Four score and seventy years ago: Two important minutes

Today marks the 150th anniversary of an event, where roughly two minutes of “a few appropriate remarks” by President Lincoln became American history and myth. Though memorized by several generations of schoolchildren, the Gettysburg Address was just part of a larger commemoration of the final resting place of soldiers killed fighting to preserve the Union. The event was a dedication to the national cemetery that still remains as a solemn tribute to sacrifice for a nation and its ideals, with one of the nation’s premiere orators, Edward Everett, delivering a two-hour speech.

The inclusion of Lincoln placed him in a minor roll within the larger ceremony, compared to Everett. Though his speech was secondary to the main oration, Lincoln was able to encapsulate the whole of American history and the momentous occasion of the Civil War and its importance in preserving the Union, while dealing with the big issue of equality, ultimately allowing the nation to live up to the principles of the Founders and the Declaration of Independence that he referenced. In 272 words, the President stressed the importance of the sacrifice of the soldiers buried there to the larger aim of securing the Union, while also referencing the new aim of the war, the ending of slavery. He also used the Address to show how the nation was changing and the hope that the idea first put forth by the founders in 1776 would endure forever.

The remarkable thing about Lincoln’s speech was that while it was viewed in sharp contrasts by the media and nation, falling largely along partisan lines (sound familiar) between Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning papers (media bias is nothing new), who either viewed the speech as “silly” or a momentous oration that was quite fitting for the occasion, that the Gettysburg Address has become one of the best examples of oration in American history. Lincoln’s short remarks represent one of the finest uses of the English language around, as he was succinct in his remarks and made every word command power.

Though 150 years later, the Gettysburg Address is still worth remembering and commemorating. It is hoped that we still live up to the ideals of Lincoln’s “few appropriate remarks.” With that, I leave you with some cool sites related to the Address.

Library of Congress online exhibit

Learn the Address (a Ken Burns project)

PBS site for Ken Burns’ The Address (coming in 2014)

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.

How the Civil War Changed Our Lives – AARP

Though one would not think of the AARP website as having much to do with the war, they posted an interesting reflective piece on how the Civil War changed the lives of Americans.

Echoes of the nation’s greatest fight — the Civil War — still reverberate from coast to coast.

Some ring strong: of course the end of slavery, perhaps the worst disgrace in the nation’s history. And the 620,000 ancestors lost. Other vestiges have weakened with the passage of time but are no less legacies of the four horrific, heroic years that shaped us as one nation.Here are eight ways the Civil War indelibly changed us and how we live:

1. We have ambulances and hospitals.

The Civil War began during medieval medicine’s last gasp and ended at the dawn of modern medicine. Each side entered the war with puny squads of physicians trained by textbook, if at all. Four years later, legions of field-tested doctors, well-versed in anatomy, anesthesia and surgical practice, were poised to make great medical leaps.

The nation’s first ambulance corps, organized to rush wounded soldiers to battlefront hospitals and using wagons developed and deployed for that purpose, was created during the Civil War. The idea was to collect wounded soldiers from the field, take them to a dressing station and then transport them to the field hospital.

Doctors laid out the hospitals as camps divided into well-defined wards for specific activities such as surgery and convalescence. Women flocked to serve these hospitals as nurses.

Before the war, most people received health care at home. After the war, hospitals adapted from the battlefront model cropped up all over the country. The ambulance and nurses’ corps became fixtures, with the Civil War’s most famous nurse, Clara Barton, going on to establish the American Red Cross. Today’s modern hospital is a direct descendant of these first medical centers.

How the Civil War Changed Our Lives – AARP.

150 years later, Union sailors from USS Monitor to be buried at Arlington

It is nice to see these veterans being honored so long after giving their lives in defense of the Union. What’s even more impressive is the use of DNA in attempting to identify the men. This story raises some interesting questions as to how many other veterans are unaccounted for from the war and how DNA can be used to find other veterans deserving of military honors and burial.

Two Navy sailors slated for heroes’ burials at Arlington National Cemetery have waited a century and a half for the honor.

The men were among the crew members who perished aboard the legendary Union battleship the USS Monitor, which fought an epic Civil War battle with Confederate vessel The Merrimack in the first battle between two ironclad ships in the Battle of Hampton Roads, on March 9, 1862.

