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CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTORS History buffs set up camp at the fair



Published: Sat, July 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Being authentic in the heat that baked the fair required dedication.

By MONICA BOND

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

BAZETTA -- The 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry set up camp at the Trumbull County Fair. The uniforms, rows of tents, and equipment resembled those of the Union Army during the Civil War.

Don Van Meter of North Jackson and Bob Smith of Niles are Civil War re-enactors with the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, part of the Austintown Historical Society. The club is open to men and women.

"Anything that they did back in the Civil War, we teach them to do now," Van Meter said. "We teach the ladies how to dress, walk, talk and cook."

The club re-enacts the Civil War in several ways. Living histories involve setting up camps, like the one at Trumbull County Fair, and no fighting. Battles are either local, within one or two-hundred miles, or national, sometimes as far as Georgia or Tennessee.

"When we go to a national battlefield, it will probably be an anniversary," Van Meter said.

Van Meter said when they go to Gettysburg, they see people from Australia, Scotland, and England, "because people are so fascinated by the Civil War."

Official uniforms

The dark blue uniforms are made from wool, and are very hot in the summer heat. Each soldier was issued two white wool shirts by the government; he was usually sent shirts from home, made from flowered material.

Gentlemen were always expected to wear at least a vest, if not a vest and a jacket, Smith said.

"If you went somewhere in your shirtsleeves, you were in your underwear," he said.

The soldiers' shoes were straight shanks: left and right shoes were first used during the Civil War; the soles were held on with wooden pegs. Van Meter said the uniforms have never been discontinued.

"These are official United States uniforms, and the government would not dispute it," he said.

Camps consisted of rows of "company streets," 15 feet wide, with tents on either side. Each company of 75 to 100 men had a street, which was like their living room: no trash or spitting allowed. There were typically 10 companies in a battalion, Van Meter said.

Tent talk

Depending on the permanency of the camp, soldiers would use either dog tents or wedge tents, also known as A tents.

The smaller dog tents were used by a marching army, and consisted of two pieces of canvas stretched over a simple frame. Each soldier carried half a tent, called a shelter half.

"Sometimes, if they were just stopping for the night, the soldiers would just roll up in their half of the canvas," Van Meter said.

The wedge or A tents were used in more permanent positions, such as winter quarters or when defending Washington, D.C., Van Meter explained.

The soldier's guns were stacked in the center of the street, for easy accessibility in case they were attacked, and to mark where the soldiers fell in, Van Meter said.

A fireplace was dug at each end of the street, and one in the middle. The men prepared their own meals, but officers would hire cooks to prepare their meals in a mess tent.

A soldier's rations consisted of hard tack and "salt horse," which was actually salt beef or pork. Hard tack was a flat biscuit, about the size of a man's palm, made from flour and water. Each soldier received nine to a dozen hard tack squares and three-quarters a pound of salt horse a day.

"Hard tack and coffee were the main staples of a soldier's diet," Smith said.

Modern warfare

Van Meter explained the Civil War was a transition from primitive to modern warfare, particularly with the firearms.

Before the Civil War, flintlocks and bayonets were used. The flintlocks were not very accurate, couldn't be trusted over ranges longer than 75 or 100 yards, and took a long time to reload. The main weapon of warfare was the bayonet.

During the Civil War, percussion weapons were used. They were accurate and fatal from about 300 to 1,000 yards, and soldiers could reload and fire three times a minute.

"Only eight-tenths of 1 percent killed in the Civil War were killed with the bayonet. The Civil War made the bayonet obsolete," Van Meter said.

Van Meter noted that more men died in the Civil War than in all the other wars the United States fought. For example, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army made a frontal attack on General Robert E. Lee of the Confederates at Cold Harbor in late spring 1964. In eight minutes, 8,500 men were killed.

"You could walk all across the field on dead bodies," Smith said.

The 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry will take part in the Argus Park Civil War Re-enactment, July 30-31, at Argus Park in Canfield. For more information, contact the Austintown Historical Society, Argus Lodge #545 F & amp;AM of Ohio, or visit www.apcivilwar.com.




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