Read the latest dispatch from the What's It Wagon

11 Jul 2010 Gettysburg

19 Feb 2002 Olustee

27 Jan 2002 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2002 Brookesville Reenacment

21 Feb 2001 Battle of Olustee 2001

27 Jan 2001 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2001 Bitter Weather Makes Reenacting A Chilling Experience

23 Oct 2000 Hunsader's Revisited

16 Oct 2000 The Photographist

04 May 2000 Off to the Ancient City

31 Mar 2000 Cow Cavalry Wedding at Hunsader's Farm

21 Feb 2000 Front Lines at the Battle of Olustee, Florida

12 Feb 2000 Return From The 1840s

19 Jan 2000 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Alafia, Fla.

19 Jan 2000 Brookesville Raid Reenactment Brookesville, Fla.

03 Jul 1998 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Fla.

Battle of Olustee 2001

21 Feb 2001

The Fritz Kirsch “What’s It Wagon” never looked so good. It has been totally rebuilt by Matt McGarr and Doug Tittle. The amazing thing is these wagon masters are all of age 17 and 16, respectively. Already, they are careful craftsman who took a great deal of time and energy to do the job right. They took the old carriage’s flaking paint down to bare wood and filled in the cracks and holes. Then they applied a lustrous black paint job.

New signs neatly hand lettered in yellow antique script by Gabe Costello completed the job. The total new presentation had that new wagon smell like you get at fashionable upscale carriage shops.

With the wagon in tip top shape, we headed up the highway to Lake City, Florida, site of the 1864 battle. There was a rumor that the NAACP might be picketing the Olustee Battle and parade in Lake City. At least, that news was reported in the press. Little came of the demonstration. There were about twenty protesters the day of the parade, most of them white, Green Peace members. Thousands more came out to join in the community’s Battle Festival which commemorated the brave soldiers, black and white, who stood up for the causes they believed in.

Doug Tittle, my young apprentice and I, took our spot toward the back of sutlers’ row. It was a spot I have now occupied for twenty years. I have been offered Homestead Papers on this location. The park service has preserved the old fence gate I have used in so many images. It was very kind of them to remember me that way. All the old cattle fencing other than that gate have been removed.

A sutler named, Heidi set up across from us with aromatic soaps. No matter how smelly we would become, the air was perfumed with the fragrances of her products. What a blessing!

Thursday is always a very slow day for sutlers. It is a time to set up their tents and reacquaint themselves with old friends. We visited Ben Gormley, the Santa Claus look-alike who writes such moving poetry about the events 140 years ago. His wit and charm even effected my apprentice who I thought was only taken with the lyrics of country music and rock and roll. His poem about Marry Todd was a riot.

Friday, the school kids attended from the surrounding counties. One adult sponsor who has a problem with dates and time sequences insisted I must have fought in the real Civil War as I was old enough looking to have been in it! I’m sure she meant no discourtesy, but it was damaging to the ego to be thought of as such an old fossil.

By Saturday morning all the troops were in camps. The bugle sounded at six A.P. for reveille. When they marched by I greeted them with the old chant, “Get your image struck before you die!” as well as other taunts. There was the usual banter back from the soldiers. Some even asked if I was the local undertaker as well, but at least they knew I was there.

The weather in Florida in February is variable. Thursday and Friday were warm and sunny. Friday night a cold front rapidly galloped through christening us with a bit of rain. Miraculously, for the second time since I have owned the wagon, it did not leak! Luxurious living was at hand. The thermostat headed south. Temperature dropped. By Saturday night and the ball, it was around the lower forties and damp. Still, it was marvelous to look up in the sky and see the stars shining brightly. For those of us who live in the city this is a rare sight. The ladies still looked fetching in their ball gowns, the soldiers dashing in their best uniforms and sashes. The brass band filled the night air with waltzes and mazurkas as the dancers did the Virginia reel and other more challenging steps. Doug charmed a lady in the hat dance. She was an older lady as he reported, in her forties. (My goodness, I didn’t know humans could live so long!) The object of the dance is to win the lady over with fancy words. One soldier told the waiting lady he had a fine wagon and a good horse. Doug promised her he had a good heart and was honest and brave. His smooth words won out. The other gentleman had to be content to dance with a battered old hat.

Sleeping that night was hard for some since the temperature was so low, but the wagon holds heat and one lantern keeps me from freezing. I suppose it could catch fire easily, but it hasn’t thus far, so God must be watching over me.

Sunday morning business picks up to a frantic nature. Seventh Florida, Company B wanted their company picture as usual. Last year I was able to get them featured in the reenactor’s magazine Camp Chase Gazette. The previous year’s image was very casual. This one was more formal with officers seated and the enlisted men standing with fixed bayonets.

Afterwards we slipped back to the edge of the Confederate camp. The 39th Georgia Regiment was camped there deep in the pines and palmettos. They are a ragged rough and ready group with deep accents reminding one of their ancestors who fought on this same battle field well over a hundred years ago. Their camp was minimal. They slept mostly on the ground with one “A” tent and a shebang. Their beards were long and their faces lean. They looked like the real McCoy. An officer rode by who looked like Lee on Traveler. He stopped long enough to ask, “You boys spend the night all right?” They answered affirmatively, and he galloped off without further ceremony. It was a simple moment but seemed so real it made the hair stand up on my arms since there were no spectators around to spoil the moment and intrude into this moment from 1864.

When we returned to the wagon we saw we were down to our last few plates. First there were many, and then there were none. Four handsome black soldiers came up and wanted their image taken. Sadly, there were no more plates left, so I sent the troopers over to my good friend, Wendel Decker, another wet plate artist. Maybe next year.

When the battle opened we frantically packed our belongings. As soon as we were allowed to bring in our trailer we scurried around and had the trailer and possessions in place in just under a half hour, a new record for us. Olustee had come and gone one more year.

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