Monday, September 26, 2011

After action report - Lexington, Missouri.

Took off for Lexington, Missouri on the 16th to take part in the 150th anniversary reenactment of the battle of Lexington. I had initially thought I would skip this one due to work. My brother requested that I make it though to get one last event in before he and his family made their move to California.

Made the four hour drive without difficulty. The reenactment site was well marked and found without difficulty. Check-in went smoothly. There was some confusion as to the location of civilian camp. The reason for the confusion quickly became apparent - there was no civilian camp. Instead, each battalion's civilians were attached to them and camped a short distance away.

Quickly located the battalion and got Mrs. Spiff and myself set up. Camp was in a cornfield. My brother showed up and got unloaded. After that we took a quick trip into Lexington for a meal at McDonald's and a supplies run for Bro. By the time we returned to camp other members of the Ninth were starting to filter in. All told I believe there were 15 men and the captain reporting for duty before the weekend was out. All through the evening men arrived. Went to bed fairly early and slept well.

Saturday dawned cool and overcast. Rain on and off throughout the day. Most managed to stay warm and dry though. Following morning parade the battalion engaged in some much needed drill. Worked on several different maneuvers that we needed to brush up on. After drill I was detailed to take a couple of new recruits out for some firing practice. One had been at Wilson's Creek and the other was a quick study. I felt comfortable with their proficiency within two or three rounds. Spent some time answering questions from members of the public who had arrived and were watching.

Arrived back in camp to find Mrs. Spiff and the kiddos up and around. We all took a trip up to sutler's row. Several good sutlers for the size of the event. Bro picked up a few clothing items for his son. We also ran into a couple from the town we live in. Had a good conversation with them. In spite if the rain they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Got back to camp just in time to beat the call to formation for the battle.

After some of the required standing around we marched into battle. As the main infantry body we quickly came under fire from the Federal earthworks at the far end of an amphitheatre type depression. Three pushes were made to try and dislodge the Federals. None were successful. Heavy casualties were taken. I went down during the second assault.

Following the battle we cleaned muskets. After that I took another run up to the sutler's with Mrs. Spiff. Dinner was a delicious stew prepared by Cpl. Albert with fixings provided by the men of the Ninth. The usual campfire merriment followed. At least one card game was observed in progress. Later in the evening word began to filter in that a major storm was on the way. The stars disappeared and lightening could be seen in the distance. Preparations were made for a big blow. Those campaigning headed for a nearby barn to seek shelter. I went to the civilian camp and assisted Mrs. Spiff in readying her tent. Then it was back to camp where Bro and I added straw to the outside of our tent and lined the doorway with small logs to assist in turning aside any water. All things ready, several members of the company gathered in the street. A gust of wind and a smattering of rain broke up the group. As everyone settled in the rain began to fall. Bro and I managed to stay dry and warm again and I fell asleep as the thunder moved in.

Sunday broke clear but with more clouds moving in. Attended church call with the family. Began to gather up gear. More rain. Spent time laying in bed and listening to the rain on the canvas. Ordered to form up about an hour prior to the battle. By this time the rain had dropped off to a light sprinkle. Moved out to the staging area only to be told that the event organizers had postponed the battle for half an hour. The battalion was then put at rest and allowed to mingle while we waited for the guns to open.

When they finally opened, the artillery was impressive. We quickly formed up and moved into position. Taking cover behind small round hay bales (used in place of the hemp bales in the original battle) we opened a brisk fire on the enemy's works. At intervals we rolled the bales forward and again fired from a new position. After we had closed in several times the Federals felt the pressure and waved a white flag for a parley. Much shouting from our side. Private Sutton was so overcome with emotion that he mounted a bale and taunted the Federal troops. This was rightfully greeted with much support from his comrades. Eventually word came down that the Federals had surrendered. Many loud cheers greeted this news. Lexington had been freed from Federal oppression!

Following the battle we were marched past the spectators and then dismissed. The great skedaddle began. Took some time to get everything packed and loaded but we eventually got out without too much trouble.

