Monday, September 5, 2016

Reflections in Living History

Myself in Infantry Garb
             One of my main goals upon hearing that I would be at a Civil War battlefield for the summer was to find a way to participate in living history. At the time I called it reenactment, but I quickly picked up that calling it living history was more accurate. The difference between the two is that living history seeks to place viewers in a historical setting by using tools of the time and interactive presentation instead of solely attempting to recreate aspects of a historical event. Either form can be found in a setting, but at Antietam there were only living history programs.

            The programs were volunteer led, but for safety they were overseen by a black powder certified ranger. Often times the living history members cannot invest in a cannon for demonstration because of the expense. However, Antietam had its own Napoleon Cannon for the purpose of artillery demonstrations. So the lucky people who love to take part in demonstrations are able to be more than an infantry group and organize into an artillery battery. I was fortunate enough to work with the Battery B living history group, which is incredibly respected amongst staff at Antietam Battlefield. I knew most members of the group from working the visitor center desk with them. The group goes beyond investing their time in demonstrative practices, by also aiding in interpretation of the unit through fielding questions at the front desk and/or giving battlefield tours. Their knowledge of artillery procedure and of the battle was striking. During the time spent drilling I couldn’t help chuckling at their quirky Civil War general jokes and awing at their accounts of soldier's heroism.
My roommate and I 

Quarter Scale Napoleon in Display Case
            I aided in two demonstrations. The demonstration consisted of an opening fire, a lecture of the character of artillery men during battle and their responsibilities, another firing, a lecture of the specific group we were representing by being there, and a final firing. After the final fire, we dropped the ropes and fielded questions from visitors who came to watch. I participated as the number five, meaning I was the ammunition runner. The ammunition runner places the round in the worn haversack from the ammunition chest and advances it to the cannon. Before getting to the cannon, I stopped and had my round inspected by the gunner who stood between the cannon and the ammunition chest. The gunner was sort of the captain to the team and was responsible in calling out coordinates and type of ammunition to be used.

            Battery B was a Union artillery regiment. Antietam Battlefield also has a Confederate artillery group that travels to use the battlefield’s cannon for demonstrations. I worked safety line for their demonstrations a number of times throughout the summer. I think it is important to have both sides of the battle represented and I certainly enjoyed seeing the variance in uniform and presentation. Speaking of uniforms, that wool really sucks the life out of you. But the heat was a small sacrifice to make for being able to have firsthand experience in something as unique as living history.

Thank you Battery B for allowing me the experience!

Thank you Christie and Rory for coordinating it!

Battery B Living History Group

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