150th Chancellorsville- May 3-5 2013

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

From the Living History Camp

The 150th Battle of Chancellorsville on the W. J. Vakos Companies property at Spotsylvania Courthouse, VA presented living history, battle reenactments, plus a huge selection of sutlers, the First Brigade Band from Milwaukee, MI playing period music, the U. S. Balloon Corps, arts & crafts and food vendors. For those of us involved in living history and those who were spectators it was a mixed bag of experience – not all of it good. In fact, for an important 150th event it seemed poorly planned compared to events at Manassas and the upcoming Gettysburg. They get high marks for amenities – water, hay, wood, ice and plenty of port-a-potties that were cleaned every day. But, for camp lay out and scheduling of living history events with both the Federal Generals Corps and Lee’s Lieutenants around the battle scenarios- that was another matter.

Some of our people arrived on Thursday while others arrived on Friday. It seemed that the volunteers had no idea where the living history camp was to be and how it was to be set up on Thursday. I arrived with my friend Byrdie on Friday and just as we were to start unloading, one of the volunteers had us move out of the main camp to a small section across the lane where two roads met in a V and make camp at the point. The reason given was they had suddenly decided a way had to be clear for an ambulance if needed. This should have been planed ahead in the initial lay out of the camps. We had no room for a fly and used our tent only for sleeping. The others that had to relocate next to us did not fare much better. We stayed during the day in the main camp under friends’ flies.

While we were setting up hundreds of school kids came through the living history camp as Friday was Education Day for local schools. This was a fantastic educational program we could not take part in as we had to set up before changing out of our modern clothes. Being substitute teachers we unfortunately could not make it in on Thursday to be ready for this program. The kids had questions they had to get answered and seemed to enjoy the process of learning through living history. We rushed to get set up as we had been told our group was to do a meet the generals program at 1pm. Then we found that had been changed and no one knew when or where we were supposed to do our program. Our friends in Lee’s Lieutenants suffered the same confusion. Communication and schedules went the way of the four winds from then on.

We found out first thing Saturday morning that we were to do an hour program from 10-11am. The tent we were to do the program in was right next to the generators and compressors of the food vendors – not a good location at all for any kind of a speaking event. We were given the use of a sound system, but most of our members did not use it as we found ourselves in an acoustic shadow and spoke loud enough to be heard. The tent was packed with spectators, many standing. We had to throw together a last minute logical program since not all of us portrayed officers that were at Chancellorsville. Gen. W. T. Sherman (Jim Opdenaker) and I (Commodore Sylvanus W. Godon) provided an “opening act” of covering what was going on in the Western Theater and with the blockade at sea during the time of Chancellorsville. Then our members who portrayed officers who fought the battle told their stories and did some Gen. Hooker bashing along the way which was totally in character – Gen. Greene (Paul Bourget), Gen. Williams ( Rick “Byrdie” Byrd), Col. Chamberlain (David Starliper), Gen. Sickles (Tim Ake), Gen. Hancock (David Townsend) and Gen. Meade (Joe Schaffer).

Lee’s Lieutenants did not find out until late Saturday afternoon that their program would be Sunday. There was also a problem with the scheduling of Jackson being brought in a wagon to Dr. McGuire for surgery. It was scheduled for Saturday evening and switched to 9:30 Sunday morning. It went off well but with few spectators except for other living historians. The planners of the event did not seem to take into consideration that locals were in church Sunday morning and scenarios should be done in the afternoon before the battle. Period church services were to be given at one of the event tents, but I did not attend and do not know if or how many of the public attended.

Another troublesome glitch that we heard from spectators was the placement of the bleachers to watch the battle. Spectators could not see half of the fighting due to a dip in the ground. The best view was over toward the edge of the Confederate camp area where a lot of people ended up standing.

Still, with all the glitches we had a good time with friends and educating the public and many plan to make this event next year.

Nick Korolev

Illustration from Wikipedia:

English: *Description: Battle of Chancellorsville–May 2-4, 1863–Union (Gen. Hooker) … Confederates (Gen. Lee) … Gen. Jackson mort. wd.; lithograph, color.

  • Date: 1889.
  • Author: Publisher – Kurz and Allison in Chicago, IL.
  • Source: Library of Congress


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