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AAR - Mount Zion Living History, June 8-9, 2007

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  • AAR - Mount Zion Living History, June 8-9, 2007

    “Eyewitness to War”
    Mt. Zion Living History, June 9, 2007

    Many thanks to Donna Nagle and James Owens for hosting this small, high quality living history at Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church near Aldie, Virginia. Participants enjoyed a beautiful location for camping and demonstrations of military life in the 1860s, full amenities, and a nice dinner Saturday night. Spectators got to see infantry and cavalry demonstrations, vignettes of camp life, a small skirmish, and a torchlight tour.

    The church dates to the 1850s and served as a hospital during the war. It has a cemetery with the graves of several veterans of that war, and includes monuments to twelve Union cavalrymen killed in action in a nearby encounter with Mosby’s troopers, and buried somewhere on the property. It also has some 30 unmarked gravesites believed to contain the remains of black church members. Mt. Zion has undergone extensive repairs in recent years, but more work needs to be done, and the annual living history is a way to raise public awareness of the site. See:

    The church and its surrounding 80 acres seem even more precious in light of the rampant development surrounding them in northern Virginia. Until the last couple of decades the property could rightly be considered in the country, but now strip malls and eight-lane highways approach to within a few miles, from Chantilly in the east and Leesburg in the north.

    For the living history, several units participated, with a focus on July, 1863 and the reconnaissance of Vincent’s Brigade through Aldie to Upperville. The Liberty Rifles provided a contingent of Confederate infantry, Tod Kerns and his men a group of butternut cavalry. Gerald Todd, Dave Myrick, and several other members of the 1st Maine Cavalry provided the Union horsemen. Local infantry units for the Federals included the 28th Massachusetts, portraying the 83rd PVI, and the Brady Sharpshooters, who for one rare event got to portray themselves. The expedition to Upperville was perhaps the finest day of the war for Company ‘BSS’ of the 16th Michigan, as they skirmished through several Confederate positions, driving the enemy with “murderously accurate fire” and suffering no losses in return. Besides the 28th and Brady’s we had a few infantry from as far away as Pennsylvania and a medical contingent, consisting of Surgeon Chuck Raugh and Assistant Surgeon Noah Briggs.

    Several participants arrived Friday and bore up under temperatures well into the 90s, but most of us, being local, arrived Saturday morning. Check in was quick and easy, involving a weapons inspection and signing of the usual waiver before proceeding to our camp ground on the other side of Route 50 from the church.

    Our first activity of the day was a ceremony at 10 a.m. in the cemetery. There we fired a volley and listened to several brief speeches and prayers in honor of the soldiers buried there. After this we marched back across 50 (still only two lanes wide here), and had a little down time. The men generally lazed around or interacted with passing spectators; the officers went off to survey the ground for the upcoming skirmish.

    At noon we fell in for the infantry demo, which involved company firing, plus individual demonstrations of the Springfield, Enfield, and ‘42, plus Mark Maranto on the target rifle, as well as what seemed a more than adequate amount of time standing around in the sun. It got quite hot (upper 80s) and I got a good object lesson, in the form of a seriously scorched neck, in why one ought not wear just a knit, collarless shirt under the blouse on a sunny day.

    Not much time passed between the end of the demo and the march out over a creek and through some woods to the field where we would have our skirmish. This involved an artful use of the available property and forces. Brady’s split into a skirmish line and reserve, went forward against the LR, fell back, then went forward again with the 83rd PVI. Confederate horsemen rode to the rescue, then Union cavalrymen rode to the counter-rescue. After about 30-40 minutes the encounter ended with both sides falling back.

    To hold a skirmish with the numbers we had – perhaps 12-15 Confederates and 25 Federals – ran the risk of seeming ridiculous. It was a risk avoided because the force seemed very well scaled to the land used, and we looked, I think, like a portion of a larger engagement rather than forty guys doing Gettysburg. We maintained the proper intervals, did a fairly decent job of keeping good ranges between the opposing lines, and, best of all, portrayed the kind of fighting that actually took place in the neighborhood in 1863. Hits were arranged in advance, and appropriate to the numbers engaged. The spectators seemed to enjoy it, despite the lack of fireworks on a grand scale.

