Civil War encampment tells the story of Confederate Marines

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2013
Katrina Koerting

Friday evening’s wind blew, catching the Confederate Marine flag at the head of a recreated Civil War campsite and whipping it about.

The six tents surrounding the flag were staked securely in the ground, ready for the weekend-long encampment at the Museum of the Confederacy. Re-enactors lounged on wooden chairs talking amongst themselves and with museum guests. William Wallace, the Great Dane of one of the re-enactors, galloped around the grassy site wearing a bandana with the stars and bars.

Canvas tents faced each other creating a “company street” between the rows, leading from the fire pit near the artillery display to the officer’s tent. Each flap was open, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of what a soldier in a long stop during the war would call home.

This weekend, the accommodations also are the homes of seven or eight re-enactors where, rain or shine, they will be for the Appomattox site’s first encampment, portraying members of Company B of the Confederacy’s Marine Corps and a soldier’s wife.

“If people want to learn about the Confederate Marine Corps, this is the place to do it,” said Richard Doran, the first lieutenant and commander of the group.

Re-enactor Tom Crawford agreed.

“In two hours, you can probably pick up a whole semester of knowledge and it’s not nearly as expensive,” he said.

The topics discussed will come from the visitors and their interests. Doran said if there are a lot of children, he hopes to teach them drill tactics the Confederate soldiers used.

Since each member of the team has a specialty, like artillery, military techniques, or nautical history, he expected people to leave well informed on life at the time. Among the group are a retired Marine and published Civil War author David Sullivan, who affectionately is referred to as “the great sage” by his comrades.

“I don’t think anyone will come out of this with a question this organization can’t answer,” Doran said.

Most of the re-enactors said they hoped the visitors will learn about the Confederacy’s Marine Corps, something few people know about.

The Confederacy’s Marine Corp was considered an elite branch, with only 1,200 serving throughout the war. It had no more than 540 men at any given time. The Navy had about 6,000, and the army had about 750,000 men in their ranks, Sullivan said

Confederate Marines were renowned for their discipline and ability to carry out missions in small groups on land, which was not common practice before them. After the war, federal officers interviewed them so they could use those tactics in the future, Crawford said.

The Marines were influential in a lot of military engagements throughout the war, both on land and at sea, including Sailor’s Creek, Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Hampton Roads. They also were involved in blockades.

“We were in just about every battle if you think about it,” Crawford said. “We were small in numbers, but we made a big impact.”

The Confederate Marines’ training and “esprit de corps,” or sense of pride and honor they held for the group, set them apart from the other military branches. They would train Monday through Saturday and had tough punishments. Many young men didn’t like the strict discipline and would desert. If they were caught, they would be shaved and branded with the letter “d” on their cheek, Sullivan said.

“Those that accepted the discipline and training made good Marines and would usually serve for life,” Sullivan said.

While they led a more disciplined life, the Marines had some luxuries other Confederates didn’t, such as shoes, government-provided uniforms, heated barracks, fruits, vegetables and bread.

Generally, tall men were recruited to be Marines, with many measuring more than six feet tall. In the beginning, many Marines on both sides were Irish. The Irish were targeted when they got off of the boats to America because they liked to fight and were coming from poverty. By joining, they would receive $10 in gold, food and a place to sleep. As a Marine, there was a smaller chance of being involved in the battles that killed thousands, Sullivan said.

“They looked upon the Marine Corps as a home,” he said.

Josie Butler, the museum’s education services manager, said the Marines were selected as the site’s first encampment partly because it is not a widely discussed part of the war.

“We wanted to make people aware that the Confederate States had a Marine Corps and were very much a part of the Civil War,” she said.

The Gammon family was among the visitors to discover the encampment Friday evening.

“I had my eyes opened a little bit,” said Wayne Gammon, of Oregon. “It wasn’t something I was aware of before.”

He and his wife were at the museum with their son, Chuck, and his family from Lynchburg. They said the encampment was a welcome surprise, adding it was nice to see how the men lived during the war.

Chuck Gannon said the encampment helped him to imagine how the area must have looked nearly 250 years ago, when the fields were covered in tents, horses and wagons.

“It’s a deep sense of history,” he said. “There’s just so much of it.”

Shana Gannon, of Lynchburg, said she thought the re-enactors complemented the museum well, adding a nice dimension to under-standing the war for her and her children.

“You sometimes forget that it was real people,” she said. “Seeing it brings it to life.”

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