Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Civil War . . .

The American Civil War, that is. Alternately known as "The War Between the States" or "The War of Northern Aggression" or officially "The War of the Rebellion." That's the official name because the winner writes the records, and the winner, if there really was one, was the United States of America.

I became interested in the civil war for a several reasons. First, I have a great interest in history in general. Next, during research of my family history, I found that my great-great-grandfather, George Levi Palmer, was a private in the 7th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The following text is part of a summary I made of George's experience in the Civil War:

George Levi Palmer enlisted at Carlinville, Macoupin County, Illinois on the 19th day of July, 1861, joining Company "K" of the 7th Illinois Volunteers as a private. He was described as having "brown eyes, brown hair, dark complexion, height 5 ft 10 in." This was George's eighteenth birthday, and he celebrated it by taking a giant step into history. I suppose he thought he was starting a great adventure. If only he knew . . .

George Levi Palmer served the full length of the war and met with many misfortunes. At the battle of Corinth, Mississippi on October 3 and 4, 1862, George was first listed as missing in action, then as killed in battle. In fact, he was taken prisoner on October 4, then paroled near Vicksburg, Mississippi on October 18, 1862. In this furious battle, Union forces held the day, but casualties were terrible. The Union forces suffered 315 Killed, 1812 Wounded, while the C.S.A. lost 1423 Killed, 5692 Wounded and 2248 Missing or Captured.

October, 1864, found George Palmer's luck still running badly. On or about the 5th of this month, he was reported missing at the battle of Allatoona, Georgia. He was captured and held a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Georgia until April 14, 1865, when he escaped and reported to General Wilson at Macon, Georgia on April 22, 1865. In this battle the Union lost 142 Killed, 352 Wounded and 212 Missing or Captured. The C.S.A. suffered 231 Killed, 500 Wounded and 411 Missing or captured.

George Palmer was honorably discharged from the 7th Illinois on July 9, 1865 and was mustered out on that day in Louisville, Kentucky. He returned home to western Illinois, where he became a lumber merchant until his death on December 6, 1897, from a robber's bullet.

I became so interested in the lives of the Civil War soldiers that I joined a reenacting group in Olathe, KS. Our company became what some of the less enthusiastic reenactors called Hardcore." That means we tried to live in the field just as they had. No modern conveniences and no anachronisms such as cast iron pots, camp cots, or stainless steel canteens.

Uniforms and other accoutrements were made from period-accurate patterns and authentic cloth, using period accurate sewing techniques. We carried and ate only the types of food they had - hardtack, salt pork and locally grown vegetables . We slept like they slept - on the ground with a blanket and an oilcloth. If they had no tents during a particular campaign, we had no tents.

After I spent about ten years in the reenactment community, I quit. I simply got tired of the "Farb" wing of the reenacting community. In our parlance, a "Farb" is someone who wants to go camping in a civil war uniform, but doesn't give a rat's furry backside about authenticity. Legend is that the word "Farb" comes from "FAR Be it from me to try to do it right."

I was weary of listening to people in polyester uniforms sitting on folding chairs around a cast iron cooking grill telling the spectators about how hard the soldier's life was. And, no matter how hard we tried, we were still inundated with Farbs of all size, shape and description. They wore "Deputy Dawg" hillbilly hats, hauled beds, tables, chairs, cots and coolers into their camps. Worse, while they were doing this, they were lecturing folks about how they were doing it to "honor their ancestors." The bullshit finally got to me. I quit and sold all my uniforms, weapons and accoutrements.

Since I had ancestors on both sides during the Civil War, I had no reservations about portraying either side. I was not there to re-fight the Civil War, but to show how it was - to portray some of the history that students are not taught in the schools today.

This photo was taken at Athens, MO in 2005. Many folks think that the Civil War started at Ft. Sumpter. Wrong! The seeds of the Civil War were planted along the Kansas/Nebraska border, and were the direct result of the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska act. John Brown was killing people in Kansas and Missouri long before he tried to take Harpers Ferry.

Athens was an obscure battle, in early August, 1861. The southern sympathizing Missouri State Guard, using mostly civilian weapons, met the Missouri Home Guard. That's me, with my 10 ga. shotgun, stealing a quick rest in front of the Captain's camp.

This is a photo of our company - Company "C" of the Scotland County Missouri State Guard. Note the lack of uniforms, and the varying ages of the soldiers. We were armed with shotguns, flintlocks, fowling pieces, pitchforks and clubs. We did not fare well against the much better equipped Union volunteers.

In 2001, our company spent a weekend at Ft. Larned, Kansas. Although the fort is slightly post-Civil War, it is only three years out of period - 1868. We stayed in the enlisted barracks, cooked our food in the fort's kitchen, and generally lived our lives in 1868 for about 2-1/2 days. Ft. Larned was - and still is - in the middle of nowhere. No noise, no lights, no cars (meaning no thumping rap). The photo below is the parade grounds.

Three of our company members malingering in the enlisted barracks. The bunk beds are exact reproductions of those that were in the barracks in 1868. I wondered why the beds were so wide, then I was told that they slept two soldiers per bunk - facing opposite directions.

The barracks looked like the original company had just left. All the uniforms, accoutrements, muskets and other gear was hanging on the walls. All the bunks were outfitted with straw mattresses and authentic reproductions of Army blankets. I"m on the right.

My passion to the hobby extended past reenacting. Because of the expense of authentic clothing and other gear, I started making my own. I made shirts, blouses, trowsers, jackets, coats, overcoats, belts, tents and ground cloths. Several items are shown below.

This red check shirt is made from an authentic pattern, and from reproduced small-loom woven cloth. It's an overshirt, sometimes called a battleshirt. This type of shirt was more often seen on Southern troops.

This is a standard Union Army foot soldier's greatcoat or overcoat. It is made from an exact reproduction 100% wool cloth, and sewn according to the original quartermaster's instructions. Making this was quite an exercise.

This is a Confederate army jacket. It is a reproduction - in both cloth and sewing techniques of an existing original.

These are fatigue blouses - the most commonly worn jacket by the Union army. Again, the cloth is an exact reproduction - in weave and color - of the original uniform.

Actually, I'm a bit sorry my reenacting career is over. I'm not sure I can remain "quit." Maybe I'll get the urge to pick up the musket - and the needle again.

Life at the beach . . .

We moved to Hampton Roads in 2002. We had to. The management of last company I worked for decided they didn't need any corporate staff. So, I became - in their words - a part of a "profit improvement program." I wish they had just "manned up" and said "we're cutting staff." But no, they needed some corporate-speak to put in their fancy little financial reports. They needed reports and I needed a job. Job hunting is not fun when you'r a shade under six decades.

Anyhow, that's old news. In some ways, I'm glad it happened. For the last six years, I've worked for the Department of Defense, and it's great. I'm actually doing something to support our troops beyond hanging a magnetic ribbon on my car. I can't tell you what I'm doing. Well, I could, but then, I'd have to kill you . . . ;o) They pay me a good salary, and I will leave many things behind that I can point to and say: "Hey! I did that!" And, they're physical things - not just reports and papers and drawings. They are real and visible and useful, and they will outlive me by many years. Footprints in the sands of time, as it were. I like that.

Hmmm . . . I wandered away from what I was going to say, but that's OK. I'll just leave it here.

What I started out to say is that we don't live ON the beach. We live four or five miles away, but we can get there in just a few minutes. Since a lot of the area is rural, when we go to the beach, we have the opportunity to see many interesting things. Like this: