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.

Presenting back home and in class

As the semester nears its end, I decided to take a few moments to share what I have been up to in the last two weeks. On April 13, I departed Grand Forks for my hometown of Jerseyville, Illinois. It was a well-timed trip in light of the tornado that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport on Good Friday, which is where I fly into. I had been selected to present a paper at the 2011 Illinois History Symposium in Carbondale. My advisor, Dr. Kim Porter, who also presented, informed me of the conference last fall, so I happily submitted, as it coincided with my mom’s birthday. I presented on the physical transition from civilian to soldier in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, which was one chapter of my thesis. The panel was awesome, though I forgot my camera and have no pictures of it. I was also approached by a couple of folks from SIU Press who asked me to keep them in mind when I get around to writing the book on the subject. After the presentation, my dad and I traveled to Murphysboro, seven miles from Carbondale, and took in a reception at the John A. Logan Museum. It was quite fun, as Logan was the creator of Memorial Day, a past Commander-in-Chief of the GAR, which is special for me being in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Murphysboro was also fun to visit, as it was impacted by the 1925 Tri-State Tornado, where almost 700 people across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were killed in a single tornado. The town still holds the record for most fatalities in a single city from a tornado at 234. This crosses into one of my other quirky historical interests, which is natural disasters. The trip allowed me to visit my folks for a few days and relax a bit from the demands of teaching and class, as well as network for future job and publishing opportunities. Plus, I met James Swan, author of Chicago’s Irish Legion:  The 90th Illinois Volunteers in the Civil War, who came to my panel. I took the opportunity to purchase his book and have him sign it (the dust jacket tore a little in transit back to North Dakota, thanks Delta). I fielded a few good questions that opened up areas of inquiry that I had not considered before, so the rewards go beyond a line on the CV. All in all, it was a great trip and I encourage those in Illinois to consider the next symposium April 26-28, 2012 in East Peoria, with the theme “Contested Lands:  1673-1840.” The deadline for submission is October 15, 2011. For more information, contact William Furry at 217-525-2781.

Upon my return to Grand Forks (it snowed while I was away), I presented my lecture on Creating Armies in my History 103 class. I broke from the usual form of lecture and team-taught with my friend and fellow reenactor Stuart Lawrence. We used some of our reenacting equipment to conduct a object-based presentation on the lives of soldiers and what training was like for them, which allowed me to combine a bit of material culture and dress up in period attire. Whether it was effective in helping them understand remains to be seen, but I figure it is a nice change of pace and helps the visual and tactile learners anyway. I am working on some book reviews and will be again appearing on local talk radio to chat about the war on the same day as the next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Round Table, where I will present on the Camp Jackson Affair and Civil War Missouri. If you are in the Grand Forks area, come to the E. Grand Forks VFW at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 3 and join our group and listen to my talk.

Finally, I have joined the 21st century a bit more. Those of you with smart phones, which does not include me, can now access my blog via the QR that I placed in the sidebar. Until next time, keep researching and I will leave you with the paper that I presented in Illinois.

Review of today’s webcast on Civil War soldiers

Well, I sat through the webcast, or webinar if you prefer, this morning and it was an interesting experience. The presenters, Dr. Barry Shollenberger and Dana B. Shoaf did an excellent job of presenting the subject of Civil War soldiers to an audience of varying backgrounds. While I was hoping for a discussion on the scholarship on soldiers and where it is heading, since it was sponsored by American Military University, it did convey the basic knowledge that everyone should know to understand the importance of Civil War soldiers. There was also a time for questions at the end. Overall, I found this a unique experience and hope to learn more about its usefulness in other settings.

A little about the presenters:

Dr. Barry Shollenberger is Provost Emeritus at Virginia College in Birmingham, Alabama and is also retired from The University of Alabama where he served as Associate Director of Distance Education and president of the State of Alabama Distance Learning Association. Dr. Shollenberger has taught American History for twenty years, is a member and contributor to the Society for Civil War Historians, and has taught continuously at AMU since 1997.

Dana B. Shoaf is the editor of Civil War Times, the oldest Civil War magazine in publication. Shoaf taught American history at colleges in Maryland and Northern Virginia before working for Time-Life as a writer and researcher. He has published dozens of articles dealing with the Civil War and often speaks at conferences. A committed preservationist, Shoaf is a former board member of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

This was the first in a series of three webcasts on the war. The next two will be on Gettysburg and Shiloh. Here is information on those presentations:

The Battle of Shiloh – Thursday, May 6, 2010  11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/history/civil-war-shiloh/

The Battle of Gettysburg – Tuesday, May 18, 2010  11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET
http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/history/civil-war-gettysburg/

I hope you will all take these in.

Webcast on the Civil War Tuesday

I wanted to make you all aware of a webcast on the war dealing with common soldiers.

The Common Soldier of the Civil War – Tuesday, April 20, 2010  11:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. ET

http://www.amu.apus.edu/lp/webcast/history/civil-war-soldier/

This webcast is part of the Civil War Webcast Series hosted by American Military University and the Weider History Group (http://www.historynet.com/).

In our partnership with the Weider History Group, we aim to produce polished, informative seminars that will feature discussions by great Civil War scholars including: Steven E. Woodworth, Barry J. Shollenberger, and Dana B. Shoaf.  If you are interested, I would greatly appreciate it if you could please register and post an entry on Civil War History.  Also, please feel free to use any text or biography headshots for your blog post.  I would register today for “The Common Soldier of the Civil War” as this webcast will be on Tuesday of next week (the 20th) and seats are limited.

