Monday, October 1, 2007

Some Battles Are Best Left Unfought

This past weekend our navy unit participated in Tarboro History Days. We've been doing this event for three years and it's an enjoyable program. The folks who organize it are the most hospitable we've come across and we are always welcomed and made to feel at home. It doesn't hurt that they always make sure we get an honorarium of some sort to help keep the unit coffers full. All in all, it is a fun time.

This year's event was the biggest on record, and while I hesitate to critique an event too harshly, it seemed that this year there were some things on the schedule that just weren't planned all that well. The most ill-advised thing I've ever seen was the "battle" reenactment they attempted. First, the space in which they planned to have the battle was much too small a space. Even had the living history area not been located there, I would still have not recommended staging any sort of recreated action there. It took place on the town common, which is an absolutely gorgeous setting with beautiful old homes and oak trees lining the streets. Unfortunately, the town common was never meant to be a battle ground. There were no real barriers (I don't count orange traffic cones as barriers) to keep spectators from getting too close to the action. At one point, my colleague Chris had to yell at some kid to get back lest he be trampled by the cavalry. There were three artillery pieces (way too many for such a small space) and the spectators might as well have been targets, as close as they were. A small child near us was crying because he was scared to death and his idiot mother wouldn't take him away to try and calm him. A dog near us was so frightened it broke it's leash and hauled ass the opposite direction (I blame the stupid owners for bringing a dog to a reenactment to start with). Finally, an acquaintance of mine was so agitated that he was stomping around talking about what "bullshit" the reenactment was and how it was trivializing the war, blah, blah, blah. BTW, his wife was one of the event organizers so go figure. All in all, it was about the most uncomfortable I've been in my nine years of doing this.

Then, the battle itself was a joke. It involved about half a dozen Union cavalry who would ride forward, fire a few shots, then retreat. The Confederate artillery would unleash a volley that shook every window on the block, then the Union would saunter forth again and so on and so forth. After about 20 minutes of this ridiculous back and forth, the Union bugler blew taps and they called it a day. Hokie to say the least, and rather pointless at that.

At least the living history aspect of the program was well done (except for the following). We were set up as Confederate Navy, next to an 18th century fishing boat. I guess they figured Confederate Navy, 1700s fisherman, not a big difference. Then, across the green from us were stationed the Buffalo soldiers of the 1870s. They had a terrific set up, but again, nothing to do with the Civil War (and everything in the area aside from them and the aforementioned boat was Civil War). There was also living history going on at two other locations, and it seemed that one of them may have been more suitable for these displays. We were told later, by one of the event organizers, that the Buffalo soldiers had been stationed on the town common to appease the City Council and assure them that having a Civil War encampment there wouldn't anger the black community and cause racial tension. Wow.

They seemed to suffer from "too many chiefs and not enough Indians" syndrome. Over the course of the day I met no fewer than five event "organizers." I realize it takes a large committee to pull something like this off, but I'm not sure the left hand knew what the right hand was doing. They were trying to cram way too much stuff into one event, rather than focusing on one thing or another.

Aside from all this, we had a great time. We saw about 1,500 people over the course of the day and did some good living history. We will continue to attend this event and hope that the organizers learn from their mistakes. This event could be a first class affair, if the organizers don't try to overdo it, which is really what they did this year. Once they sort through all of the angry, negative feedback from the very few disgruntled people I encountered they may get some useful and constructive criticism. I hope that from now on they find a more suitable location, or leave the battle unfought.


Chris Graham said...

"Finally, an acquaintance of mine was so agitated that he was stomping around talking about what "bullshit" the reenactment was and how it was trivializing the war, blah, blah, blah."

I'd like to state for the record that this person was not me... for a change.

chris graham


Andrew Duppstadt said...

No Chris, it was not you. It was actually a local from Tarboro that I just happen to know. He's a great student of the Civil War and frequent battlefield and museum tourist, but he is obviously anti-reenactment (at least in this particular case).

Chris Grimes said...

I have blog envy! LOL! You are right, we are saying pretty much the same thing. I spoke with one of the event committee members yesterday and gave some carefully worded advice for next year. My, safety, safety. Also, their torchlight tour exploded to 400 visitors. I also invited her to my neck of the woods to see how we handle such crowds. She had as many as 50 people in a tour group. That just won't work!