April 29, 2010 - 2 Comments

by Jim Barnes

The following is a review of an event in Petersburg, WV by our correspondent, Nick Korolev:

The last full weekend of April in Petersburg, WV sees the three day Spring Mountain Festival. This year it ran April 23-25. One of the big events for the weekend is the Civil War Train which runs on Saturday only. The Grant County Visitors and Convention Bureau uses the South Branch Valley RR engine and passenger cars to take the public back in time – $7.00 a ticket reenactors ride free. It is very popular with the public and with pre-event sales the cars fill up fast.

In the past years it was the local 7th WV Infantry Camp #7 of the Sons of Union Veterans and 1st WV Cavalry that provided soldiers to create a living history camp at the South Side Depot, tell Civil War history of the area and include information about the preserved earthen Union fort built just outside of town now called Fort Mulligan after it’s builder. Each year it has gotten a little bigger. Last year local Confederates got involved from the 22nd North Carolina and the Mc Neill’s Ranger Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans who do reenacting providing a cannon and Confederate troops who fired on the train from Welton Park across the river from the tracks. Unfortunately the Union only had 5 people to present the program in 2009 while the Confederates had about 15. The cannon fire on the train and some shooting along with it was supposed to be the only attack on each of the four rides. However , last year a certain group among the rebs decided it would be “fun” to do their own thing and attack any Yankees who were coming off the train on the last ride at the depot. They rushed to beat the train back to the depot. These few had no sense of gun safety or chose to ignore it and fired upon both the public and myself and a friend at far less than 25 yards on our way into the depot and one of their women tried to tackle me at the door. I have a bad knee and did not take kindly at all to this bunch of “yahoos” who seemed to forget both the war and the train ride event were over. It could have been a potential disaster with an accident resulting in a law suit, but because the public in its ignorance of black powder safety made no complaints, no one was brought to task. The only complaint came from owners of a wonderful gift store, Peddler’s Crossing, right next to the depot over the noise that neither they expected or gave permission to happen on their property. They are friends of Byrdie and myself and allow Union reenactors to camp on their back lot behind the store along side of the depot and that includes digging fire pits for cooking as long as the sod was replaced. This year Byrdie and I were determined not to have a repeat of “rebels acting badly” and endangering the public or us and causing a noise nuisance and endangering future Civil War Train rides.

The Spring Mountain Festival 2010 Civil War Train Ride was once again expanded to a more elaborate event with Byrdie taking charge of the planning. The same Confederate unit was at Welton Park to provide a train ambush with their cannon and troops, but this year we got lucky and got some members of the 3rd Maryland Infantry to join us and an open gondola car borrowed from the Potomac Eagle for the Union troops to fire from in the planned train ambush scenarios for the public on the four rides. Union numbers were brought up to 12 which made things look better, but as usual the boys in blue were outnumbered. I went on three of the four rides and the scenarios went well from what I observed. It is amazing how doubly loud firing is from an open metal rail car. On one ride the rebs got about three of their members across the river and up on the hill on the track side of the river and fired down at the train. We in the gondola had figured they may try it and moved to counter it. The public enjoyed these ambush scenarios. However, Byrdie and I still expected a repeat of 2009 after the planned four ambush scenarios were over.

So much powder was burned in the first three scenarios there were not many rounds left for the fourth ride among the Union. While Byrdie went with the train I decided to stay behind since I had no more rounds left for my Spencer. A secondary reason for me staying behind was a promise Byrdie and I had made to the owners of Peddler’s Crossing to provide a reminder for any of the “yahoo” contingent that showed up that there was to be no shooting around the buildings, Union camp or at troops among the public disembarking the train in an unplanned scenario as requested by the owners of Peddler’s Crossing. To avoid what they might think of as a Yankee trick I replaced my uniform coat and hat with my 21st Century garb of a well worn suede jacket and my baseball cap emblazoned with the silver dolphins of the US Navy submarine service and SSN- 481 USS REQUIN from my visit to the submarine while in Pittsburgh earlier in the month.

As Byrdie and I predicted, a group jumped in their cars along with others and beat the train back to the Peddler’s Crossing parking lot to create an unplanned ambush. I flagged them down as they arrived got their attention and told them there would be no fighting around the buildings or property. At least some members with sense were with them this time. They decided to move it to the farm field beyond the buildings that the train had to pass through. Again without permission of the owners.

