Much of our driving time is spent brainstorming for new events to photograph for the AFP. It was just two weeks ago that we were going through the ‘list’ of things iconically American. Football, cheerleading, summer fairs, Nascar, parades. We noticed though, that many of the festivals and events covered so far were rather modern. And since the AFP likes to find events that are rooted in American history, we started think about what made America ‘American’, say fifty years ago, or one hudred years ago. So we looked into mo-town festivals, western cowboy days, traditional craft festivals, and covered wagon races, until finally–we thought way back to the origins of The United States, and the great Civil War. Our research led us to a mid-sized reenactment in Honea Path, S.C. It was in the middle of nowhere, but that’s the way we like it!
On route, we stopped in Asheville, N.C. and the home of Susan Piland, Andrew’s aunt. She put us up for a few days while we lounged around working on a big grant submission. Susan showed us the local eateries of downtown Asheville and filled us in on the status of her beloved Tar Heels. Thanks for sharing your home with us Susan!
On Saturday morning we hit the road for Honea Path, but were quickly met with a significant spring downpour. When we arrived at the ‘battle scene’, there were only a handful of cars on site, and the parking area was quickly turning into a giant mud pit. After we spoke with Mr. Ashley, a large friendly guy who organizes the reenactment, we learned that the battle would be postponed until Sunday. The real event of the day was pulling trucks out of the mud. Fortunately, we were rescued from the bad weather, and met some nice folks in Honea Path’s only coffee shop, The Black Cow.
Sunday morning the rain finally had moved east and the weather conditions were finally suitable enough for a fierce historical reenactment. Still, the ground was soggy and the footing for the horses was sketchy. A broken leg on a horse is as good as bullet in the heart and down by the reenactor campground there was a stark reminder of the fine line between equine life and death. But for much of the cavalry, their big rigs had been towed IN to the campground and it wouldn’t be until the end of the day that they could be towed OUT. Plus, most reenactors had come from places as far away as Kingsport, TN to be here, so there was little interest in sitting this one out on account of soft ground.
At noon, General Robert Lee called in General Fairfax and some others for a strategy session. The weather had certainly influenced the amount of cavalry and infantry that would show up to participate. So with limited troops on either side, and only a small crowd expected to be in attendance, it was decided to reenact the Battle of Anderson as it likely happened back in 1865. As it was related to AFP, the Battle of Anderson was a fought after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. With the war essentially over, a small group of Union troops were headed back north when they ran into Confederate soldiers coming home. The two sides opened fire on each other and two Union soldiers were killed, with no casualties to the southern side. (And that’s about all we know of the Battle of Anderson).
With this reenactment being on the smaller side and with the assistance of the rain delay, we got some good behind the scenes time with the actors. For a lot of these men and women, when they arrive at camp they begin their historical impressions immediately and try not to “break period.” This means no modern clothing, tools, or equipment. Some are more fastidious than others (especially when it’s pouring rain) but it was clear that historical accuracy is a way of life. And the more accurate, the more expensive. Reenactors often have to choose between hand-stitched or machine manufactured, leather halters or synthetic, and the kicker… antique weaponry or imitation. It can be an expensive hobby, but for those who make the investment, it is clear that what they take away is personal and very meaningful. They feel dedicated to entertaining the spectators, there is a sense of camraderie within the reenactment community, there is excitement of being a performer, and there is the rush of course of shooting a gun at an enemy (even if the bullets are actually just Cream of Wheat). And it seemed that quite a few actors were veterans of war, so reenacting in Civil War battles is probably a natural extension of having fought in wars and having had real military training.
There was one unexpected casualty at the 2009 Battle of Anderson, and that was the non-revealing of Miss Annie Lee, the beautifully restored 1861 canon that was actually used in combat during the Civil War. The ground was just too wet for this 2,000 lbs beauty but Mr. Ashley was kind enough to give us a look outside his home. And he also showed us the authentic slave collar he somehow acquired for his personal collection of southern artifacts. We owe a great deal of thanks to Mr. Ashley, the 12th Tenn., the Palmetto Partisan Rangers, the honorable General Robert Edward Lee, and all the other reenactors who helped the AFP take a trip back through (southern) time!