It all started in 1991, shortly after joining with a group of reenactors I met at a gun show in Norfolk, Virginia. Why I went to a guns how, I’ll never know as I really wasn’t interested in guns. Perhaps it was just something to do as a single 20 year old, new to a city with no friends.
Anyway, a few weeks into my newfound reenacting hobby, I packed into the back of a truck one Thursday with a half dozen weekend warriors and headed off to the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was what is termed a “tactical” reenactment and there were no spectators until the big battle on Saturday afternoon.
We arrived in the cold, damp valley, transferred the gear from the truck to our backs and headed down to join the gathering army. I noticed a man wearing black, wandering around the officer tent then in and around the infantrymen. He carried a leather bible and knelt to pray with a few of the men. I was rather non-participatory in things Christian at the time and I pretty much blew it off.
The day went as planned and a raucus battle was capped off with music, song. During that time, more than a few bottles of whiskey were dispersed into various tin cups and enjoyed by all.
The next morning was the big public battle. Cannons volleyed across the high hills as spectators gathered to take in the sights, sounds and smell of nineteenth century warfare. Our brigade lined up behind a tall rise and received some wonderful words of encouragement from our commander. At the completion of his pep-talk, the commander introduced a man he called a chaplain. It was the fellow in black I had noticed the day before.
The words of the chaplain were wrought with out-of-date religious cliche’ and needless to say, it was more pitiful in my sight than the three-hundred pound general I watched trying to mount his horse that morning. The battle was superb, fulfilling everything I had ever imagined. Once the crowds had gone and a quick dinner of hard-tack crakers and bacon, the festivities of the previous night continued.
Sunday morning was cold, damp and gray. I tried to sleep, but as the sun tried its best to reveal itself from behind the curtain of clouds, I shivered beneath my single, wool blanket. Before long, a drummer began to beat some repetitive tune. Being new to the scene, I asked my tentmate what was going on. He told me it was a call to Church. Ugh…how mundane.
I got up from my losing battle with sleep to warm myself by the fire. While I sat trying to rekindle dying embers, I watched a number of men file by towards the sound of the repeating drum. One man looked my way and motioned for me to come along. My comrades were still sawing logs and there wasn’t much else to do, so I complied.
The Church scene I took in was antiquated and out of touch with everything my enlightened mind knew was right about God and His children. When the service was over, I confronted the chaplain with my plethora of knowledge. He got an earfull from me about how unrealistic it would have been for a man of God to be following unruly soldiers from camp to camp. He challenged my advice and suggested I do some reading of my own. Fine with me, I was up for the challenge.
When I returned home, I went straight to the local library. What ensued was a several week mental marathon. I spent almost every evening unlearning what I thought was true about 1860’s religion. That marathon continues to this very day, with the exception that I submit to the fact that I was incredibly wrong in my assumptions. I learned from that experience to never take anything for granted and to read, read, read. I will forever be grateful to that anonymous chaplain who pointed me towards Jesus Christ.