    With the battle ended, we returned to camp, cleaned our weapons, and met some more spectators. At four we had a “pass in review” for board members. At five we had dinner in the shade of a couple of pavilions, which I thought especially notable for having cavalry, infantry, CS, and US all pretty much mixed up together and enjoying each others company along with the pie. At six we had a concert by the Camptown Shakers, with a number of us joining in the singing, at least on the chorus.

    The Shakers gave a right good concert, lasting some two hours, by which time James and Donna had set up the venues for the torchlight tour. We had one largish group of citizens attend, who viewed both the CS and US camps, then ended at the medical display. I’d volunteered to help with this, as did my buddy Bill Wilson. Dr. Chuck Raugh and Noah Briggs set up an impromptu operating table and carefully staged the various medicines and implements of destruction that they’d spent the day alternately intriguing and horrifying spectators with. We helped Bill onto the table and put a cloth over his face. I took a can of chloroform (empty) and the appropriate funnel with gauze filter. Chuck and Noah fitted a fake arm over Bill’s own (on the side away from the spectators, so they couldn’t really tell), which Noah secured with a tourniquet.

    The arm was convincingly disgusting. I’ve seen fake arms before, but Chuck had gone over this one with an attention to detail bordering on, or treading into, the maniacal, somehow treating the surface so that from a few inches away the texture and color were disturbingly convincing. Plus, there was the bone. At first I thought the exposed bone represented a compound fracture, but that would have been too normal. In fact, Chuck had minutely replicated an actual documented wound, in which a rear rank soldier had been struck in the forearm by a bone fragment from the soldier in front of him.

    When the spectators arrived, we began operating by lamplight. First I faked administering the chloroform and Bill coughed, then relapsed into his ever-impeccable impression of a comatose soldier. Chuck probed the wound and removed an actual bone fragment (I forget from which animal and, frankly, don’t need to know), which he displayed just after he invited everyone to step in a little closer. Noah “stitched” the wound while I gave Bill another dose of chloroform, with Chuck all the while explaining what was going on. The entire operation was sufficiently well done that I’m seriously considering limiting my future participation in hospital scenes to the paperwork.

    With the torchlight tour complete, our day’s work was done and most of us locals went home. I enjoyed the venue, the company, and the cause, and hope to return next year. Brady’s, which is a small group at the best of times, had a good turnout, including Josh Mordin as Captain Kin Dygert, Kevin Kelley as our first sergeant, buglers John Teller and Peter Abernathy, and privates Wayne Abernathy, Joseph Abernathy, Mark Maranto, Andy Scanlan, Michael Schaffner, and Bill Wilson, as well as newcomer Paul Schroeder. It was also good to see our comrades in the 28th, including among others Jerry Lynes, Steve Hane, and Bob Mosher.

    Mr. Mosher deserves a special mention for taking on one of the more interesting first-person roles of the day. Bob portrayed Mr. Carleton, correspondent for the Boston Globe, looking for the remains of Lynde Walker Buckingham of the New York Herald. Buckingham was the only Civil War correspondent to die as a result of combat, sort of – he fell off his horse escaping Mosby’s men.
    Michael A. Schaffner

  • #2
    Re: AAR - Mount Zion Living History, June 8-9, 2007

    Mt Zion is a good event. helped Chuck Raugh last year as an Asst Surgeon. Find people involved with the preservation of the Church etc.

    Last year we had to put with the thunderstorms moving through the area and Saturday was the only nice day until later that evening. Sunday of 06 was pretty much a wash out.

    Glad to hear everything went well this year.
    Marc Riddell
    1st Minnesota Co D
    2nd USSS Company C
    Potomac Legion