All in all Lexington was a great event. Both battles were pretty well done for the number of troops involved. As has been noted, finding the site and registration was very easy. Plenty of reenactor parking was provided at a convenient distance from the camps. Water, wood, and porta-johns were in abundance and continuously refreshed. While I was unsure about the camping area it turned out to be just fine and never did become the quagmire I feared. I have also had a spectator tell me since the event that the battles were very good and that they felt the event was spectacular. The only possible gripe to the event was provided by some modern buildings in the area of camp and that could not be helped. The biggest downside to the event was the cars in the camp. While this is partially the organizer's responsibility, it is more the reenactors who must bear the blame. All things considered I give Lexington an A. It is definitely an event that I would be interested in attending again in the future.

Friday, August 19, 2011

After action report - Wilson's Creek, Missouri.

Spent this last weekend at Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri. This year the event was marking the 150th anniversary of the actual battle and was billed as a national event. I heard one estimate of about 3,000 reenactors present. Never did hear spectator numbers.

Going into this event I was excited. It promised to be a good one and would be Gator's first time out. At three months old she hasn't had much of a chance to get out. It didn't take long though for me to start to get concerned. First was the registration. Pre-registration was the only available option, absolutely no walk-ons. Firm deadline. I paid up $20 each for me and Mrs. Spiff, the young ones were free. No confirmation email. We did not appear on the list of registered participants within the promised two to three days. Emailed to find out why. Over two weeks passed. Finally an email back saying we were good and should be on the list. We were. In the meantime the "firm" deadline for registration had been extended. Then it was announced that walk-ons would be accepted at $25 a head. Such waffling and poor coordination on the registration did not bode well.

Arrived on site at about 1330 on Friday the 12th. Registration had been moved and seemed to be in disarray. More foreboding. A helpful staff member pointed out where I needed to go to get set up in the Missouri State Guard (MSG) camp. I asked where the civilian camp was so I could drop off the family. A blank stare. Not good. Another staff member finally said she guessed that the civilian camp would be near the MSG camp and to go in the same way. Nobody seemed sure of the exact location or existence of a civilian camp.

Finally found the civilian camp. Greeted by the "mayor" who proceeded to ask way over 20 questions about our impression. Seemed to be checking our accuracy. Gave us three options of where to set Mrs. Spiff and the kiddos up at. Tried one and found it too small. Moved the tent. Told that we couldn't set up there. Yelled for someone in charge on the double. Mayor gone. Objections died down. Tent set up. Mayor returns, tells me I can't visit family during the weekend (no military in camp). Seriously consider decking the man. He finally backs down. Not a good start.

Arrived at the Ninth's camp very hot and sweaty. Civilians camped throughout the military camp. Some at least were refugees from the mayor. Set up. Tried to take family back to civilian camp to change. Mayor blocks road. No admittance because the battle is about to start. Point out to mayor that battle was not scheduled to start for almost two hours. No dice. Drive to the parking lot and change.

Got into camp in plenty of time. Spent some time visiting before the call came to form up. Formed up and stood in the sun. Very hot. Finally marched out to stage for the battle. Ended up inside a treeline behind the artillery. Battle sounded great. Ordered to fire volleys in the air to "add to the battle." Declined to participate. About eight volleys all told - straight up and out of sight of the crowd and battle both. Finally marched out to engage the enemy. Fired a volley. Looked as reloading and noticed that there were no enemy troops on the field anywhere. Marched back to camp shortly thereafter. Went to the civilian camp to eat with the family. After dinner there was some probing back and forth between the armies but nothing of significance developed. Rained most of the night with some heavy lightening. Fortunately the ground was so dry that it all soaked in and so there was minimal mud.

Saturday morning dawned clear. Warm day. Got some breakfast before morning parade. Drilled afterwards. Worked with some of the new recruits following drill. Had a short break after that and then it was time to form up for the morning battle.

After standing in the sun for quite awhile we were gratified when the battle finally started. Unfortunately there were too many men for the field we were fighting on. An unusual problem. The result was very limited engagement for each battalion. Probably fired eight rounds total. Just not much action.

Following the battle I cleaned my musket and grabbed some lunch. Mrs. Spiff put on an appearance with the wee ones and a pitcher of lemonade. Much appreciated by all. After lunch I accompanied the rest of the non-commissioned officers and the captain to sutlers' row for a period photograph. Also grabbed some powder and caps for future events.