I got a hold of one of the RR employees with a radio and asked if he would radio the train to warn the Union troops of an unplanned scenario. He smiled and said, he saw the rebs coming and had done it after seeing me wave them off and warn them to stay away from the buildings. I watched the train come in gondola first and the Union troops waving the rebs away after one fired a shot from the field and apparently getting it across to them there was not going to be an unplanned fifth attack scenario as no one had any blanks left. The rebs were not happy, but the situation of the local Confederates always having to have their way and treating planned events as a tactical to get one over on the Yankees was diffused, thwarted and just plained torpedoed by efforts of myself and the South Branch Valley RR crew. One reb sourly made a comment that we should always expect the unexpected from them to which I responded “You should always expect the unexpected from me as I’m a writer” and I pointed to my USS REQUIN hat and old jacket. Hey, writers know how to plot and how to predict results that will happen given a certain circumstance.

With the more reasonable faction of Confederates it was decided to do some major planning for scenarios for next years Civil War Train. I hope they can keep their “yahoo” faction reined in as it ruins events for others who enjoy the hobby and want to keep it safe for participants and the public. This is an event put on for the public and not a tactical where about anything goes. We live in a litigious society with people who will sue at the drop of a hat. Unplanned scenarios can turn bad in seconds. My friend Byrdie who has been in this hobby for 30 years has seen it happen too often even at the big battle events where a few get it into their heads to do their own thing though the rules at big events warn against this spur of the moment behavior.

But on the upside, the public loved the train battles, it was a fun and different experience fighting from a train, our friends at Peddler’s Village were glad the shooting around the buildings was avoided and the Civil War train scenarios will be planned next year with no one going independent. More Union troops will be needed and it is hoped that the 3rd Maryland will be back next year and bring more of their members or that other Union reenactors can join in. Water and firewood are provided. The Union camps behind Peddler’s Crossing and the Confederates camp out of town at David Judy’s place as that is their training weekend. Union units put this on your April 2011 calendar of events if you would like to try a small battle event from a train. There is talk of adding Ft. Mulligan Day to this weekend next year and more camping will be available up in the earthen fort with a big need for Union troops to provide a garrison. For info or for Union units that would like to join the event e-mail Byrdie at firstwvcav@ frontiernet.net.

Nick Korolev

Comments (2)

Randy Ours

May 31st, 2010 at 7:10 am    

I am president of the 1st. WV Cav. and Commander of the 7th. WV Infantry SUV; in talking to other participants and the Train Depot manager this story is mostly made up there were no complaints from anyone including the the store owner who is a good friend of mine, all reports I have gotten good it will go on again next year bigger and better.

Nick Korolev

May 31st, 2010 at 11:21 am    

This is devolving into a he said she said. Byrdie and I talked to the owners a week before the event and those manning the store on the day of the event. Randy was not there.

However, the main issue is being ignored in this blog report. That issue is gun safety. Last year came too close to a disaster with a certain group of the 22nd firing toward the public and a few of us as we were all getting off the train after the last ride. This firing was at less than 25 yards in an unplanned, spur of the moment scenario. I was unexpectedly tackled at the door. That is technically and legally an assault. Randy missed it as he entered the depot building far ahead of me. Byrdie and I were determined not to let this kind of unplanned for scenario happen again that put the public in danger of powder burns from muskets that were double loaded by the sound of them last year and stray pistol shots. This year I checked a second time in the store and they were glad I offered to direct any surprise shooting scenarios away from the building by any of the “yahoo” group that might show. This and “cowboy” are the terms reenactors at big events use for those who do their own thing and blow off gun saftey as not applying to them. As mentioned in the blog article, a potential disaster was averted this year. There were no complaints simply because no one was hurt with the “yahoo” group out in the field and away from the public. There are rules at the big events on gun safety and ranges and elevation of a weapon. Are small events exempt from this? I think not. Even firing demos up at Antietam Military Park keep a safety line the visitors do not cross at least twenty feet from the ranger firing and he fires away from the crowd.

It is good that a bigger event is planned for next year. Don’t expect us to get involved. We will both be sticking with living history and the bigger events where gun safety and control of “yahoos” comes first. Prevention is worth a pound of cure. We do not want to be named in any law suit.

Lastly, this blog report is not a made up story. I have more than 20 years of writing experience and that includes journalism. I do my best to be accurate in reporting events to the reenacting community, call it as I and others see it and stand by the 1st Amendment. What reason would I have to lie?

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