Nine months later, the Monitor sank in rough seas off of Cape Hatteras, where it was discovered in 1973. Two skeletons and the tattered remains of their uniforms were discovered in the rusted hulk of the Union ironclad in 2002, when its 150-ton turret was brought to the surface. The Navy spent most of a decade trying to determine the identity of the remains through DNA testing.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/03/04/150-years-later-union-sailors-from-uss-monitor-to-be-buried-at-arlington/

Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.

How many died?: New thoughts on the cost of the war

For much of the last several decades, the accepted figure for the number of dead was 620,000, making the Civil War the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. Now, that figure is being questioned. Initially reported in September, the December 2011 issue of the journal Civil War History (not affiliated with this blog) has an article dedicated to this subject. If you have access to a library, I urge you to check it out.

Using census data, some historians now believe that the war actually cost more in dead than we have thought, by almost twenty percent. According to these new studies, the number of dead ranges anywhere from 750,000 to as much as 850,000, which is much more staggering than the 620,000 we have accepted for so long.

This poses the biggest historical question, why is this important? First, it is important because it illustrates the problems of how we accounted for our war dead as a nation. Particularly, the case of African-American dead, as around 180,000 served in the war (I am not getting into a debate about black Confederates on this). Second, it brings a whole new significance to the war in American history in terms of its effect on population. That twenty percent or more died than previously believed means that a higher percentage of the population was killed and otherwise affected by the fighting. It also means that if we place such a figure against our contemporary population figures, the death toll becomes even more stark, as the new figures are almost three percent of the wartime population, which translates to roughly nine million dead in today’s figures. Finally, it raises questions as to whether all the dead from the war have been accounted, as while it may not seem important 150 years later, it is important to understanding how the military has handled the dead, both good and bad, from America’s conflicts.

Our understanding of death and the war was greatly aided by the publication of Drew Gilpin Faust’s marvelous book This Republic of Suffering (2008). Faust examined how death and the carnage of war influenced society and is one of the more groundbreaking studies within recent Civil War historiography. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for such findings to become accepted and how long before textbooks change the figures, but if the methods hold up, this will shape how this war is remembered for years to come.

Update to Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Thanks to some of my intrepid readers, who followed up on this story and commented to my earlier post on the controversial proposed SCV license plate in the Lone Star State. Initial stories on the situation indicated opposition to the plate by prominent Democratic politicians in the state, which led me to believe that there might be more to this than moral opposition to the Confederate flag and Confederacy.

However, I learned from one commenter (hat tip to David Woodbury, blogger at of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) that Gov. Rick Perry expressed opposition to the plate as well. This definitely changed the situation for the future of the proposal, as he holds great sway in the state and on the commission that determined its fate, which contained several Perry appointees. This held true, as the commission rejected the plate proposal, choosing instead to honor the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which is certainly an institution and group of soldiers worth honoring with a license plate. However, this issue is likely not dead, as SCV will likely sue to have the plates issued. The group has successfully litigated in other southern states before on the plate issue.

My thoughts on this would be for the commission to communicate to the SCV the option for a Civil War license plate that is neutral, commemorating appropriately the 150th anniversary of the war with the silhouette of a soldier and the wording of the anniversary and the war. It would allow citizens to take their own meaning from the plate and the proceeds could be directed to preservation of Civil War related items and land, which would hopefully satisfy the SCV.

Thoughts on the Texas Confederate license plate controversy

Recently, several legislators in Texas came out against a proposed license plate in Texas designed to denote a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans.Their opposition revolves around the organizational logo of SCV, which features the battle flag, and is used in the plate design. Keep in mind that our modern conception of the Confederate flag is actually the naval jack (you can see this in a 19th century engraving of the CSS Albemarle from the US Navy’s history website on Confederate vessels).

The SCV states that the proceeds from the plates will go to marking Confederate soldier graves, build monuments, and preserve artifacts. Texas considered the idea as we are beginning the 150th anniversary of the war, but the board that approves plate designs is deadlocked in a 4-4 tie, with another vote coming on Nov. 10. Several other states in the South have such plates and while attempts have been made to stop them, SCV has successfully sued and received approval.

Now, as a descendant of a Union veteran and a member of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), I am wondering how many states now have or would adopt plates for our organization, as I would like to have one. I have no real problem with an SCV plate, so long as it is done in good taste, which looking at the design seems so. While Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls the flag a “symbol of intimidation”, it is an object and is only intimidating if used in that way and allowed to be intimidating. I do find it interesting that those speaking out against the plates seem to be only Democrats. What are their motivations for opposition beyond political disagreement?

While some aspects of the SCV do annoy me, they have the right to be recognized and share pride in their organization. I seriously doubt that too many people are going to pay that close of attention to an SCV license plate, as they should be focusing on the road. I hope other states will consider adopting some sort of commemorative plate for the 150th anniversary. What are your thoughts on this?

Digital history and the Civil War

As I have been working this semester on a digital history project on the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library at UND, I decided to take a few moments to consider the applications digital history has for the Civil War. As new technology changes life in many ways, history also must adapt to the faster pace of a digital world.

I have posted on several digital collections devoted to the war in the past, but want to share with you the possibilities that digital history provides for the war. Beyond digital collections placed online by various research libraries and institutions, digital tools provide endless possibilities for those interested in the war and here are some examples:

Omeka is an open-source collection management software that allows users to upload various items onto a digital archive, organize them into collections, and make them available to the world. The cool thing about this resource is that if you have a personal collection of documents and objects related to the war, you can create an online museum devoted to them, with metadata that is useful to researchers.

Using online tools to collaborate with others in the field is one of the best ways digital technology improves our understanding of the war. Search engines allow us to access materials from anywhere, and software, like Zotero, which is a free citation management program, let scholars organize information and retrieve it quickly. I have a bibliography devoted to my thesis topic (Civil War soldiers) that I try and update to keep abreast of new materials. Also, using a Twitter feed offers the chance of posting a question to your followers and receiving an answer quickly.

One of the best ways to use digital tools is blogging, as it allows you to showcase your interests and research and gain a following in the digital world. This is one reason I blog, and there are several other scholars on the war that have blogs (Civil Warriors, Crossroads, and Renegade South come to mind). So, if you are interested, get out there and start a blog, or ask to join one as a guest writer.

I will leave you with a couple great posts by two professors at the University of North Dakota who are much more knowledgeable about this subject than I. Dr. Bill Caraher wrote a post on his blog, which is cross-posted to Teaching Thursday, and Dr. Tim Pasch shared his insights into digital tools as well, which while they are more to improve workflow, they have great uses in researching the war, in terms of organizing information and retaining it. It will be amazing to see how much of a role digital history plays during the 150th anniversary, and who knows what will be going on for the bicentennial. Until next time, keep researching.

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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After Action Report on the 150th Reenactment of Wilson’s Creek

Dan and I left about 1000 from Grand Forks, ND, on Wednesday, 10 August and headed south to Wilson’s Creek near Republic, Missouri.  The route down I-29 was blocked by flooding in Iowa, which meant we were re-routed on state roads.  We got back on I-29 after a scenic tour of farms in Iowa.  Saw many Cabela’s along the way so don’t screw with the Iowans, since they are heavily armed. Stopped driving at 2200 and stayed the night in St. Joseph, MO. Left about 0900 the next morning.

Arrived in Republic, MO, about 1400. We registered and drove into the Confederate Camp area.  What I saw looked like a Boy Scout Camp Jamboree instead of neatly lined tents of the Confederate Army.  It got really interesting when we were asking around where the 3rd Missouri Infantry was located.  No one seemed to know where any units were positioned. No company streets had been laid out.  (Company streets are simply the running of a string from the first tent straight down to the last tent so the unit can have tents to the left and right of a path or “street” leading to the commander of the unit; like an inverted “U”).  Also noticed there were no SLOW DOWN or ONE WAY signs for vehicles using the dirt road running between the rows of tents.  No common sense was jumping out to greet me…

We found the major of the 3rd Missouri and he placed us on the top of a new street.  We just had unloaded our gear when three other groups showed up and recognized my truck. We set up four tents in about 30 minutes and had a fire pit dug to cook the evening meal. By 1700, we had eight tents set up and were ready to eat by 1800.  The ladies had chicken and dumplings for dinner, which went really well with a couple of Coors Lites!

On Friday morning, the damn bugler blew Reveille at 0530 and we got up to light the fire for breakfast. (There was a shortage of cut wood for the camps. Any other event I’ve been to always had wood cut and piled up for use. We ended up dragging dead wood from the tree line, which cleaned up the park.  Maybe that was planned, huh?)  The ladies fixed cinnamon buns for breakfast with sliced oranges and plums.  I cheated on the coffee by using instant with boiling water!

