Thanks to everyone who came to Ottawa to observe the "mustering in" memorial this year. I feel we had a good turnout and I hope the 104th veterans were watching from their bivouac. We honored the men in the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery and then went over to the Summitview Cemetery in southern Ottawa.
Once again, we had a wet with sweat weekend. Your performance, both on and off the field was outstanding. Saturday's battle was a blast. We had movement, lots of firings, and a victory. After the battle, the Confederate Captain came up to me and said he was ordered to push us off the field. He pushed a little; we regrouped and went at it again. He commented on your ability to form at the double-quick and commence firing, then deploy as skirmishers, and then reform again in company formation. Due to your performance on the field, he could not do what he was ordered to do, push us off the field. Sunday was just as fun. Not as much movement, but just as fun. It was an honor to portray your company commander.
Thank you again. Without your commitment, there wouldn’t be any 104th Illinois. I would like to thank the 19th Illinois for helping fill our ranks. You are always welcome. I would like for every member to make a maximum effort, to make at least one day at Minooka, October 19-20. This is our last event of the season, and always a good time. We have a great group of members; let’s show the rest of the battalion and ourselves.
This was a combination Living History/ Statue Dedication Ceremony. We arrived in Ottawa early in the morning to set up camp next to the church. We set up several styles of tents and shelters to demonstrate different sleeping quarters. Mike Pfeiffer set up a fly and brought his medical equipment and gave a surgeon’s impression. Dan Davis and Randy Swanson brought their gun collections to show and demonstrate the different weapons used during the war. Pete Della Vedova got the fire going and food cooking. We did some drill and firings, had dinner, and most importantly, met several people whose ancestors were in the 104th.
We marched over to the park for the statue unveiling ceremony. We had a 4-man color guard and a 7-man rifle squad that fired 3 volleys when the statues were unveiled. I would like to thank Rick Keating for the fine job of organizing this event and the others we were involved with in Ottawa. With the ceremonies and parades this year, we made our presence known in Ottawa more than ever before. We went to Zeller Inn at the days end. Some got there a little later than others, but we did get there. Calvin would be more than happy to tell you of his exploits. Thank you, in no particular order: Rick Keating, Jim Novak, Kevin Skalak, Rick Holman, Mike Pfeiffer, Matt Cassady, Randy Swanson, Pete DellaVedova, Walt Paslawski, Mike Pfieffer, Mike Weiske, Dan Davis, Jim Little, and Jay Perkins. (Thanks to the remainder of the Skalak family as well, who the fine Captain overlooked, editor)
The rumors are true; I was the left wing commander at Greenbush this year. The event was much smaller than in past years, because it was sandwiched between Antietam and Perryville. The words from the park and spectators were that the battles were the best they have seen in years. This year we used the whole field, from one end to the other and yes, the Union army attacked up the hill both days. Other members who attended were Bill Goodwyn, Chris Kissinger, and transplanted artillerist Jim Benware. Jim had a great time and was looking forward to attending Perryville with us as an infantryman.
Our first national event in 2 years and it was almost perfect, it did rain a little on Friday. We went down as the 1st Illinois Battalion; the first time the battalion was on the field as its own entity outside Illinois. Held on the original battlefield, doing the original maneuvers, this is what it is all about. We were able to field 15/16 for the event, even with the 7 members that fell out in the weeks leading up to the event. We thought of all the members who missed this event, since this ranks up there as one of the all time best from start to finish.
We had several members sleep out campaign style and when it rained for a short time on Friday night they went scrambling. Jim Benware had something hit his eye in the rush to get things out of the rain which scratched his eye and kept him out the weekend. Jim stayed till Sunday morning before he drove home hoping to participate in one battle, but unfortunately it never happened. He said the battles on Saturday sounded great. We will see more of him next year. Thank you Heidi, Mike Weiske’s wife, for sending the care packages, (home made cookies and brownies). We all took part in finishing them. See additional articles, with more to come. (See Dave Grootenhuis’ story for all the Perryville action.)
See From the Ranks, next month.
