Last week was simply a terrific week spent in Gettysburg, Hunterstown, and Hanover. All the book signings went great, and everyone involved was very gracious to me. Co-author Mike Nugent came to town on Tuesday, joining me at the signings at the Farnsworth House Bookstore and the American Civil War Museum. I would like to take this post to talk about the awesome day spent at the reenactment of the Battle of Hanover on Thursday.
Event coordinator Captain Charlie Doutt of the 2nd US Cavalry reenactment group and I had been talking for several weeks about the event. I was honored that he asked me to lay out the various scenarios for the 200 mounted cavalrymen and 6 cannons to do for the reenactment, and to narrate the event for them. Wednesday evening, Mike and went to Union Mills following the monument dedication at Hunterstown, and had dinner with the men and officers of the various cavalry units that were there in camp. I had laid out 4 different scenarios for the folks to do, and had previously drawn them out on heavy card stock with different colored pens. Charlie had called an officers’ meeting for 8pm at the Mill, and we all gathered together to go over the scenarios.
The first was the initial skirmish between an advance patrol of the 13th VA Cavalry, and a rear patrol of the 18th PA Cavalry led by Capt. Thaddeus Freeland. The second scenario was the skirmish between the 13th Va and another 18th PA patrol led by Lt. Henry Potter. The third scenario was the all-out saber and pistol fighting in the streets of Hanover, and the final act was the dismounted fighting against Stuart’s line that ended the battle.
Charlie had given me over 200 troopers and horses, and 6 pieces of artillery to “play” with. I was in heaven. 🙂
We spent nearly two hours going over all the scenarios in detail. All of us, including the very able Darrell Markijohn (USV commander), worked out various ways to make all the scenarios fit. The guys really knew their stuff, and we knew that when it came off, it was going to be one of the most historically accurate portrayals ever done.
On Thursday morning the 3rd, Mike and I met everyone back at Union Mills at 7:30 for breakfast. They did terrific mounted maneuvers for the crowd there – this is the 2nd US, the 4th VA Black Horse, and others – the best in the business. These guys and gals (yes, there are many lady riders – and they’re damn good!) know their stuff like no one else. I couldn’t wait for that evening and the reenactment to begin. About 9am they began marching in column for the 9-mile trip to Hanover, and Mike and I got in my truck to head to the battle site on a field owned by Peter and Sharon Sheppard. Sharon, by the way, is a direct descendant of the Union Mills Shriver family, as well as the Gitts of Hanover, on whose land the initial skirmish of the battle began. The reenactment field is only about a half mile from that site.
When we arrived at the field (which is next to the Long Arm Reservoir south of town), a nice 30×30 tent had been set up for us at the top of the rise overlooking the field, and in the middle of the area taped off for the spectators. A technician was just setting up the PA system, with large speakers along both sides of the spectator area so folks could hear me. Vendors had already started setting up, and Mike and I brought out our books and set it up at our signing table. Throughout the day, we signed and sold quite a number of books.
The mounted column began arriving on the field around 1pm. They were impressive indeed! I was like a little kid, standing there transfixed watching them. Around 4pm, Captain Charlie asked me to go over to the far side of the field to meet with the officers, maps in hand, to go over my scenarios just one more time. As I left, Mike began doing a talk for the crowd on Civil War cavalry equipment, weapons, and tactics.
I met with the officers and we all went over the scenarios one by one. I could tell that Darrell and the “boys” had it down pat. They were ready, and so was I.
When I got back up to the tent, I caught the last part of Mike’s talk. He had a crowd of at least 200 people around him, and they really enjoyed his talk and his answers to their questions. Next time, we’ll set it up as an even more formal part of the event. Mike really knows his stuff, and everyone learned a great deal – including me, I’m not afraid to say.
The great folks of the Adams County Land Conservancy did a little presentation about 5:30, and it’s wonderful that such a beneficial group benefitted from the proceeds of the event. Those folks have saved an enormous amount of historic land for us and for posterity. Shortly after they were done, I did a short talk for the crowd to thank the many folks responsible for the event – including Peter and Sharon, and all of the many cavalry and artillery units on the field.
About 5:50, I began a ten-minute introduction to the reenactment that I had written out beforehand. It gave context to how the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover began, and how it fit into both Jeb Stuart’s ride to Pennsylvania and the Gettysburg Campaign. When I was done – it was as if the timing was perfect. The reenactors were ready to begin, and they started the first scenario.
