Blueberry Muffins

Yesterday morning  my friend, Woody Ragan, and I were at the The City of Raleigh Museum, in our Federal uniforms, where we had been invited to present a  program for children who had just read “Emma and the Civil Warrior“. In attendance were about half a dozen enthusiastic children and their supportive parents.

Our role was to try to give them a little background on the causes of the Civil War, perform a “show and tell” of our uniforms, weapons and equipment and then take a walk down the street to the North Carolina State Capitol, where we both volunteer as docents, and point out some of the places mentioned in the story.

Why did we have a Civil War? I have been studying this period of history for over a quarter of a century and have only concluded that there is NO simple answer. Having experience leading tours and speaking in public on this topic, I am well aware of the “simple” answer that comes to most peoples minds…Slavery. I do not deny that this was a factor but it is not THE sole cause any more than hamburgers are THE cause of America’s burgeoning crisis with obesity.

I struggled to find a simple analogy that I could relate to school children that would help them understand that the American Civil War, like all wars, sprung forth from a complex mix of many issues, many of them, ultimately, with economic roots. I did not want to get into the complicated and emotional issue of slavery, but I also did not want to leave the impression that I was trying to avoid the issue. I am happy to delve into an intellectual discussion on this topic, but it does not really fit into a 10 minute overview of the Civil War for 8 and 10 years olds on a sunny Saturday morning.

I finally hammered out an analogy in my head that  I thought would be simple to understand and get my point across. Let’s say we all chipped in a dollar and we used that money to buy a couple of pizzas and everyone got an equal share. Would that be a fair way to split up our pooled resources? I pictured youngsters shaking their heads in agreement while imagining a steaming slice of pizza. Now…I would continue, lets say we gave the money to one of the group to go buy the pizza and he decided to buy his favorite…Pizza with anchovies, which no one else really likes…would that be fair? I imagined the look of disgust coming across the young faces as they heard mention of anchovies, hoping they  knew what anchovies were! No! they would say, we don’t like anchovies!

I would continue by proposing we used our pooled resources to buy… Here I struggled  not to be sexist, but when I was a kid I could have said something like baseball gloves for the boys and dolls for the girls. To continue the analogy I would suggest that if everyone got their fair share they would be satisfied, but what if we pooled our money and one group got more than the other, to illustrate in simple terms how unfair it is to one side if they contribute to the pool of money, but don’t get an equal share of what it is spent on. Anyway, I knew it wasn’t perfect but I thought it might be workable and I trusted to luck that I would make sense of it during my presentation.

On Saturday morning we were introduced by the City of Raleigh Museum’s Assistant Director Kimberly Puryear. I launched into a discussion of the Civil War as it related to the book they were reading, events that occurred right here in Raleigh and North Carolina, and then began my discussion of Civil War 101.

“What do you  think were some of the major causes of the Civil War?” I quizzed my alert students.

Hands shot up and I called on a young lady.

“Slavery” she predictably said, to which the other heads, including the proud parents nodded in unison.

I smiled knowingly and said “well…not exactly…” and made the point that there were many factors including economics, states rights, and the election of Lincoln.

“How would you feel if you voted for the next president, and the man that won, was not even on the ballot in your state?” Because that is what North Carolinians faced after the 1860 election.

I launched into my brilliantly thought out analogy of the Pizza. “Let’s say we all chipped in a dollar and we used that money to buy a couple of pizzas and everyone got an equal share. Would that be a fair way to split up our pooled resources?”

Some of the childrens shook their heads in agreement, but my young antagonist folded her arms firmly across her chest and politely said, “NO! I can’t eat Pizza.”

I glance over to Woody who smiled as my analogy fell apart. “well, forget Pizza” he exclaimed “make it Ice cream cones”.

Big smiles appeared on the other children’s faces as heads rapidly shook in agreement.

“I don’t eat Ice cream.” declared the young lady. The adults in the back smiled in amusement. This was not exactly what I had in mind.

“What DO you like then?” I blurted out.


“OK, Let’s say we all chipped in a dollar and we used that money to buy a couple of MUFFINS and everyone got an equal share. Would that be a fair way to split up our pooled resources?”

“Sure” they all agreed

“Now, lets say we gave the money to one of the group to go buy the muffins and they decided to buy their favorite…blueberry muffins, which no one else really likes…”

“But I like Blueberry” exclaimed my young friend ” they’re my favorite”

“OK, so then it was YOU that we sent to get the muffins” I wearily exclaimed,  “and YOU bought YOUR favorite but what about everyone else?”

The parents chuckled as I struggled to regain control and get my point across.

In the end we discussed many themes including economics. I tried to weave some of these themes into the book’s story line. We agreed that Emma was a Confederate, but I asked them to consider why? Did they think Emma understood all the issues that led to the Civil War (N0) or was she influenced by her father being a Confederate soldier and her friends and neighbors?

In the story Emma smuggles medicine in her doll for the wounded soldiers. Is smuggling good or bad, I asked? Bad they agreed. But in this case wasn’t it really good? I could see the wheels tuning in their young minds.

I asked them to think about reading an account of a battle or an article about President Lincoln in a Raleigh newspaper. Would the story would be the same or different if we read it New York newspaper? I could see the spark of recognition ignite on their attentive faces. They understood that newspapers may have a slant, both in 1861 and still today.

I explained as historians, we need to look at the issues from all sides to understand what really happened and not be misled by only one point of view.