This is the last hurrah (battle re-enactment) of the season for the 104th Illinois. We always have a good turnout and a lot of fun. (More on Minooka next month, as this month is full of stuff! Editor)
I’ll see you in the field,
104th Illinois Vol. Inf., Co. H
1st Illinois Battalion
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That’s all folks!!!!!
“Yep, I’m the idiot,” I explained to the Ottawa policeman, as he exited his squad car. He smiled a thin smile, bemused more than amused. He wasn’t in the best of humor, I could tell. Obviously he had better things to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon than waste his time with me.
Saturday dawned beautiful in Ottawa as camp was being established in the courtyard of a church, across the street from the town square. I arrived late as usual, because of mechanical problems on the gunboat. I no sooner entered camp when my reputation was impugned by that dog Walt. Without warning, Walt started a brawl with innocent ole Calvin. He pounced on me (from behind of course, the coward) and proceeded to pummel me. Within seconds though, the tide of battle turned, with me giving this dirty dog a thrashing he will remember and take back with him to Pigville.
The combatants were separated, luckily for Walt while he could still walk, and camp got back to order. Breakfast was on the fire, and drill was needed. Across the way, the town square buzzed with activity the dedication of a statue honoring our great 16th president, and the little guy who ran against him. On the bandstand, a small regiment of Lincoln’s presented their best case, to be the most impressive Lincoln impersonator the world would ever see. Our good friend Max Daniels and wife were there. It is always good to see them.
After the competition, many of the Lincolns came to camp, including one who must have been 6’10’ tall. We found out they came as far as Idaho and Massachusetts. Standing at the edge of camp, I happened a glance back at camp when the very tall Lincoln was talking with the boys. One of those realistic moments, as with the tents as a backdrop, I saw for an instant, that famous Brady photo of the real Lincoln, standing in a Union camp, with McClellan and staff, towering over all. You all know and have seen the photo. It was a very brief, real moment. One of those rare “back in time” reenactor moments we all look for.
This living history was a very good one. Our camp, setup next to an old brick church, had a basic look of authenticity. I think it showed to the spectators, as we really had a lot of people come through camp. That seemed to me to be the busiest living history encampment that I have ever been a part of.
The artist who was doing the Wallace mural came through camp and was taking pictures of us to use in the mural, in different poses. I also noticed a cameraman from the WTTW show Wild Chicago. He really took an interest in our camp, and filmed it and us in detail. I don’t know about you, but that is a great show. If you recall, they had come to Glenview about five years ago for the event there. I remember seeing me on the show, bloating out in the field in the background. Yeah they poke fun at most of the themes they cover, but it isn’t done maliciously in most cases. I thought the coverage of the old Glenview event was decent. Can’t wait to see what they show for this encampment.
I never found out who won the Lincoln contest; hope it was Max. Anyway the statue ceremony was very long and went off without incident. The statues really look great. Some of us had taken a glance at the mural being worked on a half a block away. We would be back to dedicate that in a few weeks.
We broke camp, and as is custom, headed for Zellers. The fun was just beginning. I was taking the flags for the mural dedication, so I opened up the back of the van and Mike and I swung them in. Even in a min-van, they barely fit. I left the engine running, closed the tailgate and got in to go. I saw the Skalak’s struggling with their gear so I got out of the van. As I got out, the door swung back on me, and unbeknownst to me my elbow hit the lock. After checking with the Captain, I attempted to reenter my van. Door is LOCKED! Oh that’s okay, because Mike had wanted me to unlock the other side to get the flags in. Yeah, like I listen to anyone else.
So there I stand, like a dolt, locked out of my vehicle, with the engine running. Me, Mr. Patient was within 60 seconds ready to take out a window, with my empty head if need be. Cooler heads prevailed. The Skalak family headed off in all directions looking for someone to help, and Mike Wieske called Triple A Motor Club. All promised help in hours or never. Called home to tell Julie to make some calls and find a locksmith, or wrecker service. She called the police, who for some reason showed up right away. “Yep, I’m the idiot,” I said.
He quickly got it open, and off to Zellers. Then I found Dan Davis was just on his way to us with a pizza. We thanked him profusely and went inside.
