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Aside World Magazine
Winter 2022 Issue 

My First Foray at Civil War Reenacting

Article and Photos provided by: Barbara Drogo

How in the world does a lady find herself at night, on a cold battlefield, riding sidesaddle on a frightened horse, with muzzleloaders blasting bright flashes of gunfire straight at her? Oh, and, just to make things even more interesting, let’s throw in a nearby train – yes, a train -- clanking noisily along while this ambush is taking place.

 

Here is my little tale.

 

I’ve always been intrigued by history, so when I was invited this past fall to ride aside at a fund-raising event, of course I said “Yes!” It was sponsored by the “Woodson House and Battle for the Bridge Preserve” here in Kentucky. Several Civil War reenactment groups were also involved. The idea was for the public to take a nighttime “haunted” tour of the battlefield and experience the thrill of skirmishes, lost ghosts, and some occasional distant gunfire. This would be my first mounted foray into the world of Civil War reenacting.

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"Battles for the Bridge Reenactment, Munfordville KY" Zack Neagle was the photographer hired. Copyright © 2022 Battles for the Bridge Preserve

The above engraving of the train track bridge was the central reason why the battles were in this location

I found out I was to play the part of a lady ghost. My character was loosely based on a real woman named Mary Sapp. She was a war widow whose horses were stolen by General Morgan of the Confederate army. Legend has it that one of the stolen horses was her favorite sidesaddle mount. From this, we were able to embellish a story that her ghost would haunt the area in search of her beloved horse. My friend, Mark, was to play the ghost of a Union soldier who had become separated from his battalion and was forever riding around in a desperate attempt to reunite with them.

 

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The evening of the event arrived. And it was freezing cold. There was no way I’d be warm enough in my 1860s day dress, even with a wool capote over it. So, I pulled out my black Edwardian wool apron, winter breeches, wool vest, and warmest foxhunting coat—a heavy Melton lined with wool tattersall. For good measure I decided to wear a small mink collar I had picked up at a thrift store. I fastened my black derby cover over my helmet and tied a dark scarf around the crown. Not bad. The look was more Edwardian than Victorian, but it was good enough. I would essentially be a dark form appearing out of the night – my horse and I silhouetted against the skyline.  As a final touch, I tucked a white cotton handkerchief into my pocket, so I could wave it around in the dark as I wailed and searched for my stolen sidesaddle mount.

Mark and I pulled our tack together, loaded it and the horses into the trailer, and headed out. The battlefield is in a lovely location about an hour away, with rolling farm fields abutting a dedicated preserve. It encompasses roughly 84 acres and was the site of several Civil War battles. Their main objective had been to defend a critical railroad bridge from the Confederates. A stockade had been built to aid in this purpose. It was located not far from the railroad tracks, which are still in use today. We were told to park our rig behind the stockade where it would be out of the public’s view.

I could not find any engravings or paintings  of Mary Sapp, but I found some images that "harken" to the time and place.

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Above photos courtesy of Battle for the Bridge.

Our mounts were Mark’s two horses, Noah and Stoli. They had participated in numerous reenactments and were trustworthy, solid citizens. I had ridden Stoli about half a dozen times before, some of them aside, but this was my first public outing on him. All we’d be doing that night, though, would be to walk around and wail. What could go wrong?

 

We tacked up our mounts (fortunately, my Mayhew fits Stoli to a T!), pulled our gloves and hats on, mounted up, and set out on our adventure. Mark lead the way across the field, and I concentrated on “right shoulder back” as I peered into the black night and kept telling myself the odds of stepping into a hole were slim to none. It was bitter cold, and I was thankful I had put that little mink collar on. It sealed my body heat in and kept the cold wind out. We wandered around a bit and noticed some distant “gunfire” in a wooded hollow between two fields, nothing close enough to bother either us or our mounts. Noah and Stoli were as relaxed as if they were home in their own pasture. As long as we kept these two buddies near one another, they’d be fine.

We noticed a small tour group making their way toward us – time to start wailing. I pulled the handkerchief out of my pocket, waved it around and began wailing into the night air, “Has anyone seen my horse? My favorite mare has been stolen. Who would be so cruel as to steal a lady’s sidesaddle mount?” Meanwhile, Mark was wailing in a lost voice, looking for his men. Oh, what a sad pair of ghosts we were.

 

It was so dark, it was hard to tell what was going on, but we noticed that the small band of men who had been shooting in the hollow were making their way closer to us. Normally, this would not have been an issue, the horses were used to gunfire. But they were not used to seeing flashes of fire appearing out of nowhere in the dark night. Mark assured me that the reenactors were aware we were positioned there and would not shoot too close to us. Meanwhile, another tour group made their way nearby, and so we started our wailing again. It was kind of fun! I began to realize what a sight we must have made, coming up out of the darkness – two figures on horseback, with one of them riding aside. How cool!

 

By now we had been out for about an hour and a half, it was getting colder and the tour groups were thinning out, so we made our way back toward the stockade. We were walking along when suddenly, BAM! All I remember is seeing flashes of fire coming headlong at us from out of nowhere. This was not supposed to happen.

We were so busy with our wailing, we hadn’t noticed that the small band of men had made their way around the back of the stockade. They had apparently separated into two smaller groups and were using the nearby trenches to “ambush” the most recent tour group.

At the very moment the gunfire began, I became aware of a train coming around the nearby bend. In the dark background, I could just make out its bulk, chugging along closer and closer to our position, its sound increasing with each second. I did not know how these horses would react. Sure, they’re used to gunfire but have they been this close to a moving train?

 

I’m a foxhunter and have had my share of emergencies. My brain quickly formed priorities. Breathe. Remain calm. Do NOT think about the fact that I’m riding aside in the dark (Help!!). Keep my right shoulder back. Keep the horses near one another to lessen their panic. Pray that we don’t fall or stumble in the darkness.

 

Stoli turned out to be the hero of the day. He barely blinked an eye at the ambush or the train, all he did was stop. Meanwhile, Noah had spun around and was cantering away from the gunfire. I turned Stoli so we could trot along behind Noah, slowly and calmly. Within about two seconds, Mark had Noah back under control, the two equine pals were reunited and all was well. Good horses!!! 

 

Mark is a retired Army Lt. Colonel. For real, not just in reenacting. His training took over, and he yelled for the shooting to stop, told me to dismount while he did the same, and we lead the horses back to the stockade to untack them. Enough was enough.

 

Reenactors are never to fire blanks directly at someone, especially not at horses – at night. It was an interesting event to be involved in for sure, but a bad accident could have happened. It’s one thing playing the part of a ghost, but taking the chance of becoming one? I hope my next mounted reenactment is not quite as exciting as this one, thank you.

 

 

Thank you Barbara for such a FUN article!

 

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X marks the spot of our position near the stockade during the ambush. Note the close proximity of the train tracks.