This time I am not going to talk about me so much as about other guys I know and talked with. The California reenactment group is relative small compared to groups back east especially in the area where the main battles took place. I used to drive ninety miles to the Fort Taejon State park for my wars. It was a Fort long before the Civil war in the Calif. early statehood days. During the civil war it functioned as the terminus for the experiment with the Camel Corps. Some one got the bright Ideas to use Camels as transportation vehicular for supplies across the desert. they had to import Arabs to try to teach members of the United States Army how to handle the big animals. the American horse did not get along well with the Camel and a lot of difficulty ensued. Needless to say the program was discontinued after several years of trying. The camels were eventually turned loose to fend for themselves. Sometime around 1929 was the last sighting of a wild Camel in the U.S. desert. A number of the buildings still stand today at the park.
On one occasionI went up on a Saturday afternoon for a meeting and spent the night in my camper-shell, battles were fought on Sundays. I was parked on one of the side roads next to the park cleaning up for the day and eating a small breakfast, a stand of trees separated me from the main camping area and open battle ground. As I was shaving I looked through the trees and up above the open area I saw the Union Infantry at drill. This was early in the morning and they had camped overnight. They were in full uniform marching four abreast in full company strength. Their rifle’s were at shoulder arm with naked bayonet’s shining in the early sunlight.As they maneuvered around a obstacle they looked like a silver snake crawling across the ground. This was before the park was opened for spectators so everything looked period. It was a chilling and thrilling sight and one felt like he had been transported back in time to the 1860’s. This is the feeling I want to try to capture for you through the eyes of others.
I once talked to a fellow who portrayed Gen. grant at a reenactment at Shiloh, (known as Pittsburgh Landing to the union army). reenactors from all over the U.S. were on hand for the set piece. It was early morning with daylight just coming on, the ground was srouded with fog. Union Infantry was silently filing into position voices were muted and equipment soft clinking as he rode along. These are decated people who take their roles very seriously. Individual solders would acknowledge him with a half wave or salute. Officers would come with reports or to seek instruction. He said tension and anticipation was so thick in the air you could hardly stand it. Everyone was straining to hear the approach of the confederates waiting for the attack to begin that he would forget for minutes at a time this was just a reenactment. When the battle opened off to his left he was startled he had expected it to come from the front. then suddenly while everyone was consecrating on the left they were hit from the right flank. He said the confusion was so real he now understands why so many battles were uncertain affairs until the end.
Another guy a private in the Virginia Infantry at Fort Taejon went to Virginia to take part in the battle of the Wilderness. After spending two days in camp getting to know fellows from other outfits from allover the south they were roused at 2:00AM to file into position to spring a surprise attack on the Union forces at 5:00AM after filling single file through woods and heavy brush they were in position by 4:00 AM and stood silently until the sun peaked over the hill at their rear. He said that march in the dark and that hour wait was one of the most nerve wracking things he had ever did. Once again he forgot This was a reenactment I have heard this story many times. These guys travel all over the country to do this.
OK last but not least. Almost any movie you see to day evolving the civil War is almost always made using reactors. Why? Because they are already trained, and equipped usually better than a prop crew can provide. And most of the time they will do it for free. In the eastern theater they can find full sized cannon crews with horses and all. Most of the time rather than hire individual actors they will get a entire unit and make a donation to the group. The Movies “Glory” and “Gettysburg” all the Union Troops were reenactors. I attended a local meeting after the Movie Glory was shown and discovered one of the executive producers who spoke had been employed at the gun shop back in my Mountain Man days. What was of the most interest to us as a group was when he spoke of the first battle between the Black troops and the Confederates. They had about twenty stuntmen and everyone else were just reenactors. The directors and crew were worried what would happen when they clashed. The confederates came screaming and swirling out of a fog and the Blacks fired and charged and they were hand to hand rifles swinging rubber bayonets flashing guys grappling and falling. When cut was called both groups came off the ground laughing and hugging like lost friends. This producer said after that you would find Blacks and Whites in each others camps every night cooking, singing and playing together. However the Union Troops seldom intermingled as the were structured different than the southern troops and remained in camp drilling and being union solders. As a side bar, several years later the bones of some Union Troops were discovered and by buttons and other metal equipment they were determined to be members of the 54th Mass. the group portrayed in Glory. They were reintered in a national cementery. Members of the Confederate group that was in the movie served as honor guards.
I hope you have kinda got a feel for the type of guy involved in this activity. At one one encampment I was approached by a what I would class as a hippy looking fellow (and yes I was on the fringe of that for a short while, but I liked to bathe and eat regularly so did not get too deep into it) and he told me I don’t believe in glorifying war. I told him I did not consider it glorying but honoring my ancestry and the others that struggled to define our nation in a time when it was loosing its way. Maybe someday I’ll talk about my views of that time and why people fought.
Well gonna go and see if I can get these old bones to sleep. so long ramblingbob