I was seized by horror when Captain Pratt took fire, and that horror was as genuine as ugly on a buzzard. The well-being of our beloved 15th Alabama depended on this great man and I reckoned the future of the confederacy did, as well.
His name is Captain Michael Pratt and he didn’t have to bring me along for the fightin’, but he did. Gave me the job of Aide to the Captain even, and now here he was, shot in the gut by some little coot Yankee. I hovered over him the best I could. Gunfire roared around us, but the great man still stood, still shouted his orders, still commanded. He wasn’t whipped, not by a jug full. Captain Pratt was as tough as a sheet iron cracker and the bravest man I ever knew, sure as boll weevils love cotton.

At the beginning of the day at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center’s Civil War Re-enactment, I was a reporter in a funny hat, looking to fulfill an assignment and get gone. By the time the first shot was fired, I was thoroughly devoted to the 15th Alabama and — I’m going to go ahead and say it — a ferocious new enemy of the Union skunks.
“I’m eager to get to fightin’, sir,” is about the only line I had going in, and I meant it utterly. It was then that I began to ardently wish I chewed tobacco. Such a line is better punctuated by spit.
The brave captain is Michael Pratt, of Farmington. He is a printer by trade, but when he is on the field for a re-enactment as he was last weekend, he earns the title he was given. This is a man who carries a Civil War-era wallet and keeps a lice comb in his haversack. Commitment to authenticity is a priority. So is the safety of the men and women on the field. The soldiers under Pratt’s command train all year long. They handle muskets that fire black powder, tamping down the powder and wadding just like soldiers did back on the battlefields. They fire these weapons at a line of mock enemies sometimes as close as just 30 yards away.
You can understand why the captain felt it best if I didn’t carry me no musket.
*spit*
All I had for gear was a haversack and a canteen. The water was fine, but bits of bees wax — used to line the canteen — would fall into your mouth with each drink.
A stranger gave me a canister of fake blood for reasons he didn’t make clear. Calvary Lt. Al Ruggiero, of the 7th Tennessee, gave me a bite of hardtack cracker. I thought that was right neighborly. I was good to go.


The blue and the gray
Though the fighting is make believe, and all will walk alive from the field of battle, Pratt’s role as commander is 100 percent authentic. I say this because in the moments before the first skirmish commenced, every other solider had some type of crisis that needed to be managed.
“Is there time to go to the bathroom, captain?”
“Sir, I don’t think I can make it all the way out to the field. Can’t I just hide in the bushes or something?”
“I forgot my bloody shirt. Is there time for me to go get my bloody shirt?”
For a moment, I worried for the state of our army and for the mind of the captain. But he sent two men off to the latrines, assigned the wheezy young man to a stationary post, and allowed he of the bloodless shirt to run off for his prop.
Then soldiers got into formation and the professionalism set in. This is where chatter and wisecracks end and focus on elimination of the enemy begins.
The captain and leaders of other units checked the weapons one by one. Captain Pratt ordered a small group of fighters out to the skirmish line, and the very first steps toward warfare got under way.
“You men get to the ridge, halfway up. Go, go!”
To a boy that looked perhaps 14 years old, he said: “You. Go along with them as a runner.”
To another commander he said: “I’ll need your men to move out once things get going. Send somebody fleet of foot.”
A line of four of our skirmishers took to the field and crouched in the green grass under a blazing sun. They crouched and waited to see in what numbers the damn Union would come.
For me, this is when things began to feel real. There were real men out in the field awaiting an enemy that would come with guns and a thirst for battle. The thump of my heartbeat became a little feistier. Sweat began to bubble beneath the wool coat, the wool pants and the confederate-style hat. Details on the field came into sharper view. Every sound, from the buzzing of bees to a faraway cough might be of vital importance.
Captain Pratt paced like a panther, awaiting the appearance of the union. And then in the distance, the sound of drumming. The captain squinted across the field
“Dammit,” he spat. “They’ve got field music.”
Pratt and other members of the 15th Alabama have fought simulated Civil War battles all over the country. Some are choreographed down to the finest detail, some are not. Plans had been agreed upon between the participating teams for this event, but already those plans were being played with fast and loose. Field music was not part of the script.
That’s so like northerners.
And there they were, the vile enemy. These were Union fighters from the 20th and 3rd Maine. Lord, how I despised them. They ascended the hill in a cloud of arrogance as thick as flies over the corpse of a dead yard dog. More of them than Captain Pratt expected in the worst of pre-war dreams. The Union took up in a pretty formation, dozens of soldiers squaring off against our four helpless scouts.
The drumming ended and there was a silence that felt long.
“Why am I not hearing gunfire?” Pratt whispered into that silence.
And then on cue, it came. The heavy pops of muskets being fired by lines of men standing in neat rows. Our four skirmishers did what they could, but their disadvantage was evident. And here, my first mission of the battle was announced.
“Get up there!” Pratt hollered at me. “Tell them to advance so we can fall in behind them. Go! Go!”


With the South, in life or death
It was with a high sense of honor that I ran to the skirmish line and performed the task bestowed upon me by my wise and fearless commander. The words that I uttered to those brave men on the line changed the course of the battle and set the stage for victory. The men stood and advanced on the long union line ahead of them. A moment later, Captain Pratt led the promised reinforcements up to the line and Pratt himself delivered the cleanest and brightest rebel yell every issued from a human throat. My pride in the 15th Alabama soared as high as the corn in Pennsylvania. It was evident the crowd watching felt that way as well, for they got to cheering mighty loud.
“Right there,” Captain Pratt yelled, pointing to an empty slot on the line. “That’s our opening. Pour it on! Pour it on hot!”
The soldiers obliged and the crackle of gunfire was like popcorn in a giant kettle.

I’ve got to tell you this: Maybe it gets more passé with each new re-enactment. For me, standing at the front of the Confederate line and staring at the rifles aimed in my direction from the other side, there was a real sense of intimidation. It is maybe one one-thousandth of what fear and defiance those long-ago soldiers experienced, but it was authentic nonetheless.
“There are moments when it feels absolutely real,” Pratt had told me earlier. He recalled one re-enactment in Gettysburg in which the wind carried gun smoke so completely, the actors could not see the spectators. For that sliver of time — just a second or two — the line between real and make-believe is gone.
And now on a different battlefield, Captain Pratt began to stagger this way and then that, like a dried up corn stalk blowing in a breeze. He braced himself on his sword with one hand, held up the other in a command to his soldiers.
“The captain has been hit!” I tried to yell, and there was earnest surprise behind the words, though they cracked and fell dead on the battlefield. I had viewed the man as constructed of such impenetrable iron that the idea he could be rocked by mortal injury was baffling.
The captain wouldn’t go down alone, I decided. When the opportunity arose, I leaned in to him like a conspirator.
“Want me to take a hit?” I asked him. “Get wiped out? Take a fall? Can I, huh?”
“No,” the captain growled. “I need you and a couple others to go for stretchers.”
Like that, my bid for glorious death in the grass was denied by the officer. I muttered under my breath and stalked off, like a boy refused an extra hour of television. Behind me, enemies continued to fire upon each other and more bodies fell.


Are the cameras still rolling?
When the shooting stopped, a funny thing happened. There were bodies on both sides of the battle, strewn across the field. Most of the Union boys gathered themselves up, dusted off their pretty uniforms and walked away.
Not my Southern brothers. Committed to the show, they remained mute and motionless under the hot sun. Though the drama of killing had ended, most of the spectators stood at the edge of the field, waiting for how this would be resolved.
“How long do I have to wait here?” one of the mock dead asked when I walked by.
“Hang in there, cadaver. I’ll check with the captain.”
But the captain was not doing well at all. Pratt was down on the grass, twisting in pain. He continued to groan though only myself and one other could hear. A committed groaner is the great Captain Michael Pratt. So seamless was his performance, I began to wonder if maybe a real piece of artillery, perhaps fired from a bird hunter eight miles away, had soared across the prairie and struck him in the gut.
And so it went for the next half-hour. We twice tried to remove the captain by stretcher, but the cloth came apart and we risked spilling him back into the field from which he had been lifted. My brother confederate Rod Brents and I carried Pratt a quarter-mile to the medical tent, where he was tended to by an army surgeon who had more jars of fake blood than I’ve ever seen in one place. And all the while, Captain Pratt’s nervous family huddled nearby and it became real difficult for a rookie soldier like me to determine when the acting was supposed to stop.
“You really get into the moment,” Brents told me when we had a second away from the spectators. “You find that you want to stay in character. You want it to be as authentic as possible.”
Which was a real problem for me. Because I spent the latter part of that afternoon worrying over Captain Pratt, though the part of my brain not involved in role play told me he would be just fine. He would get up Monday morning, climb into an air-conditioned car and drive to the print shop where no bullets would fly.
The aim of a war re-enactment, I gather, is to provide a brief view into the hell and chaos of real-world battle. For me, the feeling of pride and concern lingered long after I had changed out of that hot wool and into something more civilian.
Who won? Why, we did. Ask me again in a coon’s age and I’ll say the same.
Another strange thing happened out there on the battlefield. At the start of the day, my knowledge of the Civil War might have garnered me a D on an eighth-grade test. By the end of the weekend, I found myself studying up, reading all I could about that bloody battle and thirsting to learn more.
I went out to Norlands just so I could dress up and be someone else for a while. Instead, under the command of the heroic Captain Pratt, I got me some book learnin’ and ain’t that just as right as the rain that falls in May?
*spit*

“It is well that war is so terrible — we should grow too fond of it” — Robert E. Lee

“Well, I hope Neil Young will remember: A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” — Lynyrd Skynard

The original 15th Alabama Company G is honored by being represented by several re-enacting units across the country. Re-enactors from Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington state, Maine and Alabama march, drill and dress as the original 15th did.

The company’s credo: “Though we will never be able to equal their sacrifice, bravery or their commitment to a cause, we honor them for all those things that are now but memories, kept in only the most honorable places in our hearts.”

Source: www.mainerebels.org

Content of Capt. Michael Pratt’s haversack:

Tobacco in leather pouch. Tobacco was mostly chewed or smoked in pipes. The confederate soldiers had plenty.

Housewife: a sewing kit bound in wool. Includes a special needle for sutures.

Toothbrush with bone handle.

Lice comb

Deck of playing cards: replica of Civil War-era cards, they featured suits in specific numbers, but no numerals.

Necco wafers: Believe it or not, these were around and available at the time of the Civil War

Pipe: for smokin’


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