Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Thunder" Near Gettysburg

Well, as you might recall from yesterday, we (the 9th Vermont Infantry of the Sons of Union Veterans, as near as I can recall anyway) were riding to the sounds of the guns at Gettysburg. Sort of.

Looking back I recall this as being a three day affair, as was the actual battle. If you think that it looked like that opening photo, you'd be mistaken. Though as reenactments go, it wasn't that bad, wasn't that bad at all. May have been a couple of hundred troops on the field, maybe a tad more, maybe a tad less. There were enough troops to fit the field, made the battle seem larger I guess. it was pretty cool to have been there, at least as I remember it. Even with our farb uniforms.

Now as I recall the event did not take place on any of the fields where the actual battle occurred. I knew that at the time as the venue was an indoor flea market with a field adjacent where we could fight our battle. It was surrounded on three sides by trees, the building containing the flea market was somewhere around the fourth side of the field. Where the "troops" were encamped was on the other side of that building. A corrugated metal structure I do believe. Outside of Gettysburg would be my guess, somewhere to the north because the big blue bus never went through the town. Which I would have noticed.

My best buddy at the time, we'll call him Freiheit, as that was his name, if he were German, and I shared a pup tent. It felt semi-authentic but I'm sure it was not. We had our two kid man pup tent, a blanket each and all our gear. You might well imagine that we didn't spend a lot of time in the pup tent. Only to sleep and that was damned scanty.

Now KN2 informed us that we would be performing "guard duty" on the flea market building as there were "high value" items therein and the proprietors were leery of all the reenacters camped nearby. I reckon the Southrons were their biggest concern as the Army of Northern Virginia had been through there before, though 103 years prior to our arrival. Long memories I guess, and no, there were no shoes on offer that I could recall, no doubt to General Pettigrew's great dismay.

At any rate, we noticed that our bunch of hyperactive 12 and 13 year olds seemed to be the only unit performing this "guard duty." I'm guessing that CK and KN2 had arranged some sort of shady deal with the proprietors of the establishment whereby we young'uns would do all the work and they, as our faux officers, would reap all the glory, or mebbe cash was involved, I dinna ken.

Now I don't remember much about the three day affair, only some rather vivid vignettes have stuck in my mind over the years. As the Great Duke himself said:
The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.
All I really remember about that first day down in Pennsylvania is that a few of us hit the flea market (as soon as we could escape the not-so-watchful eyes of Thing 1 and Thing 2, er I mean, CK and KN2). Where we proceeded to blow much of the cash which the parental units had bestowed upon us prior to leaving the Green Mountain State to embark on our own version of the War of Northern Aggression, as some have called it.

I myself purchased a rather nice long bayonet (damme but the thing was more of a short sword than a bayonet) and a couple of German gewgaws, one of which was an Allgemeines Sturmabzeichen (general assault badge, which actually turned out to be authentic), this thingy -

Boys being boys, I strapped the bayonet on (which had come with a sheath and a frog to hang it from a belt) and pinned that gewgaw above to my tunic, er, Big Yank dark blue work shirt. Which our glorious leaders made us leave in the tent prior to marching off to war, no matter how "cool" they looked. I mean farb uniforms were one thing, sporting WWII bayonets and wearing Kraut medals was going too far. Even for them.

As I'm writing this, I think we actually missed the action on the first day, all I remember is hitting the flea market, wasting my limited supply of shekels, and pitching the tent. Oh yeah, Freiheit had misplaced his kepi somewhere on the "march" south, so KN2, who thought of himself as some sort of military expert, sent Freiheit over to one of the concession stands to purchase a replacement hat. "Can't go into a battle without a hat!" Now our kepis weren't too bad looking, the only part of our "uniforms" that looked okay. But all the concession stand had was these -
The rest of us were all wearing these (the kepi I keep referring to) -
In addition, Freiheit's chapeau was about a size too small and as he was a sturdy lad, given to corpulence, he looked rather just shy of ridiculous. I think he wanted to frag KN2, not that anyone had heard of that phrase just yet.

