A Once in a Lifetime Experience

I thought that I would intersperse my normal blog with a personal story that happened 22 years ago.

It began during the first weekend in December of 1994, which was Saturday the 3rd and Sunday the 4th. I had been bitten by the Civil War bug due to Ken Burns’ documentary and had joined the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp, which sponsored the 6th Arkansas Volunteer Infantry reenactment unit. As a member of the camp, I was automatically a member of the reenactment unit.

I was definitely a newbie and didn’t know one command from another, but I sent off for reenactor equipment and a uniform.  Some of the equipment arrived in time for the reenactment at Prairie Grove State Park, which is near Fayetteville, AR in northwest Arkansas on the dates mentioned above.  What equipment and portions of a uniform that I was missing were supplied by the reenactment unit.

Vernon in confed uniformI arrived on Friday night and checked in, make that reported in, to our command tent.  I was assigned a tent, which came with a new guy, like me. However, this guy wasn’t new to the reenactment trade. He had been in artillery, cavalry and infantry units since he was ten years old, first as a bugle boy and ultimately aa a Captain of Artillery. He had just moved to Arkansas and joined the 6th Arkansas Infantry because he wanted to get back into the reenactment game.  He really took care of me during the weekend. He had food to eat, which he shared. Not knowing what to expect, I hadn’t even brought a crust of bread.  Between his snack food and the large breakfasts and noon meals, I was well fed.

The powers that be gave me a coat that had the stripes of a 2nd sergeant, which was a mistake. I had no idea what to do in this billet. A 2nd sergeant is pretty important when forming battle lines. Needless to say, I was yelled at incessantly during the drill and the subsequent Saturday and Sunday afternoon battles.  In fact, our whole unit received the wrath of our Brigade commander during the whole weekend.

However, the battles made up for all the abuse we took. We got a chance to scream the famous Rebel Yell. I was elated from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet the first time I got to participate in this celebrated squall, which is southern squeal.  You read about how the Confederates could disconcert their foes when they went on the attack and uttered this primal shriek.

The bad part about the first battle on Saturday was that no one told me the rules of engagement for reenactors allowed no hand to hand combat no matter how orchestrated or implemented in just good clean fun.  My adrenalin flowed and I got so caught up in our unit’s advance that I charged the Union line by myself and confronted a Union private about twice my size. His officer responded by play acting as if he hit me with his pistol. I went down and played dead, but after the battle I was told in no uncertain terms that what I did wasn’t allowed. Although, I think, it stood me in good stead with about half of the unit as to my pluck and to the other half of the unit as to my stupidity.

After our Saturday battle, our overall Brigade commander was so flustered with our inexperience that he took it upon himself to teach us all the maneuvers required for our unit to utilize for the next day. It was an exercise in futility. The guy with whom I shared a tent knew all the right orders and how our unit should implement them, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and let us muddle through as best we could.  The only thing that drove me crazy was his constant whispering to me during our drill that the officers were giving the wrong commands.

Anyway, we made it through the first day. We had a very good supper and then were assigned night picket duty. I was so gung ho that I even enjoyed that normally distained obligation.

The next day our unit was held in reserve for the first part of the battle and then ordered to charge at the Double Quick onto the field to confront our foe and to scream the Rebel Yell.  We performed the maneuver very well, which was really uplifting. However, what was really awesome was the spectators’ reaction. They all stood and cheered. I was higher than a kite. I was 49 years old and hadn’t had this kind of adulation in a long time.

During the weekend, I had learned that my tent mate and I didn’t live too far from each other back in Little Rock, so he told his initial driver of the unit that he had another ride and traveled with me back to Little Rock. We discussed everything under the sun during our drive back to Little Rock with the openness of two long lost kin folk.  Needless to say he became My Pard.  Now we are as close as brothers even though we live 800 miles apart.

So, the Prairie Grove reenactment of 1994 was a momentous occasion for me. I got totally hooked on Civil War Reenacting and discovered my brother from another life.

Here’s hoping you have had a great experience at least once during your life.

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About Civil War Reflections

Vernon has been a Civil War buff since childhood, but had been inactive in Civil War history for over two decades. However, in the early 1990s his interest was rekindled after watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War Documentary” on PBS. He particularly became interested in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and decided to learn more about this epic struggle.
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