Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Crazy Mad Rush is Over......And Also, What Am I?

The crazy mad rush that started in mid-February has finally come to a close and I have a little bit of time to catch my breath.

I just finished reviewing Philip Gerard's The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina for H-CivWar and the review will hopefully be posted sometime this week. Follow H-CivWar on Twitter and you'll see it when it drops. Without spoiling the review, I'll say that you'll view this book depending upon how you approach it. I'll share the review on my social media (Twitter and Facebook) when it is published and you can read it for yourself.

This past weekend I participated in the annual "Fight for the Backcountry" program at Alamance Battleground State Historic Site near Burlington, NC. This is always a great event and there are always lots of folks I enjoy spending time with. They have an active Friends organization that, together with the site staff, is working to make this site even better. It's just an all-around good time when we do programs there.

Someone asked me a question at the Alamance event that, while I answered quickly, gave me pause to consider all weekend and even into this week. The question was "Are you a reenactor? Do you consider yourself to be a reenactor?" On the surface, it seems like an easy Yes/No question to answer, and in some ways it is, but in other ways it is much more complicated. My quick answer was "No, I do not consider myself a reenactor," and that is true, but again there's nuance to this that most folks who don't do this kind of thing wouldn't understand. They would think that anyone who goes to historic places, dresses in historic clothing, and does historic stuff is a reenactor. But there are so many levels to this for those of us who are either a) engaged in the hobby, b) work in the history field, or c) both, that it isn't always so cut-and-dried. Let me clarify further.....

If I did not work in this field, it is doubtful that I would be engaged in these types of activities. While I was a Junior Historian with our local historical society in Pennsylvania when I was a kid (we dressed in pseudo-historic clothing and gave house tours and did historic crafts) it wasn't until my first ever NC Historic Sites job as a seasonal interpreter at Fort Fisher that I ever even thought about participating in "reenacting." I became a first-person interpreter a few years later at Tryon Palace and that's when I started to get more serious about it because I was doing it every day. Finally, when I got my first full-time sites job at the CSS Neuse, I started "reenacting" more seriously. I put the word "reenacting" in quotation marks and I'll explain why next.

To me (and others) there is a big difference between "reenacting" and living history/costumed interpretation, but that's a whole other blog post. The bottom line is, I do what I do to help educate the public and hopefully teach them something about whatever part of the past I'm working in at the given moment. I do not do what I do to get some kind of "period rush" or for my own personal experience of what it was like "back then" or any kind of personal gratification. I feel safe in saying that most of the fine fellows in my group feel the same way. Over the past 20 years I've done a lot of things in this hobby. I've camped out in the coldest, hottest, and wettest conditions imaginable. I've visited some spectacular places and taken part in some really great programs. I've been emotionally moved on a few occasions. I've always tried to do things as correctly and properly as possible, but have never obsessed over every minute detail as some folks do (though I appreciate those who do and applaud them for their dedication). But in the end, I still say I am not a reenactor. I am an educator, I am an interpreter, I am a costumed interpreter, I am a demonstrator. I am many things, but in the end it all goes back to the public and what I am teaching or imparting to them.

If I left the world of historic sites/museums tomorrow would I still engage in this hobby? Probably, but selectively. I have many friends in the hobby, some of whom I consider as family. They are like brothers, sisters, cousins to me and I would still want to spend time with them. However, unlike 10-15 years ago when "reenacting" was the only hobby I really had, I now have other hobbies that interest me equally, if not more. As with anything else in life, you keep doing it until it isn't fun or rewarding anymore, then you have to decide whether or not to give it up. I'm nowhere near ready to give it up, but I also know that I am not a "reenactor" by some accounts, and I'm good with that.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Catching My Breath

The month of April was a complete blur. In the first two weeks of the month I was on the road 9 out of 10 days, driving over 1,600 miles in that time. It all started with the Two Weeks of Fury bus tour sponsored by Bentonville Battlefield, a three-day tour that explored the 1865 Carolina Campaign. I played chauffeur for Eric Wittenberg and drove the chase vehicle behind the bus all weekend. Much fun was had with some good history buddies, particularly Chris Meekins, Wade Sokolosky, Colby Stevens, Derrick Brown, Amanda Brantley, and Chad Jefferds. The highlight for me was touring the Monroe's Crossroads battlefield, which is aboard Fort Bragg and not generally accessible to the public.


