Does anyone know what "hotter than Hades" really feels like? During the third week of July, much of the Midwest and Eastern States experienced a heat wave of temperatures hovering in the upper 90s to 100. Temperatures of over 100 degrees were predicted before a trip to Manassas, Va., for the 150th Civil War commemoration and battle reenactment of the First Bull Run during this same time. Although the family registered months earlier, it crossed this columnist's mind to stay back from this event because of the extreme heat. An excuse was, "You know, it's going to be hotter than Hades."
"Is that hot?" was the response from one excited and younger family member. Only the actual experience could answer this question and how bad it really might be; thus the trip was made with a story to go with it.
It's not hard to imagine what the soldiers felt 150 years ago because it has been reported that they experienced similar heat conditions. July of 1861 in Manassas was the first battle of the Civil War. The North with their numbers and industrial power thought they would have an easy victory and march right on to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. It looked like the South would be defeated until the Virginia First Brigade came with reinforcements. It was here that Colonel Thomas Jackson earned his nickname "Stonewall" for holding strong. With more than 200 different uniforms, there was much confusion of who was friend or foe and spectators who had come to view the battle were caught up in additional chaos when Union forces wildly retreated. A war that was thought to only last for a battle or two in three months was clearly not going to be the outcome. President Lincoln then called for terms of three-year service enlistments, with the Civil War lasting four years with 600,000-plus deaths.
Many people, exhausted from the extreme heat after the Civil War battle reenactment last weekend in Manassas, Va., rested in a large tent near the campsite.
Then and now, heat was a serious factor. For us, we watched the temperature climb on the car's thermometer to 102 degrees as we made our way to Virginia. It was rather fun to see, that is until we stopped for gas and had to get outside. A quick opening of the door with the heat pouring up from the pavement was a forceful introduction to what was soon to come, compounded by the "heat index," as well as living outside in a tent city while wearing wool clothes and long-sleeved shirts. It was too late to turn back and on we went to our destination.
After a perspiring registration, we drove to the battle camp site and saw that the organizers were certainly prepared with several ambulances and emergency vehicles parked and ready to go with 80 rescue workers.
As we set up camp, the heat of course was already oppressive. Night brought little relief with tent flaps open and wearing skivvies, as little as possible. The only relief for me was trying to sleep with my head out of the door. Needing to go the port-a-potty in the middle of the night and knowing reveille was between 5 and 6 a.m. did not help. Although male soldiers would fall in at roll call as military personnel, as a female civilian, I was told to be ready to "fall in with my spatula."
Morning came early and it was best to dress in all the layers at the coolest time of the day. Breakfast and chatting with friends was pleasant enough before the sun rose higher in the sky. While the battle reenactment lasted for about three hours, it was only so long I could try to watch, even from a shady location on a dusty road. ATVs with emergency personnel seemed busy going back and forth on the road behind the spectators and through the camp checking on people and carrying some off. I decided to head back to camp early and seek some relief under a large tent with some overhead fans. Planting myself in a chair, even though it was only 10:30 a.m., it felt like 4 p.m.. I basically did not move from that position for a good part of the rest of the day. I tried to drink a good amount of water even though it would result in going to a port-a-potty that had now become a sauna that was probably 130 degrees when considering the outside heat index was over 115 degrees.
It was interesting to watch people come by who looked okay and others who plopped themselves on the ground in my vicinity. "Is that nausea that I feel? What was I thinking to voluntarily do this? Is this what hell feels like?" were questions I was pondering. It actually took some mental stamina not to cry and make some jokes about the whole situation as I took this all in and watched an occasional dusty breeze make its way over the sea of tents.
Of the near 10,000 reenactors at the reenactment with an equal number of spectators, most agreed that in all their years in the hobby, including Gettysburg that all know will be hot and humid, they had never experienced such extreme conditions. How hot is Hades? It can only be experienced like this July at the 150th anniversary of Bull Run. Dozens of people were treated related to the heat, many needing hospital care. During one of the battles a medic and ice angel (woman with ice bucket for troops) even had to be carried off the field. At the evening dance when the temperature had "cooled down" to 90 degrees, a couple of dancers fainted; one on the ground with hoops up in the air.
I know I had both serious and humorous thoughts, the latter including the episode of MASH when Klinger wore layers of clothes during a hot spell in his attempt to get a section eight discharge. He almost makes it, until near the end when you see him running through camp, yelling, tearing off his clothes, and jumping into the portable tub with Nurse Hotlips. It definitely took restraint this weekend.
One person whom shall remain nameless and was already shirtless said, "I just want to take off my pants!" One brother warned me not to go and suggested reenactors fight in skivvies, flip-flops, and just a hat to designate which side they were on. This is not something a reenactor would do and there would never be a "I lived through the 150th" story if not attended, including the fun of being filmed while drumming and fifing by National Geographic.
Make it a good week and enjoy our summer weather, Mary and Rosamond