Lt. George C. Round at the North Carolina State Capitol

The kids where great listeners and eager to learn.  We concluded by walking a couple of blocks down to the capitol. We stopped across the street and I pointed to the green metal dome describing how signal officer Lt. George C. Round climbed to the top. I had them look up and down Fayetteville Street, the very street where thousands of Yankee soldiers entered Raleigh 148 years ago. We walked through the Capitol grounds and looked at Christ church, Where Emma’s mother worked as a nurse in the Confederate hospital there. Across the street, where the North Carolina Museum of History now stands, was once the residential neighborhood where Emma’s fictional house once stood. They could see how close it was to the Capitol and how natural it would have been for her to use it as her playground.

We returned to the museum to conclude the program with a talk by the book’s author, Candy Dahl. She talked a little bit more about her fictional characters, and Lt. Round, whose impressive actions inspired her to write the book.

Walking back to my car, I recapped what we talked about and was satisfied that I got my learning point across. The Civil War was the result of many causes that built up in the decades preceding the war. I felt confident that these junior historians where sufficiently intrigued to continue reading and learning. They are fortunate enough to live in an area that offers so many nearby Civil wars sites, like Bentonville battlefield and Bennet place.

My stomach growled as I got into the car. It was lunch time.and I was hungry. I was going to need something more substantial than a blueberry muffin.

Remembering the Battle of Chancellorsville, 150 years ago today

By Rick Walton  Copyright (C) 2013

Today I am Honoring the men of the 6th North Carolina State troops who were casualties of the battles around Fredericksburg, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign, 150 years ago on May 4, 1863.


Sergeant Bartlett Yancey Malone, Co. H, 6th NCST

One of the members, Sergeant Bartlett Yancey Malone of Company H,  left his impressions of that day in his diary:

“…we was marching about first from one plais to nother a watching the Yankees untell about a hour by sun and the fight was opend our bregaid went in and charged about half of a mile and just befour we got to the Yankee Battery I was slightly wounded above the eye with a peas of a bumb[.] non was kild in our company. Lieutenant Walker was slitley wounded in the side. I. R. Allred was wounded in the arm hat to have it cut off. I. E. Calmond was slitly wounded in the arm. I. L. Evans had his finger shot off—“

This action took place in front of their position on the extreme right of the Confederate line between Deep Run and Hamilton’s Crossing. Yankee General Sedgewick’s troops had crossed as a feint to hold these troops in place while General Hooker made a flank attack on the left of the Confederate line above Frederickburg near a place called Chancellorsville.

Malone continues:

“the fift day we found the Yankess had all gon back on the other side of the river and we marched back down to the old camp ground and taken up camp again.”

Neither attack succeeded, but the cost to the Sixth North Carolina was high. Did they fight at Chancellorsville? Not exactly, but Hoke’s Brigade in Early’s division made a stand at Fredericksburg and played an important role in the Chancellorsville campaign.

We honor their memory today.

(transcribed and authenticated by Rick Walton, from the “Hillsborough Recorder”, May 20, 1863)

List of Killed and Wounded in the Sixth North Carolina Troops
Below we present the casualties in the 6th N. C, Troops, in the Battle of Chancellorsville;

Company A.- Killed.- J. [John]M. Hemphill
Martin Smith[may be buried in Fredericksburg]
Wounded.- J.[Isaac]  W. Burgess,
John Davis,
Peter Eply,
John Eply *,
Sergeant  J. [James] R. [Robert] Dickson.
Company B.- Killed.- Philo D. Wilson
Wounded.- Lieut.  J. [John] S. Lockhart, severely in head;
Corp’l Joseph C. Allison, slightly;
Clem. [Clement] W. Crabtree, slightly in breast;
John [W.] James [Captured-#];
James Bagfield*;
Allen Tilley, slightly in foot;
Elisha [H.] Tilley, very slightly in foot.
Missing- Corp’l Willie Meadows  [Captued-#],
Leander Wilson [Captued-#].
Company C.- Killed- John M. [Henry] Markham
Wounded- Captain [William G. ]Guess,
Thomas Dollar [listed as killed in roster],
Missing- James Ferrell [Captured-#],
Levi Markham [listed as wounded in roster]
Rufus Massey [Captured-#]
Company D.- Killed- Alfred Brittain.
Wounded- Jesse Holder,
J. [John] Q.  Brittain,
W. [William] Bailey,
J. B. Davis,
Thomas Powell,
Missing- J. [Julius]Hildebrand [Captured-#].
Company E.- Killed- Thomas Whisenhunt.
Wounded James [W.] Lewis,
Calhoun Johnson ,
Tilman Vance.
Taken Prisoner- Robert Howell [Captured-#]
Company F.- Killed- Thomas [E.] Gibson
Wounded.- [1st] Sergeant A. [Armstrong] Tate,
Privates  J. [James] N. Bradshaw [died in Richmond of wounds on May 23],
J. [John] A. Gibson,
William [J.] Kerr,
F. [Foster] A. Hatch,
Wm.[William A.] Sykes,
Missing.- Wm. Pender [Captured-#]
Company G.- Killed.- [None]
Wounded.- J.[Jacob]  M. Richie**
E.[Ebenezer]  H.  Miller [Captured- #]
Missing.- Wm. Wedlock [Captured- #]
Company H.- Killed.- [None]
Wounded.- Lieut. Levi [Hardy] Walker,
Sergeant B.[Bartlet] Y. [Yancey] Malone,
J. [John] B. Aldred [arm amputated],
T. [Thomas]  R. Cape [Captured-#],
J. [James] E. Coleman,
J.[Thomas]  L. Evans,
Missing.- J. [John] W. Lloyd[Loyd] [Captured-#].
Company I.- Killed.- [None]
Wounded.- Lieut. T. Thomas] M. Jenkins,
Privates J.[James] M. Smith**,
C. Eubanks**,
Wesley Page**,
L. [Lafayette] Pickard,
Missing.- George Varner.
Company K.- Killed.- [None]
Wounded.- Captain [Joseph S.] Vincent (slightly),
[1st]Sergeant [Martin Van Buren]Simpson,
D. [David] Tallant,
F. [Frederick]  Wyatt,
James Pickett ***,
John W. [Washington] Christopher.
Killed. 8
 Wounded. 46
Missing. 16
Total 70
(Signed.) C. Mebane. Adjt


* Not listed in Manarin Roster
** Wounded May 3, 1863
*** James Pickett died in 1862 of Tyfoide fever according to the Roster
#- Captured at Fredericksburg, Va. on May 3, 1863 and confined at Fort Delaware until paroled and exchanged at city Pt., Vs. on May 23, 1863.


