I clicked on this Yahoo! News story about rare Civil War photos today and it reminded me of something from my childhood.
My father was the President of the Clark County Historical Society in Northeast Missouri. In the northern part of the county, the remains of a small town called Athens stand where a small skirmish took place.
When I was a little girl, they would hold reenactments every year. My dad, being not only the Prez of the historical society but a huge history buff, took us to watch the North and the South battle it out.
One year didn’t go quite as planned. I liked to wander around, often I would end up straying too far from my parents and getting in trouble. Sometimes, I would just get lost. I don’t know how exactly I got lost in the Confederate camp, but I did. Of course, the camp was hidden behind some trees and far enough away from the main festivities at the battle field. I was hopelessly lost. And it didn’t take long before one of the Confederate men figured it out.
He invited me to his tent where his wife was making beans over an open fire. There were a lot of women at the camp. More than I thought there should be. This was WAR after all.
The camp was fascinating. These men and women were living like they were actually in the war. The women wore dresses that looked too hot for summer. The men were in their uniforms all day long. There were horses tied loosely to nearby trees, which is probably why I ended up in the camp to begin with. I loved horses. It was the night before the reenactment was set to begin and it felt like a real battle was on the way.
As the sun got closer to the horizon, my mother found me. I was sitting at the tent, eating my beans. They were pretty tasty. She scooped me up in her arms and hugged me like she’d never hugged me before. Then I got in serious trouble for wandering off. Again.
The next day, we watched the battle unfold before our eyes. When the battle happened on August 5, 1861, Athens was a lot bigger with a lot more buildings. When I watched it, there were only a few houses, one affectionately called the Cannonball house, still standing. The war that I saw took place in an almost open field. It didn’t take me long to find my hero from the day before. He rode in with his horse glistening from the sweat. And promptly got shot.
I knew that he wasn’t really dead, but that didn’t stop me from getting upset.
Later that afternoon after the battle was over and the festivities were winding down, I wandered off again. This time I knew where I was going. I’d paid attention to where the soldiers camp was located. The camp was gone. Most everyone had packed up and loaded their trucks. My little safe haven had disappeared. I stood there for a moment before heading back to my mom and dad.
I was sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye. But it was war after all, even if it wasn’t real. It felt real to me.