Sunday at the Civil War

Last weekend, at the folklore event at the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture, I was talking to one of the other participants – yes, there were a good few 19th-century reenactors there, all in costume – and mentioned that I wanted to get some good pictures of Civil War reenactors; some images that might be worked into creating the cover for the next book. I had been thinking of a combat scene, with an artistic effect to make it look rather like one of those Currier and Ives Civil War battle prints … only without the need of paying a bomb for the rights. The reenactor – who was performing as a snake-oil medicine show entrepreneur, looked at me and recommended the Civil War weekend at the Liendo Plantation – a blip on the map of eastern Texas some forty miles short of Houston. It was, he said, one of the biggest and best-attended Civil War reenactor events in Texas, with artillery and cavalry and all, on the grounds of a lovely and historic old plantation house … and it would be the very next weekend. A weekend where we had nothing really planned. I went home, looked it up, plotted out the drive … and said; let’s do it.

So we did; and the drive might have been long, but it was so worth it! The plantation house is set in a lovely grove of oaks, alternating with pasture and lawn, at the end of a red-dirt driveway – and there were tents, banners and costumed reenactors all over the place. The Union camp was set up in a grove below the house, the Confederate lines in a pasture behind, and the weather was nearly perfect; not too hot, pleasant in the shade. The property was once part of a Spanish land grant, bought by one of the Groce family – early Texas pioneers, was a military camp and then a POW camp during the Civil War, and the house was afterwards owned by the sculpturer, Elisabet Ney. The house is, on rare occasions like this one, open for tours, but it cost $10 per person, which was a little more than I wanted to spend, after loading up on gas – and anyway, I have plenty of pictures of the insides of old houses. So we walked around the camps, and out into the field where there was a sort of merchant’s row, selling period appropriate gear and other odds and ends. We gathered that the Civil War weekend had been going on for twenty years at Liendo Plantation; and of course, a lot of the reenactors were old friends. Basically, a reunion camping trip, with lashings of live-action role playing, and a certain educational mission.

I had read that the Civil War reenactor thing is dying down, after a huge surge in interest around the time of the 125 and 150th anniversaries. It’s an expensive hobby, what with the gear and traveling, especially if reenacting cavalry, where a horse (and tack and the means to transport it) is absolutely essential, and a lot of early enthusiasts are aging out. Not that I could see last weekend; although there were a handful of much older soldiers than one might have expected to see in a Civil War unit, as well as another handful much pudgier than they would have been under 19th century conditions of warfare …reassuringly, there was a good number of younger reenactors, male and female both, and a good number of families with children, all kitted out in appropriate period outfits; a young couple with an infant, who must be the youngest ever participant. This does bode well for reenacting as a hobby, I would presume.
The battle reenactment was in mid-afternoon, and yes, I was able to get some good pictures; somewhat against conditions, as the field where all this was staged was bounded on the far right side by Route 290, with constant vehicular traffic on it. I should have gone farther up to the top row in the stands, or rented a chair to sit at the trip-line, or even gone farther down the field – as I had to shoot over people’s heads in front of me, and avoid shooting towards Route 290. Fortunately, as things progressed, smoke from the black powder muskets and cannon fire masked a good bit of that, so I was able to get some very nice shots. (The best of them here, at this gallery/)
And that was my weekend – at the Civil War. Comment?

4 thoughts on “Sunday at the Civil War”

  1. USED to do re-enacting. Too old now. Company “I”, First US Dragoons [1832-1860]. Dragoon Artillery [12 lb. Mountain Howitzer]. At Bent’s Fort and other re-enactments. Also played 1st chair Mountain Howitzer with the Colorado Symphony for the 1812 Overture a few times.

    Did Civil War at presentations at elementary schools. I portrayed a Confederate private [47th North Carolina] and a friend portrayed a SGT in the US 5th Infantry. We each would set up a camp and explain the life of a soldier of the time and side to the kids. Occasionally I would be able to borrow a Mountain Howitzer or an Ordnance Rifle from friends [it is good to know people ;-)] and show them artillery drill. Blank rounds make the Pueblo PD nervous.

    But it is a young person’s game to a certain extent. I stopped Dragoon when the mounted personnel decided to convert to post-Civil War Cavalry, which meant I would have had to get my own horse. Horses ARE expensive. Still did Civil War when needed for a while then dropped out of it.

    Sadly, knowledge and interest in the real history of our country is disappearing.

    Subotai Bahadur

  2. Charlottesville ended reenactments in many places. Peterboro, NY, home of Gerrit Smith, a major benefactor of John Brown and the Underground Railroad, and one of the most generous philanthropists in American history, ended their long running Civil War weekend immediately afterwards. Sad. To me the main takeaway of Civil War history and the point of reenactments was the binding up of the nation’s wounds, but that’s not really in keeping with the current mood, unfortunately.

  3. That’s the vibe that I picked up on, Brian – that it was to remember that we were one country who went through a bad patch. After all the announcer for the battlefield started it off by reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg address … and then asked us to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
    The owner of the property (who had passed away last year) was very keen on supporting the event; his one big question that he asked of the participants at the end of every Civil War weekend (a question which the announcer asked at the end of the battle) was “Did you all have fun!”

    This is Texas – I’d gathered that everyone had fun, even before the question was asked and answered with a roar.

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