Formed up in plenty of time for the afternoon battle. Once again there was ample sun and heat to stand in. This time we were actually staged behind some of the spectators. Previous to the battle we had been told that we would make two advances on the enemy lines. Both would fail and we would be pulled out of action after the second. I decided not to wait for the second advance and abandoned the field with great haste as the first withdrawal commenced. Several other soldiers also joined in the route.

Decided against cleaning my musket after the battle since I had fired just two or three rounds. I had just put dinner on the fire when Spiff Jr. made an appearance. He had a message from his mother that she had extra dinner in her camp. I sent a reply that I appreciated the offer but had already started my meal preparations. After dinner I obtained leave and visited the family. Gator seemed to be a bit fussy but Spiff Jr. was having a ball with some other boys he had met. Sis and Bug were also doing well. Stayed for awhile before heading back to camp. Got back there just in time to join in a probe against the Federal camp. Nothing doing as the Yankees weren't up to playing. Hit the sack and slept well. Heavy dew but no rain.

Sunday was also clear. Company smaller with early departures. Attended church call and moved my gear to Mrs. Spiff's camp.

Prior to the battle my company was detached to the civilian camp. Acting on intelligence provided by Mrs. Spiff, the Colonel had sent us to see if we could capture some Federal brass. After laying in wait while the Federal column passed we were gratified when a small group of their officers entered the camp. The surprise was complete but the Yanks were light on their feet. The net haul came to three - two captains and a major. Good enough to get the thanks of our colonel and general. After questioning by the general the prisoners were paroled and we returned to our battalion.

The battle was a very good one. Lots of heavy action. Pushed the Federals hard up the hill but they gave ground grudgingly. Fired over thirty rounds and the company was decimated. I took a hit just as we crossed through a field of corn. Very good fight.

Dismissed right from the battlefield. Said my goodbyes and got the van. Loaded up without incident and left. Had an uneventful trip home.

Overall I would give Wilson's Creek an event grade of D. The successful raid in defense of the civilian camp and the Sunday battle saved the event from an F.

While I heard that the event was originally supposed to have twice as much land as it did there was plenty that could be directly attributed to the administration of the event. Friday and Saturday's battles were poorly coordinated disappointments. Registration was confusing. No straw. Barely adequate water and few porta-johns. Cars allowed in the military camp all weekend. Civilians camping in the military camp. Not a good showing for the high registration fee.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book review - The Ezekiel Option.

The Ezekiel Option by Joel C. Rosenberg is a 2005 follow-up to his earlier novel, The Last Jihad. The 414 page book is set in the near future and deals with a growing crises involving Israel and the United Nations. Much of the book reads like a Tom Clancy novel but with much less drinking and no sex. Both improvements in my opinion.

The book starts off with a gripping account of a mid-air hijacking of an airliner. This throws the U.S. president on the horns of a dilemma with no good alternative. From there the plot weaves through an international storyline and several twists and turns. The end of the book follows Biblical prophecy but still leaves one final twist before the close of the back cover.

What I found interesting about this book was its believability. The chain of events foretold by Ezekiel unfolds in modern times. The story is not far-fetched and really doesn't call for many chance occurrences. No suspension of belief is needed to stay on board the train of thought.

Overall I would give The Ezekiel Option two thumbs up. The story is riveting and very well written. I found that I had a hard time putting the book down. Thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking at the same time. Rush Limbaugh, Tim LaHaye, and U.S. News & World Report are right - Joel Rosenberg is a gifted author and his books are not to be missed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book review - Daniel Webster.

Daniel Webster is a 352 page biography written by Henry Cabot Lodge. The copy I read was part of a larger set of biographies of American Statesmen and was printed in 1899. The original release of the book was in 1883.

Lodge is well known as a prolific biographer of famous persons, mostly from American history. This volume is the first I have read by him and I was interested to see if he could live up to his press. I must say that my initial impressions are mixed.

Mr. Lodge skims quickly over Mr. Webster's childhood and personal life. Most of what he concentrates on is Webster's political career. The book is well written but does drag a bit from time to time. It is obvious from the book that it was written with the memory of Mr. Webster still fresh in the national memory.

Mr. Lodge presents a mostly unvarnished portrait of his subject. He finds Webster's early political stands against compromise with the South to be admirable and credits him with laying the groundwork upon which the North rested in the course of the Civil War. While giving him credit for this and for his great intellect Mr. Lodge does not spare Mr. Webster criticism. In particular he finds fault with Webster's March of 1850 speech advocating compromise with the South.