Right now, the 104th may not have the most numbers of the Illinois units. It would be nice to field more guys. But no unit, repeat none, have as many nice, caring, and considerate people than our unit. No one needed to stay back, but everyone stuck around until the job was done. Everybody chipped in and did what they could. Thanks to all for their help. Special thanks to all the Skalak’s, Mike, Dan and Rick.
I owe ya. Oh yeah, I know I won’t hear the end of this for a while. (I still was mad enough that afterwards, I wanted to bust out a window so bad). Oh well, there is always next time.
Next month some additional stories on Lockport, Minooka, mural dedication, and hopefully other stories on Perryville. I apologize to all for falling behind on my newsletter duties. But this gives us some good stories during the off-season.
Your obedient servant
First Reports of a battle that occurred in Kentucky!
Thousands involved, Great Number of Casualties!
A report from our battlefield correspondent!
The car was quiet as I drove through rural Kentucky on my way home from the Perryville event. My mind was racing, trying to recap the weekend's happenings. I couldn't believe so much had happened in just over 48 hours.
Perryville gave us a rare opportunity to experience a large reenactment on the original battlefield. The battle scenarios were staged on the actual ground where the fighting took place. This gave us a true feeling of "being there" and an incredible perspective of what happened. It was also the debut of the Illinois Battalion at a national event.
The battlefield is very well preserved. The land is a series of ridges and valleys cut by lines of trees. There are informational markers throughout the park that describe what happened in the immediate area. These markers are very informative and small enough that they do not intrude on the character of the surroundings. There are a few intrusions (power lines, paved roads, etc.) but overall the park is very reenactment-friendly.
Most of us arrived on Friday afternoon, during the downpour. It started raining at 12:08. I know this because I had pulled into town at 12:05. It had taken about 4 1/2 hours to drive down from Columbus and then another hour to find the Elementary school to get registered. (I think I drove down every street in Perryville trying to find it-twice).
The rain let up at about 5:00 and we began gathering at our campsite. We camped on a ridge with a steep slope on each side. We were between the Federal Cav and Reenactor Parking. Separated from each by a row of trees.
It didn't take long for a fine set of company streets to form with fires at the end of each. Some of the boys decided to forego tents Friday night. We had a beautiful evening and a sky brilliant with stars. All was well until about 3:00 when the rain returned and sent the campaigners scrambling for tents and ponchos. To their credit, they rode out the storm in good humor. This was the last of the rain and the weather cooperated beautifully for the remainder of the weekend.
Saturday's schedule called for a morning battle at 7:00. We were awakened by the drum and bugle at about 5:15. After forming the Company in the dark, we took our place in the battalion line. We were the 4th Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, which put us at the extreme left of the line. We were the extreme left of the entire Union line, which afforded us several opportunities to execute flanking movements on attacking Rebels.
The morning was cool and clear and offered a number of very moving views such as silhouetted riders crossing a ridge and several hundred Reb Cavalry forming to our front. We took our position along the crest of a ridge with a skirmish line between us, and the Reb Cav. We were at the extreme left, with the Federal line extending to our right, over another ridge and disappearing from sight.
As the sun rose, the Reb Cav moved against our skirmishers, who assembled and returned massed fire. The skirmishers were eventually driven back and it as our turn. The Rebs met crisp volleys and steady individual fire. From our position on the ridge we could fire down at them and held off several attacks. As the flank company, we were moved down and to our left to flank the attackers. The Rebels, seeing their situation fell in droves.
A member of the film crew covering the event became such a part of our group that the sergeant reprimanded him for not boxing his feet!
Upon our return to camp, Lt. Col. Keating reported that we had received several compliments from the morning's action. This was the first of many that he would report through the weekend
After a short rest we formed for battalion drill. There was another break before the afternoon scenario.
We moved out to a staging area before the afternoon battle. While we were waiting we had a chance to watch two artillery pieces with six-horse teams move into position. It was quite a sight. The afternoon called for us to be driven from our position and forced to retreat across cornfield and a road. The start of the scenario was delayed while a car and a truck that had been parked in our line of retreat were towed.
Our position in the afternoon was behind a rail fence at the edge of a cornfield. There was a line of Federal infantry to our front. We were in the center of our line. The two, six-horse artillery pieces were on a hill to our left. Several more guns were on a ridge behind us. As with the other scenarios, we were on the ground where this part of the battle actually took place.
