The Long Road Home – Part 3

Again upon recommendation from our host, we got breakfast at this local indoor marketplace that’s only open on Saturdays. The crepes were a little bit of a wait but totally worth it, and we got to browse the variety of hand-made items for sale.

This day, Mel and I decided to to go to the industrial site, the one with loads more reenactors and sutlers that looks like an historical themed county fair. We couldn’t figure out how to sneak in (we tried), but we did get the schedule booklet and canvas bag (emblazoned with “Appomattox 150th” and credits) for free. I’m not sure if they realized I didn’t pay for it, or if they were being nice because I told them it was my birthday. I threatened to show my ID – a Virginia license, April 9 birthday, at the 150th Appomattox? It’s like I’m a nerd or something.

Mel and I spent a long time going through the sutlers. I understand why reeanctors are not rich: I wanted to buy all the things. We actually debated for a long time if we should by Civil War era dresses. Next to the sutlers was the officers’ camp. Ahh, this is where Lee’s Lieutenants were hiding with the real fake Lee. Upon reflection, for an event like this, spread across several sites, they would need several actors for each persona represented.

Al Stone/Lee was eating a sandwich and was in the middle of an interview so we didn’t bother him. Next to him was Porter Alexander, the “young” skilled artillery officer. He was a little too old to be the real thing, but he was very friendly and informative. He said he picked Alexander because he (the actor) was also an engineer. Alexander also is reported to have one of the best and unbiased memoirs of all of the major players. That fact was also attractive to the actor. Next door were the Federal General Corps, but they looked like they were having lunch and we didn’t bear them *quite* the same affection we had for Al Stone. It was interesting to note that Sherman came along. Again, any reenactor worth their salt would try and be there at this event, so I wasn’t surprised that he was there, but I did chuckle and roll my eyes a little, torn between the actor’s dedication to the hobby and eschewing of factual history.

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Porter Alexander

Next up were the Confederate infantry camps. We were looking for the 7th VA because we knew someone who knew someone in that unit, but couldn’t find them. Everyone was camped by division and had their flags located at the end of each row of tents. The sheer volume of participants lent an air of authenticity that was hard to achieve at smaller events. Here were actual fields upon fields of tents, whereas normally there are maybe a few representing the whole army. While we were strolling through the camps, we got asked out by a couple of Confederates. Much like historical times, the few women around were highly valued?? Mel and I said we’d think about it if they were alive and uncaptured after the reenactment. They said they couldn’t make any promises.

Running conveniently between the Union and Confederate camps in a natural depression in the land was a muddy swatch created by the weekend’s storm that had been christened Mud Creek, across which lay the federal camp. At the top of the hill was obviously command hq because they had the biggest and most number of flags. I think it was the V Corps hq, but we didn’t see Lawrence, which was a little disappointing. Walking through the union camp wasn’t quite as fun. Confederates are usually friendlier, and there weren’t many Federals around. Then we saw some artillery moving into place, realized a battle was eminent, so we went to the top of the hill and claimed our spot. Over the next hour we watched all the different pieces moving into place.

11 USA hq


A Federal Quartermaster was positioned there for crowd control, exhausted at the work he’s been doing but thrilled to be there. At one point, a little boy, barely older than 4, sat himself down at the front of the spectator line with his blue cap and toy rifle and says he’s going to help them out. He said, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” until he had the Quartermaster’s attention, gave a very good salute, and said with great confidence, “I’m going to help you out!” It was pretty durned cute.

13 boy

The troops + support get ready. To the side awaits the young reinforcement.

The battle was average as far as these things go. We had a good vantage point and got to see all the movements. We were right next to an artillery piece, which sounded like it might have been at full charge. The little boy had to cover his ears to keep his eardrums from blowing out, so he couldn’t actually help shoot the rebels. (All-in-all, probably a good thing.) The amusing thing about the battle was that there were about three times as many rebels on the field as Federals and somehow the Federals won. I guess it was bad scripting by the generals. It was also amusing to see the “dead” guys roll over and take cameras out of their pockets to take pictures of the event themselves.

15 cannonneer

The cannoneer with a Canon

When it was over, everyone took off their caps and buglers on either side played something as a call-response kind of thing. Then they played Taps and then it was over. General Grant came over and began fielding questions from the audience, anything from “How did Grant view Reconstruction?” to “Did you have any hobbies?”

Mel and I thought Grant interview was lame so we made a beeline for the fresh water tank on the other side of the camp. After filling our water bottles, we took a long and circuitous route back to the shuttle pickup because we were tired. On the ride back, the shuttle stopped at the courthouse again, which had quite a different air than the Industrial Park, much more somber and respectful. There was an older fellow (aged 79) who said he’d been doing the 150th events for the past four years and likes to Be There At The Time It Happened. So that morning, he could be found at the Courthouse at 7am to walk the field with an historian. Apparently there’s a whole community of similar-minded folks, and he’s been seeing them again and again the past several years from all over the country. That takes the term “hardcore” in a totally different direction. He didn’t seem to have a lot of patience for reenactments and people who dress up as historical figures, but then again, I’ve met a lot of people like him.

The shuttle also made a stop at the Museum of the Confederacy. One fellow got off the bus, bedecked in stereotypical tourist attire: khaki shorts, socks and sandals, tshirt tucked into the shorts, hiking backpack, and he had also acquired a cavalry hat and a saber. As he left, the man sitting behind him watched him go and said wistfully, “I want a sword”. His wife said NO very emphatically. He asked why not. She replied, “Because if you get a sword, then you’ll want boots, and if you get boots then you’ll want the uniform, and if you get the uniform, you’re going to join a group, and if you join a group, you’re going to buy a ton more crap we don’t need.” He was silent for a moment, and then repeated, in the same wistful tone, “I want a sword.” It made me laugh – the grown up, reenactor version of If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Dinner at the Depot Grille again. And then a lot of unnecessary excitement when we got back. In the (really swanky, revamped) apt we were staying at, a trial attorney had gotten shot in the face and it was still an active crime scene when we got back. Like, we saw the police surrounding a parking garage with their weapons out, so we went around the block instead. We told our host about the events and he jumped off the couch and ran out the door. I guess he hadn’t heard anything. It was really nice to see how invested he was in the community. He’s spent 3 years there and I think he’s actually involved quite a bit. When he got back, we shared a drink and sat around talking about the incident (he knew the victim) until we all decided it was time for sleep and to get ready for the final day of activities.

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Custer, exit left.





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