Monday, May 17, 2010

MEMORIES OF THE 125TH ANNIVERSARY REENACTMENT OF FIRST MANASSAS


Here I am, Mike Jones, in 1986, all ready for the 125th anniversary reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas. I got the uniform, Mississippi Rifle and bowie knife specially for my "Tiger Rifle" impression at the large scale reenactment of the first great battle of the War For Southern Independence.
(Photo by Susan Jones)

By Mike Jones

The 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas, Virginia coming up next year has gotten me to thinking about the 125th anniversary event which I took part in on 19, 20 July 1986. It was a great event, one of the highlights of my entire life. What wonderful memories I have of that event. I took part in it with other reenactors from Louisiana, and we planned and organized probably a year in advance for it. Jim Walters, then of Shreveport, was our commander and did an outstanding job. Along with other reenactors from all over the nation, we portrayed the famous "Tiger Rifles" of Company B, 1st Special Battalion (Wheat's) Louisiana Volunteers.

We went all out preparing for the event, having authentic Tiger Rifles zouave uniforms specially made for the event. I even went to the extent of trading my 3-band 1853 British Enfield rifle for an 1841 Mississippi Rifle just so I'd have the exact type of firearm used by the Tigers in the actual battle. We also got 15 1/2 inch long bowie knives so we could accurately reenact the Tiger's famous charge that helped buy time for Confederate reinforcements coming up.

Here I am at the graves of  privates
Michael O'Brien and Dennis Corcoran
at the St. John's Episcopal Church and
Cemetery. 5649 Mount Gilead Road,
Centreville, Va. They were veterans of
The real battle. (Photo  by Susan Jones).
My wife Susan and I drove up from Louisiana on our own and had a great trip, seeing the sights on the way up and back. Susan made a period outfit for herself so she could spend time in camp with me without spoiling the authentic atmosphere for the other reenactors. We had two very small kids then who wouldn't have gotten much out of it anyway, so we left them with my parents. We got into the mood by visiting the Manassas battlefield and the graves of the two Tiger Rifles, Dennis Corcoran and Michael O'Brien, at the Old Anglican Church in Centreville, Va. The two Tigers were executed 9 December 1861 for having assaulted an officer. It was the first military execution in the Confederate Army up to that time.

The event was put on by The American Civil War Commemorative Committee and was very well planned and organized. We never had any problems. With temperatures in the mid-90s, there was plenty of water available and emergency assistance for heat casualties, of which there were said to be several hundred, according to news reports. There were 6,500 reenactors reported to have taken part, and 50,000 spectators. And what a spectacle it was. Tickets for spectators were $4 (or $3 in advance) for adults, $2 for students and seniors and free for under 6 with an adult.

I am on the right. I don't know who the other three
Tigers are. Besides our Louisiana contingent, I
believe we had others from Maryland, Virginia,
and California making up our unit.
(Photo by Susan Jones)
The reenactors came from all over the U.S. as well as England, Germany and Australia. Authenticity was emphasized, and there were serious authenticity inspections at the event. I remember being quite concerned about those inspections but I passed with flying colors. While in camp, the reenactors ate, slept and drilled as their ancestors did in 1861. The battle was very well planned and followed the maneuvers of the two armies in the first great battle of the South's war for independence.

The number of artillery pieces on the field were planned to be equal in number of those actually present in the battle, and I believe there were. There were also professional pyrotechnics used to simulate aerial bursts and in-ground shell explosions. There was also a mock up of the Henry house built on the reenactment battlefield, which was blown up as the real one was in the actual battle. At least eight of the cannons were fully horse-drawn and 1,500 rounds of artillery were fired in the battle. The infantry and cavalry fired 50,000 small arms rounds.

The "battlefield" was a 500-acre tract of land within Westfields, an 1,100 acre corporate office park development in western Fairfax County. It was located off Highway 28, between Interstate 66 and U.S. 50. The terrain was very similar to the original Manassas battlefield, which was five miles away. There was radio and television coverage of the event and a special 125th anniversary video was filmed, of which I still have a copy.

