After a four-hour drive to the small town of McCloud, we found our way into the Union encampment. It was just before two and the temperature was well into the nineties. We were hot and sweaty and hoping to see members of our group.
Slowly we drove through the rows of tents and parked vehicles, but didn’t see a single person we recognized. So we stopped at the registration tent and Kyle got out and asked where the Comstock Civil War Reenactors would be setting up.
They pointed to the area and I drove over to it to wait for someone to show up. It was at this point that I started to wish I had purchased my own tent.
But unfortunately I had not and had to rely on the club to bring us one. Instead we waited for nearly four hours before deciding to go into town to grab a bite to eat.
After eating the two of us decided to visit the sutlers in the historic part of McCloud. I wanted to purchase a new pair of blue uniform pants anyway. This also gave us a chance to look for other members of our club.
While paying for my pants, Kyle came up to me and said, “The Johnson’s are here. I just ran into Timmy.”
The Johnson’s were a family that had just joined the group during the summer. Turning I saw Mr. Johnson, the father and husband of the Johnson family.
He walked over and said, “Hi,” offering a hand as he did.
We shook hands and the conversation went immediately to the location of other members.
“Their all over on the Confederate side,” he said.
He explained how he had run into the Captain earlier and that the Captain had told him that in the nine-year of doing Civil war reenacting he had never played a ‘Johnny Reb.’ I felt a sense of shock because I didn’t want to be a rebel and I didn’t have the uniform to play the part either.
Soon after leaving the town site, Kyle and I pulled into the Confederate camp and discovered the Captain sitting under a fly, dressed in a brand new gray uniform.
“Welcome, boys,” he hollered as he puffed on a long-stemmed pipe.
In a matter of minutes I discovered further that the Captain had brought some of the groups six-foot tents, but had managed to somehow load only the seven-foot poles.
I mumbled, “First a Confederate, now no tents.”
Soon other members of the club managed to find their way over to the encampment, but they were mostly Confederates anyway. So they were used to being on the side they were on. They also took pity on me and Kyle and did their best to accommodate and uniform us.
The sun was starting to set when word started to pass that the barbecue dinner that had been planned by the hosting club was no longer going to happen. Several people grumbled including me, but the complaints fell on deaf ears. It was the Johnson’s who were kind enough to share their supper of stew, salad and bread with Kyle and me.
By the time supper was finished, it was nearly dark and we headed back to the encampment. We all joined into the singing at the tent of one of the members until it was necessary to build a campfire.
Kyle and I excused ourselves at that time to complete setting up our sleeping area under a fly that had already been staked out earlier in the day. We new that it would be a cold night and that before dawn broke, we’d be shivering in our sleeping bags.
When it was time to go to bed, we laid down but the activities in the encampment continued. There was singing and music playing as a group of reenactors talked and drank, laughing and telling stories about this and that.
It made falling asleep impossible.
It was long after midnight when the party decided to adjourn for the evening. The Captain and his bunk mate stumbled through the tents and into the area where we had set up for the night and were now joined by a third person. The Captain’s bunk mate was loud and continued to talk even after laying down.
The situation grew worse as the bunk mate fell asleep and started swearing as he talked in his sleep. It took the Captain two attempts to wake him up and make him stop.
By this time the night sky had started to lighten up and the stars faded. Soon it would be morning.
Drums and fifes broke the stillness of the morning. The sun had yet to touch any part of the valley and they were already being called to get up and prepare for the coming day.
I could hear my son’s teeth as they chattered from the chill of the air.
Kyle rolled over and stood up. “I’m heading to the bathroom,” he said. Breath smoke slipped from between his bluish lips as he spoke.
By the time he returned, I was sitting up. Kyle sat down next to me, sighed and said, “I didn’t sleep at all last night and now there’s not going to be any breakfast as promised either.”
He sighed again, adding, “I’m starving.”
“Okay, let’s get our crap together and go to town and gets some breakfast,” I responded.
Once in town, we sat and enjoyed a hot breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast with a couple of cups of coffee to wash it down with and watch the Confederates marching into McCloud to occupy the town.
After breakfast we headed into the town square to meet up with our group. There we milled around, looking at the various items the sutlers had offer.
It was about an hour into this that the general alarm sounded that Union troops were on their way. Soldiers scrambled to grab their picketed arms and form-up.