Mr. Lodge skewers Mr. Webster for reversing his earlier stands on the issue of compromise. He states that the speech irreparably damaged Mr. Webster's reputation and legacy. That it may have. I found the criticism to be somewhat inconsistent on Mr. Lodge's part though. Early in the work he cites Mr. Webster's inconsistency as an evidence of his great mind, stating in part that consistency is "the bugbear of small minds..." Later in the book this inconsistency is pointed to as proof of flaws and moral failings in Mr. Webster's character. A reversal indeed.

All in all I found Daniel Webster to be an interesting read. Mr. Lodge presents a clear picture of Mr. Webster's political career. While I found the lack of personal details to be disappointing I still learned a lot from the book. It fills many gaps in the period between the Founding Fathers and the Civil War. An interesting read and one that anyone would be wise to take advantage of.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book review - The Vanishing American.

The Vanishing American is a 308 page novel by Zane Grey. The copy I read was released in 1925.

After the last Zane Grey book I read, I approached The Vanishing American with high hopes. Sadly, I was bound to be disappointed. The plot of the book follows a young American Indian from about 1916 to 1920. The main theme appears to be the downfall of his tribe due to the reservation system and corrupt agents and missionaries. Along the way a young white woman falls in love with him and moves to the reservation to attempt to help the tribe.

Corrupt agents and the reservation system definitely did severe harm to American Indians. The main character in Grey's book sees this happening. However, he does nothing of note to stop it. Instead he wanders tragically back and forth while stringing along the woman who loves him. This in spite of her repeated statements that he needs but to ask and she will marry him. He does enlist in the army and fights in World War One. We are told he fought heroically but no details are given. After the war he returns to the reservation for a short time before experiencing a mystical encounter and then dying of unknown causes under murky circumstances. The young lady is left to watch the other Indians ride into the distance as the book closes. The bad guys are never called to account in any meaningful way, love is left unrequited, and no heroic stand is taken by the hero.

The poor plot combined with unconvincing characters who are never fully developed make The Vanishing American a rather dull read. I would recommend that this book be placed on the skip list to free up time for better material.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book review - Hebrews: The Journey of Faith.

Hebrews: The Journey of Faith is a 93 page book by Zane Hodges. The book was released by Victor Street Bible Chapel in 2010.

Having read several of Hodges' books in the past I was expecting the usual well-written exposition on a topic or book - in this case Hebrews. This book is not that. Instead it is a transcript of several messages that Zane delivered to a church in 1983. As as result the style is much different than that Hodges uses in his writing. The discussion is much more informal and uses many more illustrations. I found the difference to be enjoyable. I appreciate Hodges' writing style but I never had the opportunity to hear him preach. This book delivers his style and substance well.

In addition to the format I also found the topic to be of interest. Zane obviously comes from the viewpoint that the book of Hebrews is written to believers and deals with the need to walk according to the calling of Jesus. As such he touches on the reasons for doing so and the warnings against falling away. In particular I found his discussions of Hebrews 6:7-8 and 10:28-31 to be of great interest.

Hodges' sermons were well done and an enjoyable read. The message was easy to follow and the passages used were clearly given. There were a few scattered footnotes explaining some of Zane's illustrations and quotes. These notes were helpful. The book did lack any kind of appendix of passages cited. Such a listing would be helpful for future reference.

All in all I highly recommend Hebrews: The Journey of Faith for anyone who has any interest in Hebrews and would like an overview of the book and its message.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book review - The Last of the Plainsmen.

The Last of the Plainsmen is a 314 page book written by Zane Grey in 1908. The hardback version that I read had been released in 1936. The book follows an adventure that Mr. Grey had with Buffalo Jones in the southwestern part of the United States.

The book follows Jones and his party as they attempt to rope and capture a cougar. Not a particularly great-sounding idea but a feat that Jones had pulled off before. In fact, as detailed by several detours in the story, Jones was quite the roper of wild animals. Two adventures in particular are related; that of roping buffalo calves and Musk Oxen calves. The tale climaxes with the roping and capture of a real live cougar.

I must admit that I had read a couple of Mr. Grey's books previous and had not been terribly impressed. However, I found The Last of the Plainsmen to be engaging and a ripping good yarn. The book is well written and reads quickly, I got through it in a few days. The fact that it's true only made it better for me. Well worth the time for nature lovers, history buffs, and those who simply like a good adventure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book review - The Road to Reward.

