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Monday, June 13, 2011

Band of Brothers: 150 Years of Brotherhood

Band of Brothers:

150 Years of Brotherhood and the Fight for Our Union

“We are a band of brothers; native to the soil. Fighting for the property we gained by honest toil; and when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far, Hurrah! For the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!”

The angry gray clouds mocked us as dad and I drove to Pennypacker Mills located in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania for the annual Civil War reunion.

“I really hope it doesn’t rain,” I say to dad as we pull into the parking field of the historic site.

“I agree, but hey, it’s not hot out like in past years,” Dad replies as he throws the car in park. I couldn’t agree with him more: all the other years we have went it was at least 90˚ with high humidity. My poor ashen Irish skin never fared well in the sun.

We give the lady our two dollar donation and collect the map and events booklet, then walk to the grounds—we are brought to the Confederate side (my favorite!).

“I’m going to sit on the porch to listen to the banjo player,” dad says as he heads toward to the mansion’s porch.

“Okay, I’m goin’ to walk around, I’ll catch up with you later,” I reply as I start travelling towards the Confederate camp.

Wandering along the path, the oak trees protect me from the black clouds that looked threatening to the troops and camps (these trees would have been perfect for a sunny day) and the leaves rustle in the light breeze is refreshing. Children dressed up in Victorian style were laughing as they play hopscotch in the background. I want to join in on the games, but one of the Confederate soldiers caught my attention with, “Nice, Pantera. Haven’t seen anyone wear that shirt in years!”

I smile and take it as an invitation to walk over. As I approach the Reb and the rest of his camp, I say, “Thanks. I love old metal bands. I love old music in general.” At that point I had my Confederate cavalry hat on.

“Me too. So I see you’re one of us.”

“Yep,” I smile. “Love the Civil War, but I usually join the Rebs.”

“Smart girl. Would you care to be a spy for us?”

We both laugh and I say something to the effect of I’m sure I could, but I have a father to get back to. One of his other comrades, Jim he introduces himself as, walks over to compliment the shirt, shakes my hand and tells me about another reenactment the following week that is three times the size of the Reunion at Pennypacker Mills. I get a picture with them and thank them.

Moseying along the path again, I see young Rebel boys at target practice. I walk towards them, say hi and they proceed to show me how to shoot (surprisingly, but I guess the hat did wonders), although one young boy of six years of age, wondered why a girl wanted to shoot. The older boys were gracious and talked to me as I was a familiar.

When their father calls, they tip their hats toward me and I thank them for their lessons of shooting a wooden rifle (hey, it was fun pretending it was an actual revolver shooting idly at trees). I start to diverge on the path again and mosey towards the hospital tent like in years past. However, unlike the previous years, a new surgeon was present and being young unlike the older gentleman, he had less bloodied, bruised and drunk patients.

“So, how did they not feel pain?” a little boy asked the surgeon.

“Well, we had no anesthesia, so they either passed out from pain or depending on the surgeon they were given whiskey and then they’d pass out from pain and drunkenness.”

The surgeon picked up a pair of pliers and explained to us that these were used for tooth extraction. He gave demonstration after demonstration as the nurse standing next to the opium and other drugs watch horrified.

Entranced by the different demonstrations of the surgeon and the nurse explaining the different drugs, I look down at my watch and notice it is 1pm. It was time to do some more walking and to join my dad on the porch for the banjo player.

Making my way up the cobblestone path and stairs, I can hear the musician strumming on the banjo and singing his heart out to Dixie, I know he can’t be far. The blue painted wooden floorboards underneath me begin to creak as I move toward the “Look away, look away, Dixie Land”, but the creaks were muted by the singing, strumming and laughter. Finally, I see my dad and I sit near him and watch the banjo and guitar player perform. As I sat down, he sang the Texas version of Dixie and I sang along.

From the corner of my eye, I see dad sitting comfortably on the wooden wicker chair. I wish I took a picture of him sitting and rocking back and forth; he looked like a natural and like he wanted to stay there basking in the cool breeze on the nice wooden porch. The musician puts down his banjo and picks up the guitar and starts singing Lorena. One of my favorite songs, I can’t help but singing along. The musician sees me singing, smiles and we sing together. At that moment, I wish I had brought my Fender acoustic guitar to have played along.

