In 1861, at the start of the American Civil War, three regiments of infantry were organized in Texas and made the long trip to Virginia to form what became known to history as Hood's Texas Brigade. Our club represents one small part of that brigade: Company H of the 4th Texas Infantry, recruited in the piney woods of eastern Texas. Under the leadership of General John Bell Hood, the Texans compiled the finest fighting record in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Their gallant deeds at the battles of Gaine's Mill, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, and the Wilderness entered American legend, but at a terrible cost. Their army commander, Robert E. Lee, said, "I rely upon our Texans in all tight places, and I fear I have to call upon them too often." So often did Lee call, that of the 4,300 Texans who served with him, barely 600 were left at the war's end.
We seek to portray the appearance of the typical Confederate soldier in 1863 in our camp and in our personal effects. We come pretty close, though we'd be more realistic if we were dirtier and not as well fed! Here's some things to look for while you're with us.
Uniforms... Prior to the Civil War, the South had grown much of the nation's wool and cotton, but most of the textile manufacturing had been done in the North. Thus the Confederacy had great trouble in clothing its troops. Much of the clothing was either civilian wear, or uniforms sewn at home by the womenfolk, and styles and colors rarely matched within a unit. Coats were supposed to be a medium gray, but dyes were inconsistent. As supplies of wool became short a wool/cotton blend called jean cloth was used.
Camp Gear... Our camp today would seem luxurious to the real Texans. They had tents only when occupying a camp for several months. During active campaigns, tents were sent to the rear, and a soldier would be limited to the blankets, food and cooking gear he could carry on his person.
Drill... The Texans usually spent each morning at drill, which took several forms. You may see our company practicing the "manual of arms," which deals with the handling and use of the musket and bayonet. You may also see "company drill," which focuses on shifting troops from a marching column to a fighting line, and then maneuvering that line effectively on the battlefield.
Pay... Civil War privates earned $11 a month, minus deductions for clothing and lost equipment. If our men are lucky, you could see a rare visit from the paymaster.
The Texans made their reputation as a fighting unit, and you'll see them prominently featured in our recreated battles.
Weapons... Most of our men carry reproduction .58 caliber Enfield of Springfield rifled muskets, the predominate infantry weapon of the Civil War. Lethal at 1,000 yards, accurate to 500 yards, these weapons were usually used at much shorter ranges. Infantrymen loaded their weapons by the muzzle using a premeasured paper-wrapped cartridge, and then fired the weapon by a percussion cap under the hammer. Good soldiers could load and fire three aimed shots a minute.
If you watch closely, you may see some other weapons in use. These include swords and revolvers for our officers, and long-range rifles with telescopic sights in the hands of our shaprshooters.
Tactics... Since long muskets were very difficult to load except in a standing position, Civil War tactics were designed to maneuver opposing forces into parallel lines for a firefight, followed by a decisive bayonet charge. This worked, but often produced heavy casualties on both sides.
Watch especially the use of two ranks of men during firing. Good tactics called for one rank to fire while the other reloaded. This process would be carefully controlled by the unit commander. If losses or maneuver disrupted this pattern, the effectiveness of a unit was greatly decreased.
Notice too the role of the "colors" (flag) in the movement of units. Standing high above the smoke of gunfire, the colors provided direction for an advancing unit and a rallying point for a retreating one. To lose its flag brought dishonor on a regiment. Being prime targets for opposing marksmen, members of the color guard were chosen for their bravery and steadiness. You'll often see heroic efforts to protect regimental flags as the battle unfolds.
The Civil War soldier spent more time in camp than in battle, where boredom and homesickness were major enemies. During your visit to one of our events, you'll probably see several examples of how soldiers spent their off-duty time.
Cooking... During 1865, a Confederate soldier in Virginia was to receive a half pound of bacon or a pound of fresh beef daily, along with eighteen ounces of flour or twenty ounces of corn meal, and small qauntities of beans, salt, and vinegar. In practice, rations were often short or not issued at all, and soldiers supplemented them with what they could buy or steal from local farmers.
Cooking utensils were scarce. Keep an eye out for unusual ways being used to prepare these rations.
Mail Call... Soldiers looked forward eagerly to letters from home, and the army did its best to make mail call a frequent occurrence. Unfortunately, by 1863, news from home was often a sad litany of wartime casualties among former neighbors and hard times in the absence of the breadwinners.
Games... Card games were a popular pastime in camp. Poker, Whist, Euchre, and Seven-Up were all played in the Texas camps. Surprisingly, chess, checkers, backgammon, and cribbage also were very popular among the Texans.
Singing... The Texas Brigade was famed for the music in its camps. If you listen, you'll probably find groups singing not only patriotic songs and folk ballads of the period, but also the works of Stephen Foster and other popular composers of the 1860s.
Because Hood's Texans were such a famous unit, many veterans wrote elaborate memoirs of their service during the war. Members of our club have made good use of these books and other period data to reconstruct the life of soldiers in the 4th Texas.
Reenactors refer to this process as "creating a persona." Basically, a persona is the life history, knowledge, and appearance of a character that the reenactor will recreate throughout their time in camp and at events.
A talk with some of these imaginary Texans can be a lot of fun, and you'd learn some interesting facts about life in the 1860s.
Our club includes teachers, policemen, postmen, computer programmers, store managers, doctors, students, and a host of others. We live all over the states of Oregon and Washington. The common theme that has brought us together is a deep interest in American history and a desire to relive a fascinating period in our nation's past.
In case you're wondering, the fact that we reenact a Confederate unit has nothing to do with the current political views of our members. We portray a military unit as a hobby, but we are not a military unit. It's fun to represent Confederates because of the greater diversity in clothing, equipment, ect. found historically in that army.