Guarding the Cabin
Civil War reenactors set up camp outside Grapevine landmark
By John Newton
Assistant Managing Editor
They were poised and looked ready to fire at any moment.
Ninth Texas Infantry soldiers Tom McDonough and Mark Timms had rifles in hand Saturday afternoon and stood watch in front of the Torian Cabin in Grapevine, the temporary encampment of the military group.
Based upon appearance, one might think Mr. McDonough, wearing the Union blue, and Mr. Timms, donning Rebel gray, should be fighting each other, not guarding the same location. But when both are Civil War reenactors, removed from the war by 137 years, the situations change a little bit.
“Mainly, we’re just guys that love history,” said Col. Mark Griffin, commanding officer of the 9th Texas Infantry and 1992 graduate of Grapevine High School.
Mr. Griffin, also donning the Union blue Saturday, and about 10 of his men were in Grapevine on Saturday to promote their “living history” group and offer passersby a glimpse of the Main Street Days festival display the group plans for May.
The men set up two tents with equipment, four replica flags, several rifle stacks, and were on hand to explain all to curious folks. Each member of the group wore authentic uniforms, with rank, hats from the period, and genuine battlefield equipment.
“We put a whole lot of effort to make sure our recreation is accurate,” Mr. Griffin said. Several of the men said they spend long periods of time studying books, photographs, soldiers’ diaries, and visit museums to prepare for their recreations. The infantry group, modeled and named after a historical northeast Texas force, contains about 200 members and participates in 6-8 events each year across the south.
“The vast majority (of the events) are battle reenactments,” said Jim Benton, of Haltom City, a member of the group. “Our purpose is to recreate battlefield encampments.”
Everything in the Grapevine camp was set up as close to historical fact as possible, from the tents to the food selection. When the group participates in battle reenactments, each member lives like a soldier in the war, Mr. Griffin said.
“When we go out, we eat period foods, like salt pork, potatoes and the like,” he said.
A typical camping diet during that time also included onions, cornmeal, beans and/or grain, hardtack (molasses and flour); seasonings like vinegar, molasses, pepper and hard sugar; and the ever-popular coffee beans, said Bill Pecena, of Rockwall.
Mr. Pecena said other items carried by a soldier included a “housewife” kit of sewing stuff, a cup and/or makeshift skillet, toothbrush, toothpaste (comprised of baking soda and salt), a knapsack with a spare shirt, socks and a nightcap, and canteen.
“The same stuff you’d carry if you’re going on a trip,” Mr. Pecena said. “You could walk away from your car with this and live for three days.”
All of the mentioned items were arranged inside a tent during the Saturday display. Other items displayed were a cartridge box for ammunition, bayonet and percussion caps.
The entire set up was designed for fast packing and unpacking, Mr. Pecena said. “This is cutting it down to the basics,” he said.
The infantry troupe was tested early one morning at an encampment near Raymond, Miss., he said, when they received word to move out at 2 a.m. The group packed and started out in only 10 minutes.
The 9th Texas Infantry was not only present to display historical replicas, but also to recruit new members. Mr. Griffin, a salesman currently living in Grand Prairie, handed out flyers to all interested.
He stressed that the group is not out to make political statements, but is merely trying to accurately portray history. They are a Confederate group only because the real 9th Texas Infantry was a Confederate group.
The real unit was formed by Sam Maxey of Paris, Texas, in 1861 and fought in every major battle in the western hemisphere of the war, Mr. Griffin said. It was disbanded after the war.
The majority of the soldiers were farmers, he said, not wealthy slave owners. He said he was not sure if anyone besides Maxey had slaves.
“They were just going to war to defend Texas,” he said.
Now the new version of the unit is asking for volunteers to go to mock war on battlefields – and in front of log cabins – not to defend a country or ideal, but to defend Civil War history.
Interested persons can call the group’s “recruitment hotline” at 877-708-6127 or log on to Web site http://www.9thTexas.org for more information.
Mr. Griffin said that being a reenactor gives participants a new perspective on the war.
“After you do this and read a personal account from the battle, you get an idea of what it was really like during the Civil War … because you’ve actually done that.”
Assistant Managing Editor John Newton can be reached at 817-488-8561 or email@example.com