At first I found my self separated from Kyle. I walked up and down the street where other units were forming and several times I was pushed back and warned not to step into the street by a bellowing soldier.
Shortly before the fighting between the Confederates and the Union ensued I found Kyle. He seemed as confused as me about why we couldn’t find our group.
So we went over and stood at the entrance to the train’s platform waiting for the possibility to get onboard. The Conductor stood at the end of the platform directing passengers to the various cars and where he wanted them to be seated.
It was here that I bumped into Mr. Johnson, who was having the same difficulty as we were. Mr. Johnson decided to speak to the Conductor.
When he came back, he was excited, “I just spoke to the owner. We can get on board now.”
Kyle and I along with the Johnson family lined up. The Conductor directed us to the adjoining car, a flatbed with hay bales for seating and occupied by Union troops. We followed the Conductors instructions.
It was at this flat-car that we encountered a reenactor wearing a Union Major’s uniform. He refused to allow us to board the flat-car.
We decided to go around to the other side of the train and climb aboard.
Once on the other side we scramble aboard the train, having to pull ourselves over the rails since there wasn’t a ramp or steps. I was the last to get on board when I heard the Major yelling at us.
“You can’t be on my train!” he shouted, continuing to using profanity.
Being in the process of sitting down, I was ready to ignore the Major, but his foul mouth left me in a state of anger. I pulled off my satchel and undid my belt, then removed my bear-claw necklace.
I then stood on a bale of hay and shouted at the Major, “Come over here and say that to my face and I’ll show you what’s real and what’s fake!”
It didn’t take long for the Major and two soldiers to come down to our side of the flatbed and order me, my son and the Johnson’s to get off his train immediately.
“I can’t have civilian’s riding a troop train!” he shouted.
“You idiot!” I replied, “We’re all civilians, including you! And we’re all reenactors!”
“Well, I can’t have you riding my train!” he shot back.
I shook my head sideways, “It’s not your train!”
The Conductor, who was standing there, finally said, “Hey, we gotta get going. Sorry.”
It was evident that he was taking the Major’s side in the argument.
As I disembarked, I looked at the larger of the two men and replied, “That’s right, keep yourself between me and that Major.”
I grinned and looked from him to the shorter, harder man’s deep-set, blue eyes as the taller one asked, “Did you just threaten our Major?’
“Make of it what you will,” I answered.
I never took my eyes from Blue-eyes; rather I continued to stare and grin at him slightly.
“Want us to call the cops?” Tall man hissed, “We can have you tossed outta here.”
I didn’t bat an eye as I answered, “Do what you want.”
Blue-eyes finally blinked and called me, “Punk.”
He stepped back several steps before turning away. I stood there and watched as they stumbled over the loose rocks trying to catch up to the Major who was escorting the Johnson family around to the front of the train.
I wanted to pick up a rock and toss it at one of them but instead I shouted, “Hey fellas, thanks for playing!”
Then I lifted my kilt, exposing my backside at the two thugs. That was followed by a great round of applause and laughter and three thundering cheers of, “Zoo-ha, zoo-ha, zoo-ha.”
“Come on, Dad,” Kyle said, “Let’s get out of here.”
We turned and walked down the length of the train in the opposite direction. Neither one of us looked back as the whistle sounded and the steam locomotive pulled from the station.
“Hey,” came a voice from behind us.
I turned to see a man dressed in period-clothing, carrying a hand-held radio.
The man asked, “What happened back there?”
I explained how Mr. Johnson had spoken to the owner and was told he could get on the train and that the Major kicked us off the flatbed.
Then the man surprised me by saying, “I’m the owner of the train.”
At first I was slightly confused as he was not the same man who had identified himself as the owner earlier. I suddenly realized why the Conductor had so willingly given into the Major.
In the end, the real train-owner offered Kyle and me an apology for the screw up. I also apologized to him for having lost my temper and acted so poorly in front of not only his guests but also his employees.
Once in the truck I looked at Kyle and said, “I’m sorry for embarrassing you with my bad temper and ruining this weekend, son.”
Kyle smiled at me and replied, “You didn’t embarrass me or ruin my weekend. Being a damned Confederate soldier overnight did that. Now let’s go home.”