Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Battle of Secessionville - Saturday

Saturday dawned bright and… cloudy again. Bummer. The weather forecast had been for SUNSHINE so I was really ticked off. Not only that, but I had to put my hair up three times before it would behave. Not only that, but putting my hair up three times meant that I was running behind schedule so I had to scramble the rest of the morning. I was not a happy camper. In the middle of the vortex, Raquelle sweetly remarked, “I’m going over to Mom’s room to help her dress.” Ha! Yeah, right. I knew why she was leaving – to get away from Miz Grouchface Me!

Anyway, we finally got ourselves pulled together, out the door, in the van and to the reenactment site. We blithely told the guard at the entrance that we had “stuff to drop off” and he let us drive our vehicle in. We couldn’t park as close as the Denver Airport this time, but we did manage to park just two minutes away from our campsite. That was good because we had STUFF with us this morning. The ball was this evening so we’d brought our ball dresses in case it was warm enough to put them on.

But the FIRST thing I wanted to do was have someone take a picture of me. I’d gotten a new dress at the Battle of Atlanta and wanted a photo of it. Since I’m usually taking the pictures, I’m usually not IN the pictures. So Raquelle obligingly took several shots of me in my new dress – red and green homespun-looking plaid. It was a nice wintery outfit and I found it quite comfortable.

Mom and Raquelle sneer at the idea of wearing a store-bought dress (horrors!) but I insisted that if I’m going to spend time sewing, I want to spend it on FUN things like ball dresses, not boring ole day dresses.

I decided that I was still too grouchy to be around people so I grabbed a muffin and stalked off to the gardens. Since my mouth was obviously full, no one bothered me and I was able to calm down and cheer up.

The scene around our tents had changed overnight. No longer were we surround by living history exhibits. Instead, during the wee hours of the night, an entire artillery camp had sprung up around us. In fact, the Ruckers had pitched their tent just twenty feet from ours, which certainly made visiting back and forth quite easy!

Pretty soon it was time for the ladies’ tea, so we all headed for the Cotton Dock. The Cotton Dock building really was a dock on the creek. It was a nice roomy L-shaped building with a huge fireplace and big double doors that opened onto the dock. Lights and big picture windows completed the scene. We arrived early and took pictures of friends while waiting for the signal to get something to eat. The ladies who brought the “spread” outdid themselves and we had veggies, cookies, bread, as well as sweet tea and punch. We felt quite elegant sitting around chatting with our friends while sipping tea and munching cookies.

Afterwards, we stepped out on the dock to take some pictures and I was thrilled to see that ALL the clouds were gone and we were in blinding sunshine! Yay!

We sauntered lazily back to the campsite, whereupon I suddenly remembered that the Federal army was going to stack arms in the avenue of the oaks while getting lunch, so I grabbed my camera and scuttled back. Great photo ops must be taken whenever they appear, even during lunch time!

After this, we enjoyed lunch and had a good time chatting with several ladies at our tent. Dad, meanwhile, had been packing his gear for the battle. The artillery commander had seen Dad’s display the night before and asked Dad to help him in the fort by calling canon fire ranges and generally keeping an eye on enemy movements. So Dad got his tripod and map and trundled off to get set up.

Meanwhile, we ladies continued to yak until I realized the battle was going to start shortly. I really wanted some pictures of Dad so I hurried off with my camera to a short-cut through the woods Dad had mentioned. He said it was kind of scenic, with a footbridge over a creek. I pictured a cute little arched bridge, but that wasn’t how it turned out at all. Instead, I wound up on a lonnnng wooden bridge that snaked around through a marshy swamp. In some places, the bamboo and marsh grasses were tall enough to form a “tunnel” and block the sunlight. It was pretty cool.

Emerging from this shaded spot, I found myself facing a huge, empty field to cross. This was not pretty cool. The sun was now high in the sky and it was HOT. (Yeah, I know it’s November, but that’s how things are in South Carolina sometimes.) Be that as it may, there were no handy golf carts or heroic cavalrymen around, so I trudged across the field on foot and wound up rather warm at the battle lines with ten minutes to go before the battle started.