As I narrated each part of the actions of each scenario, I was stunned how perfectly the reenactors executed them. They followed my hand-drawn maps to a “T” (from memory) and the commanders had everyone in exactly the right place. I shouldn’t have expected less, however – Charlie and Darrell are consummate professionals, and their troopers are amazing. Besides doing historically accurate maneuvers, since the initial skirmishes involved only a few dozen troopers on either side, we had just the right amount of folks and horses to portray each event.
During the main battle scenario, we had previously worked out that the reenactors would portray the bloody Hanover street fighting right in front of the crowd. And I mean right in front of them – the folks sitting and standing up front literally got dirt and dust kicked on them from the horses’ hooves. I had several dozen children sitting in front of my table under the tent, and I don’t think any of them blinked until the action was over. They were all wide-eyed and full of smiles. One lady, probably the mother of one or more of the children around here sitting on the ground, watched the action right in front of her and just let out a “Wow!” The ground literally shook as the troopers rode back and forth just a few feet from the yellow safety tape, and I can still hear the noise and rush of air of it all. Amazing, simply amazing. The crowd was thoroughly entertained, and let out a thunderous applause after each scenario.
For the final act, Custer’s dismounted fighting, Steve Alexander portrayed a great Custer. In full gaudy uniform, the crowd simply loved his portrayal. He looked terrific out there, and it slipped everyone back in time 145 years for a moment. I know it did for me. The kids simply went wild.
When the battles were over, as best as I can recall from memory since my battle narrations were ad-lib, I said something like “For the honor, for the glory of the men of both sides – North and South – who fought here, all of them Americans and fighting for the cause they believed in, let’s give these reenactors, these true living historians, another round of applause!” After an ovation that must have lasted nearly five minutes, I then called on the crowd to give the reenactors a cheer that we all love – three Huzzah’s. The crowd of well over 500 people let out hearty cheers, and then all 200 troopers lined up in front of the crowd and gave the cheer back to them.
I couldn’t have been happier – for the troopers, artillerymen (who did an amazing job keeping up the earth-shattering booms that rattled everyone’s teeth!) and for the crowd that was able to watch such consumate professionals. In this “business” of researching, writing, living history, reenacting – all of it – this was one of the niftiest days I’ve ever spent, bar none. Folks, regardless of the main Gettysburg reenactment event, and whatever you’ve thought of past such events, you should come to the Hanover event next time it’s held. You’ll enjoy it.
Mike was my right-hand man during the event, wired up with a walkie-talkie connected to the commanders on the field, making sure that everyone was in the right place at all times.
After it was over, I was humbled by the many people who came up to me, thanking me for my narration and for all that they had learned. They also couldn’t say enough wonderful things about the troopers. Everyone was thoroughly entertained and had an awesome time.
Mike and I had dinner that evening with the troopers, and all of them expressed how it was such a terrific event. Most of them had been to a lot of reenactments, and they told me that this one was the best. They appreciated that I knew the battle history intimately in minute detail, and that I was able to answer all their questions about it. Reenactors want to be confident that they’re working with a historian who knows his/her stuff, and having participated in mounted reenactments myself, I know that historical accuracy is the primary concern. Several commanders told me that they’d work again with me any time, and that humbled me a great deal. With folks that good, that dedicated, and that knowledgable, my job was the easiest of all.
The Hanover Evening Sun newspaper, which carried several articles about the event, called it a “winner” for the crowd and carried several stories about how much the young attendees enjoyed it. They are truly our future, and I was so glad to see so many children in attendance. I gave several of them a “special” place to watch the event right in front of my table where my equipment was set up, and they had front-row seats. They also got a lot of dust kicked in their eyes, but they wouldn’t have traded their space for anything!
Below is a link to an article from the Sun covering the event. In the next post, I will post the text of the Introduction that I gave that evening, since several folks wanted the text of it. I want to take this opportunity to thank Charlie Doutt (event coordinator); Peter and Sharon Sheppard (land owners and hosts of the event); David House (2nd VA commander); Terry Treat (4th VA Black Horse); Bill Freuth (portraying Jeb Stuart); Steve Alexander (portraying George Custer); and Bruce Yealey (portraying Judson Kilpatrick). You folks are the best, and thanks for letting this big kid have a whole hell of a lot of fun for a day.