So that first night we guarded the flea market building, our rifles charged with no projectiles but enough powder to make a lot of smoke and a big "FOOM!" when discharged. As you might expect, the night went quietly, other than when we ambushed KN2 who was prowling around with all the grace of a beached whale. As he approached, Freiheit remarked that he sounded like an entire panzer division coming through the brush, that is if tanks wheezed like a fat man climbing a hill.

We ducked around the corner of the building and when KN2 rounded the corner, this happened -





Three rifled muskets discharged over KN2's fat head and the fellow nearly reenacted a modern version of Civil War incontinence. As he was yelling at us, CK wandered over, told KN2 to shut the Hell up and go back to his tent and "quit playing soldier, you ain't one!" We may have been chastised as well for "making a damned racket in the middle of the night!"

The next morning, after a few hours of indifferent sleep, we marched off to do battle and drive the gray-backs off the holy soil of Pennsylvania.

Like I said, I remember bits and pieces of that second day of battle.
  • A Southern fellow rode his horse across the mouth of a Reb cannon, which discharged and blew the cavalier off of his mount. I can still picture the guy silhouetted against the cannon smoke, arms and legs splayed out like a starfish, his mount headed back to Old Virginny whilst he learned a basic fact of gravity. And, maybe, artillery.
  • The battle being halted while an older dude, real gray beard he was, dressed in a really nice looking Union cavalry rig (no horse to be seen) was escorted off the field by the local constabulary. One of said constabulary carrying the fellow's Sharps carbine like it was evidence or something. (Which it was, the a$$hole was firing beeswax out of his piece and seems the Johnnies rather objected to that. As did the organizers of the event. Can't say I blame them!)
  • As the 9th Vermont was falling back in the face of a determined Confederate charge (I think we might have been simulating Dan Sickles' disastrous move forward off of Cemetery Ridge and the subsequent semi-rout which followed) old Freiheit, with his souvenir chapeau, took a Rebel slug and went down in a heap next to a rail fence. As he lay there, simulating being all dead and such, one of our merry band yelled out, "Geez, look at Freiheit, he ain't been dead five minutes and he's already bloating!" (Like I said, he, like Yours Truly, tended a bit towards corpulence. As we collapsed with merriment, so did the Rebs. One of whom yelled out, "I'm gonna bayonet this here fat Yankee and let some of the air out!" Hilarity, and a pause in the battle, ensued.
  • Watching Freiheit's toy hat blow away as the Rebs withdrew to their side of the field and him getting up to chase it, yelling, "I know I'm dead but I paid five bucks for that hat!"
  • Black powder weapons generate a LOT of thick, sulfurous smoke.
  • Cannon are loud. Damned loud. (Hence the "Thunder" in the title.)
The second day's contest ebbed and flowed, much powder was burnt and "Oh God Yes!" does that stuff make you thirsty! Soon it was over and we all rather regretted that CK and KN2 had not equipped the unit with canteens, even farb canteens, but we did find a garden hose over by the flea market building so we had that going for us.

The sun fell, the air cooled, and we all turned to our feckless commander and asked, "What's for supper?" He had no ready answer and we, like fools, had spent most of our money on gewgaws and bayonets. All of which, sorry Valory, leads to part three, "Southern Belles, Southern Hospitality, and How Zulu Got His Nickname."

Stay tuned mes amis!


  1. In honor of CK and KN2 I quote one of my favorite military heroes, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne

  2. Replies
    1. Ah, but she'll suffer frustration and even perhaps anger.

      Which is usually the effect I have on the fairer sex.

    2. Ah, Vallory. I dated her, she of quiet demeanor, evil spirit, soul-crushing mind games and her French mother, too. Mrs. Andrew rescued me from her, before she was Mrs. Andrew. Good times. Good times.

    3. Les femmes françaises sont dangereuses.

    4. Mais oui! Vrai certainment! Le mal que la nuit est noir.

    5. "Les femmes françaises sont dangereuses."