The announcer was telling people about the original battle being reenacted. Apparently, the Confederate forces had spent most of the night digging entrenchments and were laying down sleeping when the Federals attacked. The Confederates had to race to man to the walls of their fort.

Well, sure enough, there were the entrenchments forming a fort and there were the Confederates dozing in the shade. Very authentic looking.

Often times, reenacted battles can be a little boring. Troops move pointlessly forward, then pointlessly backward, then forward, then backward, and nobody dies till the last five minutes. However, this battle was different.

It started abruptly when some Federal forces sneaked up using cover on the field and suddenly raced up to the entrenchments and tried to pull down the abattis. They were driven off by the Confederates who leaned over the walls and fought them hand to hand.

Immediately following this exciting intro, the cannons began booming, drums started rolling, enemy soldiers were sneaking through the cover on the field and Confederate forces mounted the walls in waves. One wave would mount and fire, then retreat while the next wave came up. Dad was on a mound in the center of the fort, calling ranges and alerting the commander of enemy troop movements.

It was actually quite an exciting battle, both for the soldiers and the spectators. Dad took a “hit” during the battle – his guard had to bandage up his hand, which he then dutifully held up in the air the rest of the battle to keep the blood flowing the right way. Lots of other soldiers took hits too, so it looked quite authentic.

Dad gets his hand bandaged by his guard

One of the powder monkeys was a kid and he took a hit part way through. His dad and another soldier grabbed him and raced through the fort towards the hospital tent behind the lines. They ran right through the spectators, scattering them as they tore up to the medics and plopped the grinning kid down. Then they scrambled back into the fort. The crowd loved it and I got a good picture or two, inasmuch as I literally had to jump out of the way for them.

One fella had a big Confederate flag and he loved to jump up on the walls and wave it defiantly at the enemy. At one point, the commander called everyone back off the walls (probably so the cannons could fire) and the fellow got excited and flipped around the flag and it, uh, came off the flag pole. The guy didn't realize it at first and kept excitedly waving his pole around till he suddenly noticed the flag's absence and roared back to the wall to get it. He was a little more careful how he waved it around after that.

The battle finally ended with the Confederates winning the day and the bugler blew Taps as the troops resurrected. I was now pretty hot, especially since I hadn’t brought my parasol, so I headed back across the everlasting field, through the shaded marsh and to our campsite.

By the way, did I mention the cotton patch near the campsites? Very southern looking, it was!

Things were pretty quiet at the tent, so I decided to take a nap. It was very peaceful there in the shade of the pecan trees with the birds twittering. I had a pleasant time until everyone returned and Jeannie Rucker stopped by to chat. I didn’t want to miss the fun so I got up and joined in. We yakked about all sorts of things, but the best part was that we got Jeannie to agree to come to our ball as the photographer! We knew she would be good because she does all the photography for the Spartanburg ball. We had been looking for a good photographer for several weeks, so we were tickled that she agreed to come!

We went looking for supper, but apparently were too late - the fry bread folks were already out of food and had shut down shortly after lunch. There had been a hot dog stand too, but it was shut down also. We managed to nip into the Butterfly Cafe just as it was closing and at least get some sandwiches. Boone Hall has some kind of butterfly pavilion thingie where you can see all kinds of butterflies and cocoons. We never got a chance to see it, but that's where the cafe name came from.

After supper, we needed to get ready for the ball. Though we'd brought our ball dresses along, it was now getting cold and dampish so we opted not to wear them. (We later regretted this since the Cotton Dock turned out to be a lot warmer than we'd thought it would be.) At any rate, this made getting ready a lot quicker. Dad put away his engineering instruments, we battened down the tent for the night, and Dad hung a lit lantern under the fly to guide us when we came back. It was now time to leave.

Raquelle and I ended up leaving a few minutes before Mom and Dad so when we got to the avenue of oaks, we just stood there and bugged our eyes. It was BEAUTIFUL.

