21 October 2015

The Band of Brothers.

My English students in Germany will tell you that the phrase, "Band of Brothers" is to be found for the first time in Shakepeare's Henry V speech at the battle of Agincourt.


 I was surprised at how many were involved in the 151st reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creak. There were between 3000 and 4000 camped on the actual battle field, and all in tents of the period.
Some units even had camp followers as you can see.

What was particularly enjoyable was the cameradery around the camp fire, after drill and fighting for the day was over.
All cooking was done over an open fire just like in 1864. I was particularly pleased to be able to pour  myself a coffee from a well worn and blackened coffee pot which sat on the fire into a tin mug just like I had seen Cowboys do in the many westerns I had watched as a boy.
The coffee on a cold morning tasted good too.

Like any good soldier I was forced to sew on buttons which had come adrift and I used my British Army issued "housewife" and the grey wool that came with it.
I was worried about the drill, but it soon transpired that the ANV did not worry too much about bullshit, or the stamping of feet, but got there somehow! Keeping step over the stubbly field was impossible in any case, but when it came to rifle drill we were second to none. I learnt how to fix bayonets, stack arms, shoulder arms, right shoulder shift, support arms, order arms, load, prime and fire my rifle. 


                                            Steve our gallant commander


                                    On parade with the 10th Bn ANV


       These two men made it possible for me to join, Dan and his brother-in-law Mike, who was also our cook and made sure we ate well.

The Saturday morning was taken up with company and battalion drill and then in the afternoon we reenacted the Battle of Second Kernstown. This involved a bit of a march over the rough ground to the other side of the battlefield. I have to say that my small hand had difficulty carrying the Lee Enflied rifle, which had been made in Italy. The real rifle of the period is actually much much lighter.  Our gallant company were quite good at firing in volleys, though as it was my first time at loading a muzzleloader I was not always reloaded in time. I got better as the weekend progressed.






In this battle we had the damned Yankees backed up to a creek, so they could not run and we fired volley after volley until they were all dead! Then we were ordered to follow through and cross the creek.  When I attempted to jump the creek I landed in mud up to my calves and lost my boot in the mud! When I went back to find it the other came out in it as well. Tom, the tallest in our company came back to help me and luckily found my first boot in the mud.


Since the boots were full of mud and water I did not put them back on, but walked over the stubble in stocking feet to our camp, as the battle was now over for the day.

Tom the boot finder and Tom the bearded Texan.
Since we had missed breakfast we had brunch and so our evening meal was hamburgers and some awesome beans made by Mark, our most talkative soldier.

It got quite cold in the night and went down to minus degrees centigrade. We now all sat round the camp fire and talked much of the night away huddled up in greatcoats or blankets. Bottles of Rye and Burbon were passed round and even a bottle of "Allen's Butterscotch Schnaps. This activity round the camp fire in the dark and cold cemented the cameradery. In the morning frost was on the ground and on those that had slept out in it.



On Sunday morning Dan and I had a wander over to the Suttler's tents and then we went and saw a living history museum in a house called Bell Grove. Here they had some of the original weapons of the time and where I discovered that the modern musket is so much heavier than the 1860's one.


Since it was a Sunday there were Church services held by real fire and brimstone preachers.


As always in an Army there was a great deal of hurry up and wait before the battle on Sunday.



                                    10th Bn ANV "O" Group before the battle.

A very mean looking Rebel, so I am glad Tom was on my side.

The Yankees won this battle and after it we all stood, removed headdress and honoured the dead.

For us this was then the end of the war.  We marched back to our camp and then came a sad farewell of this Band of Brothers. I will admit to feeling very sentimental when Steve came to shake hands and thank each of us for our participation.

We packed up and then left to go to an hotel in nearby Winchester, where at last we were able to shower and get the mud and black powder of battle, off of us.

The next day on the way back to Canada we visited Harper's Ferry.
Here we saw John Brown's Fort.


Then we went to the battlefield of Antietam where the most losses in one day of the War, 23,000, were suffered!


                                           In this cornfield 8000 men died.

The bloody lane at Antietam.

Reenacting is as close as I could come to experiencing what it was like to be a soldier in the 1860's. A bunch of guys from very different parts of Canada and the USA came together and formed without much ado a cohesive unit, much like I imagine the real thing would have been. We were proud of our unit and worked hard to maintain its reputation. Thus we were a Band of Brothers And I am privileged to have been one of them.