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She's in the army now

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by kjeff50cal, Aug 19, 2006.

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  1. kjeff50cal

    kjeff50cal Member

    Oct 13, 2005
    Houston, Texas

    Aug. 17, 2006, 11:35AM

    She's in the army now
    Chronicle intern goes undercover as a civil war re-enactor

    Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle


    Blast from the past
    Circling the town square of tiny Bellville, I passed the Austin County Courthouse, the Country Shop and Pop's on the Square Cafe. Farther down South Bell Street, three canvas tents, a Confederate flag and a Texas flag were positioned on the front lawn of the red-brick Austin County Jail Museum.

    "Men of Honour — Men of Texas — Your Country Needs You! Enlist Now! in the 11th Texas Cavalry — The Pride of Texas," read a sign facing the street.

    The 11th Texas Cavalry, a nonprofit, volunteer organization with more than 50 members from the Houston area, raises awareness of Texas history, explained Col. Wil Gibson. The unit's members participate in six to eight battle re-enactments each year, some as far away as Gettysburg, Pa.

    My blast into the past would entail a Civil War demonstration and living-history camp. Bellville's monthly First Saturday Market Day provided the ideal backdrop for recruiting spectators.

    Second Sgt. Eric Johnson loaded gunpowder into his .36-caliber Colt pistol as I approached the officers' tent.

    "It's a beautiful day," I said after shaking his hand.

    "You won't be saying that later," Johnson replied tersely, but smiling.

    I looked into the tent and saw a collection of Federal (a name used more here than Union) and Confederate uniforms — all made of wool.


    A matter of history
    Suited up in gray and ready for orders, I met five additional members of the 11th present — Capt. Michael Bunch; 1st Sgt. Charles Edwards; Cpl. Nick Canton, 15; Pvt. Cara Kiekens, 20; and Pvt. Garret Estey, 15.

    The unit was established before the Civil War and originally fought American Indians west of Waco, Bunch said.

    "Most of the Southern states didn't form (local militias) until 1858," Johnson added.

    In 1861, the local Texas militia became a cavalry regiment at Camp Reeves in Grayson County. Later, after the Civil War had ended, one of their most significant, although failed, missions was to recapture Confederate President Jefferson Davis and rush him to Mexico.

    Estey presented a Smith carbine rifle, a shorter weapon because it was made to shoot from a horse. The 11th was a mounted cavalry, he explained, but this wasn't always the case by war's end: "Men were dying of starvation and had to eat horse."

    "The average troop didn't have a lot of stuff. Corn for horses, a coffeepot and a meal of salted pork or hardtack (baked biscuit with high flour content)," Bunch said.

    At least 800 men served in the 11th Texas Cavalry during the war, fighting 150 battles from Texas to Georgia. Only a quarter of them are known to have survived, Gibson said.

    While the 11th represents a Confederate unit, that doesn't mean members prefer one side's survival over the other. They always portray both the South and North.

    "This is a matter of history, not a political issue."

    Shooting lessons
    To prepare for the day's first skirmish, Johnson taught me how to hold and shoot a rifle properly. I brought the weapon vertically in front of my body and turned the barrel so it faced me with its butt resting on the ground.

    He took out a paper cartridge, ordering that I bite off and spit out the top.

    "Careful you don't get any powder in your mouth," Johnson warned. "It tastes really bad."

    I wasn't careful enough. And he was right.

    After spitting out excess powder, I poured the black powder into the barrel and then pounded the stock on the ground to assure all the powder was firmly in. Johnson demonstrated shooting by pulling back the lock, placing a cap on the "nipple" to ignite the powder and pulling the trigger.

    A cloud of white smoke promptly filled the air.

    A skirmish to remember
    Five of us gathered within the makeshift soldiers' camp, waiting for Yankee snipers — Estey and Canton — to probe Confederate territory.

    "We want this to be as authentic as possible," Bunch explained."It's going to be a surprise attack."

    "Wait a minute," Bunch yelled when we heard shots coming from the opposing side. We then pretended to relax before the "impromptu" charge.

    Johnson patrolled the camp, pacing back and forth with his rifle. Bunch sipped water from a tin cup. The others cleaned their weapons. I wiped sweat off my forehead.

    Then the shots rang.

    "Alarm, alarm!" Bunch hollered. "Form a line, form a line!"

    "Load and cap," he ordered as we lined up to face the snipers.

    Johnson gave me a cartridge, then reminded me to "take a hit" after shooting one blank.

    I clumsily poured the powder while those around me did so fluidly.

    "Fire by volley!"

    As a safety precaution, I pointed the muzzle high to avoid shooting directly at the enemy. By the time I got my first shot off, my fellow unit members already were reloading. Smoke drifted all around us.

    "Keep em' hot, keep em' hot! Advance on the enemy!" Bunch shouted.

    We advanced two paces, then loaded again.

    "Independent fire!"

    All were shooting as fast as they could; I made an effort to imitate them. By the time I finally got off another round, the Confederates had won.

    As I stood awkwardly holding the heavy rifle, Johnson gave me a quizzical look. I had forgotten to feign a hit.

    "We found a scalawag," Bunch declared as he approached a wounded Estey. Bunch pulled his saber and "dispatched" the Federal cavalryman.

    Savoring the South's victory, Bunch gave a hearty war whoop.

    "Damn Yankees!"

    Upon reflection
    Clouds of white smoke dissipated to reveal dozens of empty cartridges strewn across the ground. The 11th then took refuge in nearby shade.

    "You have a euphoric feeling," Johnson recalled of past battle re-enactments.

    "We're always trying to put ourselves in a situation where it feels real," said Edwards, whose great-grandfather was held prisoner at Fort Delaware for two years. "We try to make it real — without dysentery and lead bullets."



    HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Life
    This article is: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/4122253.html
  2. Manyirons

    Manyirons member

    Dec 21, 2005
    Where i'm from in Ohio we dont like no stinkin bluebellys either! :) Good fer her!
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