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Prelude to Invasion AAR's

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  • Prelude to Invasion AAR's

    I had fun. How about you?
    Eric Tipton
    AC Owner
    Founding Member, Mess No. 1
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  • #2
    Re: Prelude to Invasion AAR's

    Received this incredible AAR this afternoon!

    On June 10, 1863, Randolph Abbott Shotwell of the 8th Virginia noted: “During the fortnight past almost any old army veteran might have detected signs and symptoms on the horizon of camp life that betokened a stir of some sort, and by the entire army.” He continued by writing, “Within a couple of days past these straws very plainly pointed to a forward movement; and have given shape to a reasonable rumor, to-wit, that the azure cross of General Lee’s headquarters flag is about to signal the route for his doughty legions to where the purling waters of the upper Potomac lave the shores of ‘Maryland, My Maryland.’” Shotwell’s account of his wartime experiences, Three Years in Battle, captures the anticipation, excitement, and uncertainty that shaped the feelings of R. E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on the cusp of the Pennsylvania Campaign. Knowing Shotwell’s account well, I was extremely excited upon the announcement of “Prelude to Invasion,” for it sought to recreate the 8th Virginia’s last major stationary camp before the grand northern invasion. This account, from the private’s perspective, will highlight those elements of the event that I found to be the most compelling and important.

    Ideally situated on lands preserved by the American Battlefield Trust (formerly Civil War Trust), “Prelude” immediately set a tone in which participants were connected to the past. Largely devoid of modern intrusions, the forest encased fields of Brandy Station proved an idyllic location. By Friday night the encampment presented among the most compelling visual embodiments of Confederate camp and material culture I have ever witnessed. The paintings of Conrad Wise Chapman—a soldier and an artist—came to mind, for his artwork showed the common soldier at leisure. Large tent flies and brush arbors grace the landscapes of his art and reflect the intimate, domestic side of war. The extraordinary efforts of the Liberty Rifles’ members and their like-minded friends resulted in the tent city at Brandy Station. The neatly organized company streets and hierarchy of tents demonstrated the military culture that so effectively organized Lee’s army and was part and parcel of soldiers’ experiences. Each morning and evening I carved out time to simply watch and listen as the sights, sounds, and smells of the camp unfolded quite unlike anything that has ever before been recreated at a living history event. I especially applaud Mike Clarke, Craig Schneider, and Tom Gurnett for realizing the tent fly project. Having single-handedly made a fly myself, I understand all too well the time involved in the construction but after seeing well over a dozen of the tents set-up in the fields of Brandy Station every stitch became a worthwhile endeavor.

    Military maneuvers ensured performance in battle forging individual companies into cohesive regiments. Under the excellent guidance of Fred Rickard, Saturday’s and Sunday’s battalion drill showcased the possibilities for large groups of authentic living historians working together to create esprit de corps and recreate the movements of large bodies of troops. Once again, the event’s lessons were manifold as sergeants and company-grade officers instructed their commands during company drill on how small movements fit into the larger whole. Further, Fred’s explanations of the battalion maneuvers became a powerful reminder that our actions were mimicking those of one-hundred-and-fifty-five years ago when efficiency in drill determined the fates of battles and the destinies of regiments. Marching in the hot sun for 30 or 40 minute stretches suddenly seemed quite small when compared to past sacrifices. The event’s drill fit into a larger schedule of eating, working, and guard that quickly recalled the sentiments of Tally Simpson of the 3rd South Carolina: “Drill, drill, drill; work, work, work; and guard, guard, guard. Eat, e-a-t. Alas!” Recreating a military culture is an arduous undertaking and must strike a balance between hobby and history. The event organizers maintained that balance and created an experience that spanned a weekend only but gave impressions that should last years. Never resting on their laurels, Mike and Craig even calibrated each day according to the clocks of a pre-day-light-savings-time-world.

    Civil War veteran and Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., famously remarked: “War? War is an organized bore.” “Prelude” recreated the tedium of camp life but also punctuated the experience with exciting breaks. I think the issuance of goods and the time at the river were among the most vivid moments; barring, of course, the social rounds each evening. We often use clothing at events without thinking about the issue cycles. These men were, after all, largely supplied by the Confederate government beginning in 1862. Standing in line and signing-off for shirts and socks, commonplace during the wartime era, became important moments in the event’s overall choreography. The same newly issued socks quickly moistened with sweat during our march to the ford, which included Bud Hall’s excellent explanation of what happened in and around Brandy Station during 1863, especially. The cool water offered a nice reprieve from the hot day. The scores of men plunging into the water reflected the excitement with which soldiers greeted rivers and creeks during the summer months and showed the lighter side of war often witnessed in stationary encampments.

    On Sunday morning as the musicians belted out familiar tunes, the marching columns recalled the beginnings of one of the war’s most critical campaigns. After striking camp and loading our gear into the wagon train, I looked on with amazement as the once thriving tent city had become nothing more than doused fires and trodden fields. Once again, the event organizers set a high-bar and demonstrated how the Army of Northern Virginia was able to quickly transition from sedentary position to active campaign. I cannot recall another event in which this typical wartime transformation unfolded on such a big scale with such large tentage. It beautifully bookended the event and offered me the final insights into how Randolph Shotwell and the troops of the 8th Virginia began their journey up the Great Valley.

    I have been involved with living history for well over twenty-years and have seen much, good, bad, and ugly. “Prelude to Invasion” was an incredibly important event to me because it promised to make tangible the accounts I had read so often and offered the possibilities of an unparalleled immersive experience. It exceeded every expectation because of the attention to detail on both a big and a small scale. Those two elements had to work together in order to create such powerful, lasting impressions. From clothing issues to tent flies, camp latrines to company lines, “Prelude to Invasion” gave a holistic experience that I soaked up every minute of every day. And for that I can only thank Mike, Craig, and Fred, especially, for their visionary leadership.

    - Pvt. True Blue, 8th VA Infantry

    Michael Clarke
    Liberty Rifles
    True Blues
    Black Hats