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My Life in the War

My Life in the War

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My experience in a local Civil War re-enactment, which led to my new supernatural thriller DRUMMER BOY. More info at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com
My experience in a local Civil War re-enactment, which led to my new supernatural thriller DRUMMER BOY. More info at http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

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Published by: author Scott Nicholson on Apr 29, 2010
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04/29/2010

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My Life In The WarBy Scott Nicholson(This experience helped inspire my new novel DRUMMER BOY, in which one misfit kidis all that stands between a small Blue Ridge Mountain town and a ghostly Civil Wartroop. A local legend involving war deserters haunting Linville Caverns also led to thenovel.)My first taste of battle left me largely disoriented, but at least I was still standing at theend, though I lost my pencil along the way.Tudd Dean, a member of the Blue Ridge Living History Society and one of theorganizers of the Stoneman’s Raid Civil War re-enactment, recruited me to join the fun.I was to play a civilian reporter during the event held at the Horn In the West grounds inBoone, NC, last weekend.Tudd and another soldier loaned me clothes from the period, a top hat and top coat andcotton shirt and pants. My only nods to the 21st Century were the rubber soles of myshoes and the rayon in my shoelaces.My role in the event was as a local reporter in the town where the "battle" was takingplace. This year, the event was staged as a battle centered around Westchester,Virginia. Since that town changed hands more times than a utility infielder, the scriptcould take many different directions.When I asked Tudd what I was supposed to do, I learned that there actually was noscript. Over a hundred troops in both blue and gray, more than a dozen horses, a largecontingent of civilian women and children, and one reporter were taking the field withonly the vaguest notion of what would happen.I asked Newland’s Tim Townsend, who was depicting a Sergeant in the Watauga HomeGuard, what I should do. He said I should get out of the way when the action started, torun in the cabin and get captured along with the women and children."I won’t lie to you," he said. "This is a dangerous hobby."That’s when I realized that I was going to be the only unarmed male in the battle, acowardly reporter who runs around with a pencil and a piece of paper. This is a role Iwas born for. Whoever said, "The pen is mightier than the sword" was probably never ina duel.Tim and I worked up a little scenario where I would come down during the drill and ask
 
him how the "boys" were doing, what the state of the war was, and if the Yankees wouldever show up here. Warming up, I tipped my hat to the ladies and engaged in politeconversation, not an unpleasant job by any means. The Union cavalry rode into townbefore I had a chance to deliver my lines to the Sergeant, though.When the firing broke out from replica powder rifles, I gentlemanly assisted the womenand children into one of the cabins. I watched from the safety of the back porch as theUnion troops drove back the home guard.One of the first Rebel casualties fell about fifteen feet from where I was hiding. He wasa television news cameraman in his day job, and I’d talked with him earlier. I foughtdown an impulse to go out and help him, especially as a horse trampled excruciatinglynear his head. But that would not have fit my role. No civilian alive back then, even areporter, would be dumb enough to run between two battle lines.The Union soldiers drove back the Boys in Gray, and Yankee foot soldiers stormed thecabin and captured us. On the front porch, the soldiers began robbing the women andmenacing the children. When one got overly aggressive while taking a cup from awoman, I was driven to defend her honor and have it out with the blue-belly.The soldier got a little enthusiastic, shoving me around with his rifle, and I hit the deckand lost my wonderful top hat. I stood up and delivered my best line of the day: "Don’tyou mess with my hat."As we prisoners were shepherded to another cabin, some of the children were crying,frightened by the realism of the event. Rigged blasts from cannon went off every coupleof minutes, and the ladies pelted the Yanks with pine cones, shouted insults, andcheered the Rebel counterattack.Meanwhile, our captors called us "traitors" and worse, though the language wasgenerally kept in check for the benefit of the several hundred people in the audience. Acouple of the soldiers wore big grins despite their "wounded" condition, and most of thevictims managed to prop themselves against trees or fall out of the way of the cavalry.The air was thick with powder smoke, the smell of horses, and noise of gunfire andshouts. As the Rebs began to push back the invaders, the prisoners were released, andI counted Yankee bodies. I reported 25 casualties to the Sergeant, who asked, "Arethey all dead?" I answered something like "Not enough of them, sir."I "interviewed" one wounded soldier who said he was gut shot and could do with a pintof whiskey. I told him he was done for anyway, so he might as well enjoy himself. I’dseen the staged field hospital, and there were far too many bloody limbs lying around toafford much hope.

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