This past weekend, a group of Iowans from Appanoose and surrounding counties were at the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee. They belong to Battery C, 3rd Iowa Light Artillery Regiment, one of many groups from around the country participating in the 150th Anniversary Reenactment at Shiloh.
Our southern Iowa group was part of a truly unique experience even before they arrived at Shiloh. They boarded the Shiloh troop train at Kansas City for the ride of a lifetime. The troop train was made up of vintage train cars from the Union Pacific Heritage Fleet. They crossed the state of Missouri making whistle stops in various towns along the way as the old train chugged toward west Memphis, Ark. The men traveled in uniform and the women wore clothing authentic to the Civil War period. Troop trains were widely used during the Civil War and this is one of the few times they have been incorporated into a reenactment event.
When Battery C arrived at the Shiloh site they had to pitch tents and set up camp. It was time for the “full immersion” 1862 experience. They were part of a city of tents that housed around 7,000 people. Most of the citizens of this city were in uniform and many were joined by their wives. Both the Union and Confederate armies had separate camps for artillery, infantry and cavalry. The scale of the Shiloh reenactment site was so large that a visitor could only see a small portion at any one time. The tent cities and the battle fields covered over 2,000 acres and a walk around the entire site would have been eight-nine miles.
After hanging out with Battery C for a few days we learned our Iowa group had a reputation among the reenactors. Battery C cooked some of the best meals in the camps. Their team was staffed with talented chefs starting with the five women in the group (Ruth Shoup, Diane Deal, Tammy Johnson, Mylinda Donald and Cathy Clark) who cooked many of the meals and kept the camp in order. The male chefs included Bill Shoup, the early bird who cooked breakfast, along with Joe Crookham and Joe Durian, the team that cooked succulent steaks on the fire and grilled fish. Over the course of a few days, the ladies prepared a turkey, baked potatoes, biscuits, beans and a number of other items, all delicious. My personal favorite was the awesome rhubarb pie made by Ruth Shoup. She served as head cook and has truly mastered the art of cooking with coals and a cast iron Dutch oven.
Beyond the eating, camp life entailed many fun things. They had to fetch all things necessary for the camp … like water and wood. They had to put up with a half day of rain that created mud challenges. They did not have access to modern bathroom facilities. Clearly, the 1862 camp experience gave all a taste of life in a so-called simpler time.
Saturday night dance
Saturday night, following the first day's reenactment of the battle of Shiloh, a period ball was thrown for the reenactors and guests. The 52nd Regimental String Band of Memphis readied themselves inside the mini circus-sized tent. Fiddles were fiddled, a piano was played and banjos were tuned.
People crowded into the big top. Women came in their glorious period ball dresses in all colors of the rainbow, and men in their military garb both gray and blue. Everyone gathered in anticipation of the moments to follow, only one thing was missing. Five minutes remained before the 7:30 p.m. start time and no dance caller could be found. This is the person that announced each dance and demonstrated the dance for those who needed a refresher on the polka, the waltz, or other such steps. Thank goodness, he finally arrived at the last minute and the festivities started.
The dance caller announced the first dance, the Virginia Real, and began instructing. The crowd was buzzing with excitement. The large canvas tent was filled with scores of these dancers and the atmosphere was downright grand. The music began and a scene from an 1860’s ball appeared before our very eyes. This was a wonderful piece of period life to experience. The joy on people’s faces, the sweet music, the grand spectacle, and the good fun of trying to step to songs from times past - these were but a few of the wonderful things that took place on that Saturday night in the Shiloh camp.
We hope this gives you some idea about the camp life at the Shiloh reenactment. There was so much more. Small groups of musicians occasionally played music in the nearby suttler area. Actors portrayed a variety of historical figures in the suttler area. The big tent also hosted a period wedding early Saturday evening. There was never a dull moment in the Shiloh camp.
Stay tuned for more. Our next article will talk about the battle reenactment and some curious facts about two of the men in Battery C.