1- Hillsborough Recorder(newspaper), May 20, 1863 (HiHR) (available on Microfilm at the N. C. State Archives, Raleigh, N. C.

2- Manerin, Louis H., “The Sixth North Carolina Regiment Roster”, published as anappendix to “the Bloody Sixth” by Richard W. Iobst, 1965, North Carolina Confederate centenial commision, North Carolina division of Archives and History.

3- Malone, Bartlertt Yancey, “Whipt ’em Everytime, the diary of Bartlett Yancey Malone, co. H, 6th N. C. Regiment”, 1960,1991, Broadfoot Publishing, Wilmington, N.C.

Confederate battle flag of ‘Bloody 6th’ regiment conserved for future generations

Published: April 6, 2013 in the Raleigh News and Observer

By Renee Elder —

The 6th Regiment’s Battle Flag which was captured at Sailor’s Creek, VA, April 6, 1865. Photo from Cedar Fork Rifles Preservation Society, Inc.

RALEIGH — A Confederate battle flag lost in the final months of the Civil War was handed over again Saturday – this time back into the collection of the N.C. Museum of History following a $6,500 restoration.

The flag was carried by the 6th Regiment of North Carolina at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in Virginia when it was captured by a Union soldier on April 6, 1865. Forty years later, the federal government returned the flag to North Carolina, but it remained hidden in storage because the torn and dirty fabric was not suitable for display, said Jackson Marshall, assistant director of programming at the history museum.

“It’s been 100 years since the public has seen this flag,” Marshall said. “Now it’s cleaned and conserved in a way that will protect it for another 40 or 50 years.”

The museum is short on funds for restoring historic artifacts and must depend on private groups such as the Cedar Fork Rifles Preservation Society, which raised money to restore the 6th Regiment flag, he added. The museum has about 125 battle flags but only about 30 have been cleaned and preserved so they can be made available for display.

More than 100 people from across the state came to the dedication Saturday to see the flag and share stories about the N.C. 6th Regiment, which formed in Charlotte in May 1861 and fought its first major battle two months later in Manassas, Va., also known as the First Battle of Bull Run.

“It was the only North Carolina battalion [to fight] at that first great battle of the war,” said Rick Walton, a Civil War historian and member the Cedar Fork Rifles Preservation Society.

Known as “the bloody 6th,” the regiment fought constantly during the war and at many famous battle sites in throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina: Yorktown, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, New Bern, Plymouth, Petersburg and others. Starting out with 1,000 members, the ranks were diminished by injuries and deaths after years of fighting. Replacements were brought in whenever possible, Marshall said.

Sailor’s Creek, about 60 miles southwest of Richmond, was the last battle fought by the 6th Regiment, which carried a practically new flag that had been issued to replace others lost or captured in battle.

“We don’t know who the 6th’s flag-bearer was that day; in fact we know more about who captured it,” Walton said.

Joseph Kimball, of Littleton, N.H., got credit for taking the 6th Regiment battle flag; he was awarded one of the 57 medals handed out by the Union Army for military service on that day.

The Confederate battle flag has 13 five-pointed stars set on an “X” pattern, known as St. Andrew’s Cross but also sometimes called a Southern Cross. It is distinct from the Stars and Bars design of the Confederate States of America flag.

This 6th Regiment’s battle flag is missing a star, which was cut rather than ripped from the fabric, indicating it was likely taken as a souvenir from the battlefield or after the war, Marshall said. Conservators who prepared the flag for exhibit cleaned and protected the delicate fabric but did not change the flag’s overall appearance.

The Confederate Army lost more than 7,700 men at Sailor’s Creek. Just 72 hours later, General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

More than just a symbol of a long-ago military conflict, the flag represents family history for many of those who came to see the flag rejoin the museum’s collection, Walton added.

“What this represents to us is heritage,” he said. “It’s a visual reminder of our ancestors.”

Marshall said North Carolina troops suffered massive losses in the Civil War — as many as 35,000 men were killed and thousands more severely wounded.

“In Gettysburg, almost 25 percent of the total losses were North Carolinians killed or wounded,” Marshall said.

He said North Carolina’s Civil War heritage remains strong largely because of the losses so many families endured.

“I’m astounded at how many people give money to these efforts because they know they have a family connection,” he said. “People still remember the suffering and loss and want to keep family memories alive.”

Elder: 919-829-4528
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Meet a 50 year Veteran

John Hutton, showing his 1962 Centennial Medal at the 150th Anniversary.

“Hey Rick, I got something to show you.”  John Hutton had followed me through the shadowy gloom of our bivouac as the setting sun extinguished the last rays of light. I had just arrived and was setting my gear down. I was anxious to get settled in but it was already too dark to put my tent up and I knew John was a treasure trove of interesting facts and artifacts.

He held a small object clutched in his hand. As I got closer, the last rays of light glinted off  something metal.

“They gave us these when we came up here in ’62” said John placing it in my hand. It was a medal, suspended from a blue and gray ribbon.

On the front of the Medal was a picture labeled “Historic Dunker Church”. Ironically, this is where the 6th North Carolina and Law’s brigade happened to be posted during the battle. Around the outer edge were inscribed the words “Battle of Antietam” and “September 17, 1862”

Front of 50 year old medal John Hutton received at the 100th anniversary of the battle of Sharpsburg in 1962

Rear of 50 year old medal John Hutton received at the 100th anniversary of the battle of Sharpsburg in 1962

On the reverse side the words “Re-enactment Participant, September 15-16-17, 1962″were inscribed. Around the outer edge it said “Battle of Antietam” and “Antietam National Battlefield Site”

I had never seen anything like this before. It is a unique memento and especially memorable to have the actual recipient share it with me half a century after relieving it. Sadly I will not be able to show my momento of the 150th reenactment battle of Sharpsburg to anyone, now or 50 years from now, because we didn’t receive anything for our $35 registration fee.

In 1962 14 year old John Hutton was a member of the North Carolina sponsored reenactment group, the 6th North Carolina State troops. During the centennial he got to travel to, and fight on, a number of historic Civil war battlefield including the one at Sharpsburg. Today it is unthinkable to fight on the actual battlefield.

After his Centennial experience John served his country on the real battlefields in far off Vietnam. I have a great deal of respect for Viet Nam Vets and Appreciate John’s Service.When reenacting came back into vogue, John picked up where he left off and has been reenacting with the Sixth NCST since before I joined in 1994.

John is connected to a number of Historic North Carolina families and had Ancestors that were members of the 6th NCST, but what I admire most about John is his devotion to reenacting and the friends he has made over the last half century. I can recall standing next to John on the Battle line when I was a private. As we marched to battlefields across far flung reenactments, commemorating the 130th, 135th, 140th and 145th anniversaries, John would always be calling out to passing troops, whether Confederate or Yankee…”Hey Sammy, give ’em hell”, or “hey Al, hows it going?” and they would yell right back “”Hey John, good to see you!”

It is an honor to serve with John and I hope he keeps bringing out those mementos for us to see, even if it only by the flickering light of a campfire.

Saturdays Reenactment at 150th Anniversary of Sharpsburg

“You have got to be kidding!”  said a surprised reenactor trying to cook his breakfast over a smoky fire. It was about 6:45 and barely light enough to see. I had just informed the men to get ready for drill.

Sgt William O’Quinn and Lt. Walton on the reneactment battlefield of Sharpsburg at sunrise on Sept. 8, 2012

The bugles, fifes and drums had blared reveille in the darkness just before 6 AM. I stretched myself and checked to see what might have seized up after a night sleeping on the hard ground. I found myself surprisingly limber as I sat up and put my wool blanket aside. I had laid down on top of the blanket to have a little cushion between me and the ground, but sometime during the night I must have gotten chilly and pulled my blanket over me. I stumbled through the dark camp as men were getting dressed, starting fires or just trying to grab a few more minutes of shut-eye. I found the First Sergeant and we compared rosters to make sure all the men were accounted for on the morning report he had to get over to headquarters. The Captain stopped by to inform me that we would be drilling this lovely morning and to have the men formed on the street by 7:30. There had been speculation that we might be skipping drill, but who were we kidding? In 1862 Confederate Soldiers drilled two, three and four times a day. Drill, drill and more drill they complained in letters home, but their lives depended on it, so they learned to drill with precision and pride. Reenactors typically drill once or twice during each reenactment, not counting using our practiced skills to maneuver on the field while in “battle”. Like all good soldiers, we complain about it, but we know it is important so we can look sharp in the eyes of the public and our peers. There are units out there that never drill…and it shows! We DON’T want to be like them!

The sun was partially hidden behind gray clouds. We knew rain was in the forecast, but that was for later. Right now, the clouds gave us welcome shade  from the blazing sun and allowed us to drill in the open field without getting too overheated. We ran through the basic facings and knocked the rust off. For most of us it had been several months since we marched together, but, like riding a bicycle, it quickly comes back to you.

The 6th North Carolina State Troops on the drill field

Right face! forward MARCH! By the left flank, March! Right wheel, March! Forward, March! By company into line…

We maneuvered up and down, back and forth and were soon effortlessly drifting across the field to the Captain’s orders. All around us other companies were doing the same. Today’s reenactment battle would require us to act as skirmishers. Once we had demonstrated our comfort with the basics, we moved on to the trickier movements required for the skirmish line. This required the company to spread out at 5 pace intervals across the field, which is easy to do, but always a challenge for those in command to be heard and maintain order. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the morning hours burned away, we practiced skirmishing and began to feel quite confident… again. As with any skill, practice makes perfect.

The brigade officers and NCO’s started calling the regiments back together and we completed the mornings program by running through a number of brigade drills before finally marching back to camp.

It would soon be time for lunch. The sky was getting cloudier and our first order of business was to put up our large fly to provide shelter in case it rained. William took charge of the effort and after much discussion, because every passerby had an opinion on the best way to do this, we finally committed ourselves and began the work of stretching the canvas out and securing it. If we had four evenly spaced trees in a square or four tents poles, our job would have been simple, but we had neither. Nor did we have much rope.

Matt holding last corner, Rick holding pole while William unravels rope

We ended up tying a corner to the predominate tree, under which I had slept the night before. Since this was “my” tree, I tied the rope, but I only had a short rope tail to do this, left over from our neighbor Craig’s tent. I tied a double half hitch and gave it a good solid yank. It seemed secure. Next we stretched the opposite side to a log…which promptly moved as soon as we tied to it. We shoved it back into place and secured it, then  pondered how to attached the last corner, left hanging in thin air. I finally found a large limb, which the Captain hastened to cut to size with his trusty camp saw. He then helped us tie it to the log and then on to a further tree, stretching our canvas tightly overhead. The resulting macrame project used a lot more rope than my little half hitch and would withstand a hurricane. We finally had a home! we laid out our blankets and I sat down to eat something for lunch before it was time to couter up  and march to the battlefield.

First Call! The words jarred me awake. I had stretched out on my blanket after lunch and dozed off. Around me the men were already getting their equipment on. I stood up quickly, hitting my head on the low canvas roof I had forgotten about already. I quickly got dressed and, as is my habit, I rolled  the rest of my gear inside my ground cloth in case it rained. I looked around and no one seemed to be carrying their ponchos so I dropped mine on top of my gear. To bad I didn’t carry it with me!

Marching to the Battlefield

The usual confusion prevailed as men drifted from their camps to the streets and formed companies which were then organized into brigades. Other Brigades marched by us with flags flying and music playing. We waited for our turn and joined the long line of Confederates. There were thousands of troops on the march, the site was awesome. We entered the grassy, overgrown pasture. Tick city was my first thought, but in the end I never saw one or found any once I got home. It may have been the religious spraying of OFF provided by our thoughtful comrade Yankee Joe. We stacked arms and were dismissed to rest. I laid down in the long grass next to my friends and watched brigade after brigade march onto the field. This wasn’t a mega event by far, but it was pretty impressive seeing all these troops. Overhead the clouds played tag, showing alternating patches of blue sky and sunshine followed by more clouds. The last thought on my mind was rain as we lounged in the grass having idle conversations amongst ourselves.

Troops gathering for the battle

The calm, relaxed atmosphere suddenly evaporated as officers urgently recalled their men to the battle line. The troops scrambled to their places. We quickly took our arms and marched off down a shady wood road. We were on the way to the battle field. We were ready to fight! No matter how many times I do this, I still get butterflies in my stomach. I’m like a 10 year old playing army again. Ahead stood two staff officers directing us forward. As I passed them their walki-talki blared to life and announced “severe storms are headed your way in 15 to 20 minutes”.  That’s it, I thought, the storm would probably force them to cancel the battle. I expected to be turned back to camp at any minute, but we kept going forward. Then, through a break in the woods, I saw why. Hundreds of spectators, colorfully garbed in shiny raincoats and holding umbrellas, lined the edge of the battlefield. Like the gladiators of long ago, WE were the show and the show must go on, regardless of the weather. An image of me leaving behind my poncho suddenly appeared in my brain. Oh Crap, we were gonna get wet, I thought.

Craig and William getting soaked during the downpour

The line of marched stopped. We were in our position at the edged of the battlefield. In the distance a cannon roared…or was it thunder? It was thunder. The cannons were directly in front of us and they were quickly being covered to protect them from the pending rain. A flash caught my eye. Someone snapping a picture? No, it was lightning. The men nervously joked about the four foot long musket “lightning rods” they all carried. Overhead the trees started whipping around as a heavy wind blew leaves and hats indiscriminately across the field behind us. With a roar, the sky opened and rain drops as big a Minnie balls pelted us from above. The wind whipped the rain in our faces and we could do nothing but stand there.

Federal Skirmishers appearing out of the mist at the 150th anniversary Battle of Sharpsburg on Sept. 8, 2012

The shady lane offered little protection and there was no where else to go, so we stood quietly in our ranks and got quickly drenched.  Water overflowed from hat brims and cascaded in waterfalls. evrything in my haversack was sodden. After the heavy downpour had efficiently done its job in soaking us, It settled into a steady, gentle rain. My garden would have loved this, but I was dripping and ready to go home! Fat raindrops kept falling from the leaves overhead, but outside the treeline the rain had tapered off and a heavy fog rolled in. The artillery men had uncovered their guns and were loading them. In the distance, a line of ghostly looking enemy skirmishers appeared on the ridge, well hidden by the rolling mists.

BOOM! We all jumped and turned to see a cloud of smoke surrounding a nearby Cannon that had fired and caught us off guard. BOOM!, BOOM! roared two more cannons. The battle was on and wet or not, we would soon be called on to push back the enemy.

Members of the 6th North Carolina state troops deployed as Skirmishers at the 150th anniversary Battle of Sharpsburg on Sept. 8, 2012

Our own officers demanded our attention and formed us back into our battle line. We surged forward through the underbrush and  advanced through the cheering cannon crews across the wet field. The cannon smoke hung in the damp air mixing with the floating mist. The acrid black powder smoke stuck our eyes and throats. Whatever was beyond the rise was obscured from our view. Our battle line marched on until we came to the far edge of the field. We deployed as skirmishers and cautiously entered a a copse of trees still dripping from the rain. The ground rose in front of us as and huge slabs of wet gray rock punctured the surface at odd angles, giving the skirmishers good cover. We continued our advance. Suddenly the mist cleared and we could see long lines of blue troops packed along the distant edge of the field. Their skirmishers appeared in front of us and opened fire. The crackle of muskets interrupted the worried shouts of officers trying to move us into position. We held the high ground and had a good selection of trees and rocks to hide behind as we started to return fire. As we moved through the woods we stumbled across spectators in lawn chairs. Up until that moment, the urgency of battle made it all seem very real, but it vanished after that. From my position as a file closer I spotted the Federals starting to turn our flank and warned the other officers. The Brigade started to withdraw and we found ourselves in front of the cannons again, but, this time,  blocking their shot. We quickly got out of the way and ended the battle with a final ear splitting BOOM!

Fresh troops rushed past us into the fray as we  realigned ourselves and marched to the rear. We stood back at the first staging area as hundreds of fresh troops poured in waiting their turn to fight. The battle field was so small that they had to rotate us out to give others a chance, and the battle was over for us.

The only casualty was my soul…the soul of my shoe that is. I’m not sure what caused it to give way, because they aren’t that old. The long wet grass had managed to slide between the soul and upper and nearly tripped me as I was marching, pulling the soul away. I was forced to flap my way back to camp.

Between the exhilarating fight and the march back to camp we had begun to dry out from the rain. We would have enjoyed fighting longer but with our camp in sight we were happy to be back home…until we got to our tents. It seemed the wind and storm has passed through our camp with a vengeance. Tents we leaning or toppled. Blankets and knapsacks were soaked and my corner of the tent had ripped loose, exposing me and my messmates to the elements. My fate could have been worse but I had wrapped my blankets in the ground cloth so only the edges got wet, Matt’s blankets got wet on one end, but William’s entire kit was under a large puddle of water that had funneled into his once cozy quarters. To say this was disheartening would be an understatement.

William refastened the corner. I think my knot tying skills will be forever questionable, even though I think the rope was defective! The only thing to do was to stoke the fire and  dry the blankets. The sky still looked questionable as we stood surrounding the fire holding blankets and jackets close the the licking yellow flames, hoping they would not errupt in flames. I started thinking about the Confederate soldiers who fought here in 1862. It had rained prior to the battle. I realized how easy we have it compared to them. They  surely spent many wet nights wrapped in wet blankets, too tired to care, after fighting or marching all day. At least we had a fire and if absolutely necessary, we had any number of dry tents we could double up in. My overheated hands brought me back to the present. The fire was hot and my blanket had dried to at least damp. I felt and smelled like a smoked ham.

I wasn’t happy about my shoe either. It was aggravating to flap around. I don’t remember when or where I got these brogans, but it didn’t seem that long ago. I was hoping I could get them repaired and worried that they would be permanently damaged if I kept walking On them. I was dreading the evening battle.

Yankee Joe talked me into walking up to the sutlers where he introduced me to several friends who he thought could help. While walking around I was pleased to see the friendly faces of two of my old comrades from the 150th NYSVI. We stopped and exchanged pleasantries, but I was on a mission to get my shoe repaired. In the end the shoe was too wet and muddy to make a temporary fix.  I wasn’t in the mood the spend $100 or more on a new pair or to continue shopping. My stomach started grumbling from the smells of food cooking on sutler row. I was still damp and suddenly very tired. I flapped back to camp ready to cook supper.

More rain was forecast, canceling the evening battle.  I was relieved to hear this news. The bodies around the fire had thinned out and the other half of the men had headed up to the sutlers. I had brought some smoked turkey sausage, a pepper from my garden and an onion. I chopped up the pepper and onion and put them in the frying pan with a little oil. I raked a pile of glowing coals to the edge of the fire and spread them out until I had set my “stove” to medium. I rested the frying pan on the coals and started to gently cook the onions and peppers. The smell drew a few of my comrades. Unfortunately I had brought only a small amount and didn’t have any extra to share. I sliced the single sausage and dropped it in the hot pan. the coals had cooled a little so I raked some fresh coals under the pan to renew the heat. I covered the pan with my tin plate to keep the moisture in and the ashes out.  It didn’t take long to heat the sausage. I settled myself near the fire to eat supper, finishing my masterpiece with a few squirts to Texas Pete. Bon Appétit!

Private Hinnant made an appearance (strictly for medicinal purposes since we had gotten soaking wet and wanted to avoid a chill)

I was finishing the final morsels as the men started returning from the sutlers. The camp was dark and damp, but the fire cast a cheery glow.The quiet satisfaction of a full days activities counterbalanced the disappointment of the rain, broken footware and collapsed tents. Private Hinnant made an appearance and tin cups appeared from every corner of camp, bringing us together, even if only for a few moments. Jeff introduced us to an African nectar, which was quickly shared amongst the empty cups. We chatted around the campfire briefly, but people started drifting off to their tents or other fires. I stretched out on my blanket and my eyelids were getting heavy as I listened to a nearby conversation. I was wavering in and out, adding a comment here and there before finally drifting off to dreamland ending my first day on the reenactment battlefield to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sharpsburg.

Next: A 50 year veteran

Hay Foot, Straw Foot.

Learning how to drill as a new recruit

Last Saturday I participated, with other members of the 6th North Carolina State Troops, in a living history program at the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site as part of their Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration. The program was called “TO ARMS! TO ARMS” and featured us reenactors portraying civilians answering the call to duty, to be recruited into the Confederate Army. My previous post describes my experience being recruited. This post will describe what it was like to learn drill for the first time. For this program, the reenactors were instructed to “forget everything” we knew about drilling and pretend we didn’t know a thing…not too hard for most of us after a long, idle winter off the drill field.

Charge Bayonet

Charge Bayonet

After taking the oath of allegiance to the Confederate government and then being sworn into Confederate Service, uniformed officers pushed and prodded us into a line facing a mean faced drill sergeant.

“OK. you ignorant sod-busters, shut up and pay attention!”

I was getting the feeling the honeymoon was over…

“How many of you dumb farm boys know your right from your left?”

A scattering of hands were sheepishly raised.

“This is your right” said the Sergeant, like he was talking to a group of dimwitted school children. Facing the men, He pointing to the right with his right hand. This was instantly mimicked by a several of the recruits who pointed in the same direction, the mirror image of the sergeant, which of course was their left hand.

“No you idiots! that is your left hand ” roared the Sergeant to the delight of the spectators.

Looking confused, recruits started turning around in circles, pointing every which way and babbling to each other about which is right and which is left. The Sergeant was clearly losing control.

