Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I've been in the hobby of Civil War Reenacting for 28 years. Yes, that kinda makes me an old fart. The first time I went to Prairie Grove, Arkansas was October 1980. The original battle was fought on December 7, 1862. Since 1980, a reenactment is held on the State Historic Site every two years, as close to the anniversary weekend as possible. Those who attend the Civil War Reenactment at Prairie Grove, Arkansas come from faraway places like: Missouri, Kansas, Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska, Louisiana, Oklahoma, as well as within the state of Arkansas itself. In 2008, we actually had someone who came from Idaho.

No could tell what the weather would be like during early December. Be that as it may, every two years, from 1980 to 1998, I would join several hundred reenactors on this hallowed ground and share a weekend either basking in an Indian summer or freezing in sleet or snow. One always came to Prairie Grove expecting the best, but preparing for the worst; in weather that is.
1998 was the last time I came to Prairie Grove, Arkansas until this year. Why I waited 10 years to return to this event I can't say. Some years I would go to the Fort Scott, Kansas for their Living History/Christmas program, other times the weather seemed too hazardous to risk travel. Whatever the excuse, I resolved that in 2008 I would return.

John Maki came by to pick me up just before noon on Friday, December 5th. I had taken a vacation day for Friday and the following Monday. John was the company cook for our group, the Holmes Brigade, and the back of his truck was loaded with boxes, two coffee pots, two wedge tents, tent poles, skillets, nesting tins (galvanized steel buckets that could be stacked like the popular Russian nesting dolls-one into another). In the wooden boxes he had slab bacon, sausage, onions, potatoes, coffee, cooking utensils, and other miscellaneous sundry items relative to cooking, camping, and tenting.
I had a knapsack, weapon, traps, and a burlap gunnysack with my uniform and extra blankets. John and I had about 5 blankets apiece, plus mittens, greatcoats, and fur hats. Mine was made from a Jack Rabbit while John's was made from muskrat.

We arrived at the State Historic Site in Prairie Grove, Arkansas after about a four and a half-hour drive. Like I mentioned earlier, it had been ten years since my last visit. During that time, a lot of construction had taken place and many more business lined the road running from the exit off 71Hwy to here. I recall in the past only a few businesses including a liquor store, a convenience store, a motel/restaurant, and a redneck bar called Club West. Now there were dozens of strip malls, grocery chains, drive-thru banks, and gas stations where once stood desolation. I was happy to see the redneck bar was still where it used to be, but the name had been changed (don't recall what it goes by now).

In weeks and months before the Battle of Prairie Grove, the Union Army of the Frontier, under General John M. Schofield, had sent his three division to harass Confederate forces, under Thomas C. Hindman, all up and down western Arkansas, from Bentonville to Ft. Smith. I will not bore you with a history lesson. The fall 2004 issue of BLUE AND GRAY magazine has an interesting and lengthy article on the campaign leading up to and including the December 7, 1862 battle of Prairie Grove.

This harassment led to several engagements between the Blue and Gray forces and at one point, feeling isolated and fearing a major counteroffensive, First Division, under General James G. Blunt called for reinforcements. The Third Division of the Army of the Frontier, commanded by 25-year old Francis J. Herron, had been in Springfield, Missouri since early November, but on December 3, 1862, they left the city and began a forced march that would cover 100 miles in three and a half days.

No tents or extra baggage accompanied Herron’s men, but as the modern 21st century man is much older and more full figured than our forefather’s were, we made camp with wedge tents and wool blankets.

Maki and I arrived at the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Historic State Park about 4:30 PM Friday evening. Before the sun had disappeared, we had our tent up, beds made, clothing changed, and a fire roaring. We even had coffee boiling and even had time to fry some slab bacon Maki had brought from Alma, MO. Reenactors continued to come in throughout the night and into Saturday morning. Friday evening I met MYSPACE buddy, Jimmy, who came to Prairie Grove with the Eighth Kansas. Jimmy shared a cup of coffee with me and then he introduced me to his pards. The members of Holmes Brigade and the Eighth Kansas would merge with other companies to form the Federal Frontier battalion that would operate that weekend.

With the crack of dawn came the shrill bugle cry of reveille. It was a very cold morning until the sun warmed things up. The high was expected to be about 50, but in those early hours, it was colder than a landlord’s heart. At this chilly hour, the enemy would have no trouble finding us.
Bundled up in greatcoats, scarves, mittens, and fur hats, every Billy Yank hovered over small cook fires, drank scalding black coffee from tin cups, gazed hypnotically at the flames and watched bacon sizzle in a hot skillet with eyes glazed over from lack of sleep. Reenactors arriving at a civil war event on a Friday night are notorious for singing, drinking, or talking for hours on end. Friday nights are like family reunions. In most cases you hadn’t seen friends in months, so that first night is a time to socialize, get reacquainted, retell old war stories, sing, drink, and laugh.

After breakfast of bacon, hardtack, and coffee, it was time to form the battalion. Officer’s call had been much earlier, so when Captain Tom came back it was to inform us we would be 4th company in line. We also discovered we were biggest company in the battalion, with approximately 35 men, so we would have the color guard with us. Several of the Tater Mess boys volunteered to act in this capacity and when it came time for us to take the field, they would be on our left.

During battalion formation we met our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Don Gross. I think he must have been a Marine Corp drill instructor in a previous life. He barked and snapped like a bulldog, but was quick to also heap praise when we did something right. Col. Gross carried no sword nor did he carry sidearm, sash, waist belt or other accouterments on his person. All he had on was his uniform and a Hardee hat.

During the first drill, he taught us forming divisions from a battalion front. “By the right of companies, to the rear into column, battalion right face.” This was reminiscent of drill I remember doing during the 125th anniversary reenactment at First Bull Run in June 1986. At events during the nineties and in this current century, I haven’t been involved in too many events where battalion drill is taught too much.

We marched in column of divisions, then wheeled into battalion line. From a battalion front, we also learned to move the right and left division to form behind the center division (two companies formed one division). A reversal of this same move was to place the center and the left division behind the right division. It basically amounted to learning how to walk and chew gum.
After about an hour of this entertainment, we were allowed a fifteen-minute break, then we formed up for bayonet drill. The whole battalion, some 200 men, was spaced about ten paces from one another and was instructed in the evolutions and convolutions of bayonet aerobics. Guard, parry, thrust, advance, repel, right and left volt, right and left rear volt, and the popular leap to the rear. We did such twists, turns, and gyrations that a ballerina would have been impressed. What this hobby needs is someone to create a workout video. How about-‘Leap to the Rear with Richard Simmons.’

After this aerobic workout was over, we had almost an hour before we had to get ready for the 1PM battle. Once given the command to dismiss, the boys scattered like the autumn leaves in a number of directions. Some went to gulp down lunch; I think Maki had beans and ham. Another distraction was to go visit sutler row. Fall Creek and Del Warren were the two big outfitters here. Two or three smaller outfits whose name is unimportant. One lady sold baked goods and liquid refreshment.

At the far end of sutler row was Robert Szabo, the master of the wetplate. There was another fellow next door who also did wet plate photography and I was told he had been an apprentice of Szabo who had finally struck out on his own. Both men had a lot of work come their way during the weekend. Reenactors decked out in their finest or grimiest outfits came to sit for a tin or ambro type from one of these gentlemen. I was told Robert Szabo is soon to return to Virginia, after several years in Missouri. Prairie Grove was his last event in the Trans-Mississippi. His MYSPACE website includes many outstanding portraits from the weekend at Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

No money to spend on sutler row for an image, baked good, or trinket from Fall Creek? Closer to the camps was a dogtrot cabin taken over by the US Sanitary Commission. Run by an older gentleman named Major Hershel Stroud and assisted by some mature ladies, the soldiers were offered a cornucopia of baked goods, fruits, hard boiled eggs, peanuts,
coffee, and lemonade free of charge. A lot of time, energy, and money must have been spent, and with very little fanfare, to just give food away. I don’t recall if there was a donation box or tip jar, but these hard working souls will surely get their reward in heaven. Apparently these fine people have been doing this impression for a number of years. I recall a 2002 Perryville event where these same Sanitary Commission people were present. At that time one of the ladies was dressed as a nun.

At about 12:30, we heard the bugle call for assembly. Every man Jack had to drop what ever they were doing, pick up musket and traps, and fall into their company formation. Once the company was assembled, roll taken, and men counted off, we marched up to our respective places in the battalion color line.

Some pushing and shoving was required with some dressing of the lines to ‘give way left’ and the line was formed to the satisfaction of the colonel. ‘Battalion right face,’ we formed our fours, then ‘forward march’ we went away from camp, and down the face of the hill for nearly a quarter-mile to a semi-flat land that was once a corn and wheat field. Further ahead about another quarter-mile to the northeast was the Illinois River; its width maybe fifty yards across from one end to the other. The field our battalion halted was the spot where the 20th Wisconsin and the 19th Iowa, two regiments from Herron’s Division, advanced across on that morning of December 7th.

