Saturday, May 7, 2011

Honorable Women Among Us

A Mother's Day Tribute to Reenacting Women
    The first large reenactment we went to as spectators was to Cedar Creek.  I remember the infantry, the artillery, the cavalry, the sutlers, the battle, and oh yes, there were women there in hoop skirts.  But to be honest, I don't have a memory of the women in camp dresses.  I know they were there.  But as a first time spectator, a male interested in military history, what women I noticed were nice but not needing great attention.  I do remember one woman in black mourning clothes.  But my focus was on what the men were wearing and doing. 

Lemonade Conference

     After many years of reenacting I now realize how much the women, especially those in camp dresses contribute to the hobby.  Now for the record I am not against women who wear hoop skirts.  They have their place of adding to the perspective of the encampment for the spectators.  They are the "celebrities" the spectators see.  But my experience has been that it is the camp dress women who are the oil in the reenacting machinery.  I've seen this in the units we have reenacted with over the years. These women bring the food, tend the fires, clean up after, patch up the outfits, manage the kids, find the canteens or the socks or the haversack or whatever else "was just here honey".
     Yes, I know that the women can wear both hoop skirts and camp dresses.  And some actually do both roles well and with balance.  But I think we will all have to admit that there are certain personalities that do better at being the served than serving, and so the dress often does distinguish the heart.
     On this mother's day weekend, I want to pay tribute to my wife who has been a camp dress lady.  She has worked hard prior to each reenactment getting us all ready, preparing food for sharing, often baking for the entire week before hand what we would offer at the tent.  Early on she did try wearing a few hoops under her skirt but gave up because "there is just too much work to get done to be bothered trying to maneuver around in it".  I think of the many other women who I've known who came along with their husband's odd hobby out of love and loyalty to him, and have contributed so much to making the hobby great and gotten so little recognition.  If you have such a woman who comes along with you, you need to say a heartfelt thanks many times throughout the year to them.  If there are women in your unit who serve your unit you need to show them respect and honor.
     The women will notice they are honored even if they don't say so.  Let me give two examples.
     One time we did an event in Columbus, OH. (Vicki is from that area).  We didn't know people at the event.  We just showed up, set up and began to do our Christian Commission thing.  We were odd birds to them I know.  After the weekend on the drive home, Vicki remarked how that at first the men didn't say much to her as she went about camp offering the lemonade and food.  But as the weekend went by and they got to know us, they became friendly and respectful, even offering to help her carry whatever she was walking through camp with.  And it made her feel a part of the event.
     Contrast that to this example.  Last year at a reenactment a women stopped by the tent for a lemonade.  I know her to be a hard working woman who cooks food for the men of her unit.  Being single, she does it out of a love of history and the enjoyment of reenacting.  She has adopted the unit she serves and adds a lot to their having a good weekend event.  (By the way, she usually wears a camp dress, but also at times wears a nice hoop skirt for the dance and such, showing a woman can do both.)  Anyway, back to the point of the story.  She came to our tent with her tin can for a refill of lemonade to eat with the meal she had just finished cooking.  And I caught that she was a bit exasperated.  Evidently the guys had all just come down to the tent for refills to go with the food and though her can was on the table, no one had thought to bring it and get her a lemonade.  And she noticed that she went "unnoticed".
     The women will notice they are honored even if they don't say so. 
     Vicki didn't come to the reenactment to be a celebrity.  She didn't come out of a deep love for history.  She came because her husband wanted to do this crazy hobby, and we were going to do it as a family, and she would find ways to make things go smoothly.  If God's given you such a woman as a wife, thank her often for being so gracious and loving.  If God's placed one or more caring women in your unit, thank them often by words and respectful actions.  Don't be like the spectators who don't know what it really takes to make a reenactment go well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Robert Anderson Hero of Fort Sumter (US24 & US123)

     Major Robert Anderson was in command of Fort Sumter on Friday, April 12th 1861 when the "first shot" of the Civil war was fired.
     Robert Anderson was born June 14th 1805 near Louisville, Kentucky.  He followed his family's military tradition by graduating from West Point Military Academy in 1825, serving in the Black Hawk and Seminole wars, serving and being wounded at the battle of Molino del Ray during the Mexican War.  He worked in various administrative and teaching capacities, helping to shape the artillery corps into a more effective branch of the American Army.

Patriotic Cover US24

     At age 57 and considering retirement, he received orders to take command of the First Artillery at Fort Moultrie, Charleston harbor, South Carolina.  Anderson's background gave him Southern sympathies, and some see his appointment as an attempt to mollify tension between the Federal government and South Carolina.  Anderson seemed sympathetic to turning forts over to the Confederacy, and also expressed hope that war might be avoided and the seceding states would return peaceable to the Union.  But when the crisis of command came, Anderson choose to follow his duty as an American officer.  In the face of Southern fire upon the relief ship Star of the West, Anderson held his fire, and choose to abandon Fort Moultrie for the more defensible, though unfinished, Fort Sumter.
     The fort was named after Gen. Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero.  It was part of a series of fortifications on the southern US coast begun in response to the War of 1812 vulnerability.  Construction of Sumter, which began in 1827, remained unfinished in 1861.  The fort, a five-sided brick structure designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers, was built to defend the entrance of Charleston Harbor.  Anderson's command of about 125 men and 60 guns had many limitations including lack of ammunition and gun placement (mostly aimed out to sea).  Anderson's retreat to Fort Sumter Dec. 26, 1860,  six days after South Carolina seceded from the Union, became the excuse for state forces to seize the harbor forts and demand Sumter be surrendered as well.
     Anderson waited patiently for the political events to play out.  Brig. Gen. Beauregard demanded surrender of the fort on April 10, 1861.  Finally on April 12th at 4:30am Southern forces opened fire.  At 2:30 pm April 13th, Anderson surrendered, evacuating the following day.  The only Union casualties were the result of a cannon exploding while firing a salute to the colors during the evacuation on the 14th.  Anderson's report read:  "Having defended Fort Sumter for thirty-four hours, until the quarters were entirely burned, the main gates destroyed by fire, the gorge walls seriously injured, the magazine surrounded by flames, and its door closed from the effects of heat, four barrels and three cartridges of powder only being available, and no provisions remaining but pork, I accepted terms of evacuation offered by General Beauregard, being the same offered by him on the 11th instant, prior to the commencement of hostilities, and marched out of the for Sunday afternoon, the 14th instant, with colors flying and drums beating, bringing away company and private property, and saluting my flag with fifty guns."
Patriotic Cover US123
     Anderson's actions made him an immediate Northern national hero.  Bringing the flag with him, he participated in a recruiting tour throughout the North starting with one of the largest patriotic rallies in New York City up to that time.  His steadfastness in remaining loyal to the Union in spite of his personal sympathies gave him positive standing among Union loyalists.  He, like Elsworth, became an early war hero appearing on many Union patriotic covers.  [I found some very helpful information about Anderson on "General G.H.Thomas & Army of the Cumberland"  ]

I have reproduced two Anderson Union patriotic envelopes:
     One has only his portrait and the tag "The Hero of Sumpter" (US24).  I always enjoy this cover since it shows that spelling is relative.  I wish my 7th grade English teacher could have been a little more tolerant of spelling options, but I digress.  The tag highlights the esteem Anderson gained through his dedication to his military duty.  Fort Sumter became symbolic in the North of what needed to be "retaken".  (I have a patriotic stationery sheet with a picture of Fort Sumter being bombarded and words for a song entitled "The Union Marseillaise".)  Anderson returned to Charleston after Lee's surrender and raised again the 33-star flag he had once lowered in surrender.  Ironically it was the same day President Lincoln was assassinated, April 14th, 1865.
     The second cover Col. Anderson (US123) has a description below his portrait of Southern excitement over the surrender of Fort Sumter with its "seventy half-starved, patriotic soldiers of the Republic of the United States" to the over-whelming "thousands" of Southern rebels.  It ends with this declaration:  "It was a brave achievement [catch the sarcasm], and the good God will, no doubt, reward them for it, in his own good time" [ie God will allow us to revenge this unrighteous outrage].  (Covers exist with Anderson tagged as "Major", "Colonel" and "General" [he was promoted upon his return North in May 1861].  The rank "Colonel" most likely reflects the fact that Anderson was a colonel of Illinois volunteers during the Black Hawk War of 1832, where he had the distinction of mustering Captain Abraham Lincoln in and out of army service.)
     Either of these would add an interesting aspect to your living history display.  You could use either the US 1857 stamps or 1861 war issue stamps on them.  I have included the US24 cover in my Teacher Resource Packet because of Anderson's role in the first significant action of the war.
     [Full text under Anderson Portrait on US123 cover:  "The excitement of the brave Charlestonians on hearing the news of the surrender of Fort Sumter was immense.  The whole population were mad with joy, and clapped their hands, and shouted 'Glory to the Charleston chivalry and the Lord of Hosts!'  Horsemen galloped about the streets bellowing the tidings, and ladies -- the pretty rebels! -- waved their pocket-handkerchiefts out of every window.  The Mills House was the chief centre of these demonstrations, and crowds thronged the front of it, congratulating themselves that eighteen batteries, and from five to ten thousand men had silenced a single fort, manned by seventy half-starved, patriotic soldiers of the Republic of the United States.  It was a brave achievement, and the good God will, no doubt, reward them for it, in his own good time."]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad Cover (RR1)

This simple railroad business envelope reminds us of a highly contested Civil War supply route through East Tennessee. 
    The East Tenn & Virginia RR was chartered in 1849.  Construction began on July 4, 1855 on sections beginning in Bristol and in Knoxville under the direction of Samuel Cunningham, a Jonesborough physician.  Extending 130 miles from Knoxville to Bristol, with a 12 mile branch line to Rogersville, the ET&V was completed on May 14, 1858.  This completion would create an unbroken rail line from New York to Memphis.  (The ET&V Railroad would be consolidated in 1869 with the East Tennesse and Georgia line into the ETV&G line.  In 1894 the ETV&G would merge with the Richmond and Danville Railroad to form the Southern Railway.)
     The East Tennessee & Virginia RR was part of the larger construction effort occurring during the 1840s & 1850s in Tennessee.  By 1860 about 1,197 miles of track had been laid across the state.  At the outset of the war all of Tennessee's rail system fell within the Confederacy.  This represented about 13% of the South's total 9,167 miles.  Southern railroads were about 30% of the national total, with smaller organizations and lighter equipment.  Tennessee's location as a border state would ensure railroad lines such as the ET&V would play a vital role for transportation of troops and supplies.

East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad Map
      Because this East Tennessee railroad was a major supply route between Virginia and the Deep South, both Confederate and Union forces considered control or destruction of it as vital.  East Tennessee, with its major cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga along with the Tri-Cities of Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport in the extreme northeastern area, was the poorest of the state's three official political regions.  It was also strongly pro-Union, voting largely against secession in the June 1861 referendum which was passed by West and Middle Tennessee.
     East Tennessee's population endured guerrilla warfare, harsh military occupation and invasions of the campaigning armies.  Union loyalists would destroy railroad tracks and facilities to thwart usage, starting in November 1861 when they destroyed five railroad bridges forcing CS forces to invoke martial law and set up a garrison in Johnson City to protect the line. 
     I bought the original cover which was addressed to a woman in Jonesboro with a war issue US stamp on it.  There was no letter inside, and no postmark to date the cover (the stamp was cancelled by ink pen marks).  I have reproduced it just because I find it an interesting piece of history which could be used by either union or confederate reenactors since the railroad existed prewar.  It would make an interesting cover for use as an "appropriated envelope" [used for personal correspondence] or just to have as part of your living history display if you portray a unit from this theater of war.  Its listed on the website catalog as both RR1US and RR1CS to give you a choice of stamps.  I do not have an example of stationery for use with it.  For CS reenactors I have some interesting Tennessee early war provisionals to make an interesting living history display.
     Reference books: The Bridge Burners by Cameron Judd;  East Tennessee and the Civil War by Oliver P. Temple;  Railroads of the Confederacy by Robert C. Black.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

CSA Cotton Will Defeat "Ape Lincoln" Cover (CS36)

Cotton will defeat "Ape Lincoln"

     This Confederate patriotic cover is one I have recently purchased and have just started reproducing (Item CS36 Feb.2011).  It's an interesting one.  It was printed early war by "J. Mullen, Publisher, Canal Street, New Orleans, C.S.A." (printer's tag line on reverse of cover).
     I often describe patriotic covers as "1860s bumper stickers" to spectators who come by our tent.  By that I mean for their time and culture these envelopes presented in a popular art form the political messages of their times, and people responded by buying and mailing these political statements.
     That this was printed in New Orleans to me is an interesting historical detail.  There are many covers I find that do not have the publisher on them, and I find myself wondering where and when they were printed.
     The reference to Packenham is lost on us today.  But to Southerners, especially those of the New Orleans area, it would have resonated "defeating the impossible".  Major-General Edward Packenham was in charge of the British forces invading Louisiana with the mission to seize the important city of  New Orleans.  The Battle of New Orleans (Jan.8, 1815) was the final major battle of the War of 1812.  Andrew Jackson commanded the American forces which against all expectations defeated the superior British Army.  During the attack, Major-General Packenham was killed as he attempted to rally the British troops. 
     The Battle of New Orleans was regarded in the American culture of that time as the greatest American land victory of the War of 1812.  The artist of this Confederate cover draws on that history to say "as in that day, so in our day what looks impossible will happen -- those defending our homeland will defeat tyrannical overwhelming forces".  You have to give the artist credit for succinctly developing a hopeful rallying message and having a good cutting sense of humor -- "Ape Lincoln".
     This would be an interesting cover for use by Confederate reenactors to portray Southern early war confidence.  If you are interested in buying this cover, in my order system it's number CS36.  I also have some early war Confederate Provisional stamps that would go good with it for a living history display.
     There is a Union cover, printed by Upham, that is counter-point to this Confederate cover using the same picture but with the mocking notation "Jeff. King of the Cotton plant-nation on his throne".  Upham reflects the Northern counterpoint that cotton will not be the savior the South thinks and will regret allowing Davis to rule them.  It's always interesting to see these dueling political covers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Challenge of Balance in Reenacting

The follow post from Fred London is another perspective on balancing being accurate with being inviting to new people:

Glenn, Last week, I posted the following opinion on a well-visited Civil War forum in response to extremes in authenticity.  It is along the lines of your post concerning your family's introduction into reenacting.  I wanted to post it as a comment to your last post was unable to do so. [Fred, I have no idea how posting works, but have set it up as open as far as I know. Glenn]

     I am not, what is referred to as an "authentic campaigner" by any means. But, even so, there are a few things, that even for me, cross the line of what should be acceptable, especially for those who have a couple of reenactments under their belts and should know better. Most of this laxness is attributal to the veterans who permit it to occur without diplomatically pointing it out to the "fresh fish." Just last week, I was at a reenactment, where they turned the battle into essentially a sporting event/theatrical presentation---play by play announcing, directing pep rally type cheers, and annoying background music.
     Frankly, I was embarrassed. I believe it sent the wrong message to the spectators, and more importantly, contributed little to honoring the brave men who fought and sacrificed for a cause they believed in. It trivialized the very reason we were there, and therefore, did a disservice to all parties concerned.
     But, I fear that some of us, in our zeal to be 100%, if that is even practically possible, may be taking an unintended self-defeating approach to reenacting. As I was reading the long lists of farberism, I began to think of the 613 ordiances in the Mosaic Law, which no man could perfectly keep, which is why a blood atonement was required for the remission of sins. I fear that in our well-intnetioned zeal to "get it right", which in and of itself is a good thing, we may be in danger of "destroying the town in order to save it."
     Knowledge and judgment are not necessarily the same things. When it comes to pure knowledge of the techncial aspects of the Civil War, the wealth of information that many of you exhibit is quite impressive to say the least. I have benefited much by it. But, at times, I question the judgment, or application of such knowledge, when I see it used to intimidate, though unintended, rather than to patiently educate, along with a certain amount of moderation.
     Of course, what is deemed moderate to some, amd be too legalistic or too liberal to others. That will differ from unit to unit and is an important factor in determing whether a prospective recruit is a good fit or not. In that regard, the burden of adaptation is upon the individual, and not the other way around. But, sometimes I get the impression that these hardcore reenactors are more concerned with impressing each other rather than making a prospective recruit feel welcome and educating the public. That is simply my opinion based upon observation, but do not presume it to be a fact.
     I do agree with many of your points, and many of things that "drive you up the wall" have the same effect on me. But, I believe that if we are too legalistic in our approach to this endeavor, the reenactment community as a whole will find itself part of a continuing shrinking number of participants---a small, introverted, and exclusive club of elitists---a painful and slow death to an honorable hobby.
     Fred London 

Glenn's Editorial comments:  I think there will always be a tension between "wanting to do it well" and being "open to new people".  I am very grateful that in my family's early days of reenacting, we had a unit that was graciously helpful.  They came along side us and made suggestions, gave input, and realized that we were open to learning and adapting . . . as the budget allowed.  Be willing to give honest and good advice.  Live by your standards.  And allow for some diversity.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Can You Believe Those Farby Bright Blue Sack Coats!?!

     The family showed up at the reenactment.  The mom had diligently sewn the dresses for her and her daughter as well as the black pants and shirt for her husband's chaplain impression.  They had bought his black frock coat.  A major expense on their limited budget.  She had also sewn their two young sons outfits, using the McCalls pattern bought at the local fabric store, out of blue cotton. . . not just blue, but bright blue!  In the fabric store the cloth hadn't looked quiet that bright under florescent lights inside, but outside in the sun their outfits really stood out.
     The husband had always had an interest in history.  The wife, who was homeschooling the kids, agreed to reenacting -- if it could be a family hobby.  This family, new to the hobby, showed up at the local reenactment in their new outfits.
     Would you have been embarrassed to have them in your camp?  That family was us almost 20 years ago.  What Vicki had labored so hard to sew for us that day would not be considered "acceptably authentic" by today's standards.  I still marvel at the graciousness of our old unit in accepting us "as we came".  We still smile about the brightness of those blue cotton uniforms for the boys.  The ladies graciously guided Vicki into making better outfits.  With their guidance she bought better patterns and sewed new outfits for us all, and the boy's sack coats made of more accurate material blended in with the other reenactor's outfits.
     Over the years the hobby has developed "better standards", and that's good for all of us.  It's good for the spectators who come to explore the history we are portraying.  But in all our upgrading, don't lose sight of the fresh fish who enter the ranks.  With all their mistakes and confusion and missteps, show them some grace as you bring them along.  Besides, as you watch them flounder along during the weekend, it will provide you with some good laughs when you go out for pizza on the way home.  I know we provided some good laughs for our unit that weekend. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Letter Transcript: A.White 4th N.C. 1864

     An interesting late war letter reflecting a southern soldier's desire to keep connected with home.  Albert M. White lived in Iredell County, N.C., where he enlisted in a company of troops organized there on 7 June 1861 at age 24. White was mustered in as a private. He was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines on 31 May 1862. He was promoted to corporal on 13 March 1863 and was wounded at Gettysburg, 2-3 July 1863. He rejoined the company prior to 1 September 1863, when he was promoted to sergeant. He served until paroled at Appomattox Court House, Va., on 9 April 1865. White's company was organized in Iredell County and enlisted at Statesville on 7 June 1861. It tendered its service to the state and was ordered to Camp Hill, near Garysburg, Northampton County, where it was assigned to the 4th North Carolina Infantry Regiment as Company C and mustered in on 2 July 1861.  [Information based on UNC Library Resource Center provided to me by Fred London]
   It is interesting that he expresses what so many soldiers felt:  they never received enough letters from home.  The U.S. Christian Commission realized this desire/need and tried to help out on the Union side by supplying stationery for free and by carrying letters to and from the troops whenever they could.  Sadly southern troops did not have such an organization to support them.  Theirs was the more informal system or more localized organizations.  I hope you find this letter as interesting a read as I do:

Sgt. Albert M. White of the 4th N.C.Inf.  Oct.16th, 1864News from the Valley

Camp 4th NC Troops near Strawsburg VA:
Oct. The 16th 1864.  Miss Mag. A. White

   Dear Sister   I reced your kind letter of the 6th Inst & was glad to hear from you but was sorry to hear that you had a fellon your finger  I know something about them now: they are a bad thing to have.  I was gald to hear that you ware all well we are boath well I received a letter from Mira about a week ago I don't think you get the one half of the letter that I write:  I write at least one evry week but I cant hear of moor than one every month So I will stop this Subject at present well we are now at the Same plaice whare our last stampeede taken plaice I hope for better luck this time we are at Strawsburg again we have been three days all is quiet yet we drove the enimy beond Strawsburg across Sedar Creek then we came back to our works again they fought us a rite smart fite before they went across;  I will tell you how they have been doing the Sitizens of this Vally they are burning all the barrels all the milles and a greate many houses they are trying to compell them to move North Some have gon others moveing South & Some trying to tuf it out  it is hard to see this but we cant help our selves the yankees say that this valley is a harber for the Rebs when they perished out at Richmond  they can come here and suport all their armey:  They say that Grant Ordered them to strip this Valley of evry thing so bair that if a crow starts to fly across it he will have to carry his owne rations with him but I hope they will not get to do any more damage than they have done:  there is I think enough for what is left to live on we get plenty of appels yet I have eat more appels this year than I every did in one Sumer & we are still getting plenty to eat & having good health to engoy it the boys are well as far as you are acquanited I have not seen Lewis to day  he is one picket:  I have wrote 4 or 5 times to know if my Oaver coat had ever got home but if you get the letters I write I don't get them that you write in answer I sent it with John Finnster last Spring to Stoctons in Statesville if there is any one coming here I would love to get it again if you ever have got it if not it is at Stoctons I hope if I am Spaired I will get home this fall or winter So I will close for this time I wrote to Mira a few days ago and told all the news I want you then you write to tell me all the news if you hear from any of ur folks  let me know So I close for the present A[lbert].M. & G[eorge].W.
Transcript courtesy of G. Esker

Monday, January 31, 2011

The fun of Reenacting

     Reenacting as sharing is a lot more fun than demandingly pursuing "what's in this for me!".  Not every reenactor would agree with me on this.  But over the years I found that reenactors who enjoy sharing knowledge, experience and laughter with others seem to find the joy they need when an event goes bad.  Joy comes from the good times of discovering details which make "history" come alive.  Joy comes from watching a child's eyes light up as you help them discover something about history they never imagined.  Joy comes from the inner satisfaction of helping a friend improve by encouragement. 
     Hey, God made us to enjoy helping others.  Let the curmudgeons grumble about the politics, the rations or the campsite.  Discover the fun of "gaining" by "giving".  For me, experimenting with reproducing the patriotic covers has opened up a spring of personal satisfaction and enjoyable friendships.  For us as a family, "doing" the Christian Commission, inviting the reenactors in under our fly for a cold cup of lemonade and a bite to eat has brought us great joy and a sense of accomplishment. 
     We don't have to all "do" living history to the same degree.  But consider the possibilities of doing what you normally do to help others learn -- other reenactors and EVEN spectators.  Yes, I have dealt with the obnoxious kid coming to our tent and assuming everything on display is for taking or breaking.  But there have been dozens of other kids who honestly get interested in learning why I'm there and what I'm doing.  Yes, we've had the arrogant authentic purist who grumbles the food we offer isn't authentic.  But for each one of those purists are hundreds of thankful reenactors who for a brief moment step back in time in their minds to sense what it must have been like to really be thirsty and hungry and hear "God's love is free and so is this food, soldier. come on in".
     Use your imagination to take a mental inventory of what you know and enjoy.  You might be surprised how much you have to share with others.  And you will be surprised how much "giving out" brings in "gains" of joy and satisfaction.