It was now dark and all along the avenue were lit flaring torches. Above the torches, you could see the shadowy forms of mysteriously moss-draped trees and catch a glimpse of starlight. Along the sides were tents lit with lanterns and campfire light. There's no way to describe how lovely and back-in-time it all was. And my camera gave me fits with the darkness so I didn't get any good pictures. You'll just have to use your imagination.

The torchlight continued down the path to the Cotton Dock, through the woods and bamboo. The Cotton Dock itself was all lit up and a roaring fire was blazing in the fireplace.

I have to apologize for not taking many pics of the ball. Mom and Raqu got excited about the beautiful sunset and took most of the rest of the memory space on my camera. I had a spare memory stick back at the hotel but it didn't do me much good there. :no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you:

By the way, here is one of the gorgeous pictures they came up with.

We saw the Suttons again and Jennifer, Raquelle and I strolled out on the dock to admire the water and the lights at night. Mom and Dad finally arrived as well. Then we found out that, contrary to what the program said, the ball was NOT starting at 7 pm, but rather at 8 pm. Well, phooey! Instead, the TALENT SHOW was starting at 7. Ahem, the ball would have been better. :giggle:

There was a guy who played the banjo or mandolin or something and he was pretty good. Then he was followed by a "skit" involving Senator Glenn McConnell and his buddies. They pretended to be a medicine show and had various plants in the audience come up and demonstrate the wonders of their "tonic." They left just before the supposed police caught up with them. Does it strike anyone but me as funny that a senator would know about hokey medicine shows? :snickers:

Then a group ostentatiously called the Hunley Choir got up. It was a group of old guys and they sang - sorta - in unison some 1860s songs. No harmony, and very little rhythm, but lots of feeling. Having given Confederate concerts ourselves, I can tell you a bit of strategy: Save "Dixie" for last. Everyone stands up for it and then you wind up with a standing ovation. But these fellers apparently hadn't thought of that, so they led off with "Dixie." So we all stood and whooped at the end. Then as they droned on some other songs, everyone got busy chatting. So they decided to wind up with "Dixie" again to get people's attention. So we all stood again and let out an obligatory whoop at the end.

FINALLY it was time for the ball to start. The first few dances were exceedingly crowded but as the evening went on it cleared out a lot and dancing was easier and more fun. Raqu and I snagged some Citadel cadets (who were there in force that weekend) and taught them some of the dances. I wound up in a set of mostly teenagers for the Virginia Reel. Since it was too hard to hear the dance caller at that point, I hollered to them, "Has anyone done this dance before?" One feller had done it once and another feller assured me he'd seen it in a movie. Oh cool, this was going to be fun. So I quickly walked them through the dance and when we got to the reel part, one of the girls squealed, "Oh, this is FUN!" Everyone concurred enthusiastically.

I circulated between dances to look at the ladies' dresses. Because the building was nice, many of the ladies had worn their nice ball gowns. I did have room for one or two pictures of lovely ladies.

While talking with one of them about dresses, we got to talking about the frustration of dealing with a lace-up bodice. "It takes FOREVER to lace up," one girl complained. And guy promptly chimed in, "I'll tell you what takes FOREVER - waiting on a GIRL who has a lace-up bodice!" He proceeded to recount his woes in detail concerning waiting on said laced-up girl. I found it very amusing, though doubtlessly he did not.

After a fun evening, we headed out to go back to the tent and drop off the camp stools and other paraphernalia we can't live without for two hours. The hall was all lit up and I couldn't resist getting some pictures. However, my memory stick was full. So I looked through it (in the dark) and found a picture or two that hadn't turned out, deleted them, and then used the free space to take a couple pics.

And that was the end of Saturday! More fun and frolic to follow on Sunday... if I can ever finish this blog...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Battle of Secessionville - Friday

Friday dawned cold and overcast again. Dad had gone out to the campsite early and called to tell us to arrive later than we’d planned since it was so cold. He also informed us that they weren’t enforcing the “no vehicles in camp” rule on Friday. This was good news for us since the walk from the parking area to our campsite was roughly a mile. (Really.) So when we finally drove out to the plantation, we were able to head right up to the campsite and park by the "Denver Airport."

