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Posts Tagged ‘reenactor’

Battle of Antietam

Written on Monday, September 24th, 2012 [permanent link]

A week ago I woke up in a Maryland field to the sound of a rooster crowing.

And then the cannon started.

After that came the bugles that I normally hear for reveille. But the cannonfire was a nice touch. I’M AWAKE! I’M AWAKE!! My 15-year-old son and I were camping just north of the Antietam National Battlefield with 4,000 other reenactors for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle. The spread of hundreds of canvas tents under the pink morning sky was inspiring. In our four years of reenacting, I’ve never seen more cavalry or more artillery on the field, sweeping to and fro during the afternoon battles for the spectators.

It’s like watching a moving painting. I portray a battlefield cartoonist, so I’m not marching in the lines of blue and gray but standing back on a hill, furiously sketching what it looks like for 400 men to storm a fence held by 250 other men. And I can also zoom down to sketch details that will add depth my own visual storytelling — how does the pot over the campfire look? How does J.E.B. Stuart hold his sword as he charges? And being in the mix of reenactors gives my other senses a chance to record details for me to use later. How hot is it in the wool clothing at midday? How do your feet feel after a day of marching? What does a Civil War mortar sound like when it fires?

Being on the actual field gives me a chance to research outside the box that a movie or TV show presents. The past 20 years have been revolutionary for the increasing number of historical movies and TV shows we get that have told great stories with great accuracy. But movies and TV shows are still a frame, capturing what a director or editor wants you to see — and leaving out the rest of the story. I’ve found that there’s no substitute for being able to stand somewhere to get a sense of the place and the historical event that happened there.

The visuals are a big part of the story of Antietam — the single bloodiest day in American history. Because Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army was caught so close to Washington, DC, a few days after the battle Alexander Gardner was able to photograph the dead men still in the field. Gardner’s photos were the first ever images to show dead soldiers on the field of battle. A New York Times article about the photographs said it was if the “dead had been laid at our doorsteps.” For civilians who still thought the Civil War was a romantic crusade, those photos were an unsettling window to the brutality and waste of the war.

You can read my story about Antietam — which includes info about Gardner’s photos — by visiting the iTune store!


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Civil War Cartoonist

Written on Friday, August 22nd, 2008 [permanent link]

Civil War Cartoonist

My son Truman and I did our first Civil War reenactment last weekend at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. I’m sure I’ll be a bluecoat soldier at some point, but for now it’s easy to act as a cartoonist freelancing for a New York newspaper while embedded with the 79th New York Volunteers unit!

So here’s the reverb: I’m a freelance cartoonist who draws history who is, in this photo, portraying a Civil War freelance cartoonist who draws history with historically-accurate tools.  (Which was a great use of time because I had a deadline to meet!!!)

The work I was doing was a rough draft of a Revolutionary War comic I’m doing in cooperation with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. I’ll post some of these rough draft pages soon for you to see how I put a book together, but here you can see that
a. I am indeed an ink-stained wretch (the classic description of a journalist)
b. I am doing cartooning that a Civil War cartoonist could have been doing!
(I’ve tried using a pen like this on my political cartoons off and on over the years but never felt completely comfortable. It’s a slower tool than a brush and I work quickly. But that slower pace sure felt nice during this beautiful day of living history!)

Truman and I found this unit of reenactors when we visited an event at the wonderful Endview Plantation in Newport News, Virginia in March. They are based on the Peninsula, so it makes it easy for us to stay in contact with them. They have great equipment and a lot of experience – and are glad to have a drummer boy! As soon as Truman started hanging out with them Saturday, he cocked his kepi like a veteran. I’m so proud of Truman for investigating Civil War life and then going out and experiencing that history. This love of his has developed over many years and is getting quite rich. (He says he wants to grow up to work at a National Park Service historic site!!)

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