Event: Civil War Re-Enactment
Date: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Location: Calico Ghost Town
I remember a comical episode from the First Battle of Bull Run and Manassas. It was summer of 1861, the war had just started, and confidence ran high that the Union would whip the rebels quick and go back to business as usual. The war was all so amusing that Northern picnickers sat in the fields behind the Union lines in order to watch the festivities. It grew less amusing when Union troops lost the battle and broke into a frenzied retreat. Thereupon the picnickers realized they were closer to the action than they liked, hauled up their baskets, and scrambled away before Union and Confederate troops alike trampled their beloved blankets.
That's sort of how I feel right now--like one of those picnickers eager to exploit the war for my own selfish entertainment. The scent of popcorn fills the air as bystanders claim their seats upon the rocks. I'm irritated because no matter where I go, I can't get a perfect view.
|Ruins and Stage|
The Union troops occupy the ruins of Chinatown. I look at the maze of crumbled orange walls and my mind thinks "fort." The ruins are the battlements, the center stage is the inner keep, the log fence is the outer wall, and the stairs leading into the fort is the main front gate.
A Confederate cannon sits a few feet from my newly imagined gate. Unfortunately, I can barely see it, because a stupid tree blocks my view. I also wouldn't mind getting closer to the fence, so as to take better picture of the blue-uniformed soldiers, but no, a yellow rope cuts me off. At last I give up and find a nice rock to sit on.
|Later I do get a good picture. BOOM!|
I'm chatting with my dad about Pickett's Charge, when the blast of the Confederate cannon loudly announces the start of the battle. It sounds like a firecracker and makes me jump.
In response, a battalion of perhaps 12 Union soldiers form a line along the wall and open fire on the cannon. Their guns sound rather less fearsome. Sort of like snapping. White smoke discharges from their guns and wafts around them. I suddenly wonder if whoever coined the phrase "fog of war" meant it literally.
The cannon replies to the gunshots. BOOM. There's a pause as everyone reloads. The Union opens fire. Snap, snap, snap. Pause. BOOM. Pause. Snap, snap, snap. Pause. BOOM.
The snapping reminds me of the popcorn. But soon after I think it, the air begins to reek of rotten eggs, and I'm vividly reminded that one of the three main ingredients in gunpowder is sulfur--the other two being charcoal and potassium nitrate (saltpeter).
I can think about things like the ingredients in gunpowder, because the action thus far hasn't been gripping. The Confederate's frontal assault seems neither imaginative nor very well thought-out. A lone cannon to take out a fort? How do they possibly expect to--
"Get out, you Yankee Dogs."
|Confederates Emerge from Behind|
My head snaps away from the tree--er, cannon. A gang of Confederate soldiers have emerged from out of nowhere behind the Union line, pinning the blue soldiers between their guns and the cannon. The taunt gives the Union troops time to pull into a defensive position. The rebels open fire. Snap, snap, snap. BOOM! I flinch as the cannon goes off again.
The Union soldiers back up against the wall. Suddenly shots ring from the distant hills. A couple Confederate gunman, like outlaws, open fire on the walled fortress. Now the Union is beset by three sides.
Somehow the cannon's moved up to the fortress while I was distracted by the gunmen. Wait! It's not just a cannon. There are Confederate troops as well. (Curse you tree for blocking my view!) The troops have breeched the gate and are climbing down the stairs. They're taking over the ruins! Union! Get your act together!
|Marching on the Gate|
Everything's moving so quickly, even though none of the soldiers seem to rush. The Confederate troops who emerged from behind the Union line ("Get out, you Yankee Dogs!") march between the yellow rope and the fence, turn the curve, and make for the front gate stairs. They march--they don't run. Yet I can't keep track of the action. The blasts of gunpowder draw my attention from hills to cannon to Union line and back. People end up where they're not supposed to be. The fort is overrun.
The blue-coated soldiers fall back to the center stage. They're rallying around the Union flag. But it's too late. The Confederates have moved in. The Union gives ground and gives ground, until they're pushed out of the fort completely. A few last shots from the hills, and it's over.
The rebels hoist their flag in the center of the fort and stand in solemn attention. A lone bugle plays an anthem. The Confederates have won this round.
* * *
To Be Continued...
Disclaimer: All quotes are approximate.