SEEING THE ELEPHANT-Part 1
Seeing the Elephant is a weird expression. During the Civil War and in today’s Civil War Reenacting it means participating in your first battle.
I remember the first Civil War Battle for me was the first weekend in December, 1994, at Prairie Grove Battlefield in Northwest Arkansas. The reenactment commemorated an 1862 battle that confirmed Missouri would stay in Union hands.
I had just joined the 6th Arkansas Infantry and didn’t know a thing about 19th Century warfare. Prior to the reenactment weekend I had sent off for a uniform, two muslin shirts, leathers (cartridge box, bayonet and scabbard, cap box, and belt) and musket. I had received all the leathers, my shirts and my musket before coming to the reenactment. However, my uniform wasn’t delivered in time for the reenactment so I borrowed a pair of postman’s blue cotton trousers and a second sergeant’s butternut colored jacket from one of the veterans of the 6th.
I met my Pard, Karl Elsea, at this reenactment. We initially became acquaintedon the Friday afternoon when our company arrived at the battlefield. Karl had come with one of our Sergeants. We were assigned to the same two-man tent. He had just moved to Arkansas; joined the 6th; and was returning to reenacting after an absence of a few years. He had started reenacting as a bugler for a Virginia reenacting unit when was about 10 years old. Over the years he had been in a cavalry unit, an artillery unit and various infantry units. Needless to say he knew more about reenacting than all the people in the 6th combined. We hit it off immediately and became like brothers.
I had never slept out in a Civil War Tent on the ground before, but that Friday night I found it exhilarating. I woke up before day break on Saturday morning; left the warmth of my blanket roll; dressed; and went to the Company’s fire, which had burned down to embers. Our Lieutenant had also just gotten up and come to the fire. I gave him a crisp Civil War salute, which is how the British do it, and put some logs on the company fire.
I looked around and took in the sights and sounds. Snores could be heard from some of the tents along our company street. Tents of other companies could be seen for a few hundred yards in any direction. Soldiers were stirring. Some were even starting to cook at their company camp fires. Horses were whinnying at the Cavalry Camps a few hundred yards away. The Eastern sky was starting to light up. Dawn was just a few minutes away.
I felt as if I had entered a time warp. I was finally in the 19th Century.