I spent much of today at Fort Vancouver  where, for the first time ever, I was in costume as a Civil War private with the 1st Oregon Infantry volunteers . I thought it would be worthwhile to explain how I spent my day, at least the large portion of the day I spent at Fort Vancouver, most of it in costume, given that my experiences as a Civil War reenactor and living historian are not something that most people would be familiar with at all, and certainly qualify as some of the more obscure and unusual of my many and varied unusual interests. It started, I suppose, with an e-mail sent out late last week looking for volunteers to go to the Memorial Day at Fort Vancouver, and seeing as the fort is not very far from where I live right now, I figured it was an ideal situation as far as volunteering was concerned, except that I had no supplies. Sounding the alarm both about my interest and my sad state of logistical preparation, by yesterday evening I had gotten in touch with someone who was able to bring in an extra uniform in my fairly average size for me to wear until I can acquire a full uniform, which will require a bit of time.
I was told to meet the person at the Visitor’s Center at 9:30AM, and so after getting up and getting ready, I managed to get inside the gate with some difficulty, and in a sufficiently unusual way that the person who opened the gate communicated my presence with the person I was supposed to be meeting up with, and I then moved my car from the Visitor’s center to near the place where we were setting up and then to a place that did not disrupt the general feel of an 1860’s encampment. As it happens, today I and about half a dozen fellow volunteers in the 1st Oregon Infantry were engaged in a living history demonstration to provide an education to the public about the experience of Oregon volunteers who, during the Civil War, had been called to man Fort Vancouver and other posts within the Pacific Northwest after the regulars had been called east to fight against secession and treason. So, before the crowds started coming I changed into my costume in my car, which consisted of a white tunic, light blue wool pants buttoned up, leather shoes whose soles have to be kept well oiled that were a couple of sizes too big and with rather poor lacing, a French-based forage cap that was a bit floppy but kept my balding head from being too sunburned and showed me as belonging to company A within the volunteer regiment, and a dark blue jacket with the bottom button missing. I also had a broken reproduction of an 1861 Springfield rifle known affection as a rustfield which I held and practiced in drill for much of the day, but more on that later, as well as a leather pouch slung around me diagonally from my shoulders, with a breastplate on my solar plexus and the pouch itself resting against my right buttocks, and a leather belt with a belt buckle and a small and empty cartridge pouch over the dark blue jacket.
The first order of business was setting up the tents, so I and a few others worked first on setting up the Sibley tent and then a couple of A-frame tents, one of which held all of the farb supplies to keep them out of the public eye. That task took a while, and when it was done I chatted with some of the other people there while we were inside, as well as with a few of the calvalrymen from the 1st Oregon cavalry who had shown up as well, and a few isolated artillery soldiers that I did not know personally. Despite the fact that there is a healthy community of reenactors in the Pacific Northwest, I must admit that I do not know many of the people who are outside of the infantry units, something that became humorous at the end when I was asked if I had met a particular person who was part of the cavalry and who also played the bagpipes, who is also a member of a gaming group on Facebook besides our being colleagues in reenacting today for living history, but who I have never actually met or spoken with yet. It will happen one of these days, as it is entirely impossible that I should be at the same events and in the same groups with someone at length without getting to know them at some point. Before too long, there was a healthy crowd of people curious about Civil War technology and the reason why a few people were dressed up in obvious period garb of some kind. Children looked at us with suspicion, and perhaps even a bit of fear given the large and heavy muskets that we were carrying.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the trip was the drilling. As I had never been in costume and had a broken musket and had not passed the safety test to be able to do the black powder firing, I did the drills but could not actually fire. I imagine firing will come at some point before too long, though. The drills were quite difficult to manage at first, but things did get a little easier with some practice and by the time we were doing it in front of the public I was at least marginally competent at them. After the initial drills there was some meeting and greeting with the public that showed up to Fort Vancouver today and some demonstrations, and while some people ate the salt pork and boiled potatoes, I did not and resolved to eat afterward, where I could have something clean. After the event we broke down the tents, where the four year old daughter of one of the fellow newbie soldiers adorably wanted to claim one tent and then another as her own, and where I was given some homework to shop around for prices for clothing and supplies with sutlers and to read up on the history of the 1st Oregon volunteers to go along with my broad and deep base of existing Civil War history. I was complimented on my general knowledge of the Civil War and my lack of shyness in interacting with the public, and after changing out of my clothing and back into my usual garb, it was time to depart. It had been a deeply enjoyable day, though, and a productive one in educating the public and giving honor to the brave war dead of the Civil War who, at least in the Pacific Northwest, can easily be forgotten.
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 See, for example: