought I would share this press release about a PBS documentary on the War of 1812 coming this fall for your consideration.

— Television Program Presents American, Canadian, British and Native Perspectives, Leading the Way of Bicentennial Activities, Airs October 10 —

WASHINGTON, D.C. and BUFFALO, NY — Nearly two centuries after it was fought, the two-and-a-half year conflict that forged the destiny of a continent comes to public television in a comprehensive film history.  “The War of 1812” airs on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, October 10, 2011 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings).  From 1812 to 1815, Americans battled against the British, Canadian colonists, and Native warriors; the outcomes shaped the geography and the identity of North America.  This two-hour HD documentary uses stunning re-enactments, evocative animation, and the incisive commentary of key experts to reveal little-known sides of an important war — one that some only recognize for the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  The broadcast is accompanied by a companion book and website, as well as comprehensive bi-national educational resources.

Across the United States and Canada, communities are planning events to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812.  “We have proudly created ‘The War of 1812’ for both nations,” said Donald K. Boswell, president and CEO of WNED, the producing station of the program. Broadcasting from Buffalo, New York, WNED has significant viewership in Southern Ontario.  “This timely examination of a shared history allows us to celebrate our past together, and renew the bond of our present and future as national neighbors.  With this production, WNED also continues a tradition of showcasing cultural and historical treasures of our bi-national region to the PBS audience.”  WNED is one of fourteen public broadcasting stations that share a border with Canada, extending the national broadcast of “The War of 1812” throughout the United States into many Canadian communities.

“WETA is pleased to join WNED in bringing this important project to all viewers,” noted Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting stations in the nation’s capital and a partner in the project.  “It is an excellent example of the intellectual integrity and cultural merit for which public broadcasting stands.”

The War of 1812 is a celebrated event by Canadians, forgotten by many Americans and British, and dealt a resounding blow to most of the Native nations involved.  The film is in many ways an examination of how the mythical versions of history are formed — how the glories of war become enshrined in memory, how failures are quickly forgotten, and how inconvenient truths are ignored forever, while we often change history to justify and celebrate our national cultures and heritage.

“The War of 1812” explores the events leading up to the conflict, the multifold causes of the war, and the questions that emerged about the way a new democracy should conduct war.  It was a surprisingly wide war.  Dozens of battles were fought on land in Canada and in the northern, western, southern and eastern parts of the United States — in the present-day states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Louisiana, and Alabama.  There were crucial naval battles on Lakes Erie and Champlain, and a wide-ranging maritime struggle with many episodes off Virginia, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Cuba, Ireland, the Azores, the Canaries, British Guyana, and Brazil.  The U.S. proved surprisingly successful against the great British navy, but the War of 1812 also saw American armies surrender en masse and the American capital burned.

Great characters emerge in the film, including Tecumseh of the Shawnee nation, who attempted to form a confederation of Native nations, and died in battle; his adversary, William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, whose debatable success at Tippecanoe, Indiana eventually helped him become President of the United States; James Madison, Father of the U.S. Constitution, a brilliant thinker and writer who was not a great President; and such storied Canadian figures as Canadian Governor-General George Prévost, who led the largest army ever to invade the Continental United States; Laura Secord, a Canadian woman who walked many miles to warn the British of an impending American attack; and Major General Isaac Brock, a brave and audacious British general who captured a large American army at Detroit without a fight.  The film also recounts dramatic human stories of ordinary citizens, the political alliances of the various Native Americans nations, and the African-American
slaves who reached for their freedom by fighting for the British.

“The War of 1812” recollects defining moments that are more familiar: the burning of Washington, D.C., and First Lady Dolley Madison’s rescue of a portrait of George Washington from the White House; Andrew Jackson’s total victory at the Battle of New Orleans; and the birth of the American national anthem, penned by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry.  Yet “The War of 1812” pierces the heroic mythology that has grown up around the war to reveal a brutal, spiteful conflict dominated by fiascos and blunders.

The war shaped North America in the most literal way possible: had one or two battles or decisions gone a different way, a map of the continent today might look entirely different.  The U.S. could well have included parts of Canada — but was also on the verge of losing much of the Midwest.  The New England states, meanwhile, were poised on the brink of secession just months before a peace treaty was signed.  However, the U.S. and Canada ultimately each gained a sense of nationalism from the conflict, while the result tolled the end of Native American dreams of a separate nation.

Interviews with twenty-six leading authorities on the War of 1812 — American, British, Canadian and Native historians — present important accounts and research, including from the following individuals:

·       Donald R. Hickey, professor of history at Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska.~ He is the author of~Don’t Give Up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812~and~The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict.

·       Peter Twist, the Canadian director of Military Heritage, a historical military uniform and arms supply company.~ He has served as consultant on numerous film and theater projects, and is an expert on the military history of the War of 1812.

·       Donald Fixico, a Shawnee Native American, is the Distinguished Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University, and author of~Treaties with American Indians: An Encyclopedia of Rights, Conflicts and Sovereignty~and~Rethinking American Indian History.

·       Sir Christopher Gerald Prevost, great-great-great-grandson to George Prévost, Governor-in-Chief of British North America during the War of 1812.~ He is co-author of~The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History.~

A complete list of those interviewed is available in the project’s electronic press kit.

The film’s companion book, The War of 1812: A Guide to Battlefields and Historic Sites, by John Grant and Ray Jones, is illustrated with more than 120 color photographs and archival paintings.  Each chapter focuses on one of several distinct theaters of the war, allowing the reader to follow the course of events and their importance to the war as a whole.  Jones is the author of more than 40 books, including several highly successful companion books for PBS, among them Legendary Lighthouses.  Grant is the executive producer of “The War of 1812” and chief content officer for WNED Buffalo/Toronto; he has also produced for PBS “Window to the Sea”, “The Marines” and “Chautauqua: An American Narrative.”

The project is also accompanied by a rich bi-national education and outreach component.  It includes Educator’s Guides with lesson plans, activities, and a host of educational-based resources designed for the United States and Canada, classroom posters, and several instructional events.  Expansive educational resources will also be found on the full companion website to the television documentary at pbs.org.  The full site will launch in early September with features such as a battlefield map and guide, web-only video features, scholar essays, and links to key 1812 sites on both sides of the border.

For more information about “The War of 1812,” including details on how to purchase the DVD and companion book, visit www.pbs.org/war-of-1812.  An electronic press kit, including downloadable photos for promotional use, is available at pressroom.pbs.org.

“The War of 1812” is a production of WNED-TV, Buffalo/Toronto and Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc.,~in association with WETA Washington, D.C.  The executive producers are John Grant and David Rotterman for WNED, and Dalton Delan and Karen Kenton for WETA.  Produced by Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey of Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc.  Directed by Lawrence Hott.  Written by Ken Chowder.  Narrated by Joe Mantegna.  Principal Cinematography by Stephen McCarthy.  Production Design by Peter Twist.  “The War of 1812” has been made possible by a major grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities: Because democracy demands wisdom*.~ With funding provided by The Wilson Foundation, Warren and Barbara Goldring, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting: a private corporation funded by the American people, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations: Dedicated to strengthening America’s future through education, Phil Lind and The Annenberg Foundation.~ With additional support
from The Baird Foundation, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and Jackman Foundation. *Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

WNED-TV is a leading producer of single-topic documentary programming for national broadcast on PBS including “Chautauqua: An American Narrative,” “Elbert Hubbard: An American Original,” “The Adirondacks,” “Niagara Falls,” “The Marines,” “Window to the Sea,” “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo” and “America’s Houses of Worship.”  Also in development are films on the Underground Railroad and the history of golf course architecture in America.  More information on WNED and its programs and services is available at www.wned.org.

WETA Washington, D.C., is the third-largest producing station for public television.~ WETA’s other productions and co-productions include “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” the arts series “In Performance at the White House” and “The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including the premiere this fall of “Prohibition.”  More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.

Florentine Films/Hott Productions Inc. is the production company of Lawrence Hott and Diane Garey, who have worked together since 1978.  They are part of the Florentine Films group.  Hott and Garey have received an Emmy Award, two Academy Award nominations, five American Film Festival Blue Ribbons, fourteen CINE Golden Eagles, a George Foster Peabody Award, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, the Erik Barnouw Award.~~Their work has been shown on PBS and screened at dozens of major film festivals, including the New York Film Festival, Telluride, Mountainfilm, and Women in the Director’s Chair.~ More information is available at www.florentinefilms.org.

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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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.

Thank you everyone!

Wow, what a last couple days this site has had. I managed to publish four posts yesterday and the buzz caused us to break the record for the busiest day on this site, which was set on April 12, the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter. Yesterday, this site recorded 379 hits, which was awesome, even considering that my attempt to live blog was disrupted by stormy weather. To my surprise and delight, we have so far tied yesterday’s mark of 379 and there is still a bit of time to break the mark. I want to extend a deep thank you to all of you who support this site and visit both the site and follow it on Twitter and Facebook. I will do my best to keep you coming back with new content.