Did I mention the road we drove in on once we were past registration? It was a literal tunnel of greenery. All kinds of trees and vines swarmed overhead and the trail itself was hard-packed sand. I have no idea how trucks got through there since our van and trailer barely made it. I s’pose they came up the avenue of oaks instead.

The Suttons were set up next to us in living history so I ran over to take some pictures of them first off. They had big posters with the words to famous Civil War songs. Mr. Sutton was playing his banjo and the three of them (Mr. & Mrs. Sutton and Jennifer) were teaching the kids to sing them. I think the kids were having fun.

Mom wanted to straighten up the tent so Raquelle and I decided to take a quick walk and get the “lay of the land.” First we headed for sutler row, which was set up along the famous avenue of oaks. Very picturesque, the avenue looked, with all those old-fashioned white tents set up and 1860s gentlemen and ladies wandering around. We discovered where some of the PSRS ladies were encamped and stopped to talk for a few minutes. They were going to cook lunch for the entire Federal army the next day so were getting started on it then. Huge cast iron pots were already over the fire and meat, carrots, and onions were being sliced rapidly into their depths.

After visiting with the ladies, we headed over to check out one of the plantation’s big “attractions,” nine of the original slave cabins. They were roomy little brick houses and had various displays in them about slave life. As usual, though most of the info was true, it was extremely slanted so we didn’t bother to read a whole bunch. But as we arrived at the last cabin, a black couple stood up to say hi to us. They had been doing tours of the slave cabins for folks all morning.

“Well, hello there, ladies!” the man called out as we walked up. He and his sister greeted us and introduced themselves, as did we. He was quite voluble and went on and on about our “lovely dresses” and bonnets and capes. His sister agreed that we were quite finely dressed. Then he got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Well now, my spirit’s tellin’ me somethin’. My spirit speaks to me and tells me that y’all have come down from the Big House to visit us.” We laughed and fell into the role and agreed that we’d come down to see how they were doing.

He was quite entertaining and told us about his Confederate ancestors and the fun they have telling people the true history of the black people in the war. Then he got a twinkle in his eye again. “My spirit’s tellin’ me somethin’ else,” he intoned. “It’s tellin’ me you’re gonna give me money!” We really howled with laughter that time and told him we wished we could. After some more jovial conversation we decided to head back to camp and see how Mom and Dad were doing.

We entered the huge wrought iron gate of the mansion and began the trek up the front “sidewalk” (a broad sandy avenue). We were properly impressed by the “big house” even though it is only a 1920s rebuild of the original. As we sauntered up the long walkway we noticed a small opening in the hedge marked by a sign telling us it was the garden entrance. Curious about the garden, we went through it and – well! Were we ever impressed! The gardens of Boone Hall are absolutely gorgeous, even in November! There were still roses blooming and all manner of other flowers and plants flowering. I’m not good at botany so I haven’t the faintest idea of what most of them were, but they were lovely. I took a ton of pictures.

As we exited the gardens we found ourselves by the water. I looked it up and found out later that Boone Hall sits on Wampacheeoone Creek. (I have no clue how to pronounce that.) And it looked a lot bigger than a creek to me anyway. At least, when the tide was in, it did! Anyhow, the banks of the creek are lined with marsh grasses and live oaks – one oak was sprawled clear into the water. We hurried back up to the tent to tell Mom and Dad of all the lovely scenery we’d found and take them on a tour.

But first things first. Mom was digging out sandwich makin’s so I whopped up a baloney sandwich. Raquelle was getting a little sleepy so after we finished munching, she laid down on the cot for a nap, Dad pleasantly occupied himself explaining Civil War engineering to spectators and Mom and I wandered off to tour the grounds and shop.

We stopped off at the PSRS ladies’ tents for a while to chat. One of them was tatting with a shuttle, something I’ve wanted to learn for quite a while. Raquelle and I learned needle-tatting some years ago, but needle tatting wasn’t invented in the 1860s. So to be authentic, we need to learn to use the shuttle. Expressing my desire to learn, I promptly received a quick lesson and took several pictures of the process.

