Hat tip to my colleague Joe Camisa for making me aware of this new site that links digital Civil War collections from a several prestigious libraries in the South. Civil War in the American South is a project put out by members of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL), which include libraries at Duke, Clemson, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi State, Virginia, and the UNC system. A cursory glance shows several promising collections on a variety of subjects. I urge my readers to check it out and explore this research tool.
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
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