Tuesday, June 21, 2011

150 Years Later.... Day 1

Heather: In April 2011 our family embarked on the coolest trip of a lifetime. We went to Charleston, SC to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

The American Civil War (aka the War Between the States) changed the face of warfare, galvanized innovated technology such as submarines and breech loading cannons, gave rise to medical infrastructures like the Red Cross, created legends like the submarine Hunley not to mention good ole Stonewall Jackson, and introduced huge changes - some good and some bad - into how American society operates. The philosophical issues being debated at the time are just as relevant today as they were 150 years ago. And so being a part of this commemoration was a highlight for our whole family.

Gettin' Ready
Of course, you know how our family operates where a trip is concerned. Other people say, "Oh, a trip, let's pack a suit case and go." Not us, nope, no sireebob. We have to COMPLICATE things.

First, since no one else was planning a ball for this event, we decided to. We lived four hours away from the venue where it was held, but hey, that just made planning the event all that more, uh, "exciting." :P As we were literally setting up camp at another reeanctment this spring, we were also on the phone with Emmy-award winning band, Unreconstructed... and with the USS Yorktown event staff. Yeah. We had a ball on the hanger deck of the WWII-era aircraft carrier at Patriots Point. How cool is that?

Second COMPLICATION was that the week before Christmas we wound up with a pipe leak on the third floor of our house which, since we were gone all day the day it burst, totally soaked 2/3 of all three floors. Two weeks before our trip (and three months after the pipe burst) we FINALLY had new drywall, new paint and new carpet. Meanwhile, we lived in a humongous mess that severely hampered such activities as sewing new outfits for all four of us.

Third COMPLICATION wasn't supposed to be a complication. After figuring up the hotel bill for six of us (oh, did I mention that Grandma and Gramps from Texas came out to go with us on this trip?), we decided it would be cheaper to rent a house for the ten days we'll be here. Simple, right? Just rent one of those nice lil vacation home thingies in Mount Pleasant, five minutes away from Patriots Point. Except then it dawned on us - that means we have to COOK. And CLEAN. And bring SUPPLIES to cook and clean. Suddenly, the three vehicles we drove there in seemed awfully small.

And the fourth COMPLICATION was actually a good one - but still a challenge. You see, we have a lot of reenacting friends from various places who also attended this event. That meant that we wanted to coordinate with them. The number of events happening this week was humongous, so we had to first narrow down the list of what we wanted to do each day and then coordinate with our friends to see if they wanted to go with us. To streamline the process, I finally made a big calendar grid of our trip wherein we listed on each day where we were going, what outfits should be worn, who we were doing it with, and what was for dinner (so the cooks amongst us could keep track of groceries).

Here is the calendar in all its glory:

Raquelle: Heather didn't mention the FIFTH complication, which was that reenactors are so interested in authenticity that they also purposely try to recreate the miscommunication and dearth of Useful Information that was so common during the War. At least, we think that's the reason. At any rate, finding all the who/where/when information for all the stuff we're doing was a challenge, particularly since various organizers kept changing their minds, including, but not limited to, the City of Charleston, the Fort Sumter personnel, the National Park Service, assorted reenacting units, and seventeen partridges in pear treeeeeeeeeeeeeeees. Oh, and do you realize that if there had been a government shutdown, most of the Fort Sumter stuff would have been called off because Fort Sumter is a national park? I never thought I would follow a government budget fight so closely before.....

Heather: Howsomever, bright and early Friday morning we managed to get all six of ourselves, all three of our vehicles and all fifty-leven of our outfits OUT the door and ON the road. A herculean task, I assure you.

At this point, I shall allow the whole family to offer their perspectives of this hysterical...er, historical trip.

Grandma: They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I took the step, propelled by Dale, out the back door, locking it behind me. Down the porch and into our over-crowded car I heaved myself. We left our city and headed out over the highways and sometimes byways toward our destination. First Greenville, then onto Charleston, South Caroline to take part in the huge Sesukllll celebration of the War between the States.

Note: Grandma knows how to spell Sesquicentennial like the rest of us, but - also like the rest of us - finds it more fun to spell things her own way. Plz to note Mark Twain's comment on this subject: "It is a poor, uncreative mind that cannot come up with more than one way to spell a word." Now... back to our regularly scheduled program.

Gramps: From the perspective of a private soldier who, having been asked by the commander of Ferguson’s Battery to come to Charleston, South Carolina with all due deliberate speed, I traveled to Greenville, South Carolina where I joined Captain Ray Sheen of Company B, 3rd Regiment Confederate Engineers in the uniform of South Carolina Militia officer.

