We hadn’t brought chairs–didn’t think of it, honestly. So, we ended up sitting on the ground. Still, we had front-row seats and, lucky for us, sat next to a woman from St. Louis, whose husband was one of the reenactors. Doubly lucky, we sat right behind the big artillery her husband and his group of reenactors were operating. So, we had someone who could answer all of our questions, and a group of men we could feel a little personally vested in.
Though we were physically facing north, looking towards Spring Hill, in the pretend world of the reenactment, we were facing South with the Union troops looking out of Franklin and awaiting the Confederates. For those of you who have been to Franklin before, I think we were sitting somewhat behind and east of where the Pizza Hut is now.
Because we were sitting with the woman from Missouri, many of her men came over to talk to her. One of them, the captain, I think, was so dashing that the Professor and I developed instantanious crushes on him, though I’d venture to guess that the Professor’s first thought was “I wonder if I can convince him to shave” and my first thought was, “I wonder if he gets to sleep in one of those awesome white tents every weekend.” To each their own, of course.
Behind us were some girls from Cincinatti, who were skipping their homecoming dance to get all dressed up in hoop skirts and spend the weekend in a field. They were nice enough to keep brushing the crickets and spiders off of us; the field was full of them. We all talked about what the different men on the field were and how it ought to be a lot harder to tell which soldiers were women and we learned that reenacting can be very dangerous, as the St. Louis woman’s husband had, on various occassions, shot himself in the leg, ran a sword through his cheek, and busted some ribs when he “died” and fell on a tin cup.
As they were moving equipment around and repositioning troops, I was briefly sad that my uncle was dead and not here to do this kind of stuff with me. When he was alive, I loved it when he came to visit because we’d always go to museums and he, like me, always wanted to linger and read every sign and touch everything and just absorb it. He was a history buff and I know he’d have loved what happened next.
At first, the start of the battle was only obvious because the fife and drums started playing. Then, we’d occassionally hear the infamous “Rebel yell” but because they were on the other side of a hill, we didn’t see them for a long time. The artillery fired repeatedly, but still, I’d say for a good twenty minutes, we were just seeing a lot of smoke from the artillery, hearing a lot of fifing, and seeing a lot of folks milling about.
But then, we saw some flags peak over from the top of the hil. And suddenly there was a long line of gray rising up over the hill. Towards us, were a lot of Confederate calvary, and to our right, in the heart of the battle, we watched the Confederates charge the main Union line, watched us fall back and regroup and charge back and this went on and on, them coming over the hill and us falling back. We regrouping and falling back and then pushing them back across the ridge. Wave after wave, though each was progressively smaller as men “died” and were “taken captive.”
Meanwhile, by us, the two calvaries were clashing and shooting at each other and, once they ran out of “bullets,” they took out their swords and began to fight that way. Our guys from Missouri kept firing and about this time, we had our first “casualty,” a big guy right in front of us. After he lay dead about ten minutes, the oldest guy in the group came over and tickled him to make sure he wasn’t just gravely wounded. I don’t know about the historical veracity of the tickle test, but it seemed to provoke some last, fading signs of life from our first dead guy.
The whole thing went on for over an hour before the Confederate Calvary got bored with history and came charging over through a hole in the artillery. Imagine, if you can, fifty men on horseback at full gallop not three feet from you. They came through the hole, turned along the rope that separated spectator from participant, and waved and hollered as many of the specators cheered. Then, since they had departed from history, they just milled about behind our lines before a couple of Union reenactors noticed them and turned around and shot at them, thus giving them an excuse to come storming back by, to even louder cheers, and rejoining the historical record back in front of our guns.
It was shortly after this that the gun the St. Louis woman’s husband was helping to operate was hit and, after a few short, valient minutes, everyone around that gun, including the dashing, handsome captain, seemed dead. However, there was a miracle when the St. Louis woman’s husband realized he’d not made the gun safe before he “died,” and he was able to muster the strength to not die, but only develop a terrible leg injury, thus being able to raise himself up and do something to the gun so that there was no danger of an open flame encountering any gunpowder, before he fell back to the earth.
Then, after a while, the dead rose up and made their way off the field, and the battle was over.
I have to tell you, I thought it’d be unbearably corney and that I’d sit there every minute wondering why in hell folks spent good time and money doing this. But it was really, really cool. Maybe it mattered that I sat with other folks who were on the Union’s side. I might have been bothered if we’d had to sit with the folks who were second-guessing every Confederate move in order to figure out where they went wrong. Maybe it’s easier to enjoy this stuff guilt-free when you know you’re on the side of the winners? Still, I’d guess that 85-90% of the people who were there were cheering for the Confederates.
I don’t know what, psychologically, they get out of it.
But I thought it was really awesome and it’s something I’d highly recommend on a cool, October afternoon.
p.s. For you horse fans, they didn’t seem at all bothered by the noise and the guns and, in fact, seemed to be having a lot of fun running around. I didn’t see any of the calvary men die, but the St. Louis woman explained that, when they do die, they’re very careful to keep hold of the reigns so that the horses aren’t just running around loose. She said it occassionally still happens, but not very frequently.
I, myself, am more of a mule fan, and, happily, we saw some beautiful mules and I now have the Professor convinced that we must go down to Mule Days in the spring. The mules also seemed to be enjoying themselves.