My first impression of how the weekend would go came when I glanced at the regional weather radar just before leaving work and embarking upon the nearly four hour journey to Wildwood Metropark. If someone were to take cans of green and yellow paint and splash them thickly across all of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, one would get an idea of how much rain could be expected in the Toledo area. It would not be a question of whether or not there would be rain, but rather how much of it we would get, and how long it would last.
The unpopular answer to this began just after midnight Saturday morning, and would continue unabated until nearly 2pm Saturday afternoon. Yes, over twelve hours of steady, soaking rain. As reenactors some of us speak of those "magic moments" during events, where we feel we are transported back 145 years and make as direct a connection with the soldiers of the Civil War as we are capable of making. As I lay curled on my side trying to keep my 6"4" frame covered under a saturated, sagging canvas sheet I believe I had one of those moments.
When 7am reveille rolled around about the only thing that could be heard in staff camp was the spatter of raindrops on tents and the constant white noise of rain falling through the trees. Hardly anyone was stirring. It was here that I first knew that the day's schedule of events was doomed to oblivion as the rain showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. Any fires left unattended overnight were dead and cold, although some success was seen at getting new ones started with dry kindling and firewood. Formal morning reports were forgotten, with news of company strengths passing by word of mouth. It was obvious that the unrelenting rain would have an effect on our numbers, although to his credit Col. Minton remained as optimistic as could be during the morning officer's meeting, as did his butternut counterpart Col. Medich. Even if nothing else on the schedule would proceed, we committed to a battle, the pie auction, and the sold-out lantern tour. If the event was forced to bow to the weather after that, so be it.
Their optimism and determination would be rewarded when the rain did indeed relent just as the Army of Ohio formed up, looking only slightly the worse for wear. We even had time to arrest a suspicious individual, one James Ruley, who stood accused of impersonating a tailor (which he denied, stating that the wrong man had been arrested), along with the heinous crimes of being an outstanding Colonel of the AoO in the past (whereupon he admitted that the right man had indeed been found--if only he knew the rest of the charges). This bit of recognition and respect dispensed with, the two strong companies of the Army of Ohio marched to battle, where we came to a rest in front of the surprising number of spectators who seemed to materialize from thin air the moment the last raindrop fell. We stacked arms, sent fake water details, and deployed a company of skirmishers into the field. Pvt. Lewis of the 30th OVI merits particular recognition for running off to get The plans for the battle made between Cols. Minton and Medich were disconcertingly simple: we knew where we would start, we knew where we would end, and who would win. Everything else was fluid and open to possibility. Flanking? Sure. Taking artillery pieces? Absolutely. Charges? Yes. It was a refreshing change from the old chestnut of marching out in battle lines and blazing away while cannons boom from the far ends of the field. What we got in the end, aside from being covered in green burrs, was a half-hour engagement where we pushed against each other, surprised each other with flanking movements, and generally had a great time. The Confederates seized victory, pushing us off the field and down the road. For a glorified skirmish that involved maybe eighty men total I thought it was a fine spectacle, heightened by the smoke that lingered over the field, obscuring our vision. I was also thanked personally b After that, the afternoon swiftly progressed through the pie auction, which took in a new record over just over $1,200, and the catered dinner which again smothered us with mountains of smoked pork and chicken, potato salad, green beans, baked beans, and oh so much more. They had food for 300; I've no doubt that anyone who wanted seconds or thirds was turned away. Even the Mockingbird Theater company managed to squeeze in a show after the battle.
Day slipped into night, and we could only wonder what the sogginess of the day and the threat of more rain Sunday would do to our numbers--never mind that the OSU/USC game would also work its siren's song over our ranks.
Sunday morning broke with sunlight instead of grey gloom. The same change could not be mirrored in me, because I awoke with a headache, sour stomach, and not enough drive to go get some food to alleviate it. I was graciously allowed to sit out drill and nurse my quarreling gut with dry bread and water. Surprisingly, it worked, and I was able to take part in the battle. As the day unfolded, it became evident that every soldier would be needed.
Because of the obliterated schedule from yesterday, army protocol was again dispensed with and morning report numbers came in with the same reduced level of formality. Our ranks were cut roughly by half, meaning several officers volunteered to place themselves in the ranks in order to bolster our flagging strength. We were still able to field two companies, albeit at a total of maybe twenty men. The same held true for the Confederates, and the mettle of Medich's Battalion once again shone through.
The Sunday afternoon battle saw our positions and fates reversed, with the same free-form act-and-react planning in place. Col. Minton worked with a most willing Capt. Clarke and artillery crew, who seized the opportunities given them to wheel their pieces into place, at times keeping one gun right up on the front lines with a company of infantry supporting. All involved would also see the return of the burrs, the removal of whom so much time was spent the day before.
The fighting seemed long and difficult, with misfiring weapons due to wet powder and caps and dwindling ammunition supplies. Medich's men insisted upon a hot fight, one which we at times might've been hard-pressed to maintain given the thick underbrush and inert weapons. In the end, we achieved victory even in the face of tricky Confederate tactics (I recall the platoon that laid in the brush, completely hidden, until they rose up not six feet from Lt. Spang's company) but I'd have to call it an ugly victory...or at least a somewhat homely one.
Afterwards both armies regrouped at the crossroads (I feel compelled to mention the appearance of a shirtless Jim Ruley who saluted us by standing at "present spade". It is unknown how many poor soldiers were struck blind by the sight) and marched back to the manor house where we lined up on the green and faced each other. Col. Minton spoke to the assembled men, thanking all for their hard work and determination. Cheers and salutes were liberally given from both sides as well as to both sides. But it was Col. Medich who had the best gesture--he bade his men to break ranks and shake hands with us as we were dismissed. It showed that we're all on the same side as renactors, a sentiment echoed by Col. Minton Saturday morning, who himself was echoing the words of Chris Anders in Gettysburg.
All in all, it seems that Bob Minton is blessed with the ability to make the best event possible for the Army of Ohio when circumstances conspire against it. Neither weather nor reenactor politics nor scheduling limitations can stop us from having fun. We were also blessed with a fine opponent in Nick Medich and his battalion. I truly think we've found our best match; our two groups seemed to get along so well that I cannot think of anyone else I'd want to "fight" against in an event the Army of Ohio attends. His philosophy regarding battle strategy and planning meshes quite well, and he seems willing to put his men first. I'm really hoping we'll get to see the Medich Battalion's full strength next year at Zoar.
I think I've gone on long enough--if you'll excuse me, I have some burrs to pick off my trousers before they sprout.
Army of the Ohio
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