“Quiet in the ranks! Get back in line! Now pay attention.”

He walked up to a recruit in the center and, roughly grabbing him by the shoulder,  spun him to the right. “This is right face!”

Now he spun him 180 degrees to the left, “This is left Face!”

Glaring at the recruits he shouted “Got it? GOOD! Now you try it!”

“Right FACE” most of the recruits turned right, but a few turned left.

“Your other right!” screamed the Sergeant spinning a lefty to the right position.

“Now, come back where you started when I say front.”


Most of the recruits turned back to face him, but a few of us had the same idea to mess things up, so we faced backwards.

“Front…FRONT….FRONTTTTT!” screamed the exasperated sergeant trying to get our attention.

We ran through our “facings” several more times, demonstrating to the crowd how challenging it was for the sergeant to get all the men to follow the same command. Being quick learners, we soon had these simple commands committed to memory.

It was said that farm boys joining the army often didn’t know their right foot from their left foot.  Maybe this knowledge wasn’t important in farming, but it is critical in the army. The drill sergeants quickly realized that the farm boys knew the difference between hay and straw, so by sticking some hay into the laces of one boot (called brogans) and straw in the other, the sergeant could call the cadence of “Hay foot , Straw foot” instead of “Left, Right, Left.”

We didn’t suffer the indignity of shoving straw in our shoes, but the event narrator told this story to the spectators. Is it true? Who knows, but it is an entertaining story. 

Now that we had learned our left from our right, it was time to engage in musket drill and the sergeant attemped to lead us across the street to the drill field. Spectators trailed along as if following the pied piper. We were marching in single file, but like so many kindergartners on a lovely spring day we soon bunched up and started chatting amongst ourselves as we lolly-gagged in the general direction the sergeant was headed.

The poor sergeant was nearly apoplectic when he turned and saw what a disorderly mess his single file line had become.

“What are you men doing? Get back into Line! Single file there! Quiet in the ranks!”

He soon marshaled us into a line again and we arrived at our destination. As the Spectators gathered to watch, He ordered us to re-line up by height. Playing the dumb recruits, we wandered around in confusion in disorder before the NCO’s and officers got us lined up properly.

The Sergeant explained the difference between a rank (all the men in either the front or rear line) and a file (each pair of men, one in the front rank and one in the rear rank). Next he gave the order: “In each rank Count TWOs

Trained recruits would replay “One, Two, One, Two, One, Two” and so on, down the line. But we we’re trained recruits….

“One, Two, Three…”

“Hold on!” said the Sergeant “There is only ONE and TWO! There is no three!

“Yes there IS!” someone yelled out, “it comes after two, they taught us that in school”

“QUIET IN THE RANKS” Screamed an onlooking officer

“You don’t have to shout…” Said another voice from the ranks

“ONE, TWO,ONE, TWO, ONE, TWO” shouted the sergeant as he walked down the line poking an index finger into the chest of each front rank man in turn. “Now you try it!”

The recruits has some more fun pretending to be confused and messing up this simple count, drawing chuckles from the onlooking spectators. By this time even the dullest of the spectators understood this better than if we had tried to explain it to them.

Once we were counted off, we learned how to form a column of four, again with much pretended difficulty and confusion, to the consternation of the officers. The recruits complained about the heat. They complained because their feet hurt. They complained because the musket was heavy. Sometimes when an order was given, a voice would mutter “who voted him to be the boss anyway!”

At one point an officer disgustedly shouted, “You men are hopeless! this line looks terrible! You should come here and see how bad you look!”

Half the men in the front rank took his invitation at face value and rushed toward where he was standing to have a look.

As the crowd roared in laughter, the officer sputtered “What are you men doing? Get back in line!”

The men slunk back to their places and several of them were heard to mutter “well he said to come take a look!”.

All the reenactors played their parts well. The officers and NCOs were properly stern and demanding. The raw recruits were…well…raw and clueless. But, now it was time to show the crowd what we really knew. We told the crowd to fast forward six months into the future after we had  been properly trained and, with the reenactors on their best behavior, we ran though the facings and manual of arms without flaw. We marched around the field in fine formation, fired a number of nearly perfect volleys and for the finale, we fixed bayonets and charged the crowd. Their applause told us they were impressed.

This program gave spectators a better understanding of what it took to drill raw recruits. Now it was their turn. Officers asked for volunteers. Young and old alike came forward to try mastering the skills that eluded us all morning.  NCO’s handed out wooden muskets. The new batch of “recruits” were lined up and counted off. They were about to discover the joys and pains of reenacting.

The rest of us broke ranks and headed to camp for lunch with a fresh appreciation for the skills we had mastered over the years.

To Arms! To Arms!

Harper House, Bentonville Battlefield, NC- Throngs of people gathered in small clusters on the lawn of John Harper’s farmhouse in Bentonville, NC on the morning of Saturday March 19. Even at 9 am the brightly shining sun was warm enough to drive people into the dappled shade of the ancient trees in front of the house. Red, white and Blue bunting hung limply from the second story balcony in the still air. The air buzzed with conversation as dozens of small groups of men and woman talked amongst themselves. Small children played soldier with wooden rifles and chased each other through the crowd. Others clung to the thick spreading lower branches in trees that invited children to climb them. I wandered onto the park-like lawn and joined the festive atmosphere with my reenacting friends from the 6th North Carolina State Troops. Like most of the others present this morning, we were wearing the garb of 19th century civilians and portraying local citizens who had gathered to join the Confederate Army. This was an event sponsored by the North Carolina department of Cultural resources and the Staff of the Bentonville Battlefield. The public had been invited to witness a living history program portraying camp of instruction  for newly enlisted, “green” troops. The frustrated officers trying to whip us into shape called us “pasty faced shopkeepers and oafish, sod busting farm boys”, but that was later in the day after the speech making and merriment ended and we were being turned into cannon fodder.

Rick In civilian Clothes at Bentonville Living History

Rick In civilian Clothes at Bentonville Living History

My friend, Tom Justus, and I stood at the edge of the crowd in the shade of a tree. He unbuckled the straps that formed a carrying sling around his black instrument case and withdrew his ever present fiddle. The thin, high pitched drone of an irish jig punctuated the still air as Tom scratched out a tune. Normally this would have drawn a crowd, but with all the activity in the yard, we were barely noticed. Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd and we looked up at the balcony. A gray haired man, nicely dressed in a black sack coat and black short brimmed hat, waited politely while the crowd quieted down and gave him their attention. He was John Harper, owner of the farmhouse whose lawn we were gathered on. He welcomed us and lamented the occasion that brought us together…the coming war. He referred to the telegram received by our governor, John Ellis, asking for 75,000 troops to quell the rebellion. He reminded us of the reply, “you can get no troops from North Carolina” which was met with rousing cheers from the gathered crowd. Mr. Harper encouraged us to enlist in the Johnston volunteers and regretted he was to old to lead us himself, but assured us the war would be over in a matter of weeks since we all know that a good southern boy can whip any 12 Yankees!

At the conclusion of the speech, uniformed army officers funneled the eager volunteers into lines for examination by a medical officer before being enlisted and sworn in. By this time some spectators had gathered behind us to watch. Looking at my gray haired friend Tom, and thinking about the gray streaking my own beard, it occurred to me that we could no longer portray eager farm boys anxiously running off to a great adventure. Men of our senior years needed no excuse to stay out of the army,so why would we have been there?

Perhaps we could portray veterans of our own boyhood adventure in the Mexican war. Older men who wanted to prove to themselves and fellow villagers that we were “able bodied men” willing to fight in this patriotic cause. That would be a more likely impression for us to portray at this stage of our reenacting career.

As Tom packed away his fiddle, we remained where we were, surveying the youngsters in a rush to enlist.  I remarked to Tom, and some spectators within earshot,”Remember when we were boys and they told us the war with Mexico would be over in a week? That didn’t work out so well, if you recall those dusty marches across the dessert. Are you SURE you still want to enlist” to which Tom played his part perfectly by reminding the skeptical character I was playing of “duty and honor” while the spectators behind us chuckled.

We soon found ourselves in a long line. In the distance, officers laboriously filled out paperwork. A reenactor behind us joked that it didn’t take him this long to enlist in the real army. Tom and I started chatting about our first person impressions. A first person impression is the 19th century person you are portraying. They can be a real person or a fictional person. The important thing is that you stay in character and be true to that persons core knowledge and beliefs. This can be as simple or complex as you care to make it. Some reenactors invent elaborate characters or portray ancestors or once living soldiers through detailed research into every aspect of their life. I asked Tom if he was going to be a blacksmith which ties into his passion and profession as a medieval armorer. He had thought about this and decided he would portray a foundry-man or maybe a railroad metal worker as a tribute to some of the skilled “mechanics” that comprised the 6th NCST and in tribute to the company shops near his home. I hadn’t given my character much thought, but as the lined moved closer, I decided I would portray my Great-Great Grandfather, John Walton.

John Walton was born on Applyby-Magna, England in 1830. In the 1861 English census he lists his occupation as a coachman in Cheddleton, England. John Walton never traveled to America. At the time of the war between the states he was 31 years old and had a large family. Had he lived in America, he would have been a prime age to have fought, either as a volunteer or later as a conscript. What he thought of this war in far off America was never recorded. I am the descendant of John’s son George, who arrived on these shores two decades after the war.

I stepped up to the doctors table.


“John Walton” I replied

The doctor did a double take. “Are you related to the Waltons?”

“I am “the Waltons”, sir” I replied

He gave me a foolish grin, undoubtedly thinking about the 1970’s t.v. show, “The Waltons” which caused me to suffer through high school with the nickname “John-boy” .

He continued checking off items on his examination form, without actually examining anything. Another Doctor told me to touch my toes. Placing my right hand on the table, to steady myself, I bent my knee and lifted my foot to touch my toe. The Doctor gave me an exasperated look and exclaimed “not that way!”

I calmly turned around placing my left hand on the table and raised my other leg in the same manner, to the amusement of onlooking spectators. The doctor gave up, shoved my papers toward me and told me to  report to the enlisting officer before turning to the recruit behind me and shouting, “Next!”

I joined another line. Welcome to the army…hurry up and wait!

Tom and I were looking over the forms in our hand. Even though Tom is a head shorter than me, both our forms said: height 5′ 10″.  The forms said we have brown hair, and brown eyes. I looked at Toms white hair and beard. It turns out we both have hazel eyes, which may be a greenish hue, but not brown. I wondered how they got that so wrong.I guess in their hurry to enlist us they glossed over some of the details.

I started thinking about how excited I have been in the past, when researching, to find a soldier enlistment papers or other “official documents” in a  soldiers compiled service record. Their height, hair and eye color brought them to life a little bit. But now I have to question how accurate those “facts” really are. I never thought about it before, but if this information was not recorded by the person themselves, it may be questionable. Just because it is on a form, doesn’t make it accurate.

When I got to the recruiter he glanced over the form, looked me over, filled in a few more items and sent me to a group of recruits waiting to be sworn in.  I sat in the shade and had just gotten comfortable when a officer got us into line and we we sworn in.

I was now officially a soldier of the Confederate states of America!

Members of the 6th North Carolina State Troops at the Bentonville Living History on March 19, 2011.


Next: Learning how to Drill