The colonel gave the command, ‘on the right by files into line’, once we arrived at a midway point on this field. Each file, one after the other, executed a crisp right turn and halted. Soon the entire battalion was in a straight line of battle facing in a new direction. That new direction, which was just in front of us and some three hundred yards away, was the same slope that the 20th Wisconsin and the 19th Iowa had to climb when they were ordered to silence the Rebel artillery posted there.

In just about the same place as they’d been almost 150 years ago, we could see about ten Confederate guns pointed right at us. Fortunately, we had some fire power of our own in the form of a Union Battery about 30 paces in front of our battalion line. There was one Parrot or James gun, but the rest might have been Napoleon’s. At least six or eight men ran around each gun like men in a Chinese fire drill. I never saw so much red piping in my life on uniforms and hats. One team had matching red kepi’s.

We were told that the Rebs would begin the contest, so the Colonel gave us the command to ground arms and rest. We could lolly-gag about, shoot the breeze, catnap, take a smoke break, or eat out of the haversack as long as we didn’t wander off too far. I walked from one end of the battalion line to the other taking random photos of the men as well as the artillery crew as we waited for the opening kickoff.

Finally after about a half-hour of waiting, the Rebel guns began belching at us. That was the cue for the Union artillery to spring into action. For the next several minutes (could have been fifteen minutes) the two artillery forces spewed smoke and thunder back at forth at each other. One gun (might have been the Parrot) must have used two pounds of black powder because every time it fired, the ground shook like it was the New Madrid earthquake.

During this heated exchange, us infantry boys were instructed to ‘hunker down’ or ‘take a knee.’ This was pure method acting as we were playing the part of Herron’s boys and we didn’t want the cannonball of the enemy to hit us, but instead we visualized the shells ‘passing harmlessly over our heads.’ At a reenactment, the hobbyist is required to do a lot of method acting. It is all part of the experience of play acting and even though no lead projectile is ever fired, if you get to close to the receiving end of a musket, a black powder flash to the face will hurt. If you get too close to a cannon going off, the concussion can kill.

The artillery duel soon ended and the colonel ordered us to our feet. Our lines were dressed and our muskets were loaded. The bugle blasted out a tune and the entire battalion marched forward. The ground was a little uneven here and there, but we were able to keep somewhat of a straight line as we advanced. Every couple of paces we were reminded to ‘guide on the colors’ or ‘straighten up that alignment.’ It was another example of trying to walk and chew gum. To maintain a touch of elbow was the key in maintaining unit cohesion. If the men drifted and the lines broke, we would look more like a herd of cows than a well drilled fighting unit.

We had got our cue to advance once we saw that the rebel artillery had been silenced and its crews had skeddadled out of the picture. The avenue was clear for us to go up the hill and occupy the heights. Only a few foolhardy graybacks stood between us and the summit and these gents were brushed aside with a battalion volley.

The command was given to charge bayonet. No bayonets were fixed, but the men in the front rank had the muskets out in front in the guard position while the rear rank men went to right shoulder shift. No other command was given but within a second, unit cohesion had evaporated and the men were scampering up that hill like an angry mob storming Castle Frankenstein. Even though passion had over taken each man, one had to be wary of roots or small rocks that might turn an ankle. Mixed in with Indian war cries and bellows of rage were words of caution to ‘watch your footing.’

At the top of the hill sat the Archibald Borden House. The Borden House had burned down the day after the original battle but has been rebuilt and it sits to this day. Behind the Borden House was an apple orchard. That too has been restored.

The two–story Borden House loomed right before us, once we reached the top of the hill. Shouted commands by the officers and the battalion was instructed to reform on the other side of the house. The right wing went one way and the left wing went another. On the back end of the house the battalion was instructed to take a knee behind the snake fence and commence firing. The snake fence was only knee high, so we had to flatten on our bellies to shoot then reload by rolling on our backs. Two hundred yards away and emerging from the shrubbery that was the old apple orchard, came the entire Confederate infantry.

The men of the 20th Wisconsin and the 19th Iowa had scaled the slope and overran the Confederate battery, then as they advanced on either side of the Borden House, they saw they’d run into a trap. Coming through the orchard just ahead was a Rebel infantry brigade under James S. Fagan and dismounted cavalry under Jo Shelby supported by Bledsoe’s Battery.

We threw blistering volleys into the advancing graybacks but there was no stopping that tidal wave of doom. Slowly and painfully, men began to fall back. My musket had fouled a couple times, so I stepped back to pick the crud out of the cone. Back on the line, I was able to clear my piece, but I must have put two cartridges down the barrel. It went off like a twelve-pounder and my pards almost wet themselves.

Onward that crushing gray wall came. The boys in blue were being whittled away and it was time to vamoose. We picked ourselves away from the fence and scurried back around to the other side of the Borden House. A couple more pot shots were hurled in a feeble attempt at the foe, but it was no use. About face and fallback was the order given.

One touching scene I witnessed was this. A Union soldier had collapsed against the front porch. He’d been ‘wounded’ or something and could go no further. A little boy about three or four stood over him with a look of distress. The boy was decked out in a Union uniform and clutched a hospital flag. One look told me they were father and son. The Rebs were approaching and the father was telling his son to go on and leave him. Reluctantly, the little boy left his father’s side and rejoined our gradually shrinking battalion. As we retreated down that hill, the little boy continued to ask about his daddy.

“Will the Rebs hurt my daddy?”

Being so little, he thought his dad was really in danger and maybe didn’t realize it was all part of the play-acting. I attempted to stay in first person and explain to him that “the Rebs won’t hurt your daddy” or “your daddy wouldn’t want you to be captured by the Rebs.” Another soldier, a friend of the father, called the boy by name and took him under his wing till the battle ended.

Eventually the battle ended. The Frontier battalion had suffered 75% casualties. Holmes Brigade had started out with 35 men, now we were down to 8. Gathering what men we had left, the battalion staggered back to camp. We were all fagged out after this ordeal. You could have knocked me over with a feather. After the battle was concluded and the applause had died down, resurrection was declared and all the boys ‘rose up from the dead’ and returned to camp. Darkness was a short hour or two away, but before the Colonel would allow his men to rest, he instructed us to clean our weapons. There would be an inspection on Sunday and woe betide the man with the dirty musket.

Maki had some old hot coffee on the fire. It had sat for hours and was undrinkable, but good enough to pour down the barrel. I couldn’t tell what was black powder and what was coffee coming out of the barrel, but at least something was coming out. I ran the rammer down the barrel, heard a satisfying ‘ting,’ and waited for supper.

Once the sun fell, the fires were built up, songs were started, and liquor came out.
Holmes Brigade is notorious for its end of season toast. We tip a mucket of some concoction and reflect on the passing year. This year we had three gallons of hard cider.

About 8PM, a few of us decided to wander over to Miss Tula’s. About one hundred yards south of the Union Camp, near the dog trot cabin housing the US Sanitary Commission people, was a single large sutler type tent. Inside the tent were three wooden tables with about eight chairs apiece and in the corner was a small makeshift bar. On the wall behind the bar was an oil painting of a nude woman with lettering that read ‘Miss Tula’s Tavern’. Candle lanterns hung from every upright pole supporting the walls of the tent, there were candles on each table, and suspended from the ceiling was a wagon wheel with four or six more candle lanterns suspended from the spokes. This candle lighting created quite an effective and somber mood.

Inside Miss Tula’s, men were drinking beer or shots of rye whiskey, telling stories, singing Irish ballads or patriotic songs, telling dirty limericks, playing checkers, smoking, and/or flirting with one of Miss Tula’s ‘soiled doves’. Miss Tula, wearing a raspberry red zouave outfit and matching fez, wandered among the patrons, shared a laugh, a drink, or playfully slapped at the hand of someone who pinched her bottom. Miss Tula had been at the Stand of Colors event but I’d missed visiting it because I was either too tired or too busy pulling ticks off myself.

The way I understand it, no alcohol could be sold on park property, but it could be given away. In lieu of actually handing over cash money for a drink, Miss Tula gladly accepted a donation. One guy 'donated' $20 and 'purchased' several rounds for the guys.

Miss Tula had a barkeep who stood being the bar and worked the tap. Occasionally, he'd put more ginger snap cookies on the table or replace a candle after it had gone out. Midway through the evening, one of our young lieutenants brought his own bottle of rye whiskey, but the bartender did not fuss. The only time the bartender raised his voice was when a Reb walked through the entrance.
“No Johnny Rebs served here!” was the cry as the grayback was shown the door.

I don't know if this rule changed from event to event, but this weekend, Miss Tula would not allow any Confederates into the tavern. On the center of the bar was a portrait of Abe Lincoln. In a tavern surrounded by paintings of nudes, a portrait of the president seemed a bit out of place.

The tavern could only hold about 30 men, but a few others came and went, then about 10PM there was a minstrel show. Members of the Tater Mess rubbed burnt cork on their faces and did a song, dance, and comedy routine. During that 30-minute session, the tavern swelled to standing room only as more boys came in to see Zip Coon, Cuffy, Stepin Fetchit, and ManTan shuck and jive. (No pics available except upon request)

On Sunday morning we had another battalion drill, but this time we didn't have to carry our muskets. Huh? I never drilled without a musket before, but it was so decreed by Col. Gross.