Since there was no Confederacy at that time period, our Confederate gray uniforms would not do. My wonderful granddaughters demonstrating their haberdashery skills, had a new Militia uniform waiting for me when I arrived. We then set out with our equipment and gear for Charleston.

From Dad's After-Action Report (AAR): Representatives from the South Carolina Militia Engineers arrived in the Charleston area on the afternoon of April 8, 2011 following a smooth journey from their normal duty post in Taylors, SC. A preliminary encampment was already established by Col. Terry on Hog Island in an area known as Patriot’s Point. Capt. Ray Sheen of the SC Militia Engineers and Pvt. Dale Roberts, on special assignment from Terry’s Texas Rangers, set up the engineering camp with able assistance from their family members, Shirley Roberts, Holly Sheen, Heather Sheen, and Raquelle Sheen.

The camp site was located on Hog Island near Mount Pleasant on the banks of the Charleston harbor. Fort Sumter could be clearly seen, standing nearly two miles away. (This site was not an original firing site, but was close to one of the original sites in Mount Pleasant. Patriot’s Point had cleared several acres for our encampment.) The engineer’s camp was located at the entrance to the encampment area and the Cheval-de-Frise was erected in the entrance road to prevent incursions of Yankee-sympathizing cavalry. Included in the engineering camp was a large map of the Charleston harbor showing the sites of the 15 batteries that would soon open fire on Fort Sumter (this map was a sketch map from 1861 located on www.footnote.com). This map became an immediate point of interest of almost all the visitors to the encampment and provided a great conversation starting point with visitors.

Heather: We stopped at Arby's for lunch, if I remember right, and Grandma assured us that she would save half her sandwich for take-out. We all immediately said, "That's a great idea, Grandma! We're gonna be hungry long before dinner time today." Grandma bugged her eyes at us in amazement because normally we all tease her about her addiction to take-outs. But she was smart this time - we really did get hungry long before supper rolled around!

Gettin' There
The weather was perfect and we showed up at Patriots Point exactly on time. First we had to go to a building called the Omar Shrine to get registered for the week's events. (I'm not making that name up.) The Omar Shrine was closed but behind it (in the shade) were several tables and lots of exceedingly helpful and nice staff people. Unlike typical reenactment registrations, they were ORGANIZED. And EFFICIENT. But we had to prove our identity in triplicate and sign away our firstborn sons before we could get our packets and badges. Er, wait, maybe they just wanted our drivers licenses and license plate numbers. Something like that.

Anyway, they assured us we MUST wear our badges AT ALL TIMES except if we got the Official Cockade the next day at Fort Moultrie we could wear that instead because frankly, the badges did not look period correct. But they did look ever so official. I had FUN with my badge that week. Ahem, more on that later (if I remember when we get to that point). But the main point was that we had to have our badges AT ALL TIMES because the FBI or Homeland Security might stop us and ask us where our BADGES where and if we didn't have one we'd have to, I dunno, pretend we were a spectator and walk off or something? I'm not making this up either. That's what they told us. The FBI and Homeland Security part, that is. Everyone knows that reenactors are dangerous people - anyone goofy enough to put on a hoop skirt is definitely on a suspect list somewhere.

Once we got our super secret decoder badges at the Omar Shrine, we piled back into our three vehicles and headed up the road to the encampment spot. The encampment was near the Patriots Point golf course. So the "parking lot" was a lovely green swath along the road. The encampment spot, however, was recently bush hogged out of howling wilderness so it left a little to be desired, ground-wise. But before we could get to the encampment spot, we first had to pass GARFIELD.

For those who have not met Garfield in our blogs before (the "big burly white-haired dude"), he is an Institution Of Reenacting. I think he's older than dirt and two days older than water. I might be off on that though, it might be three. He has a bushy white beard and a low rumbling voice and he loves to harass us. Come to think of it, we like to harass him too. The first thing he said when we walked up was, "Ladies, I almost didn't recognize you without your clothes on."

OK, so it's a dumb reenactor's joke, don't roll your eyes like that!

Of course, he meant that our 21st century attire makes us look really different than our 19th century attire does. Y'know, it's a funny thing, but I agree - I mean, I have all these friends that I really like and I wouldn't even recognize them in the street if they came along wearing jeans and stuff, cuz you wouldn't BUH-LEEVE how much difference a bonnet makes, not to mention a hoop skirt...

Off-Stage WHACK

Heather Oh right, what was I saying? Ahem...

So anyway, back to Garfield. I suspect he was enjoying himself just a little cuz he had THREE (or was it four?) notebooks we had to sign before he could let us through. We had to sign those waiver thingies they always give you at reenactments which say that if you're so stupid as to shoot yourself in the foot with your period-correct canon, then you'd better not sue them for mental stress derived therefrom. Or something like that. And then we had to say which unit we were with - we had to sign that several times. And THEN we had to sign which dates we would be there on - I dunno, maybe they were gonna sell our spot to a latecomer if we left early, ya think?

However, after finally signing everything in site and exchanging more banter with Garfield, we headed for our encampment spot. Dad had breezed through sign-in already and was with Col. Vernon Terry, laying out our site. We would be at the entrance to the whole shebang, which is very cool if you like spectators to come learn stuff from you. Dad was pleased.

So we set up. Two tents. Three flies. Eight heavy wooden chairs. Forty-leven tables, large and small. A cot, several large tubs, and four hundred (approximately) cases of Dad's period engineering instruments. Also a large hoisting tripod, a gabion, and a chevaul de frise. (Doncha love my big words? I'm hoping you'll ask me what they mean.)

The sun was hot. There was no shade. The water of Charleston Harbor looked lovely but was not reachable unless we wanted to slog through a hundred feet of marsh, plus a steep drop-off. We got hot. Also tired.

Finally, we were just about done. I went to fill up our pails with water. We always keep water pails around cuz this ONE time we were at the Battle of Aiken and a FIRE started at a neighboring tent and there was no WATER so we had to form a BUCKET BRIGADE to the nearest spigot to put it out....

Off-Stage WHACK

HEATHER: So ANYWAY, we always keep water around. I went over to the water buffalo which was hidden in the trees by the portajons and it had a big sign on that said "NON-POTABLE WATER - DO NOT DRINK". And I'm like, I don't WANT to drink it, I just want to keep it around in case of FIRE. So I start filling my container and a staff guys walks by and stops, all concerned. "That water is NON-POTABLE, you shouldn't drink it!" he exclaimed. And I'm like, "I don't WANT to drink it, I just want to keep it around in case of FIRE." So he smiles and walks off and I take it back to the tent. Dad asks me where I got it, So I tell him. And he says, "Heather, you do realize that is NON-POTABLE WATER, right?" Whereupon I'm like, "I don't WANT to..." Yeah, well you all know.

So FINALLY we're done and we pile back into all three vehicles and head for our rental house.

Note about the rental house: We had only seen it from the outside. And from the outside, it looked Really Small. Like, way too small for six people and six people's multiple wardrobes. (Traveling in two different centuries definitely presents baggage problems.) Not to mention all our FOOD and BALL stuff. So we were kinda wondering if everything was going to fit.

We needn't have worried however. It turned out to be one of those cool houses that looks dinky on the outside but is pretty spacious inside. I mean, spacious before we brought all our junk in. After that, it didn't look spacious any more. But it held all our stuff!

Of course, I'm not sure Mom saw it that way... and I Grandma definitely had an opinion...

Grandma: The Sheens had rented a vacation house in Mount Pleasant, very close to Patriot Point and other landmarks where the events were to be held. When we arrived we were a little taken aback at the size of the house. It was a small cottage in a neighborhood of older homes. Pleasant enough inside though, problem was only one small and one average bath for six people, four of them females. And poor Raquelle had to sleep on a hideabed as she and Heather refused to share a queen size bed. I suppose they tossed a coin and she came out loser. Then, horrors, there was no utility or convenient niche to set up the Ever Present Ironing Board! That was a real hardship for women who, in a burning house, would grab the board and iron before any other precious keepsakes.

Heather: Two teams started to work - the supper team and the rearranging team. We finally got a good supper of homemade soup and bread on the table. And we also finally got the house arranged to suit us. Grandma and Gramps definitely had more bedroom space after we took out the organ. And Mom was pleased with the loan of our bedroom lamp. Raqu took over the office as her Command Post from which to do important things like sleeping and schoolwork. Dad checked out the internet connection and was highly pleased that it worked fine.

And since the fellers were slated to rise at 6:30 am the next morning, they called it a night and we all went to bed. Er, well, almost all. Mom, Raqu and I had a few more things to do before bed. That's when we discovered a slightly irritating facet of our temporary home: creaky floors.

Walk to the bathroom: Creak thump creaky creak.
Walk to the bed: Creeeeeeak groan.
Walk to the kitchen: Er-eeee, creaky, creeeeeak.
Breath heavily: Creaky creaky creaky.

Oh well, I guess ya can't have everything. As everyone else pulled pillows over their heads to drown the noise, we hastily got ourselves into bed with as little creaking as possible.

End of Day 1.

Teaser from Dad's AAR for Day 2: Capt. Sheen ensured his family was settled into a house they had secured in Mount Pleasant and saw very little of them for the rest of the week as they quickly became involved in Charleston society.