“It matters little now, Lorena, the past—is eternal past, tis dust to dust beneath the sod, but there, up there, ‘tis heart to heart,” he finished slowly and somberly, then tipped his hat to me and softly said, “Thank you, Little Lady, for singing along.”

I smile and nod; he begins his next song, but before he started he kept interrupting with story after story. Knowing the crowd was getting annoyed, despite all our laughing, he finally started singing, “Sittin’ by the roadside on a Summer’s day…” I smile and knew right then and there he was singing Goober Peas. He interrupts himself again and says to the crowd, “I’ll be singing Goober Peas. Please sing along with the chorus.”

“Sittin’ by the roadside on a Summer’s day,

Chattin’ with messmates, passin’ time away,

Lyin’ in the shadows, goodness how delicious,


Hey, you were supposed to fill in for that part!” He says, so he continues and we sing, “EATIN’ GOOBER PEAS!”

“Peas, peas, peas, eatin’ goober peas. Goodness how delicious,”

“Eatin’ goober peas.”

“You know, folks, this song can get pretty long because as the boys sat next to the campfire, they add their own verses to the song, some were bawdy as can be. I won’t put that type of pressure on you,” the musician laughs as he finishes the song.

I stand up after the rendition of Bonnie Blue Flag and walk over to dad, hating to bother him. I tell them that I will be going on the house tour of the Pennypacker Mansion. He gets up and says he wants to go as well.

Dad and I wait in front of the screen door, my watch reads two o’clock and I hear one of the tour guides saying this was the last tour before the battle. Finally a lady walks up to us, opens the door and we proceed into the Pennypacker Mansion.

The way the house is set up for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is gorgeous. The mansion is decorated in hues of red and has American flags draping from the stair railing and fire place mantels. The victrola plays soft Victorian music in the background. I can feel the former Pennypacker children run past me and hear the distant giggling as Mr. and Mrs. Pennypacker holler at them to calm down, although, the dinner guests from out of town are much louder. We are given the tour of the whole house; the babies stay in their nurseries with the much beloved cats. The children I thought I heard earlier were confined now to the same room. At the sound of the newer jazz music (circa 1930) that played on the newer victrola, the tour is over.

Those damn bloody Yanks proudly line up as the Bugle boy plays loudly to get their attention. They quickly file into a straight line. We all watch intently, but then dad grabs my attention and we start walking to the battlefield. We want a good spot as I am 4’11 and it can be hard to see over people. Dad and I talk about the pending battle, our hopes to who will be victorious and dad thanking God again that it isn’t a hot steamy day. I’m sure the boys in blue and gray had the same exact sentiments. People slowly started to gather around us as the hourglass sand trickled to a stop—the time is almost here.

Through the tall grasses, I see a Rebel running across. My guess is it is either a spy or someone setting up. In the distance, I notice Jim and wave. He waves back and quickly runs over to me, holds my hand, introduces himself to dad and invites me back to his tent afterward. He runs back to his comrades and they wave as well. I give them thumbs up and wish them luck. Dad and I are silent; nothing needs to be said about that.

The rattling of the snare drums roar ferociously in the background. Dad and I see the drummer boys from the Confederate and Union Armies on their respective sides in the distance—then the fury in which the cannon roared scared us all into attention and we focused on the bloody scene (well, not so bloody for the reenactment) that was about to unfold. Even the birds flew wildly around the field.

In twenty minutes the battle was over—sulfur smoke blinded us, but we could see the Yanks overpower the Rebs. I was happy to see Jim and comrades survived, but it was bittersweet the Rebs lost this year—each year the winner alternates. In the background I hear a little boy say to his mother, “Mommy, that guy is still breathing. Isn’t he dead?” Her reply, “Yes, breathing is good. This is only a play. If he wasn’t bleeding, that would be murder and they’d be in trouble.” I chuckle and say only to his mother, “Yeah, they’d have a crime scene on their hands.” We both laugh. Dad and I catch the final outcome—the bugle boy playing Taps and saluting the fallen on both sides. As the notes solemnly sunk in our ears, dad and I walked back to the car.

Pictures can be found here:

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