The first battalion formation (about 300 Confederates) was at 0730.  The commander looked like Teddy Roosevelt and had a soft voice which did not carry down to the left side of the formation where we were standing.  Our sergeant major looked like ZZ Top and was concentrating on proper foot alignment of the front row.  When you stand at PARADE REST in 1861, you keep your left foot in place and move the right foot to the back of the left one, at a 45 degree angle.  He was so anal about the feet, we thought he had a foot fetish!

After the formation, we went back to camp.  Suddenly, the bugles were blowing and the officers were yelling that the Yankees had taken the field and were moving toward our camp.  Of course, the field was only on the other side of Wilson’s Creek, and we could see the enemy not too far away.  We formed up quickly and marched off to meet the Yankee invader.

The lines of Confederates were impressive since we outnumbered the Yankees about 4 to 1.  The real battle was about 3 Confederates to 2 Yankees.  The Yankees held the center of the field and within an hour, the ranks of the multi-uniformed Southerners had pushed them off the field. We actually pushed them to the bridge over Wilson’s Creek, where since they didn’t turn their muskets down as a sign of surrender, the Confederates continued to march across the bridge.  This upset the blue clad invaders and they looked like whipped school boys.  The crowds, which were mostly pro-Confederate, enjoyed the action.  We marched back to camp and had the rest of the day off for doing such a good job in routing the Yankee square-heads from the field. (Several of the Union militia units were German immigrants from St. Louis, so “Square Heads” was a descriptive means of identifying them).

We spent the rest of the day visiting the sutler tents and buying items we wanted but didn’t need.  There was a root beer stand and several food vendors.  The prices were not bad but they didn’t take Confederate money.

We had a large pot of stew for dinner and spent the evening listening to several songs.  We even had a history class for two on the young soldiers in the unit on the US presidents, the states, and the Bill of Rights and Ten Commandments.

We also had a Union Cavalry “raid” through the area about 2100 in the dark.  Now, if the event planners had this on the schedule, it wouldn’t have been a problem.  But when several of the Yankees rode through the poorly lighted area, the possibility of someone walking to the porta-johns getting run over was very possible.  We didn’t know whether this was planned or not and some of the boys close to the horses began firing at them.  We sat in our tents since we didn’t know what the hell was going on.  This showed very poor judgment on the part of both the planners and re-enactors. If someone was hit by a horse, the lawyers would be circling like the sharks for a settlement, not to mention the possibility of a rider being pulled off their mount and having the crap kicked out of them by some angry Rebel having to hit the head!

Saturday morning the damn bugler woke us up again. We ate pancakes for breakfast and then drilled as a company, and then as a battalion with Teddy and ZZ Top.  His voice got a little louder since he must have been informed of his lack of a “command voice”. (Military term for using your voice, and other parts of your anatomy to reach all the formation, to put it nicely).

(One item I must report on here.  I noticed one of the officers was riding his horse right through our row of tents.  I walked over to him and asked that he not ride through our living area.  He stated that he was the battalion commander and that I should talk to my captain.  I wanted to jerk the SOB off the horse but didn’t know what the horse would do in a confined area of tents.  So I walked off and told my captain what a pompous ass this clown was.  He turned out to be a corrections guard from Okiehoma who counsels prisoners being paroled.  That’s the problem with these want-to-be Kentucky Colonels, using his re-enactment position to be important, due to his lack of esteem in the real world!  I saw him three times after this incident and hoped he would open his mouth but he always turned away.  I also told the brigade staff about it and they agreed horses in camps were not welcomed).

The morning battle was okay, but confused.  Too many of the officers didn’t know how to move troops around, which was the actual problem in 1861 and also in 2011.  So nothing has changed in 150 years.  The evening battle was a complete cluster when the entire Confederate army was marched into the tree line.  The Union marched out a unit of about 200 to fire into the trees.  Mind you, the crowd was about five hundred yards away and couldn’t imagine what was going on.  Hell, we were there, and still didn’t know what was going on!  We were bunched together in the little shade available, while an idiot portraying a Confederate officer was riding his horse through the tightly packed formations.  Common sense was left back at camp since the horse wasn’t too happy to be crowded by the lines of soldiers.

We ended up firing at the top of the trees and scaring half the birds in southern Missouri.  It was such a waste of powder (about $20 a pound), I just used the caps and saved the powder.  We had no clue what was going on with these knucklehead officers.  (Felt the same way in several staff meetings in Afghanistan, too!)

