GATHERING OF CIVIL WAR EAGLES JUNE 4-6

June 18, 2010 - No Comments

by Jim Barnes

The following is a report from our correspondent, Nick Korolev:

The 6th annual Gathering of Civil War Eagles held at the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum in the Old Town location of Winchester, VA took place the weekend of June 4-6. This premier educational event is history brought to life by living historians from across the country who are members of the Federal Generals Corps and Lee’s Lieutenants. Both Civil War living history groups present well researched first person portrayals of those who lived and fought through this time in our history. This two and a half day seminar is open to the history loving public and the program changes every year to keep the event fresh. You can count on war issues being discussed that range from tactics used to the discussion of causes of the war and the often heated discussion on the legality of secession. Programs this year included Friday reception, meet the generals program, ladies tea and fashion show, debate between Lincoln and Davis, quilting demonstration, period games, surgical display by Doug Decker as Grant’s personal surgeon Maj. John Brinton, MD, our main program “Gettysburg: Through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It”and of course the popular total engagement program between the generals and the public asking questions about the war. Authors and artists of Civil War themed material also attend and there is always the heartfelt evening musical program called “Soldiers In Gray” that could be applied to any who serve in the military under any flag that is presented by Stan Clardy and his wife Cathy.

Rick “Byrdie” Byrd (Gen. George Crook) and myself (Gen. William W. Averell) attended and stayed across the street at the Bright Center with some members while others stayed at the Marriott. Our meals were provided at the Old Town Café on the corner by our old friend Ben for those who wanted to stay close to the event. It was great seeing all our friends again from both sides. We are all rather like a gigantic dysfunctional, but very fun family with lots of teasing always going around when we are not “in character”.

We all agree this year was the best gathering in the six years of presenting the seminar. There were a lot of compliments coming from the older organization of Lee’s Lieutenants on how well the Federal Generals Corps has grown putting on the best quality showing in only the 4th year of its existence in everything from staying in character to quick response. It is not easy being someone else and to make it come off right takes months and sometimes years of study and practice with some mastering the skill set needed quicker than others. This time we were all “in the zone” as they say. One of our members, Jim Opdenaker, who started with us portraying Maj. Gen. John Rawlins of Lieut. Gen. Grant’s staff has just taken on the portrayal of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman after intense reading and study and premiered his new persona at this event. He did an exceptional job fielding questions from the public and dispelling some of the myths that pose as facts in school history books. He now finds himself in the same position as our Barry Meadows who does an excellent Grant, of spending part of the time as a myth buster. You become a target when you pick someone very well-known, a bit controversial or accused of having a social drinking problem, but it is all in the name of education and the public enjoys their history education when it is presented in this manner rather in dry school history books that just skim over issues. Of corse we all enjoy this different branch of reenacting as a hobby. The intense total engagement session was ended with Byrdie’s great short speech on how war is not the fault of armies or the common man but politicians and their questionable motives for which all suffer. There were many glowing comments from the public to the museum on this year’s event.

Of course the weekend was not all staying in character and great intellectual challenge. We had a wild time up in our “bunk house” as we all call the unrented space on the 3rd floor of the Bright Center they so generously donate for our housing right across from the court house on the mall. Stan and Cathy were among our roommates and besides the great musical program they present, they also have a mascot puppet possum they call Bobbi Lee O’possum. The comedy routines he does with possum jokes etc. are hysterical. One of Lee’s Lieutenants, Dave Meisky who portrays Brig. Gen. “Extra” Billy Smith has extended the critter company, by bringing a goat puppet named Bill E. Goat. We decided to join them this year with our baby “Swamp Dragon” from the West Virginia Militia known as Swamp Dragons the FGC has adopted as our mascot. I came up with the baby dragon by the name of Sparkey last year. He is a very fierce looking baby dragon from a commercial latex puppet to which I added more detail like changing him from red to shades of green and blue plus a mane. I have a fake bone for him to chew which adds to the effect. Well, I brought him out and we had a crazy time running amok with what we now refer to as the “Civil War Muppets” with such burning questions as “Do you want to be fried or flambeaued?” and putting leis on Bobbi and Billy because half of proper food enjoyment in presentation is in decoration which prompted the question “Is Sparkey a Hawaiian dragon?” The leg bone was not quite identified, but it was decided it could either be from Gen. Ewell or Gen. Sickles with most thinking it Ewell considering Sparkey’s leaning. Last of all, from Joe Shafer who portrays our Gen. John Buford that Sparkey is properly called a “dragoon”. We are not quite ready for prime time however it would have been perfect YouTube, but no one filmed it. They say we all have to get involved with Wayne Ritchie who portrays the famous photographer, Matthew Brady next year who brings a chicken puppet. He could not make it to Eagles this year. Chicken jokes will be added of course and we all know those will go on forever. It is rumored we may also have Armistead Armadillo joining us. Several of our ladies questioned our sanity and chalked it up to boys and their strange toys.

Sunday after the last program, we all parted with many well wishes and plan on another Gathering of Civil War Eagles next year the first weekend of June at the Old Court House Civil War Museum unless there is a schedule change. Unfortunately at this writing there may be a change as the museum is in danger of closing due to a lack of funding. Hard economic times are forcing the closing of many historic sites and parks which is very sad and a great loss to everyone. It is our sincere hope this does not happen and the seminar fees we raised and the publicity we generated with the event will go towards helping to prevent it closing its doors.

Nick Korolev

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