I've only been to one battle reenactment. It was in Wisconsin, and Indians were fighting soldiers, tomahawks were being thrown like grenades, and one old codger with a gun leaned up against a building and slept through the whole battle.
So when Chris and I, on what turned out to be the last warm Sunday of the fall, showed up to experience the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Albany . . . AND the battle that caused the demise of Confederate Captain "Bloody" Bill Anderson, who rode with Quantrill . . . neither of us really knew what we were in for.
Other than the potential of sleepy soldiers.
What we did know is that Missouri was a deeply divided state during the Civil War, and those allegiances are strong today. And we live right in the thick of where it happened.
Evidence: After the event was over, a Confederate soldier zipped past on a Gator. "Um," I said, "I don't think those are regulation." "Yeah," he responded, "Well, I'm from the side who had to improvise."
Sir, yes, sir.
We lined up with the crowd that had gathered to watch. The Confederate soldiers were hiding in the trees. The Union soldiers were hiding under the brush.
A woman alerted the Union soldiers to where Anderson and his men were hiding. Then a Northern contingent of mounted men innocently rode out just far enough to lure the Southern soldiers out into the open.
The battle--really more of an ambush--was on.
So were a million cell phones.
Some accounts say the Battle of Albany only took ten minutes. But when it was over, the South had lost, and Bloody Bill was dead, tossed in the back of a wagon and hauled off the battlefield to excited shouting and whooping. According to reports, "On Captain Anderson's body was found his likeness and that of his wife, a small Confederate flags, letters from his wife from Texas, a lock of her hair, and orders from Major General Price."
The soldiers who were still alive (and we had to admit that some of the performances of the men who got shot while on horseback, fell off their horses, and writhed on the ground in agony were pretty impressive, namely because none of the horses trampled anyone in the chaos.) got back in formation and marched back to camp . . .
doffing their hats to the ladies as they walked past.
AS THEY SHOULD.
Afterward, we went down to the county courthouse where the body of Bloody Bill was dragged through the streets.
This is where things started to fall apart.
One reenactor, crossing the street at the same time as us, pointed at the Northern soldiers and thundered, "Those damn Yankees are making a circus out of Anderson's death. They killed our captain!" while his wife twirled her parasol and nodded demurely.
Now, my parents, who have gone to numerous reenactments, have told me at least twenty times that reenactors are great at staying in character. They know the past. They like to re-tell the stories. It's why they're there.
So I've heard the stories. I know this to be true. I should have been ready.
But do you think I remembered that at the time?
The spirited gentleman's statement--"Those damn Yankees!"--was met with . . . silence on our part.
It was kind of like watching a baseball fly . . . in slow motion . . . past a batter who swings 30 seconds too late.
In other words, painful.
I looked at him. He looked at me. I looked at Chris. Chris looked me.
We had nothin'.
By the time he was across the street, I finally stuck my finger in the air: "Yeah, well . . ." I said weakly. Chris just shook his head at me. We stunk.
By the time Bloody Bill's body had been duly photographed and trundled back out of town, we had come up with at least twenty good responses.
Mine consisted of, "Oh, yeah?" and "Well, guess what?" while Chris actually thought to see how far the reenactor could go with his story by asking him where they fought together and where Anderson had grown up and how they knew each other.
Questions that we'd learn something from.
This is why I married him.
But we're not giving up, even though we failed miserably the first time. There's another reenactment coming up in December and one next fall where sailors on boats will fire cannons toward land and the ensuing pyrotechnics displays will cause small children to wail and want to go home.
Kind of like I did after the question that wasn't.
But we'll be there. And this time, we'll be ready.
Or as I like to say, "Yeah, well . . ."