Getting to our starting position required us to march through a cornfield to the opposite side. This was a reenacting experience. I have read several accounts of units moving through cornfields but never appreciated how difficult it was. The tall corn and underbrush made movement and coordination challenging to say the least. We emerged at the other side winded and dirty but intact. We took positions behind a rail fence and waited.
In time the federal line in front of us broke and ran, knocking down a portion of the fence to our left. The guns on the hill limbered up and were hauled back. We fired several volleys into the attackers, but were soon overwhelmed. We broke and ran through the corn, leaving a number of our men behind. The corn was again an obstacle as we tried to move back. We re-formed across the road, making a stand on the hill, just below our guns. From this vantage point we could see the Rebs coming through the corn and formed on the other side of the road. It was an impressive sight.
As the two forces exchanged fire across the road, a very started rabbit made a serpentine route across the field. There was also a momentary distraction as an unknown driver made a dash down the road, between the armies on a white golf cart. We never found out why or how this person got on the field. It was a very brief distraction and the action continued uninterrupted.
The Confederates came on in good order and pushed us up the hill, with many of our boys falling as we retreated. Remarks reported to Lt. Col. Keating: "We even look good when we lose."
Saturday evening passed without incident. Those who remained in camp had lively conversation around the fire before turning in for the night.
Sunday morning dawned crisp and clear. A little more chilly than Saturday, but we could "sleep in" until 7:00. Brigade drill was followed by a dress parade to honor a retiring General. We formed up and marched to our place in line and realized that we were the only unit without our colors. Pvt. Matt Reardon (aka Matt Nineteen) earned the praise and respect of all when he volunteered to run back to camp and fetch the colors, an effort that involved several hills and valleys. He returned in the nick of time, winded but in good order, the flag having never touched the ground.
After passing in review, we returned to camp and prepared for the final scenario of the weekend.
We moved into position at the top of a ridge. Before us was a valley with a smaller ridge on the far side. We were again at the far left of the Army. The fight began to our right, with Rebel infantry attacking the Union center. Rebel skirmishers appeared to our front but were quickly driven off. The main body of Confederate infantry then launched their assault at our end of the line. Our first few volleys were somewhat less than perfect, but were effective as the attacking force fell back. Upon the second assault our volleys were crisp and sharp and had the desired effect. The Rebs attacked up the hill several times and were driven back.
On one occasion were we ordered to double-quick to the left to flank the attackers. As we drew more and more attention from the Confederates we were forced to double-quick back up the hill to take our place in the Federal line. We were eventually pushed from the top of the ridge. We retreated in good order in spite of heavy casualties.
As the scenario ended, the Rebs facing us began calling for us to attack. We advanced at Charge Bayonets, with the advance eventually becoming a charge. The Rebels met us in a brief, SAFE and good-natured melee. This was followed by congratulations and glad-handing between the opposing forces.
We then returned to camp for the usual "post-battle skedaddle." Most of us were on the road within minutes.
This was an outstanding weekend. The weather and the Confederates cooperated for the most part. The site was excellent and the scenarios well planned and executed.
The 104th and the Illinois Battalion performed well and received many compliments. The unit executed battlefield movements like the well-drilled group that it is. Our volleys were sharp, independent fire was steady and we had no safety issues. Throughout the weekend there was never a shortage of volunteers and no complaining. Oh yea, we had a lot of fun, too.
The 104th has found a balance between authenticity, safety and practicality that makes it unique in the hobby. There is a keen sense of history, a strong desire to live the experience and a willingness to put forth the effort to do it right. It is very rewarding to fall in with a group that approaches the hobby with cool professionalism and has fun doing it. This is a rare combination. We can be very proud of our unit and the reputation it has earned.
104th Illinois Volunteer Infantry
Following are photos of the wonderful living history event in Ottawa. Thanks to Judy Skalak for the photos. (editor)
See photos page on web at: Photos
Thanks to Benjamin Tubb
The Music of the American Civil War (1861-1865)
for permission to use his MIDI file of
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