I think I’ve rambled on long enough with this tale. This would be a prime example of chin music-that is talking too much to the point of babbling. I certainly don’t know how to tell a short story.

Be that as it may, the short and sweet version of the battle on Sunday was this: on Sunday, December 7, 2008, the anniversary of the original 1862 battle, the US Frontier battalion-those of us who were left-portrayed General Blunts Division.

General Blunt was nearly eight miles of Prairie Grove at Cane Hill, but upon hearing the sounds of the guns, he put his men on the road. The battle had begun at about 10AM when Herron first arrived on the scene. Blunt and his men arrived at Prairie Grove at approximately 3PM and deployed into line of battle.

In 1862, the battle seesawed back and forth until darkness fell. Out of ammunition and 30 miles from his supply line, Hindman and his Confederates abandoned the field. In 2008, the battle reenactment was halted not once, not twice, but three times due to real life injuries.

With the lines barely one hundred yards apart, play was halted because a Rebel Cavalryman fell off his horse. The man tried to get up under his own power and walk away, but his knee gave out and he collapsed. The guy also had the ugliest length of shoulder black hair. For a minute it looked like he had on a Halloween fright wig. Play was resumed once the guy was hauled away but less than ten minutes later play was halted again. This time the injury was a bit more serious. A Rebel color bearer had fallen backwards in the pretext of taking a hit. As he fell back, the pointy end of the flagpole jabbed another Rebel reenactor in the neck.

There are all kinds of professional people in this hobby, teachers, lawyers, students, and businessmen. It just so happens that the hobby also has a fair share of folks who are in the medical profession, including real life doctors, nurses, and EMT’s.

Once the emergency was known two or three guys from the Federal lines leaped across no-man’s land to join two or three Johnny Rebs to deal with the real life emergency.

In a battle reenactment, safety is Job one. North and South play-acting is put aside and modern medical skills come into play. In the past, I’ve seen a lot of injuries suffered on the reenactment field. Some take the form of simple ankle sprains or someone falls off a horse or a knee goes out or someone gets stabbed with a bayonet or falls face first on the barrel of his musket. No matter how much you try to maintain first person and put yourself in the heat of the moment, you must also be aware that accidents can happen.

So play was halted for about another fifteen minutes till the fellow could be patched up and carted off the field. Fortunately the cut on the neck was nowhere near an artery. During this down time, both Union and Confederate infantry lines hurled playful insults at one another.

When play was finally resumed, the Federal battalion fired some volleys and advanced. Though our line was not as big as the Confederates were, the object this day was we would win. So we pushed and pushed the graybacks all the way back to the base of Borden House hill. It was then that play was again halted because of another injury on the Rebel side. I’m not sure what happened, but someone later said they thought a 16-year old had had a heart palpitation.

We had been on the field about an hour, including the injury time-outs. It was unanimously decided that the game was over. Colonel Gross marched us away from the battlefield and back to our camps we went. I’m sure the spectators didn’t get their moneys worth this day, but no one can predict injuries. It was close to 3PM. Now came the unpleasant task of packing up for the long drive back home. It took Maki and I about a half-hour to load his truck and changed back into our modern clothes.

And so ends this short story on the Dec 6-7, 2008 battle reenactment of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. I want to thank you for reading this and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

*(here is Mona and Bob at the game)

The Day Civil War Soldiers invaded an NFL stadium

Before each game started, there was the National Anthem complete with a color guard detail that marched to the center of the field. It was usually the United States military or local police or firemen who carried out these honors. However, one afternoon in 1991, I saw eight men wearing colonial dress of the Revolutionary War period, march up the 50-yard line. They carried flintlock muskets and the “Betsy Ross flag”.
The PA announcer said this group was from Fort Osage ((east of Independence, MO)
I was surprised to see they were using some local historical reenactors for this ceremony and at the same time, I was imagining our local Civil War Color Guard in front of those 78,000 screaming Chiefs fans!
I wrote a letter to Carl Peterson, the President and General Manager of the Chiefs, who referred me to the Game Production Coordinator. I believe I wrote a passionate letter explaining our outfit and even included a recent photo of the Color Guard. I even left phone messages. Just before the spring muster at Fort Scott, KS, I received a letter of acceptance for our group to appear at the December 13th home game against the New England Patriots.

A month before the game, I received another letter from the Game Production Coordinator. The letter instructed us where to assemble, what time to arrive, and so on.
Enclosed were eight game day tickets, a parking pass, and eight vouchers for free chow!
On the big day, I woke up at 6 AM, took a hot shower, put on my uniform (sack coat w/forage cap) and walked out of the house into the rain! Yes, it was raining! It was not a frog strangler and it did not come down like Noah’s flood, but it was annoying none-the-less. The cold drizzle would not stop the ballgame from being played, but it would put somewhat of a damper on us, as we would have to stand in the rain in wet wool and 12-pound rust magnets.
Oh well!
It was close to 11 o’clock by the time we squeezed into Arrowhead parking. We had to be inside the stadium within 15 minutes. We were already dressed out, thank God, so it was a matter of moments to slip on traps, etc, and head for the stadium entrance.

We had to enter by the South ‘elephant’ tunnel. This is where all the players, television equipment, trucks, and other maintenance vehicles come through. The tunnel is about forty feet wide by thirty feet high and is big enough for two jumbo elephant’s to pass through side by side. The ‘elephant’ tunnel extends way down into the bowels of the stadium for almost a quarter-mile.

Once we got to the end of the tunnel, we stopped and gazed out into that painted field of Astro-turf. Miles and miles of television cable snaked out of the tunnel behind us and on either side of that field. Civilians wearing badges were walking or going past in golf cart type vehicles taking equipment out onto the sidelines. We saw shapely looking cheerleaders, executives in business suits, and working stiffs in coveralls and rain slickers scurrying about like mice in a cage. It was a regular Chinese fire drill, but it seemed everyone had a purpose and knew what they were doing.

After a bit, the mascot, KC WOLF came out in a go-cart to perform some antics. This was a guy in a silly, fat wolf suit, but he always played to the audience and got a rousing ovation. His ‘schtick’ involved pouncing on some hapless fool dressed in the uniform of the opposing team.

By this time, the eight of us had moved to the visitor’s side of the field, right at the fifty-yard line. We formed two lines, four in front, four in back.

As we received our final instructions from the Game Production Coordinator, the visiting team was announced. The New England Patriots were a much different team back in 1992 than they are today. They weren’t that good, but they still had some big looking boys. The Pats came charging out of the ‘elephant’ tunnel like freight trains and lined up near us. Damn, these pups were tall and each looked to be about 300 pounds dripping wet.

Then after the home team was announced, it was show time for us!
We went to shoulder arms and marched straight as judges right up that fifty-yard line and halted dead center. Then we went to present arms while the anthem was sung.
Of course, the PA announcer said the colors was presented by ‘the Holmes Brigade Civil War Reenactors Color Guard!’
So we stood there, at present arms, with the rain coming down and turning our muskets into rust magnets while, Kansas City’s own version of Kate Smith warbled and wailed like a lounge singer. Of course she was under an umbrella! After what seemed like five minutes, the lady concluded her soulful rendition and we were allowed to exit the field.

I had the fist full of free tickets and free food vouchers, so we went in through the turnstile and walked up to the nearest food vendor. The stadium food is pretty generic, mostly hog dogs and burgers. Our vouchers got each of us a box lunch with one dog, one bag of LAY’S potato chips, and one small PEPSI! Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. The boys wolfed the chow down and we went to find our seats.

Our complimentary tickets were near the west end zone, near the ten-yard line. I had the tickets in my pants pocket, but when I went to dig them out, they looked like wet mush with the seat numbers barely readable. Fortunately, there were several empty seats to choose from; some of the fans deciding they could watch the game just as well from the warm, dry comfort of their living rooms. A fan in a red rain slicker told us to find a seat anywhere. We arrived at our seats just in time to see Chiefs running back, Christian Okoye, run into the end zone from the five-yard line.

I don’t remember how long we all stayed at the game.
Did we watch the whole shebang or did we leave early?
Anyway, the brief moment under the eye of all those Chiefs fans was over. Whether it was because of the football game or what, we did get some new recruits over the next couple of years. It’s too bad the weather was so lousy, but it was fun.