Here is my pass to get on the battlefield. Authenticity
standards were very strict and high for the event.
Since we were portraying the Tiger Rifles, known for their hi-jinks in camp, we did our best to emulate our Confederate forefathers. I recall we had a make-shift guardhouse and it was certainly kept occupied. I think some other units got quite upset with us, for real.

On Saturday, 19 July, camps were open to the public at 9 a.m. We had drilling, School of the Musician, a children's fair, and evening military tattoo. I can't remember what we ate, if it was provided or if we brought our own food. There was also a period gospel tent revival.

On Sunday, 20 July, the reenactment battle was held. We had church services and then the battle, which was held between 1 and 3:30 o'clock that afternoon. Being an ordinary soldier in the ranks, I wasn't privy to the planning, but I assume we were following the actions of the original Tiger Rifles on that fateful day in 1861. Wheat's Battalion was part of Col. Nathan "Shanks" Evans' short brigade made up of the Louisianians and the 4th South Carolina Infantry, and some cavalry and artillery. It was on the Confederate left. Commanding the Confederate army were generals Pierre Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston.

The Union Army, under Gen. Irvin McDowell, planned to turn the Confederate left flank.. The only thing between the 20,000 bluecoats McDowell sent and disaster for the South, was Evans' short brigade of just 1,100 men. Seeing that he was being flanked, Evans led 900 men, including Wheat's Battalion, from the Stone Bridge where they were stationed to Matthew's Hill. In the reenactment, we too were brigaded with a group portraying the 4th South Carolina.




It was on Matthew's Hill that the Tiger Rifles expended their blood in a desperate holding action until reinforcements could get up. By firing their Mississippi Rifles and then charging with their bowie knifes, the Tigers and the South Carolinians managed to hold off the Yankee invaders of the sacred soil of Virginia long enough for Brig. Gen. Bernard Bee and Col. Francis Bartow to bring up 2,800 reinforcements. As we know, the battle continued for hours and it seemed the day was going to go to the North, but added reinforcements came on the field in a nick of time and the Federal Army was eventually  routed.

I just remember it being extremely hot and sweating like a pig. But we fired off dozens of rounds from our Mississippi Rifles, and got the thrill of doing our bowie knife charge. Of course at that stage of the war we fought under the First National flag of the Confederacy. The actual flag that was wrapped around Maj. Chatham Roberdeau Wheat when he was seriously wounded, is on display at Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans. It still has his blood stains on it. In the reenactment, I'm assuming we followed history pretty well. I loved everything about the event: the planning, the zouave uniforms, the attention to detail and authenticity and most of all honoring our ancestors and their great struggle for Southern Independence.

I would welcome any memories from others that took part in the 125th Anniversary Reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas, with either the North or the South. I'm glad I'm a Tiger Rifle (reenactor) veteran of that illustrious event. I feel I have a very special bond with the original Tiger Rifles. Deo Vindice!


Here is the Tiger Rifles camp at the reenactment. My beautiful wife Susan is seated in the tent at right. We've now been married for 40 years and she's always been a good sport about my reenactment hobby. She has even made some of my uniforms. (Photo by Mike Jones).

3 comments:

johnrinva said...

Hey Mike,
My name is John Reid. You don't know me by name, but I was the Provost Marshall at the event that hosted your tigers in my stockade. You guys made the entire week for me and turned a rather mundane and thankless responsibility into a hellovalotta fun. Hope you enjoyed the accomodations.

Later!
johnrinva@yahoo.com

johnrinva said...

Hey Mike,
My name is John Reid. You don't know me by name, but I was the Provost Marshall at the 125th 1st Manassas who built the stockade and had the pleasure of "arresting" your boys all weekend. You turned what would have been a rather mundane and thankless responsibility into a hellovalotta fun. Hope you boys enjoyed the accomodations.

Later!
johnrinva@yahoo.com

nat baggett said...

Hey Mike JONES, this is Sgt. Baggett of the tiger rifles. I remember, we brought a big black cast iron pot and a boat paddle to stur the gumbo with, yep, we had yankee gumbo to eat.