We also got our first look at the PSRS calendar, a fundraiser to which I contributed several photos. It looked perty nice, if I do say so myself.

As Mom and I were coming back through the gardens (which she properly admired) we saw Raquelle and the Sutton ladies approaching and we all spent some time admiring the beautiful flowers and plants. We also set a time to meet them for dinner that evening at the Golden Corral in town. Then Mom, Raqu, and I went on towards the camp and came upon the oaks in the water.

Here I must mentioned a regrettable incident.

In complete defiance of proper 1860s etiquette, Raquelle and I not only climbed up on the branches of the tree (good thing our ankles were properly covered with drawers and petticoats!) but we acted like total goofballs once we were up there.

But I am heartened to relate that, seeing spectators in the distance, we endeavored to reassume our decorous demeanor and behave like 1860s ladies, albeit still snickering privately.

As the day was now winding down, we helped Dad put all his instruments into the tent and pack up for the night. As we were tidying up, Dad told us of a funny incident. Apparently some of the spectators were confused when they got to his station. They kept asking him, “Where are the engravers?” He finally asked to look at their program and yup, someone had written down “engravers” at Station 14 instead of “engineers.” The funny thing was, one of the organizers came over later in the day and checked out Dad’s setup. “This all looks great,” the man enthused, “but you’ll have to move your site. Station 14 is for the engravers.” Whereupon Dad explained the mistake and they both laughed. I’m still wondering whose bad handwriting caused the misinterpretation.

Then we picked up Dad's car and drove the car and van back to the hotel. Now you're probably wondering, "Why on earth did they bother with TWO vehicles? Don't they know there's a recession on?" The answer is simple. Dad likes to be at the campsite at o'dark thirty to set up all his instruments and equipment. This is fine for Dad. Guys can jerk on their pants, whop on a shirt, duck into a coat and rustle on a few appurtenances such as sidearms and hat in a matter of ten minutes. Women, on the other hand, have difficulties. It's not just the chemise, drawers, petticoats, stockings, and cuffs. It's also the hoop skirt, overskirt, bodice, collar, jewelry, shawls and shoes. Not to mention putting your hair up, adjusting your bonnet and packing your purse and carpet bag. So we ladies need a little more time in the morning to get ourselves pulled together. Thus, two vehicles are a marvelous and necessary measure for keeping the peace.

So anyway, after divesting ourselves of our hoops, guns, bonnets and wool at the hotel, we popped into our van to follow the Suttons to the Golden Corral. Mr. Sutton believes in using all the horse power available, so it was quite fun to try to keep up with him. However, he was also very nice about pulling off if we got shaved off at a red light. :D

At the Golden Corral, we proceeded to spend a couple hours yakking our heads off and stuffing ourselves. Then back to the hotel to iron clothing for the next day and flop into bed.

Thus far, I had only managed to take a mere 75 photos. I intended to rectify that little problem the next day. Stay tuned. . .

Battle of Secessionville - Thursday

We pulled out Thursday morning and drove to Charleston amid light rain. Supposedly the rain was going to clear out later in the weekend but I was cynically skeptical. However, I did hope the weekend would be a pleasant break from all the stress of producing a CD, sewing a ball dress, putting on a ball, and dealing with the rest of my normal ratrace life.

The drive down didn’t exactly bode well. For one thing, the walkie talkies broke. Of course, they’re only about 15 years old so I guess that’s not surprising. We needed the walkies because Dad was in his car and we were in the van towing the trailer. And, um, Dad was the only one who knew where we were going. Fortunately we had our cell phones, although that’s a little bit of a slow process when you’re trying to tell the person behind you to change lanes. :)

Half an hour before arriving at Boone Hall plantation we made a quick pit stop at a fast food joint. I noticed a tourist brochure stand and went over to look at it while Dad was getting coffee.Seeing a flyer for Boone Hall, I grabbed it and proceeded to regale Mom and Raquelle with its contents while we drove. I hadn’t known much about the Boone plantation at all, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out how interesting it is. For one thing, the brochure declares that it is “America’s most photographed plantation.” That’s partly because, in 1743, Captain Thomas Boone planted a long avenue of live oak trees which is now an absolutely magnificent sight to behold. Please note my photo of it. Yes, I succumbed to peer pressure and became one of the myriad photographers that makes Boone Hall “America’s most photographed plantation.”

So amid a light rain, we finally arrived at the entrance of the plantation but a little bitty sign tells us to keep going to the “reenactor’s entrance” ahead. We drive. And drive. And drive. Finally Dad calls us on the cell phone and says maybe we should turn around. “Well,” I observed, “the flyer says the plantation is over 730 acres so let’s at least keep going to the corner.” Sure enough, at the corner there’s another little bitty sign telling us to turn left. We do and drive another quarter mile before FINALLY finding a sign that points to the elusive reenactor entrance.

It’s now cold and misty and we hike through puddles in the sandy soil to the registration tent. Fortunately, even though the plantation is huge, there’s a pretty good map in the program so we’re able to figure out where to go to set up. We’re in the living history area, Station 14. (Yes, believe it or not, but they were organized enough to LABEL all the living history stations with numbers on stakes.)

The living history area is a big grassy spot behind the mansion itself. It’s full of live oaks and pecan trees all draped with Spanish moss. It also has a covered pavilion in the center. Lest you are picturing an old-fashioned pavilion constructed say, of wood or brick, in keeping with the rest of the plantation’s historical atmosphere, let me set you straight. It is a strange white monstrosity that Raquelle immediately christened the Denver Airport. Anyone who has flown into the Denver airport will understand the name.

A pic of the Denver airport we took in September

I corrected her, however, and said it looked like the Denver airport on a budget.

Be that as it may, a clearly marked number 14 showed us where to set up, which was good because there wasn’t much else to guide us in that large space. We proceeded to whop the two tents up in no time. The flies took longer to put up than usual, however, because the light rain was now accompanied by 20 mph gusting winds. We finally got the whole thing put up and then headed for the hotel to warm up, dry off, and find a restaurant.

A funny thing happened as Dad and I were walking across the field to load up. A big, burly, white-haired fellow with a flowing beard hollered hello across the field at us so we went over to say hi. He gave us each a hug and asked how we were doing. Then he looked at me and said, “You do that web newsletter, right?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “You know,” he insisted, “that ladies newsletter on the web!” It finally dawned on me that he was talking about the Palmetto Soldiers Relief Society (PSRS) newsletter. Mom and I actually co-edit it and another gal posts it on the website. “I LOVE that newsletter!” the guy enthused. “I love the pictures and the articles and everything! When’s the next issue?” I was totally kerflumoxed that a big ole burly dude like him would even be reading our ladies newsletter in the first place, much less enjoying it! J But now that I think of it, I guess it’s pretty interesting with all the reenactment reports and pictures and stuff.

Anyway, as we walked away from the guy, Dad turned to me and said, “Who was that?” I broke into laughter and exclaimed, “I have no idea!” We figured out later he’s the guy who is provost at Battle of Aiken. He always camps next to us at Aiken so he recognized us at once. But for us, you’ve seen one big hairy reenactor, you’ve seen ‘em all. :giggle: Anyway, he was a real nice fella.

We finally got ourselves to the hotel and began carrying stuff up to our rooms. As we were unloading, someone drove up and yelled, “We don’t want any harpists here!” Turns out it was our friends the Suttons. They knew we were attending this reenactment and had asked ahead of time which hotel we’d be at so they could stay at the same one and get in a little visit time with us. The funny thing is that the hotel staff put them in the room right beside us!

They had already eaten dinner so we headed out to a Cracker Barrel for ours. After a full supper, we warmed ourselves by the big fire (and Raqu incidentally beat Mom at checkers) and then headed back to the hotel to get stuff laid out for the next morning. I was excited about the upcoming weekend after seeing the plantation. Even the brief glimpse we got was enough to tell me we were going to be in a picturesque environment and I couldn’t wait to start taking pictures.