Surprisingly, after the spotlight performance of December 13th, 1992, and despite my best efforts, Holmes Brigade was never invited back to Arrowhead for the flag ceremony. This was around the time of Desert Storm, so from then on, it was all military people during the National Anthem. Perhaps Holmes Brigade closed the door on reenactors at ballgames or perhaps we can blame it on a real shooting war, which made ‘make-believe’ play soldiering seem insignificant and silly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Samuel Holmes and his Fighting Greyhounds

featuring John Henry, the rag doll who can talk


It seemed like many miles and many days had passed since the chase began. The 3000 blue-clad soldiers of Colonel Samuel Holmes' brigade had followed the enemy clear across one state and into another. These Union volunteers were long legged boys who had been raised on farms in Iowa and Illinios and used to outdoor living and hardship. Holmes fondly called them his greyhounds. But the Rebs were farmboys also; a mixture of Missourians and Arkansans. They were as difficult to slow down and catch as wild hares. Holmes sent about a hundred of his 'greyhounds' forward as skirmishers, to try to make contact with the enemy and perhaps make them turn and fight, but these boys were always driven away.
Many miles ahead was the raw and ragged wall of a rocky plateau, the foothills to a range of forbidding mountains. We’ve trapped them, Colonel Holmes thought, or at least slowed them down long enough for us to attack. Once cornered into these mountains he hoped the Rebs would finally turn and fight. But his celebration was short lived, because overhead, the clouds began to thicken and rumble. Within minutes, a heavy rain came down, slowing the pace of Holmes Brigade to a crawl. Under the cover of rain, the Rebs scaled the plateau and easily slipped away.
By the time the Union Army arrived many hours later, the plateau, towering before them, was thick with heavy black mud. No way could man or beast scale those slippery heights. At the base of the plateau, and unseen from a distance because of trees, was a wide river. The heavy rains had turned the waters into a raging deathtrap for anyone trying to ford it.
A loyal citizen, who was familiar with the area, told Colonel Holmes that the country beyond the plateau was a poor source for forage and shelter. At some point, he concluded, the enemy would have to return across the river to greener pastures or die in the mountains.
“We will wait for them to return”, Holmes smugly declared, “and give them a welcome back reception they’ll never forget”.
And so Holmes Brigade settled down to wait. But rather than lolly-gag about idly, Holmes put his men to work building earthworks all along the banks of the swiftly flowing river. In these works were placed large bore artillery guns. To the rear of these earthworks was a small tree-lined valley separated in two halves by a country road. Astride this road was the rest of Holmes’ Brigade in reserve: supply wagons, extra artillery, horse soldiers, and small tent city housing officers and men. An old two-room cabin sat in this valley, but the family had long since been driven away by the war.
Once the earthworks were complete, Holmes Brigade continued to wait and wait. Then one morning, the storm clouds separated and the sun poked out its shiny face. A spy went up in a hot air balloon and looked the area over with the aid of a telescope but when he came down, it was with bad news.
“ I can’t find hide nor hair of the enemy,” the spy unhappily announced, “The mountains have swallowed them up or else they’d found another avenue of escape and gone around our flank.”
“No, by thunder,” Holmes screeched, pulling at his hair and beard in frustration, “they’ll cross here, at this spot. I know it in my bones.”
Samuel Holmes was using the old farmhouse as his headquarters and he was having a conference with his staff, including his chief of cavalry. No one could agree on a course of action.
“Sir, a patrol of horse soldiers was sent out yesterday across the river and beyond the plateau,” the old cavalry chief said, “but the rains washed any trace of the enemy and it appears as if they’ve simply vanished.”
“This could have been the best campaign of my career,” Holmes croaked, “ I could have gotten my general’s star at last, but you ruined it,” he spat, “I’m surrounded by dunderheads. You boot lickers can’t find the stinking Rebs and all you can advice me to do is withdraw.”
“Sir, the telegram came from Sam Grant two days ago,” said an aide, “he needs our Brigade for his campaign against Vicksburg. We’ve been camped here for almost a month, “ the aide offered, “but still no sign of the enemy. It’s obvious they’ve given us the slip.”
“Slip, hell, “Holmes screamed in frustration. Enraged, he picked up his chamber pot and heaved clear across the room where it shattered and splashed its vile contents all down the wall.
“You old grannies let the Rebs slip through you’re fingers and denied me my star,” he hooted. His face was purple with rage and he pounded his fists into the wooden table till splinters flew.
“I could have been a general and this one campaign could have given me a proper command, instead of that old drunken fool, Sam Grant.”
The officers of Samuel Holmes’ staff knew it was pointless to argue with the man. His resentment against Grant was notorious ever since that day many years ago in Galena, Illinois when an empty liquor bottle thrown by Sam Grant accidentally hit him in the head.
Holmes had hoped to bag the vile damn Rebs before now and it appeared that chance had slipped away for good and that would mean a black mark on his record and possibly a loss in command. Suddenly there was an interruption as a skinny enlisted man in a white apron walked into the cabin. This was Donnyboy, Colonel Holmes’ personal cook, valet, and housekeeper.
“ Beg pardon, sir, but the river has quieted down enough that the catfish are out and hungry.”
Samuel Holmes swept the skinny youth in his arms.
"Oh, Donnyboy, you restored my soul."
He turned to face his staff. He had the glowing look of a boy about to skip school.
“Men, I’ll be back in a few hours. At that time we’ll discuss plans for withdrawing the Brigade and rejoining II Corp. In the meantime, send all the extra equipment some 10 miles to the rear. Also, get MacEye to finish boxing up that contraband so it can get sent to St. Louis. We’ll move the army at nightfall, tonight.”
Holmes leaped out of the cabin into the morning sunshine and danced and sang all the way to the riverbank. He passed groups of soldiers along the way who waved or called him by name. Even the birds came out of hiding and sensing this light hearted spirit, filled the air with song. With some sense of normalcy at last, the men sat down to eat their breakfast of sowbelly, hardtack, and coffee.
Once their commander had departed, the staff officers all breathed a sigh of relief. Now it was their task to prepare the army to march. The biggest challenge was dealing with the stuff in the barn.
The old barn was a short distance from the farmhouse and had been declared off limits to the soldiers. Even though the roof was sound and weatherproof, it was well guarded against trespassers for inside was contraband liberated by Union cavalrymen on a recent raid. The booty consisted of such things as tea sets, dinnerware, cutlery, cut glass brandy decanters, fancy candelabras, several ivory-handled combs and hairbrushes, fancy oil paintings, two chamber pots, and one brass tub big enough for to bathe a grown man.
If given a few more days, Lieutenant John MacEye could have done it, but no way could he box up all that crap before nightfall. MacEye was currently a supply officer, but had been a carpenter before the war therefore Samuel Holmes had volunteered him for this most crucial duty. But damn me if I can find proper lumber to build the boxes for this blamed contraband and stuff, MacEye silently fumed.
After hours of cursing to himself and pulling at his hair, he turned and shouted for the Sergeant Major. From the hayloft above him came a scraping of feet. A shower of loose hay fell the ground, followed by a pair of fat legs attached to a very large man. As he brushed the hay off himself, MacEye warily eyed the grinning ogre in the blue suit.
MacEye was a small round man of Nordic heritage. Both legs had been broken after a tragic tumble from a barstool and had refused to heal properly. Just under three feet tall, MacEye has to lean backwards to look up at the giant before him.
Sergeant Major Randy Rogers was a freak of nature, having been wounded many times and bearing the scars to prove it. But no wound was ever mortal, because Randy was encased in a layer of fat. He was a man as wide as he was tall with a heavy black beard matted with bits of old food. He must have been napping because when he yawned, he made a noise like a foghorn.
“Randy,” MacEye spoke softly and slowly so the giant would understand, “we need to get these valuables boxed up and shipped by this evening. However, I'm running out of proper wood and stuff. Please assign some men to forage for some building materials."
"Yes, loo tenant! I think I know just the men,” said Rogers as he put his paw to his cap in salute.
Some yards away, a group of blue coated men were huddled around a campfire. The flames didn’t put out much heat, so the men sipped from tin cups and prayed that the hot coffee would thaw out their bones. What had the men spellbound for the moment was not the hope of warmth, but the promise of a hot breakfast. In a long handled skillet, hunks of sowbelly were being fried. The owner of the skillet was bent over at the waist and used a fork to flip and turn the meat in its sizzling grease. Each man had been promised some of the fatback, so they were content to stand back with glazed eyes and wait. The drool that was running down their mouths made them look like rabid dogs.
Suddenly the arrival of the huge ape-like creature wakens the soldiers from of their trance. Sergeant Major Rogers had legs as thick as tree trunks and he stomped over to the campfire with the stride of a bull elephant. The soldiers felt the earth tremble. Rogers stopped before the blaze, unmindful of the smoke that whirled around his head, and swept his red piggish eyes back and forth.
With a wide grin, the soldier with the skillet unfolded himself and rose to his full height.
"Good mornin' Randy," exclaimed Higgy, a man who was as tall and thin as a washboard. Higgy had beady eyes set in a pinched face and a black handlebar mustache hanging under a long Roman nose. His uniform trousers and jacket were nearly worn out. Both had been patched a number of times, plus carried a variety of unidentifiable stains. The forage cap, atop a shock of black hair, might have been used to carry everything from garden vegetables to a bowel movement. E PLURIBUS UNUM was scrawled in the upturned brim of the cap. Overall, Higgy looked like the scarecrow that had just stepped out of a cornfield.
From a mouth a black as a cavern and with breath just a foul, the Sergeant Major spoke.
"Lt. MacEye is looking for some volunteers for a wood foraging detail and you're it," he declared, “I want you to take the Bagg's about three miles west to the village there, and bring back as much lumber as you can find. Hitch a mule to one of those wagon's from over yonder." He pointed toward the fence line where several were parked.
" I think there's some privy's you can knock down that should provide usable lumber."
“But, Randy. Why do we need to go into the village fer firewood? There’s plenty fine woods right here. Besides, I heard a feller say he heard wagon wheels and such moving during the evening. He says the sesech might try to circle us and get us from behind."
“The wood is for Lieutenant MacEye’s box building project,” the Sergeant Major growled, “Sam Holmes wants him to crate up all the contraband that was ‘liberated’ from on the last raid. As far as worrying about funny noises, that’s none of your affair. That’s for the officers to worry about. "
Rogers turned as if to walk away, but instead he spun around, snatched the skillet out of Higgy’s hand, and tipped the entire contents down his throat, hot grease and all.
“Now get those Bagg’s and get over to the village,” he barked, spewing grease all down his beard.
With a shrug of resignation and a sorrowful look back at his hungry comrades, Higgy walked about fifty paces to three gray, man shaped bundles. The men under these wool blankets were so tightly wrapped against the cold, only their snores escaped. Going from one to the other, he used the flat of his skillet on their backsides.
“Reach for the sky!”