On Saturday evening, I got a ride with Craig Lenz to the hotel room that his family had booked to take a shower so I could go to the evening dance.  We got to the dance, and again, this event must have been planned the weekend before. The sound system and the lighting was poor, and the ground to dance on had holes and small clumps of brush sticking up.  Not very conducive to slide your partner across the dance floor.  There was no water or sodas since the vendors had run out.  Really poor planning on the event staff.  The band was good, but the dance was a flop.

On Sunday morning, the bugler let loose about 0600, and we had breakfast of eggs and bacon.  We fought the last battle which was actually done correctly, with lots of casualties on both sides and the crowds were happy to see the field littered with dead and wounded.  Sick people, huh?

We broke camp about 1400 and finally left the field about 1500.  We ate lunch at Culver’s (kind of a Friendly’s ice cream restaurant) and hit the road about 1630.  Dan and I drove to his parent’s house in Jerseyville, Illinois, and arrived about 2200.  We left the next morning about 0930 and arrived back in Grand Forks at 0100 Tuesday morning.

The 150th Wilson’s Creek had many problems.  It seemed the planners had a motive to make money, and not spend any on basic items like water, porta-johns and firewood.  That they accomplished.  The crowds were large, and the money they made was probably impressive.  Yet, the atmosphere of commercialization off-set the main reason most of us drove hundreds of miles and dozens of hours to get there – to honor those who fought there.  Future event planners, after pulling their heads out of their collective rear ends, will see that the event must be planned to honor those men that fought and died at the site, and not to squeeze dollars out of the re-enactors and the public as if the event was like an annual county fair.

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.

Some videos from the First Bull Run reenactment

Here are a couple videos from this past weekend’s reenactment of the First Battle of Bull Run:

-This is a personal video of the event.

-Video of the parade.

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!

Review of the film “Gettysburg” that premiered on History tonight

Well, my attempt at live blogging was interrupted by the weather, but I wanted to try to sum up my feelings on the movie, some of which were covered here and here.

Overall, I felt that the program was quite interesting and a stark departure from recent Civil War films of the silver screen. Naturally, the best comparison for this film is Gettysburg (1993). In this History special, there is no Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, or Jeff Daniels. It does not discuss Buford’s cavalry, the death of John Reynolds, or Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top. While the elements chosen for this film were not as much a focus of the theatrical movie, I was looking forward to see how the Scott brothers would cover those parts of the battle. There is less rich drama, mostly gritty emotional turmoil that illustrates the sheer horror of the battle and the larger war. It has some solid educational qualities to it, though.

The coverage of the first day centered around the story of the Iron Brigade’s role in the battle and the fighting inside the town. The coverage of the second day revolved around the Wheat Field and Culp’s Hill, while the third day focused on Pickett’s Charge, but lacking the sweeping dramatic panoramic shots of Confederate troops marching out, or Union forces behind the stone wall. The main difference was showing the horrors of the weaponry used against the troops on the charge. The scenes showing the charge lacked some of the power due to a lack of numbers used, but the idea the producers attempted to show seemed to be met.

The film pulled back to cover broader subjects of medicine, civilian involvement, and African Americans as they all related to the battle and war, which was a nice touch. Personal stories relating to soldiers involved did an excellent job of providing an intimate view of the battle, making the viewer feel as if they are next to the person. The live action scenes were one of the most detailed features of the film and truly gripping, with some fairly violent scenes demonstrating the carnage of the Civil War battlefield.

In addition, the film utilized computer generated graphics and images to discuss the technology used in the battle, specifically weapons and the effects on the soldiers, as well as illustrate the lay of the land in and around Gettysburg. This effective blending of graphics and live action adds to the films’ educational qualities.

One thing that separates this production from the theatrical version is a lack of focus on the major players (Generals Lee, Longstreet, Hancock, Buford, and Meade), except for Dan Sickles. Most of the characters focused on in the film are common soldiers, or brigade commanders, placing the battle around the actions involving their own individual units.

The Scott brothers created a production that illustrated a gruesome war, deviating from a largely romanticized and glorified portrayal of the war, even on History. While I hoped to see their portrayal of Joshua Chamberlain, I was generally pleased with the effort. I do hope that this is the beginning of more productions of this nature on other major battles of the war, especially from the Western Theater.

This film is part of a week-long series of programs on History on the war, including a program Tuesday evening called Grant and Lee. In addition, special episodes of Pawn Stars and American Pickers will deal with Civil War items, so be sure to check them out. Finally, thank you all for making today our busiest day with over 350 hits.