Sunday, November 4, 2012

Surrender of Secession, Day One

It's Westville, Day Two for me, but for the reenactors it's opening day.

Today's the day the Army moves in to establish martial law. These guys really did this thing up right. From the moment the park gates opened, every reenactor was in role and there was something going on every minute of the day. If you are used to those "reenactments" where guys stand around tables with their gear to show you, then you really have to experience the SouthEast Coalition performances--because that's exactly what they are. Being at Westville this day was like walking around on stage in the middle of the play. If you happened along in the middle of something, they would deliver their lines to you: I dropped something, and a Yankee soldier, picking it up for me, said, "See, ma'am, we're not all bad."

After the orders were read to the townspeople, the soldiers went over to the tavern to wet their whistles, and a mini-riot broke out. In reprisal, one of the soldiers took a hatchet to a barrel of whiskey. Over the cries of the town drunk ("Not the whiskey!") I heard a citizen heckling, "Ain't you took enough from us already?"

Southern resentments were plain. Later in the morning, the muleskinners gave the newly-arrived carpetbaggers a ride over to the boarding house. I happened by and overheard one of the men on the wagon muttering, "Look at him goin' in the front door!" And as the townspeople gathered at the courthouse in the afternoon to take the oath, one old rebel lay out front on the lawn under a shade tree and heckled them for knuckling under.

Yet another resident of the town cautioned me against being out alone, as, he said, "There are Yankees about. And it is widely rumored that they consort with the devil and eat small children." Neither of which I saw as presenting much risk to a 60-year-old writer, but hey.
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Saturday, November 3, 2012

John and Sassy

As promised, I bring you John and Sassy.

I learned that when you are ready to go, you say, "John and Sassy, step gee!" (or "haw," I suppose, if that is the direction in which you wish to travel), and you pop the reins so they get a gentle slap on the butt with them.

These are the springs, the oval metal things you see under each end of the bench:

And that's it. It would have to be a pretty rough ride!

I watched the lady in the top photo attempt a dismount later in the day, and it was not pretty. Her skirts seemed to want to tangle around everything in and around the wagon and her legs as well. You have to wonder how many women fell and got hurt or even killed because of all those skirts and petticoats.

This is the brake. You don't use it like a car brake, exactly. For example, if you want to stop the wagon, instead of breaking you say, "Whoa, team!" and the mules do the stopping.

Because the wagon is so heavy, you do have to help the mules by braking by a notch or two even on slight, short downhill grades. And of course, as you can see here (forward is off, back is on), you use it as a parking brake.

John and Sassy were busy all weekend. The went to town for supplies, they gave carpetbaggers a ride to the boarding house, they took the family into town to see the Yankees establish martial law, and they moved the body of a soldier that was being reinterred.

During the little graveside ceremony, they waited patiently at a discreet distance, snorting in agreement when the preacher asked God to send the Yankees home safe to their families too, preferably sooner rather than later.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Westville--Day One, Part One

I've been back since Sunday, and I'm still not recovered. That, and two days of severe computer problems after my return, combined by network outages due to the storm, make up my excuse for not posting earlier. Heck, I'd originally planned to post each evening, but I didn't have internet down there.

Be that as it may, I am now going to tell you all about the Surrender of Secession re-enactment, put on by the Southeast Coalition of Authentic Reenactors with some participation by the Authentic Campaigners crowd. Both of these organizations are deadly serious about getting it right, and reenactors actually had to have an invitation to participate in the weekend at Westville. I would not have missed this for the world, for just this reason: It was an unparallelled opportunity to learn.

I originally understood that they were to 'go live' first thing Thursday morning, so I made my plans to be there. As it turns out, only a smattering of reenactors were already onsite. The good news, though, is there weren't many tourists there, either, so I was able to shoot a lot of exteriors without people in modern garb wandering through.

One of the first things I noticed was that various female reenactors' skirts were of widely varying lengths. I wondered if that was a class or age-related thing, and so I asked this lady.

"We're poor," she told me. Their clothes were by this time all old or hand-me-downs.

I had not thought about the practical effects of that, and would not likely have read it or picked it up from looking at old photographs, either. So I thought about what it would mean for an adolescent girl who'd grown a few inches during the war years but could not afford new clothes, and now her skirts are too short. Her ankles show, and maybe even some leg. I suppose that a woman could sew in panels to let out the waist and shoulders, or she could let out pleats and gathers, but once she started sewing bands of fabric around the hem (assuming she had any) to lengthen her skirts, she'd be looking like a walking patchwork quilt.

If you look closely, you can see this woman's bare feet peeking out from under her skirt. And later, I overheard a mother explaining to her child that no, she could not wear her boots to go to town, because "we have to save those for special occasions." So I thought about the embarassment, the shame, even, of going about barefoot, of how it would feel when you saw people spot your dirty, bare feet sticking out. Or when they looked down at your children's feet, black with dirt. Or even of the embarrassment you might feel on someone else's behalf if, say, you had shoes, but the fellow you met on the sidewalk didn't.

In my next post, I'll tell you about John and Sassy, and what I learned about mule-driving.
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