It's a comfort to walk into a war camp and see familiar faces. Although everyone was friendly and eager to share their knowledge of the Civl War era of history, greetings from Janna and Jirka Novotny of Sisters made a stranger from another era walking the path between fires, tents and guns more at ease.
The Novotny's son, David, as a Boy Scout, helped with parking at the Civil War Reenactment at the House on Metolius in Camp Sherman in 2014, but wanted in on the action in 2015. They all watched the morning battle, then a unit recruited David into the afternoon battle. The family decided to join the Confederate Zouaves unit from Louisiana for the more "casual" participation attitude: not so many rules and so it's a lot of fun. Although in their uniforms: bright red shirts, blue and white striped ballooning pants and short blue jackets, well, as Jirka implied, they make for good targets. As a family, they participated in two events last fall and this the one for this year. Janna, with her fiddle and compatriot elder John Feller (of Longview, WA) with his guitar, even crossed the line to play music with a Yankee of clawhammer banjo and a rich baritone — irresistible.
Bo Vigoten, a young man also of Longview, came to this event with Feller. This is Vigoten's first reenactment and he was finding his first attempts to produce a tune from a bugle amusing.
Joseph Bernhard, who currently resides in Portland, Oregon is part of the 4th Virginia unit of the Confederate battalion, was enthusiastically leading Vigoten through bugle basics. Bernhard explained that the bugle is "the voice of command." Obviously louder than the shouts from a human, the commander will relay his orders to the bugler, who then plays the melody that matches that order to the unit. The units routinely review the pairing of maneuvers and bugle melodies, of course. Interestingly, Bernhard said that the bugle orders were very similar amongst all units of both the Union and the Confederacy. However, bugle orders are different between the Civil War era orders he's learning now from recordings on his ipod — the cords snaking from a vest pocket up to his ears and clashing with his worn grey wool uniform — from the orders he learned in his bugling while serving in the Mexican Army (a real-life job from his past).
The camps were comprised of dozens of basic white canvas tents. Cots, wool blankets, wood fires, cast iron, oil lanterns and other period-appropriate tools are encouraged. All generations shared in this weekend event, and many youngsters played along, too, running with boundless energy, shooting cap guns and mock-dying in the fields. Many children younger than about age five seemed, to 21st-century eyes, to be girls. But in the 17th century, all youngsters were dressed in skirts until thoroughly potty-trained. How convenient.
Laura, from Hillsboro, entertained her son Rowan with a sewing hornbook — a board, about the size of a ping-pong paddle, of wood with holes below each drawn letter of the alphabet. Together, they made a game of pushing a large blunt peg-needle through the holes to wind the attached yarn through. It was a common game to teach children both their letters and to stitch.
Lisa Bloodgood, an experienced reenactor, showed Trisha Rose, a first-timer, her slat bonnet, promising to email her the pattern later in the week. Handmade and manufactured clothing and accessories were available in the tent store for anyone to purchase. Today's money and today's prices.
A blacksmith, a tinsmith and other tradesmen showed and explained methods from the era with some antique tools and some replicas. A doctor and a dentist had their tools and potions on display. And a leg. There were a multitude of presentations about the armaments, fashion and life at home away from battles. A church service in 17th century style was well-attended and real prayers were offered for the current day's concerns.
Of course, the main attraction was the action and noise of the battles. The commanders meet prior to each battle to decide the reenactment's outcome and some general ploys. However those decisions are not shared with the troops, so the orders and how they may play out are not scripted. Cavalry charges, sword fights, and of course, pistol and musket firing ensue for each battle. Women may dress as men and fight, too. No men were seen dressed as women. Real bullets are, duh, not used. The cannons are ball-less, but they still thunder mightily.
Living a piece of history, learning about traditions. As Joseph Bernhard said, "Tradition is so important. If we forget where we came from…"
© Lynn Woodward