Struggling out of their blankets were the brothers Charlie, Butthead, and Erik Bagg. The brother's were wearing the same blue uniform as the Union Army, but of a description similar to Higgy’s. Instead of a military cap, the brothers were each wearing a low crowned black hat with a very narrow brim. In the army, this type of hat was called a "pork pie."
Charlie was tall with a long, angular face, a high forehead and sad hound dog eyes. He ran bony fingers through hair the color of wheat. Butthead was of stockier material, thick limbed with a round Irish face. A quick smile and laughing angel eyes made him a favorite with the ladies. Erik, on the other hand, had a quick temper to match his fiery red hair and goatee. He was doing most of the cursing as Higgy explained the wood detail.
As the Bagg's shuffled over to where the wagons were parked, Higgy stepped over to where a gum blanket hung over four stacked muskets. Removing the rubberized canvas, which had kept the weather off the weapons during the night, Higgy examined the assortment of leather belts and straps that were slung over the bayonets of each musket. Cartridge boxes with slings, waist belts, wool covered canteens, and of course, tarred canvas haversacks. These were the soldiers 'traps', so called because once the soldier had these items on his body, he felt trapped in them.
Higgy took one of the haversacks and peered inside.
John Henry, you awake down there little one?"
Peeping up from within the tarred haversack was a little black rag doll made from lint and the scraps of old rags. Black strands of yarn on its head were long as the tentacles on an octopus. The doll wore a red flannel shirt, bib overalls, and no shoes. The rag doll blinked once or twice, rubbed sleep out of mother-of-pearl button eyes and in a tiny voice exclaimed.
“No mo’ rain, Higgy? I’se gets a bit chill’d las’ night.”
“Don’t fret, John Henry,” Higgy said in his calmest voice,“Looks like the cold weather is behind us. Being the naturalist I am, I ‘spect today will be hot.”
In a couple minutes the Bagg brothers came back, leading a swayback mule hitched to a wagon.
“Say Higgy, look what the cat coughed up,” announced one of the Bagg’s.
Lying in the bed of the wagon was a soldier curled up and fast asleep.
“Well feed me corn and watch me crow!” the doll John Henry exclaimed.
While Higgy and the Bagg's might have looked like an unmade bed, this unconscious newcomer was a P.T.Barnum curiosity. He wore the same blue uniform as the rest of the Union Army. Instead of the fatigue or sack coat, he had on a long tailed military frock coat - the sleeves of which were rolled to the elbow exposing a very loud red checked shirt. Plus, the coat was unbuttoned, revealing a green satin vest with glass buttons. An equally gaudy purple kerchief was knotted in a bow at his throat. A slightly dented Hardee Hat lay at his side. It was fully decorated with the brim turned up on one side and fastened by a pin holding a spectacular ostrich plume.
The soldier had nearly feminine features including a button nose, full red lips, and delicate cheekbones. The exception to near perfect features was the single black eyebrow that stretched across his forehead like a fat hairy caterpillar.
“Why its Dave Sullivan, the grossest boy in the Union Army,” Higgy said.
"Look's like he got himself some ‘popskull’," answered Charlie as he held up an empty champagne bottle, "Phoowee! Smells like he took a bath in the stuff."
"We can't let the Sergeant Major find him like this," said Higgy, "we'll just have to take him along with us and try to get him cleaned up."
The rifles and traps were laid in the back of the wagon and with a flick of the reins, the mule was urged westward carrying Higgy, the Bagg's, an unconscious Dave Sullivan, and the little rag doll John Henry.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


About twenty members of Holmes Brigade came to the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO at the request of the State to participate in a ceremony honoring Germans in Missouri and in particular their contribution to the US Civil War. What really got us excited was the announcement that the State Archives had recently located the National Flag that was carried by Franz Sigel’s 3rd Missouri Infantry during the battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Sorry to admit that the 3rd Missouri dropped their colors during the retreat, they were recovered by Sterling Price’s men, but after the war, the colors were returned to the State Capitol. For the last 140 years, all Missouri Civil War battle flags have been rolled up and keep in cabinets. Only recently has the State attempted to restore or preserve these flags. Because the Civil War battle flags are in such bad shape, one state employee told us it takes nearly 20 grand to preserve one flag. The 3rd Missouri flag was mislabeled and only recently discovered.
Since 1991 and at least once a year, members of Holmes Brigade have portrayed Sigel’s 3rd Missouri Infantry at such places as Wilson’s Creek, Carthage, and Rolla, all in Missouri. Research has led us to learn that the 3rd Missouri wore a gray overshirt, a gray hat, carried a Model 1842 .69 caliber Springfield Rifle and wore white buff leather accoutrements. No one has seen any photographic evidence of this exact uniform; we only have the written word to go by.
It was the gray uniform that was the source of confusion and panic by Sigel’s men at Wilson’s Creek. They saw gray clad men coming towards them and thinking they were the 1st Iowa, they held their fire. Sorry to say it was the 3rd Louisiana come to call and they weren’t confused. But you all know that story. Within a few months, every Federal soldier was attired the same, in Union blue.
Back to the event, about a hundred people were on the front lawn of the State Capitol when we arrived, which was at 10AM. We formed in two ranks for some picture taking, and then we did a little drill.
Also in attendance were about ten or twelve young children, between the ages of 8 and 14 I reckon, who were dressed in German polka outfits. They looked like the Trapp Family singers from Sound of Music without Julie Andrews. We found out that these kids would be doing some singing- probably German folk songs.
After our drill and some more picture taking, some with the Trapp Family singers, all guests were invited to come into the Capitol Rotunda and find a seat to hear speechifying. Before us soldiers could go into the building we had to have duct tape put over the heel plates of our shoes so we wouldn’t scratch up the polished floor. There was no place to leave our muskets and traps so we were obliged to carry them with us the entire time. If you’ve ever been inside a State Capitol building and been in the Rotunda part, it is truly breathtaking.
The Rotunda is open all the way up to the 5th floor with fancy scrollwork and paintings. Words are not good enough to tell you how majestic the Rotunda looks. Here is a picture I took, but the eye can see better than this poor image can convey.
In the main floor of the Rotunda were folding chairs for the public. They faced a small stage where four men sat with a podium. Us soldiers, representing the 3rd Missouri, stood on either side of the stage on the curved stairwell going up to the 2nd floor.
A few words were said by three of the men, but the fourth man, from somewhere in Germany, spoke for almost fifteen minutes to a half-hour. He spoke all about the Germans coming to Missouri, settling along the Missouri River, being patriotic and Pro-Union, and how many joined to cause to fight for the Union. All four speakers had some kind words to say about us reenactors doing the 3rd Missouri. Every visitor and State Museum employee had kind words to say about our impression.
After the tongue wagging was complete, it was off down the east wing of the State Museum to the new exhibit on German Missourians. There was a ribbon cutting by someone, then people began strolling in to look at pictures, portraits, artifacts, and the previously mentioned 3rd Missouri flag. The flag was behind glass and there was a glare from overhead fluorescent lighting, plus a sign said that there would be NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY!
We lolly-gagged around for a few minutes, talked to a few people who inquired about our hobby, and had a chance to renew the acquaintance of Holmes Brigade alumni, Bill Fannin. Bill had been in the hobby of Civil War Reenacting for a number of years when I joined up in 1980.
He served a few years as First Sergeant and another few years as a 1st Lieutenant. To a lot of guys who joined in hobby in the 80’s, Bill was a mentor who taught us a lot of stuff on the Civil War-drill, dress, and behavior. In civilian life, Bill had worked at the State Capitol Museum in the archives handling artifacts. After open-heart surgery in 1990, Bill dropped out of the hobby. This was the first time I had seen him in 18 years. Despite the fact he is a little grayer and is in his mid 60’s, Bill looked good and was overjoyed to see us reenactors, including old timers from the 80’s, John Maki, Chuck Thompson, and myself.
All too soon the reunion ended because the call came to the reenactors for a free lunch. We took the elevator to the basement to Meeting Room #3. In here was a table filled with cold cuts, bread, chips, soda pop, and condiments. The reenactors had wolfed down one big sandwich apiece, eaten half the cold cuts, most of the bread, and all the soda pop, when in walked the Trapp Family singers. You see, there was supposed to be German cuisine being offered to all the dignitaries and visitors. We thought that included all these kids. Imagine how we felt. I felt bad that we’d eaten all the food, but hey, we didn’t know. Like I said, we thought the sandwiches were for us and everyone else would be eating schlong and kraut. So when the kids came in they had these real long faces, but instead of crying they made themselves a meat sandwich. John Maki and I got up from the dining table and headed back upstairs. Just as we left, here come even more people to the cold cut table looking for scraps. John and I practically ran to the elevator.
After lunch the boys wandered around the museum or lolly-gagged on folding chairs in the rotunda until a museum worker corralled us for a visit to the archive rooms. Here would be a chance to look at Civil War flags in various stages of restoration.
We went down a flight of back stairs, the service entrance, across the State Museum indoor parking lot, and through a heavy door. Overhead were air ducts and plumbing. Underneath these pipes were heavy metal storage lockers that contained a few battle flags on pull out trays.
The museum guy said sometimes the pipes leak and in the summer causes humidity which is hurtful to the condition of these fragile flags, but he reminded us the storage here is temporary.
Each flag is sandwiched between a clear sheet called vellum and/or protected by netting that holds the threads together. The area were the flag was attached to the staff is mostly intact. The end of the flag, which was allowed to flap in the breeze, is mostly gone. To restore and preserve each flag costs about 20 grand apiece, with mounting costing another 5 grand.
We were led into three separate rooms to view restoration in progress. In a temperature controlled room, an archivist, in cotton gloves, was working on a battle flag laid out flat on a tabletop.
She was doing something with reinforcing the back of the banner. Around the room are even more Civil War battle flags, still rolled up, as they were 140 years ago, waiting on their chance to be restored and preserved.
This concluded the tour and our stay at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO. It was close to 3PM. We’d got to do our thing as Franz Sigels’ 3rd Missouri Infantry and were allowed a private tour of Missouri’s Civil War battle flags in the restoration process. One final note: the restoration rooms at the Missouri State Museum are open to everyone. Just make an appointment and look at Civil War relics and flags anytime you want.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

After Action Report of 2003 Carthage, MO. event

"The Dutchmen of the 3rd Missouri"
Approximately 16 men from Holmes Brigade attended the event at Carthage, Missouri May 3-4, 2003. We wore the grayshirts! The rest of theFederal infantry battalion, another 4 companies of Kansans and Nebraskans, came with sack coats and sky blue trousers. They kind of looked at us funny, not knowing who we were supposed to be.

Many of the MSG troops were scratching their heads trying to figure us out as well. It seems that in the original 1861 battle, only the Federal artillery wore dark blue issue uniforms. Both the Third and the Fifth Missouri Infantry-all German-wore a type of gray overshirt. We wanted to set a precedent that we hope might be repeated in the future.

Just before the battle Saturday, we were treated to the sight of one of the "Hood" daughters displaying the National colors under her skirt.
Soon a lengthy artillery duel between at least ten full-scale guns developed. This was followed by the infantry fight in which we crossed and recrossed "Buck's Branch", exchanging withering volleys with the enemy, then formed a square and "skedaddled."
On Sunday, we came in from the opposite side of the field. This was to be a 2 PM fight, so we had to form up at 1:15 and stand around and fan our balls till kick off time. We marched up a paved road and delivered a volley into the backsides of the Missouri State Guard pukes that'd stacked arms and were "coffee cooling." They immediately crapped their pants, grabbed their weapons and began to return fire. By this time, we were entering the field from the right and extended our 5 companies in a battalion front.
A light rain was falling off and on. The field was somewhat muddy as we slowly pushed the sesech back across "Buck's Branch". I was reloading after a third volley, and yanked the tail of the cartridge between my two front teeth, when I felt something odd. I had just yanked my upper front tooth out. Actually it was a 20-year old cap probably hanging on by a thread. It went flying somewhere in the tall brush. I said something using off color language and showed my gaped tooth smile to Gregg Higginbotham and John Maki. They said I looked like a "Jack O Lantern", or better yet, a hillbilly in a Branson Musical Show. It didn?t hurt because in 1976. I'd had a root canal, with a cap put on the dead stump. Anyway, I felt embarrassed and stupid, but I continued on.
We were pushing the sesech pukes across the stream. Cavalry was running around the outer edges of the battlefield with pistols popping, while infantry grappled like tag team wrestlers. Action was going on in different parts of the field by individual units of men like it was a three-ring circus, minus the high wire act. Ground charges hurled potting soil high into the air or vomited geysers of water from the stream. At one point, "Herr Siegel" ordered us Gray Shirts across Buck's Branch to flank a company of MSG. Mike Metcalf lost his footing while crossing the muddy bank and landed on his back, staining his gray shirt with wet mud. The rest of us had mud clinging to our trousers up to our knees, elbows, and brims of our hats. Plus we had wet grass stains from diving on the ground to escape a sesech volley, as well as black powder residue on our hands and lips.
Jim Beckner, whom we all called "Gross Oohpaw" or Great Grandfather, was struck down by enemy balls several times, as was Hig and Maki, but "Herr Siegel" came along and resurrected them on the spot, saying, "You all are no longer dead, so get back in line!" While the fight raged on, some confusion was evident as battle lines overlapped. One MSG commander roared at Hig and Maki to "get back over here and into line." He was another one of those confused souls who was ignorant of the clothing we wore and couldn?t understand why we were on that side of the field thinking we were some of his boys. We corrected him on the spot with several well-aimed musket volleys. I fired 40 rounds, missing front tooth and all, and we slowly forced the enemy from the field in what was scripted as a generic battle. We marched off the field, triumphantly, between ranks of cheering spectators singing, "Mary had a little Lamb." A few of the other Federals tried to sing "Marching Through Georgia", but they were hushed up.

As we were about to be dismissed, "Herr Siegel" congratulated us all on a fine job. Both he and the battalion commander had big grins. As we took stock of ourselves at the end of the event, we looked like we?d fallen off the manure wagon into a hog pen. We were only looking for one thing after this knock down fight, however,lager beer! If this event is held again, in a couple years, it is hoped we can get more boys into Gray Shirts and possibly educate some on what the correct impression should be for an 1861 event.

After Action Report of 2004 Franklin, TN event

We pulled into Federal registration between 10:30 and 11AM where folks behind the table asked for "papers please!" A medallion was handed out plus a cheesy pinup poster featuring two soldiers, a US guy and a CS guy. We were instructed to "drive down along the fence line about a half mile, then turn left for another half mile," to find the US camp. I was the only one dressed out in blue, but Robbie Maupin and Dan Hadley (both who would be on the CS side) agreed to see me to my camp.
We drove past scores of Union soldiers, but when pressed for directions to the digs of the Western Brigade, they said, "On down the road." We drove past a red barn-a strip of yellow police tape wrapped all the way around it to keep the reenactors out. Past a few more "Yankees," then at the bottom of the slope stood one solitary A frame tent. Clustered around the canvas shelter I recognized Captain Terry Forsyth and Lt. Tom Sprague right off. I got my stuff unloaded and set on the ground. Mark Olson came from out of the A and we all hugged on each other. As I looked around I only counted seven Holmes Brigade boys. Including Capt. Terry and Lt. Tom, there was Corporal Dave, Mark Olson, Gary Riley, Greg Wait, and myself. Where was everyone else? Terry thought some more boys would be coming in throughout the day and possibly into Saturday morning. He was about half right. Later that afternoon, three more Holmes Brigade boys arrived. Charles Hoskins, and John and Sam Peterson. The very first words out of John Peterson's mouth were "…way the fuck down here in the last camp!" We now had ten men in our company!
We were really looking pretty sad as a unit. It was said we might have to consolidate with another company. Then when spirits were at its lowest, we received 6 new recruits. Four were from a Pennsylvania group and two were from the 1st Colorado. I think they were orphans like us and needed a home, so they wandered into our nest. They all looked well fed, like little butterballs. One had been an officer back east, plus two others were sergeants and still wore the rank on their sleeves. The PA boys chitter-chattered like schoolgirls the entire afternoon, until we took off on our long march, then they bitched because "everyone is walking so fast" and they couldn't keep up. "That's how Western soldiers march," I explained with a grin.
Our first skirmish was up the road a short distance. It was mid afternoon, I guess. After going up the narrow dirt lane, we were commanded to drop our knapsacks in a pile. Oh, I forgot to mention this, but we'd be going to another campsite after this here skirmish. So, if there was something you had to have that night-like a blanket-you had to lug it with you now!
So, we dropped packs and reformed the battalion. We were the eighth company of the battalion and the colonel tended to remind us "y'all are the end of the line!" We couldn't allow the enemy to flank us, was the implication. The colonel, a little bantam roster with white chin whiskers, croaked out the order to advance in line of battle. "Guide to the colors!" The Stars and Stripes were smack dab in the center of our battalion. When the order is given to guide or dress to the center, all the boys look to the center, or where Old Glory is. The men in the ranks attempt to march in a straight line, although officers and NCO's will bellow to "Get the bow out of the line!" or "Dress to the center!" You also have to maintain a touch of elbow with the guy next to you otherwise the ranks will look sloppy, resembling less an army and more a mob.
The fighting was going hot and heavy now. Cannons roared somewhere off on our far right. Confederate cannons were several hundred yards to our front spitting smoke. A line of dirty Confederate soldiers dotted the landscape in front of these guns. Their line stretched from horizon to horizon. About one hundred yards separated us from them. The little colonel shouted at us the fire as a battalion, then by company, then by file, then finally at will. A Sergeant Major ran rings around all of us. He carried a staff like a drum major. His job was to echo the orders from the colonel. During the crash and boom, the voice of the little colonel could not be heard, but the Sergeant Major barked like a lion. Plus Captain Terry and Lt. Tom were on hand to repeat stuff as they heard them. It was not unusual to have ten or twelve people shout the same order, in case you didn't hear it. We might have been better served if we'd had cue cards to read and react to.
After about 30 rounds had been smoked through my Springfield, I noticed the cone becoming fouled. I tried to worm the crud out with a nipple pick, but it would not budge. The battle petered out about five minutes later and was halted. We were ordered to snap caps, but I told the colonel my cone was fouled, so a few minutes later I was putting on a new one. I have two extra cones in my cartridge box. We got to sit down for a bit after this fight and several of us nibbled on snacks from the haversack while a volunteer gathered canteen's from all around and went to fill them.
All too soon, a drum sounded and shouted orders came to reform the battalion. Once again in ranks, we marched off a distance of about a half-mile to Rippavilla plantation. This was an old antebellum house that was on property owned by the Saturn automobile company. The grounds around Rippavilla were neatly manicured, like a golf course, and surrounded by a white picket fence. The entire battle reenactment was on Saturn property. I don't know how many acres they had, but they must have sold a lot of cars to buy up all this land. The actual town of Franklin was about ten miles north. The battle reenactment site was close to a town called Spring Hill. We took another break here, because just ahead was the highway. State troopers would shut down the right hand lane of this highway so we could march up about another half-mile, over pavement, to reach the place where we would camp for the night.
The entire time we were on our feet, going from one place to the next, the Pennsylvania boys continuously belly ached that "everyone is walking so fast," or "what's everyone's hurry?" Considering we were the last company in an eight-company battalion and these boys were in the last rank of that company, I can't understand why they couldn't keep up. Nevertheless, they complained the whole trip. I stated, as a matter-of-fact, "we are all Western soldiers and that's how we march." They weren't the only complainers in the Union army. Quite a number of well-fed and aged men lay off to the side of the road during the long hike. Most gasped and puffed like beached whales and sucked on canteens while a pard nursed their pulled hamstrings or sore ankles. I didn't have too much trouble myself. I'm proud that I was able to hoof it with the rest of the boys with no ill effects-other than I was dog-tired when we finally stopped and my shirt was wringing wet.
Where we pulled up for the night was in the middle of a God forsaken old cornfield, stripped bare of nearly all vegetation. Right down the center of this field was a trench line that was waist deep and at least 200 hundred yards long. All us Union boys were obliged to bed down here, so muskets were stacked, campfires started, and bedrolls were laid out. We had barely settled in, when word came that four men from each company would have to go out on night patrol. That is they would sit out in the dark and watch to see if the enemy would try to sneak over. The Pennsylvania boys quickly volunteered out of our small company-good riddance. So the night rangers marched off into the darkness and the rest of us stretched out under the stars. I brought out my big slab of bacon from my haversack and started cutting off small hunks to fry in my tiny little skillet, while Mark began boiling coffee. A finer supper I never had! The early October evening was slightly cool, but not uncomfortable. Several of us snuggled close to the small fire, however, and gazed hypnotically at the cracking embers or up into the starlit heavens until sleep overcame us. Before falling asleep, I saw the headlights of at least a dozen vehicles coming through our area bringing artillery. Sure enough, in the full light of morning, there were ten or twelve cannon positioned on our right and on our left all along that 200-yard trench line.
Reveille came to us at an early hour; the eastern sky was just barely beginning to lighten. Dim figures began to move around in the pre-dawn darkness rolling up bedrolls and stirring the embers of a dying fire in order to coax coffee into boiling. This ritual had barely been completed, when a slight rain drizzle began to fall. Those that had ponchos, drug them out. However, within five minutes the rain had petered out.
It seems our sentries had been out all night, exchanging pleasantries with Johnny Reb no doubt. As they wandered in from their all night frolic, it seems that brought news of the enemy, who was just over past the hedgerow-one hundred yards to our front. Thanks for stirring up a hornet's nest, I thought. Word came to us to form battalion, right face, and forward march at a left oblique away from the comfort of the muddy trench to a worn path that wound through the aforementioned vegetation. We'd left our packs and haversacks behind and hoped our comrades would not pilfer while we were gone. My observation on this was made as I came to the conclusion that only four companies of the Western Battalion were on this prowl.
"Where are the rest of the boys?" I said aloud even as we stepped through the other side of the hedgerow into a wall of butternut and gray. Looked like the whole Reb army only fifty yards in front of us. Shock and awe hit the face of our little colonel as he realized the trap, but with unflappable presence of mind, he ordered us to let loose with a few aimed volleys, then back we skeedaddled-back through the hedgerow in the direction of the trench.
We had barely collected ourselves back on the "friendly side" of the hedgerow when it was noticed that, in our absences, the entire Union Army had got up out of the trench and was hotly engaged with a foe just as equal in number on our left. Now I knew what had happened to our support. They'd gotten stuck in a trap themselves! I believe a few more volleys were fired, then we all backed up till we fell into the trench works.
It was while the boys were taking stock of themselves after the little tussle with Johnny Reb, that we noticed that a boy from our very own "eighth" company was in trouble. This was the guy from Colorado. Come to find out, his knee had popped and he was writhing on the ground in some discomfort. Some pards went out into no man's land, got on both sides of him and half dragged/carried him back to our side. After a brief conference between officers and NCO's of the battalion, it was decided an ambulance needed to be called in. At any reenactment, large or small, a medical crew is always on call. Whenever guns go off and men run around in hot wool clothing in the summer time, an accident is bound to happen. Most generally these fall in the category of ankle sprains, blisters, or heat exhaustion. Whenever something like this happens, or worse, a uniformed staff officer will either summon help via a walkie-talkie or dispatch a mounted soldier to locate an emergency vehicle. As I have stated before, safety is job one at any reenactment. When a real injury occurs, play is halted! Both side's cease-fire and stand at ease until the emergency vehicle has arrived and the poor victim is hauled away to the local hospital or nearby dressing station. Once the emergency vehicle has left the area, then play is resumed. On this morning at Franklin, I had already seen a number of lame and fagged out boys during the march from our original camp to these trenches. Over the next couple of hours, the call for medical attention would continue. I know for a fact one boy either fell off his horse or got kicked by it, plus there was a few more cases of pulled, twisted, or sprained limbs. In our "eighth" company alone, there would be three more casualties before the noon hour.
Once the ambulance pulled away, with our comrade "Colorado" strapped on a stretcher, play was to be resumed. However, for some odd reason, our battalion was obligated to trot to the opposite end of the trench line. We had to march at the double quick a full one hundred yards or better, while another battalion took our spot. I wanted to get at least another forty rounds out of my knapsack, so I handed my musket to Lieutenant Sprague. Just has I turned my back, the battalion took off a trot. I caught up with the boys after a moment, retrieved my musket, and resumed my place in the rear rank.
All too soon we were ordered to commence firing at a solid wall of butternut and gray. Already, boys were packed in the trench like sardines, so the rest of us stood on the back lip of the trench, firing over their heads. It was hot work for a spell until the Rebels advanced towards us with a fierce yell. They looked like a thousand snarling uncaged beasts. Within a moment, they'd poured into the trench works and it was a hand-to-hand match with a lot of pushing, shoving, growling, and gnashing of teeth. I remember jumping on the back on one Confederate, as he clambered over the trench, and then his pard jumped on me.
Our section of the trench works seemed to be the only spot where the Confederates had broken through. Play again was halted; the end of Round Two. The southern trespassers were obligated to rejoin their pards on the opposite side. The rest of the southern horde had stopped short about ten yards from the earthworks and seemed content to hurl insults at us. As we all regrouped and took stock of ourselves, I walked up the line to see if I could spot Dan Hadley and Rob Maupin. Like I said, the Confederate legions were just on the other side of the trench line from us-no more than ten yards away making recognition easy. Sure enough, I saw both of them, in another battalion to our right. I took off my hat and hollered, "Hallo" at them. Dan hurdled the trench works in one bound, like a gazelle or an Olympic athlete, and gave me a big bear hug. I quickly noticed that his butternut clothing was filthy. In fact both men looked like they'd rolled around in the mud or fallen in a manure pile. Hell, I was somewhat of a dirty little man myself! While Dan treated me like a kissing cousin in his embrace, he told me that he and Rob wanted to leave the event that afternoon. They had talked to Susan and Linda. The girls wanted to visit the Carter House on Sunday. I said that'd be all right. We'd be able to shower, eat in a sit down restaurant, sleep in a soft bed, and then sight see the next day. I agreed to meet both Dan and Rob at the WIDE-AWAKE tent, on sutlers row, at sundown. The WIDE-AWAKE Video Company was filming a documentary/reenactment video of this event. After another warm embrace, Dan leaped back to the other side of the trench.
After this second round of shooting had concluded, we had a lengthy pause, which lasted about one hour. During that time, we were told to gather our knapsacks and move them one hundred yards to the rear. It was about this time that I heard our own company had suffered more losses. Acting First Sergeant Charles Hoskins had suffered an asthma attack, Lt. Tom Sprague had some complications with bad food he'd eaten, and our beloved Captain Terry Forsyth became lame when the nails of his boots went up into his feet. Both officers "cut stick", located their automobile, and returned to Missouri within the hour. I never saw them leave, not did I get a chance to say goodbye. We'd already lost Colorado and I never saw the Pennsylvania boy's again that day. We were back down to seven- Mark Olson, Corporal Dave, Gary Riley, Greg Wait, John and Sam Peterson, and me. We'd become orphans and were obligated to fall in with another group of guys. The company that adopted us welcomed us by placing us at the end of the line-as if we had leprosy.
While we all shuffled from one foot to the next waiting for the next order of business, Olson and I decided to go after so water. Near where we'd placed our knapsacks was a huge stainless tanker truck holding fresh water. Standing in two lines behind the truck was a whole bunch of Confederate butternuts. As Mark and I walked up to join the line, I noticed there was at least another hundred butternut scarecrows sitting on the ground, "coffee coolin", including an old Crowley's Clay County pard, Clayton Murphy. While Clayton and I exchanged pleasantries, Mark had spied Dan Hadley and Rob Maupin some distance ahead. The two were trying to get water from a dog dish or maybe it was a birdbath.
While we all waited in line for water and grab-assed, play on the battlefield had resumed. Cannon roared and muskets flamed 200 yards behind us. As calmly as spectators, we merely glanced over our shoulder at the spectacle, but no one felt like relinquishing their place in the water line just to blow more cartridges. Most of us figured there were enough bodies down there to fight, or as one person declared, "Right now, we're on break, we're off the clock!" What was odd was there were only a half dozen of us Yankees in the mob of graybacks. We were all after a cool drink of water, so it was like being off the time clock.
Eventually, it was my turn at the fire hose. Every drop of water was precious, so a 55-gallon drum caught the excess drips from the spigots. I'll never forget this young woman was standing by the spigot, bitching and complaining that she'd been out here all by herself. She obviously was part of the water department that donated the fresh water and she was complaining about working past her shift. I remember she was an attractive gal, but very self-absorbed. I got my water and joined Olson, Hadley, and Maupin by the birdbath. After declaring again about meeting at the WIDE-AWAKE at sundown, Mark and I rejoined the battle. "Back on the time clock," I declared to Mark as we found our weapons

Winter Encampment, Lexington, Missouri Feb. 2006

When the Union Army halted its campaigning between December and March, the soldiers built winter quarters for themselves. In many cases they were simple one-room log cabins small enough for the comfort of two to four men, or one grown dog. These structures were built with a wood floor, a crude fireplace and a canvas roof.
There is a large field on the southern end of Lexington town, near the Victorian home of Amy Heaven (the house was in the film, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL). In fact, she owns this huge tract of pastureland, and in the past, has allowed horses to graze and the Frontier Brigade to camp.
Near the western edge of this pasture stands a one-room cabin, measuring about 30 foot by 40 foot, built from split logs and clay, complete with a good size fireplace.
In mid-January, Aaron Racine proposed that an encampment could be had on this field.
The original goal of this encampment was to do manual labor, which included cutting down trees, clearing away brush, digging pits, and assembling huts. On February 4-5, 2006, about two dozen brave (or should I say foolhardy) souls braved chilly temperatures for the first "BUILD A CABIN" days, just like the old boys did it nearly 150 years ago. Without a doubt, we all thought the greatest reward lay in just getting out of the house after a long hibernation. Many of us hadn't seen each other since Athens, so there was much gayety and laughter throughout the day.
John Maki had assembled his "little house on the prairie" beginning the previous Wednesday. He cheated a little bit. He used all the power tools in his shop to neatly chisel all the log pieces. It resembled an old fashioned out house and had about as much room inside.
The Kip Lindberg/Dave Bennett team also cheated by bringing, what appeared to be, a pre-fabricated doghouse. One can only imagine Snoopy lying on top. There were four walls, covered on the inside with bathroom wallpaper. All that was required of the team was to dig a foundation, about three feet deep, by seven foot square. Then, like a jigsaw puzzle, the team fitted the walls together, added a shelter tent roof, and PRESTO! They had to crawl on their hands and knees to get through the special dog door and into their beds. They even had a small stove inside; about half the size of a shoebox I believe.
The men who made up Team Higginbotham had no pre-fabricated or pre-cut pieces of housing. They went right to the source and began attacked 6-inch thick trees with long handled axes, cross cut saws, hatchets, sweat, and brute strength. Hig, Dave Bears, Steve Hall, and Shane Seley each took turns with the hand tools. After a pretty good notch had been sliced in the timber, a couple of fat people pushed and pulled on the tree until it fell with a thud. Six-foot sections were cut off each fallen tree until enough were on hand like so many Lincoln Logs in a child's toy set. Then came the stacking and criss-crossing until by mid-afternoon, there was a foundation about two-foot high. For Team Higginbotham, their log hut will require several more visits until complete.
At mid-day, John Maki had a fine dinner cooked up of beans and ham, plus a loyal citizen had provided a loaf of delicious cinnamon bread for our dining enjoyment.
Provost Captain Abraham Comingo (Ralph Monaco) arrived to administer the loyalty oath to some recently paroled Rebel scarecrows. He also read articles from an old 1863 newspaper, filled the air with political rhetoric and smoked several vile cigars at the same time.
Sometime after lunch, we were surprised by about a dozen guerrillas in captured Federal uniforms. They appeared on horseback, standing atop a rise in the hillside, then they came bolting towards us at a trot, pistols popping in each fist. Quickly, we assembled and were prepared to return fire, but were again surprised to discover we had another enemy on our flank. This was six or seven guerrillas on foot. They crashed through the tangle of woods behind us and 'pop pop popped' at us with large caliber revolvers.

After a heated five-minute skirmish, a truce was called. The scarecrows crawled out of the woods, like so many ticks, and commenced to 'hee-haw' about how they had surprised us.
In all fairness, we all thought something might be brewing when Captain Tom and Aaron Racine told us to have our weapons and accouterments where we could reach them. I believe they got the news of graybacks in the area from a spy.
As the day turned toward evening time, we shrugged on our greatcoats and began a migration to the big log cabin and its fireplace. Despite the growing cold temperatures, Aaron supplied the evening refreshment when he brought in two 2-gallon casks of German lager. I think he also had a bottle of OLD OVERCOAT, but not sure. Meanwhile, Gregg Higginbotham held the audience captive with his tall tales from the past. He spoke about the tailgate romance he witnessed at Gettyburg '88, the adventures of the Waffle boys at Raymond, MS, the romance of Roger Forsyth, and other saucy adventures. Each story was punctuated with the famous Higginbotham body language and sound effects.
After the 4 gallons of German lager had been sucked dry, it was time to go into Lexington town for even more popskull and a bite at the sports bar. This was about 7:30 PM. In the restaurant we had hot chow, washed down with a Rolling Rock or a Black and Tan. One of the Rebel scarecrows, from earlier in the day, was in the bar with us and tried to get us excited about a reenactment in northern Missouri where you can fire up to 300 rounds. Aaron's rebuttal was priceless. Hig merely said, "I'd rather jack!"
By about 9:30, we returned to Tiny Town, with the intent to get some shut-eye. Overnight, temperatures plunged like Pam Anderson's neckline. I shared the bungalow with John Maki. During the wee hours of the morning, John gave me an extra blanket, but I still felt as if my feet were turning into blocks of ice.
Team Kip Lindberg spent all night in their hut feeding the tiny shoebox stove with bits of wood. I think they had some fagots in the hut with them. In the darkness, Kip was whacking on these fagots with his hatchet, so they'd be able to fit in the stove, when he accidentally brought the hatchet came down on his thigh. He asked Dave Bennett to take him the hospital. His cut, though not serious, required eight stitches.
The boys who spent the night in the big 30x40-foot cabin spent just as miserable a night as the rest of us. The cabin had many gaps between the logs and the wind whistled through as if it was a pipe organ. I think Ralph slept in his car, but Aaron, Captain Tom, Hig, and a few others were shivering like Mohammed Ali. Even though the fireplace was crackling, it did little to take the chill out of the drafty room. Hig told me he spent a sleepless night sitting upright in a chair with his feet in the fireplace.
About 5:30 AM, I staggered into the cabin, to warm up. Even though everyone was wrapped up like mummies, it didn't appear as if they'd slept. I told Captain Tom that if we do another winter encampment, let's do it in June.
Hig and John Maki had to be at the 1859 Jail in Independence by 7:30 AM for a Jim Beckner motion picture. I road down with Hig, plus I had no desire to stay another day, so I packed up my belongings and said goodbye to the wretched survivors of the WINTER ENCAMPMENT of 2006. And that's all I have to say about that. THE END.