Recently finished The Road to Reward by Bob Wilkin. The 148 page book was published by Grace Evangelical Society in 2003.

The book is subtitled Living Today in Light of Tomorrow and deals with the doctrine of eternal rewards. The book is divided into four sections with a fifth section consisting of appendices. In the first section Dr. Wilkin deals with the question of eternal life being a reward in and of itself. Dr. Wilkin concludes that the answer is no. Eternal life is a gift. Rewards are earned. They are clearly not the same and should not be confused.

The next two sections deal with the rewards themselves - what they are and who receives them. I found the section dealing with what eternal rewards are to be of particular interest. The fourth section deals with how this should impact our lives now. In dealing with each issue or question Dr. Wilkin is careful to ground his answers in Scripture.

After the main body of the book come three appendices. I must admit that I skimmed the one dealing with the question of all believers being rewarded equally. I did find the next two to be of great interest though. The second one answers the question of if the rewards given will result in jealousy in the Kingdom. In the third Dr. Wilkin addresses the question of what eternity will be like. Having asked these very questions myself I appreciated the opportunity to read Dr. Wilkin's take and to see which Scripture passages he looked to for the answers.

The book is well written and thought-provoking. The subtitle is apt. After all, if we will be rewarded in eternity for what we accomplish for God now, shouldn't that effect how we live? Bob Wilkin clearly believes that the answer is yes and he convincingly makes his case from the Bible. The Road to Reward is a must read for anyone who has questions about why we should live a life that pleases God when we are already saved.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Book review - Story of the Great American West.

Story of the Great American West is a 371 page book put out by Reader's Digest in 1977. The book actually starts in the East shortly after the arrival of the first colonists and follows the frontier as it moves westward. The final chapter concludes in the early 1900's.

Because of the length of time covered in the book most events are summarized. Very few things are covered in detail. Although the book was well-written I found myself somewhat distracted by this. It seemed that several times stories were left open as the narrative moved on. A few more details would have been nice.

In spite of the shallow level of information, the book was an interesting read. I found it to be a decent overview of the expansion of the United States. While it is hardly a reference book, it will be well worth the while to read for those unfamiliar with anything beyond cowboys and Indians in the American West.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book review - The Hungry Inherit.

The Hungry Inherit is a 128 page book written by Zane Hodges. The copy that I read was published in 1972. In his forward Charles Ryrie says that the purpose of the book is to "distinguish clearly salvation and discipleship." This the book does and does well.

The book is a departure from Hodges' normal writing style and is much more informal than he normally writes. Starting at the encounter at the well of Sychar and moving through Jesus' earthly ministry the book concludes in Revelation. All of the points are tied together in a story-telling type of format. In spite of the change in style, Mr. Hodges does not fail to support what he is saying with frequent Scripture citations. There are no footnotes though.

There were three things that I found particularly interesting in the course of the book. The first is the beginning scene at the well. Mr. Hodges' assessment of Jesus' words is done in light of the culture of the time. He brings the conversation to life, explains why the woman asked the questions she did, and correctly points out that Jesus had one conversation but in two parts with two different audiences. The woman he calls to salvation, the disciples to reformation and His work. The messages are clear, connected, and separate.

The second area that I found of special interest was Hodges' take on the parable of the soils or of the sower. I don't know how many times I have read or discussed this parable. In all those times I missed that the thorny soil does produce fruit, just not as it should have - to perfection. My take on the parable did not change in its essence but the point was well taken.

The third area that I found enlightening was Hodges' discussion of Revelation 21:8. In that passage a list is given of those who will inhabit the Lake of Fire. That list has caused many to say that if one habitually engages in such sins one is unsaved. Zane points out that believers can still engage in such sins, perhaps habitually. However their character, as viewed by God, is not defined by those failures but is defined by His grace. Comforting thought.

Overall I give this book a hearty recommendation. In spite of the laid back style, or perhaps because of it, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned much. While not a theological dissertation, the book does an excellent job of breaking the truth down so as to be easily absorbed.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Book review - Witnesses at the Creation.

Witnesses at the Creation by Richard B. Morris is subtitled Hamilton, Madision, