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When I Was a Civil War Soldier, Part 4

Posted Aug 24 2008 7:12pm
(**Editor's Note: please pardon the hiatus between installments. If you missed the first parts, or need to refresh, here you go: Part 1 , Part 2 , and Part 3. **)

Our unit was instructed to move back to a different ridge line, as the rebels advanced relentlessly. I wanted to stand there on the ridge and watch as they came the rest of the way up the hill, in a way - the artillery batteries were plugging away, a few skirmishers still duking it out in the lowlands, and a cavalry unit engaged halfway down the hill.

The fascinating part about this hobby and the people who do it, at least in terms of battle, is that everybody gets to decide for himself whether he gets wounded or killed - and in so doing, gets to be as theatrical as he feels like being. Most of what I saw - and bear in mind, this was happening so fast - seemed incredibly accurate, at least to my never-been-in-a-war eyes. Soldiers on both sides, picked off at random, dropping to the ground, some twitching and dragging themselves forward still, some motionless and littering the hillside after the advance swept past.

I took it all in as fast as I could, then about-faced when commanded to and retreated to the west in line with my unit. I was trying to look around and see where the AoP (Scott's unit and my former one) was coming from; I knew that the unit they were historically emulating, in the actual battle, had come around from the south and up over the ridge behind where the artillery was set up. I saw a long column of soldiers that I imagined had to be them, and tried desperately to get a fix on his tall hat but to no avail.

Suddenly there were rebels in the middle of everything, not a lot of them but enough to create havoc - the line started to scatter and I made a quick decision to follow the guy on my right, running now (which isn't easy with all that crap attached to one's person) and quickly looking around to see if there was any confederate close enough to me to pose an imminent threat. Seeing none, I decided to stay alive for the duration of the battle, heck, I wanted the whole experience and didn't know how much longer the actual battle would last if I were to fall to a bullet right then.

As it turns out, not much longer at all. The chaos kind of seemed to subside, and I looked around, and it was confusing and desperate and I shuddered as I imagined how bloody it really would've been if it were real.

Troops from both sides were scattered all over the place, no real formations anymore and everybody seeming to have lost the gumption to fight. Believable enough, to be sure. A glance over my right shoulder showed the grandstands down the hill emptying out, so I guessed it was over. There wasn't any more shooting. I was a little bewildered, this being the first time I had ever seen such a thing, let alone been right in the middle of it.

I was exhilarated, my ears were ringing, I had a headache from the black powder I'd gotten in my mouth tearing the tops off my 3 peasly cartridges (I'd rolled somewhere in the neighborhood of 150!). Now that the day's battle was through, I had some thinking to do: did I feel comfortable enough by myself to go back with the unit I'd been fighting with and spend the night in their camp? Eh, not so much... but I thought I could probably get through it if I could find the Denver guys again, they had taken good care of me during the battle, making sure I didn't screw up and blow off a thumb or otherwise make an idiot of myself. I knew I didn't feel comfortable with a spooning sleeping arrangement with anybody, but it was warmer and I thought the night would probably still be warm enough to stay cozy on my own. Or did I want to sleep in the car, and if so, could I sneak back to camp in the morning without arousing too much ire?? There was another battle the following morning, and then the whole deal wrapped up right after that, and I'd be able to catch up with Scott (we'd previously agreed to meet at the car immediately following the last morning's battle, if we got separated). It was a lot to think about with the echoes of hundreds of muskets still ringing in my ears. And I was starving, having burned off my apple and jerky and hardtack in the adrenaline rush of battle.

With exquisite timing, out of nowhere appeared the Denver Three, and they wanted to know what I'd thought. As if my grin didn't say it all. We chatted about the battle for a minute, I thanked them for taking care of me, and then they said they were headed to the spectator area and the food tents and would I like to go along? Real food sounded like about the best idea I'd heard all day, so I headed out with them, looking sort of absentmindedly around for Scott but knowing the AoP had already moved back toward their camp.

We got to the food area, one of the guys secured a spot for the four of us at a table, and the rest of us stood in line for a half hour for incredibly overpriced barbecue beef sandwiches and lemonades. Which turned out to be just as tasty as I'd been expecting. I was almost finished with my sandwich, when from across the table Chris called my name (can't remember, really, whether he said Eric or Erica - !!) and motioned to his left.

I looked, and there stood Scott, at the end of the table, waving and grinning like a little kid who thought his mom would forget to pick him up from preschool. And I was ecstatic to see him too, I couldn't wait to tell him all about my experiences as a prisoner and with the new unit and in battle and -- wait -- what was wrong with his nose?? It was swollen, and looked to have been bleeding, and his voice was muffled. I'm thinking to myself, wow, now he really is more over the top and die-hard about this than I thought if he broke his own nose just for show. (Cue up the Twilight Zone music.)

What had happened, he told me, is that partway through the battle sequence he'd been hit and killed, and fell face down with great panache (though not injuring himself at that point). Dan, not hit, had come up behind him and had turned Scott's body over, out of respect and of desire to not have the dead face down, something like that, and laid Scott's musket across his midsection. Scott, being dead during this time, of course didn't notice the gun there. And it didn't matter, until some force of the universe chose to resurrect him, and he started to hurl himself upward onto his feet when WHACK!! came the musket bouncing off his belly onto his face. A mostly self-induced LeFort 1 facial fracture, per the unit surgeon - ouch. It looked incredibly painful.

We sat and talked for a little bit about the battle, and I asked him when he had to report back to camp - he said he didn't think he was going to. I asked if he was sure, reiterating that I would be just absolutely fine sleeping in the car overnight. He said no, the combination of the nose thing plus having to spend a night without me and worry about whether I was okay, he promised me he'd been to enough re-enactments in his life, he wouldn't die from missing the second half of this one. I didn't argue.

On the way back to the parking lot, we passed a couple of the guys who'd been in a mess near ours back at the AoP camp. They grinned and congratulated me on a job well done, asked me if I had gotten to fight, wondered what I'd thought of the whole thing. Nice guys, the whole lot of them - and I only hoped I hadn't made anybody mad. The entire experience had been educational, enlightening, really really fun, and something I doubted I'd ever get to try and pull off again. We considered it a success, because I made it a couple of days in the most exclusive Civil War reenacting unit, and I was happy because I felt like I'd gotten the absolute full experience, the best of both worlds, since I got to do the incognito bit and then enjoy the theatrics of being kicked out, and then still got to fight in the battle. I felt, and still feel, like I owed a huge thank you to Scott for allowing me into this most sacred of worlds for him, and for believing in me enough to give it a whirl.

And the best part: as soon as we got to the car, I got to don girl clothes, wash my face, and put on some makeup. We spent the next couple of days exploring the Kentucky countryside and falling in love with it, and stayed at a wonderful place called Shaker Village, which is where my banner pic was taken. Such a long answer to a seemingly simple question.

It was such a great experience. I hope it's been enjoyable to read about, and I hope I've managed to spark some Civil War interest out there in the same way that mine has been piqued.
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