I will be participating in this webcast tomorrow and hope some of you will as well.

Upcoming Civil War re-enactment in Philadelphia area

Received the following via email and decided to post it for your benefit if you are interested in Civil War re-enactments.

MEDIA  RELEASE

CONTACT:

Ilena Di Toro
PR Specialist

215-776-4251

ilena.ditoro@hotmail.com

21ST ANNUAL CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTMENT AT NESHAMINY STATE PARK

The Appomattox Campaign – April 6, 1865

(February 22, 2010)  The 21st annual Civil War Re-enactment will be held on Saturday-Sunday, May 1 - 2, 2010 at Neshaminy State Park, located on 3401 State Road in Bensalem, PA, from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, rain or shine. Admission is free.

This event is the largest Civil War re-enactment on the East Coast outside of Gettysburg and the theme for this year is “The Appomattox Campaign – April 6, 1865”. Over 1,000 re-enactors will converge on the park for this two-day event featuring:

· Authentic battle re-enactments

· Camp life scenarios

· Military and civilian life demonstrations

The Appomattox Campaign consisted of a series of battles to the south and west of the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia in early April of 1865. These battles ended with the surrender of Confederate forces on April 9, 1865, lead by General Robert E. Lee. April 6, 1865 is notable for two actions: “The Battle of Sailor’s Creek” and “High Bridge”. “The Battle of Sailor’s Creek” occurred when the Union cavalry exploited a gap in the Confederate line and cut off two Confederate corps, resulting in a Union victory. “High Bridge” saw Confederate cavalry capture Union forces, resulting in a Confederate victory. These two battle actions will be staged during this year’s re-enactment.

While admission is free, a voluntary collection will be taken each day of the re-enactment and all proceeds will go toward Civil War preservation efforts. Proceeds from this year’s collection will go to the Civil War Preservation Trust, (www.civilwar.org) a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Civil War battlefields. The Neshaminy Civil War Re-enactment has raised close to $30,000 during its 21 year history, for various Civil War organizations.

This event is a joint project sponsored by Neshaminy State Park, the Bensalem Historical Society, the 28thPennsylvania Historical Association, the Army of Northern Virginia Reenacting Organization, the Delaware Valley Civil War Roundtable, The G.A.R. Museum and Library, and Waste Management, Inc.

For more information, please visit http://www.28thpvi.org or contact Ken Gavin, Event Chairman, at 610-809-6540 or kgc28pvi@comcast.net.

Review of A Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment.

This review of mine will appear in an upcoming issue of On Point, the quarterly publication of the Army Historical Foundation.

book coverA Civil War Soldier’s Diary: Valentine C. Randolph, 39th Illinois Regiment. Edited by David D. Roe. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006. 290pp. Maps. ISBN-10: 0-87580-343-1. Cloth $35.00

This is one of the best-written accounts of the Civil War from a soldier for a diary or memoir. Valentine C. Randolph takes the reader on a journey from the small town of Lincoln, Illinois to the eastern theater of the war. Along the way, Randolph served in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina with the 39th Illinois Infantry Regiment until his discharge in September 1864. The reader will find himself or herself feeling as if they are with Randolph both in camp and on the battlefield.

Randolph’s diary reads like most soldier diaries. Most entries involve commenting on the weather, battles, sickness (Randolph notes this quite often, as he ends up in the hospital for several months with apparent malaria), and daily happenings in the camps. However, Randolph’s diary has certain unique qualities that set it apart from other published sources and unpublished sources. Besides being a common soldier, Randolph is an educated soldier. The biographical section provided by Roe notes that Randolph attended the preparatory school at Illinois College (the alma mater of this reviewer), which gave him training in Classics. Randolph occasionally using Latin phrases in his entries evidences this.

Another interesting characteristic is Randolph’s religious devotion, which is interspersed throughout the diary. He typically mentions when it is the Sabbath and often mentions the church services and other religious events occurring while he is in the Army. The biography notes that he attended college after the war, earning his Bachelor of Divinity degree. He then became a Methodist preacher and eventually professor of Greek and Latin at a Methodist college in Illinois. This all supports Dr. Steven Woodworth’s assertion on the back cover of Randolph being “the most educated and articulate private soldier I’ve ever encountered by way of a diary or memoirs.”

Randolph’s entries are very much worth reading, as it gives a first-hand account of the journey of not only him, but also his regiment through much of the war. However, the commentary by Stephen Wise allows the reader to gain an understanding of the work well. This is a double-edged sword, as the reader is tempted to just read the commentary and skip the entries, which warrants reminding the reader that they are reading a diary from a soldier and not a regimental history.

This book adds to the overall scholarship available to historians and general readers on Civil War soldiers, which is a growing field in history. In addition to Randolph’s entries, the book possesses other good qualities. The book is well researched, containing many informative content footnotes as well as maps and an index, which aid readers in locating places Randolph notes, and, finding specific topics to use the diary for research. David Roe, the editor and Stephen Wise, the commentator, have done an excellent job of presenting Randolph’s diary to today’s readers. Randolph’s diary stands out as a wonderful source for readers to begin learning about the enlisted man. Military readers will connect with Randolph, as he notes things that many soldiers face in the field, like weather and battle. Overall, this book is necessary reading for Civil War enthusiasts.