      My uncle used to regale me with a tale of one of his great-uncles, who was a first or second generation son of Swedish immigrants. He served the U.S. of A. during that "delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War" (to borrow a phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald). He spent some time in Paris and apparently acquainted himself quite thoroughly with the local femmes françaises.

      Apparently he was so fond of them that, years later, he would often declare that French women had no comparison in all the world. This declaration did much to rouse the ire of his Swedish wife, who would then proceed to beat him with whatever impromptu weapon could be devised from the kitchen implements at hand. To quote my uncle, he "loved French girls like some men love cars, or others wine, and even late in life spoke longingly of them."

    6. I'm guessing that old doughboy never got out to Asia. Those ladies would make him forget all about les belles dames de la belle France. DAMHIK

      As for the Swedes, they say that they're a dour lot. As I've only ever met one, she was the wife of a Dutch colleague of mine, I can't speak to the alleged dourness. Hans' wife was very sprightly, very blonde, and, as we say 'round these parts, wicked smaht!

  3. Humor can get you through a lot. "only dead five minutes and already bloating!!" hehehee. Glad I'd didn't have a mouthful of coffee!! Excellent story!

  4. Can't wait for part three!

  5. Were you one of the 'ramrod-less' units or did you actually get to try to shoot one across the way.

    As to artillery, the local cannon school (black powder cannon authorization and safety school) used to show the Superbowl where they tried to reenact the War of 1812 and the guy charged the gun before swabbing it and made a field goal with his arm. Apparently that video was about as popular as the old Ohio driver education safety films. You know, it's all fun and games until someone loses a body part, and then the knuckleheads will really start laughing.

    The humanity, oh, the humanity...

    1. Ah yes, we were advised (commanded) to leave our ramrods on the bus.

      Black powder cannon authorization and safety school? Dear Lord, back in the day if you did it wrong you died or were maimed or stayed the fire truck away from things which go "bang." Now they actually train people?

      Please tell me it ain't run by the gubmint.

    2. Cannon school required by gubmint? Nope. Worse. By Insurance Companies...

      But it did reduce the number of stupid stuff happening with cannon. By a huge, measurable amount. I think the aforementioned televised incident was pretty much the turning point of cannon safety.

      A good friend of mine, total southern Gentleman, had his hat shot off his head by a ramrod. I think the guys in his unit beat the offender near senseless. Percussive education, so to speak.

    3. Ah, insurance companies. Worse than the gubmint, accountable to no one. But yeah, safety, etc., etc.

      I've never been to a reenactment where ramrods were permissible. With good reasons, soldiers in actual battle have been transfixed by flying ramrods. Counts as a kill for the firer but it's tough trying to reload!

    4. I've heard from my southern gentleman friend that 'good' units get to keep ramrods, just not use them for other than presentation firings and duties, not on 'the field.' And all it takes is one idiot to remove the rods from a unit.

      Safety. I really kinda like some safety rules in place, having done another organization's version of fighting that was definitely not safe, nice, courteous or, well, safe.

      Safety first. Before the little fighter leaves home, he'd better armor up!

    5. The story of mankind, all it takes is one idiot...

      It's why we can't have nice things.

  6. "HALT WHO GOES THERE?!?!?!"

    Stonewall Jackson, not available for comment.

    1. Well KN2 was about as bright as a stone wall.

    2. Well, friendly fire, isn't.

    3. Nope, indifferent to one's fate perhaps, but not friendly.

      An aside... a bear, I saw the comment you had deleted in my email, like I told Andrew, I see everything. Sprayed the monitor I did. Most hysterical.

  7. "An aside... a bear, I saw the comment you had deleted in my email, like I told Andrew, I see everything. Sprayed the monitor I did. Most hysterical."

    And you're not going to share? Sheese! How rude.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. You didn't read the last post in this series? (Hint: I credit a bear in a footnote, you just need to backtrack from that.)


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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