My First Civil War Reenactment: Marion Davis

by Brett Schulte on September 16, 2009 · 0 comments

Editor’s Note: I am always a fan of bringing in guest posters interested in the Civil War.  I find these guest posters often look at the war through a lens far different than mine.  With that said, TOCWOC guest poster and Civil War enthusiast Marion Davis wrote a self-published Civil War era novel as a teenager entitled Tis Agony to Part.  This guest post covers Marion’s first Civil War reenactment:

The drummers batter on their drums.

The buglers sound out rich, brass calls.

We roll out of our rickety cots and take down camp dresses from where they have been hanging. Tent flaps all around camp are tied open and cooking fires stoked.  The thick material of my dress and the minimum of five layers of heavy clothing still hold a damp coolness from the freezing temperatures the night before. Though the mornings are chillier than is pleasant, we will soon long for the cooler weather by the time the sun reaches its peak and the heat rises to almost one hundred degrees.

I hear the sound of commands being called out to a Confederate regiment performing drills, marching up and down the length of the well-traveled road. The off-white squares of sutlers’ tents line the edges of the haphazard path that lead towards the medical tent. In this battle, several re-enactors are needed to represent the women who lived in this area and acted as nurses to the soldiers, carrying water and caring for those on both sides–North and South.

A small wooden sign with uneven writing barely legible announces that the camp immediately to my right is from a Northern state. The orange-red light of the crackling fire flickers from behind several trees. Quick, shrill notes fill the morning air as one of the young soldiers plays “John Brown’s Body” on his fife.

Sutlers’ Row lies in neat rows on either side of the little dirt path. The leathersmith is already at work, fixing a broken canteen strap while an impatient soldier watches with cheeks blackened by wet gunpowder to alert all that this is his first battle. A horse stands in front of the blacksmith’s tent, a huge hoof tentatively extended to be trimmed and shod. Her owner, sporting a curled mustache, leans against a tall, wooden fence smoking a pipe and drinking a cup of thick, smoke-flavored coffee. The cavalry-man’s trim blue uniform bears epaulets on the shoulders that announce his status of Officer.

Little trinkets and hand-sewn dresses are advertised on a huge tent. Two young girls dash ahead of me through the entrance. They wear long pantaloons under short calico skirts and white pinafores pinned to their dress fronts in Victorian fashion. With their rag dolls lying dejectedly on the ground, the girls stand on tiptoes to peek into glass candy jars. Four nickels are paid by the eldest and both girls depart with a stick of licorice in each hand.

I buy a thick glass bottle of orange pop and sip on it slowly. The soldiers march by, sweating profusely in their thick woolen uniforms. Several officers rest wearily under the medical tent and stories are soon passed around. The Union doctors are telling tales about mishaps from reenactments long before. There are stories of spectators being so moved by an “amputation” or other medical reenactment scene that they felt inclined to intervene for the patient’s sake, forgetting that this was just an act. Then there are the typical stories of the overdramatic soldiers who feel a need to “die” seventeen times before finally limping over to the cabin where the nurses could provide them with water. Another time, one of the companies had been highly noted for years of consistently arriving at the same time, maintaining a tight appearance, and being extremely skilled at drill. One year, this same company did not attend, and shortly after, word leaked out that the commanding officer of these well-trained troops had quit his job, a job at the local insane asylum–where the patients took pride in practicing drill to prepare for one weekend out of each year when they all rode in a big white bus up to a national park.

Speculations are made on whether or not ghosts really lurk on the outskirts of the battlefield. A small bundle of photographs are handed out for us to examine, the owner stating that these prove the existence of a supernatural presence at an old cemetery. Blurred misty spots are streaked across the picture making the horses in the background difficult to see. Several reenactors have also noted a peculiar smell at certain times during the summer, a scent that reeks of death. Some descriptions of the supernatural include sightings of Civil War soldiers walking the battlefield.

This battlefield, this small patch of flat, grassy ground looks unassuming at first but its allure is immeasurable. It beckons both to the historical expert and amateur. It blurs the line between past and present.

Marion’s novel Tis Agony to Part is available for purchase on Marion’s web site.

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