Next up was North Carolina's Independence Day, better known as Halifax Day, April 12. After doing musket demonstrations for school groups on Friday, we settled in for living history and a small skirmish reenactment on Saturday. The program was titled The Road to Yorktown and highlighted the forces of Cornwallis and Tarleton as they moved through North Carolina toward Virginia, coming through Halifax along the way. Good times were had once again and even the bad weather didn't dampen our spirits.


I managed to work in a couple of concerts at the end of the month with my good buddy Jim McKee, which was a much needed respite from the craziness of this month. After seeing Umphrey's McGee and Widespread Panic at the Trondossa Music and Arts Festival in Charleston, SC we made stops on our return trip in McClellanville and Georgetown to check out the SC Maritime Museum, the Gullah Museum, and some old churches. Then it was back to Wilmington to see Gov't Mule. Both shows were great and the side trip for history stuff was fun as well.


As I move into May, I am working on a book review for H-CivWar on Philip Gerard's The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina.


I will also be involved with a number of programs, including the annual meeting and symposium of the NC Military Historical Society, of which I am Treasurer, and the annual Fight for the Backcountry event at Alamance Battleground. As usual, there will be some concerts and disc golf events scattered in as well. It might not be as busy as April, but it will be plenty busy enough.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Things Are Picking Up

This time of year always seems to be very busy and it is no different this year. March-May are, as usual, going to be very hectic and it starts this weekend.

Bentonville Battlefield - "A Fighting Chance for Life"
I will be participating in this program Saturday and Sunday. During the day, our group will be portraying Federal artillery and crewing the site's 3-inch ordnance rifle. But the real meat of this program is the Saturday evening portion which will recreate field hospital scenes in and around the Harper House. This program has been revamped from previous iterations and will be much more serious, thought-provoking, and graphic this time. It will not be for the faint of heart and guests are being warned ahead of time about the physical and psychological nature of what is being portrayed. The site staff has put some really solid research behind this and I'm looking forward to how it comes off. My group will be portraying surgeons and hospital stewards for this portion of the program.

The first weekend of April sees me yet again at Bentonville to participate in their three-day tour of the Carolina's Campaign, titled "Two Weeks of Fury." Guest speakers/tour leaders include Craig Symonds, John Marszalek, Eric Wittenberg, and Wade Sokolosky. I'll be serving as chauffeur for at least some of them for the weekend. Should be fun.

Writing - I just finished and sent to the editor the article I co-authored on the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern. I'm very happy with the way it turned out and can't wait to see it in print sometime late this year (hopefully). It will be my third feature length article for Civil War Navy Magazine. I am considering expanding upon this article to write about the US Navy's role in the Burnside Expedition, possibly for submission to Military Collector & Historian, but I'll have to see what time allows.

Reading - If you look at the What I'm Currently Reading sidebar on the blog you'll see that I've inserted Hampton Newsome's just released book at the top of the list. If the first chapter is any indication, this is going to be a great book and should be the standard on the topic for a long time to come.

Otherwise, I will be giving a few presentations to various groups, participating in two 18th century living history programs at Historic Halifax and Alamance Battleground, and working on another book review.

Of course, there are four disc golf tournaments and numerous concerts sprinkled in among all of this as well. It's enough to keep me hopping, for sure.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Projects Keeping Me Busy

Normally the month of January is pretty easy going for me, but not this year. Among the regular work responsibilities, I have been working on two articles, a book review, and organizing a two-day PDGA B-Tier disc golf tournament. That's enough to keep anyone hopping.

I just finished up a review of Myron J. Smith's latest book, Ironclad Captains of the Civil War. Smith is a well-known historian of the Civil War's western theater, specifically the brown water navies. This book is well-researched and is a valuable encyclopedia for anyone interested in the Civil War navies. My only real problem is with the publisher, not the author. The price of this book will make it cost-prohibitive for a lot of folks to buy. The paperback volume lists at $75 and the Kindle edition is over $30. Had I not received it free for writing the review, I wouldn't buy it. My review will appear in an upcoming issue of The Nautical Research Journal. Over the years I've written a dozen reviews for this publication, most of them online rather than in print.

I have also been working on two articles for Civil War Navy magazine. My first article for them was a history of the Confederate ironclad CSS Neuse. Since then, I have produced a sidebar piece to accompany another article about the Confederate capture and destruction of USS Underwriter and am in various stages of completing the current two articles. The first, which is finished and I've received the page proofs of is a biographical piece about Lt. Francis L. Hoge, a Confederate naval officer who ended his career as executive officer of the CSS Neuse. I am really excited to see this article published because Hoge has been a particular interest of mine for a number of years. The second article is being coauthored with an acquaintance from New Bern. He did most of the research and wrote a rough draft, which I have edited extensively, added some information, and gotten formatted for publication. The topic of the article is the US Navy's role in the Battle of New Bern in March 1862. I believe it too will be a good article. The sum total of all these projects amounts to the most writing I've done since graduate school and it's been really refreshing to write something other than book reviews or exhibit text.

Once all of this is finished I'll have another book showing up for review on H-Net. I'll save that for a future post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Recent Reading (Finishing Up a Few Things from 2018)

Keeping myself on any kind of a regular reading schedule is difficult due to the chaotic nature of my calendar. There never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to, but I finally knocked out a few things toward the end of 2018.

Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil War, 1830-1910
I started this book it seems like six months ago. It is a dense book, coming in at over 600 pages. I'll admit that I did not actually finish the book. I got about two-thirds of the way through it and just could not complete the journey. The author views the eight decades in question through the lens of imperial expansion and capitalist development. Populations negatively effected by such activities are spotlighted including the enslaved, American Indians, Mexicans, and others. While the book is very well-written and thoroughly enjoyable, by the time I got to the 1870s I was simply bogged down and ready to be done with it. I will betray my own bias here, as my interest in US history past Reconstruction is pretty feeble. Most of what I read tends to be focused on the period from 1740-1875.

Joan Cashin, War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War
This book was sent to me by the publisher back around October while I was in the midst of trying to get through the Hahn book. I started very slowly on this book, but was able to knock most of it out over my Christmas break, as it is only 171 pages. The book highlights the struggle between the armies and civilian populations for resources, particularly food, timber, shelter, etc. After setting the stage with the Introduction and a chapter on the Old South, the author launches into a series of what become very predictable chapters, each focused on a different resource. The story is the same: both armies pretty well ignored regulations and acquired what they needed by any means necessary. These four chapters (People, Sustenance, Timber, Habitat) cover the years 1861-63. The arc is the same for each. Early in the war there was some feeling of communalism, the armies tried not to impact civilians any more than necessary, but over time each got worse. The next chapter covers 1864 and basically everything got much worse. The final chapter on 1865 and the aftermath of the war basically details how the war devastated the southern landscape, scarred the southern populace in numerous ways, and led to an internalized hatred of northerners. Once you get into the pattern of these chapters the book ends up being a very quick read. The research is deep, and the examples given are numerous and varied. This is what made the book interesting to me. Even though the chapters were predictable, the first hand accounts and examples given were all very interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the day-to-day logistics of the war, as it really does focus on resources, their acquisition, and use.

Keep an eye on my "What I'm Reading" sidebar to see what's next up on my reading list!

Friday, November 30, 2018

November, I Hardly Knew You

The months of October and November were extremely busy, but definitely in a good kind of way. I've been afforded opportunities to visit places I'd never been and meet new people. The past six weeks seems like a whirlwind and now we turn the calendar from November to December and prepare for all the end of year/holiday/new year activities that are on the horizon. So what's been happening? A whole lot.

The last weekend in October found me in Pennsylvania for my youngest cousin's wedding. Though the weather was pretty awful the whole time I was there, it was an absolutely delightful wedding and reception. The opportunities to hang out with my cousins seem to be fewer and farther between, so it was nice to spend some time enjoying their company.


While in PA, my brother and I also had the chance to check off a bucket list item for our mom (and us too, if we're being honest). We got to see the Steelers play the Browns at Heinz Field. It was fun being a part of the "Yinzer Mob" (seen on a banner in the stadium) for one game.


The first week in November brought the opportunity to see new places and meet new people when I attended the Civil War Trails, Inc. Board meeting in Frederick, MD. On the trip up I took a side jaunt to Harper's Ferry and Charles Town, WV. A return trip when I have more time to spend is definitely warranted. Along with meeting new folks, I also got to reconnect with some that I had not seen in a number of years. It was just a good time all around, with great people.


Of course, the usual work activities are always made more enjoyable thanks to the awesome folks I get to work with.


And finally, my favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving, which is a great way to wrap up such a busy few weeks. My wife's family holds their reunion on Thanksgiving so it ends up being an entire day of eating and visiting. What more could you ask for? Here, my wife supervisors her cousin making his awesome shrimp stew.


So now the Christmas decorations are up, I'm finally giving in and listening to Christmas music in my office on this last day in November, and looking forward to two disc golf tournaments between now and the holidays. Here's to a great final month of 2018!

Monday, October 22, 2018

North Carolina's Military History and Honoring Our Veterans

Last week, our Department participated in Military Appreciation Day at the North Carolina State Fair. We have been participating in this program for four years, and this year was the first in which I served as the primary organizer. Aside from discounts for active military and veterans, the State Fair puts on a variety of programs aimed at those constituencies. Various military bands play throughout the day and a number of veterans organizations set up information tables. For our role, we gather as many costumed interpreters from as many different periods of our state's history and participate in a morning parade that winds through a good portion of the fairgrounds, as well as conducting a narrated uniform review on stage in the afternoon. Though we had some folks drop out at the last minute, we still had a good number of folks attend, and had one of the largest crowds I remember for the uniform review. In exchange for their time, participants receive a meal voucher that can be redeemed at select fair vendors and some down time to wander around and enjoy the fair. I thought I would share this year's participants:
1585 Ralph Lane Expedition
Colonial Wars (L-R, 1771 Regulator Rebellion, French & Indian War, and War of Jenkins' Ear)
American Revolution (a sailor and three soldiers of the 1st NC Continental Line)
War of 1812 (L-R, a sailor, NC militia, and two members of the 10th US Regulars)
1830s NC Militia, off to fight in the war for Texian Independence
Civil War nurse
One of Sherman's "bummers" and a NC infantryman
Union cavalry, 36th NC (artillery), and Union artillery
35th US Colored Troops (raised in eastern NC)
Confederate Marine, US Marine, Confederate sailor, and Union sailor
Spanish-American War (1898)
Great War (L-R, Salvation Army, US Marine, 30th Division Sanitary Corps, 105th Signal Battalion)
Great War Military Police
World War II (L-R, Coast Guard Beach Patrol, US Marine, US Army, Paratrooper)
Korean War medic

And, when at the State Fair, one gets to do cool stuff like ride in a 1941 troop carrier with colleagues of all different time periods. Take a look!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Recently Acquired Reading

To steal a theme from Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory blog, here are a few recently acquired titles in my library.

I received a copy of Joan Cashin's latest, War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War from the publisher. I hope to start at least perusing it after I finish Steven Hahn's A Nation Without Borders: The United States and It's World in an Age of Civil Wars, 1830-1910, which I've been working my way through for a few weeks.


I also recently picked up a copy of a book that I'm way past due to read, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South by my UNC-Pembroke colleague Jaime Martinez.


Finally, I purchased a copy of This Day in North Carolina History compiled by Ansley Herring Wegner and Jeff Miles, and published by the NC Office of Archives and History. This coffee table volume began as a daily blog of the NC Department of Cultural Resources that ran for three years. Many folks within the Department, myself included, contributed to that blog regularly, and thereby contributed to this published volume that resulted from it. Certainly not a cover-to-cover reader, but an interesting book to have in the collection.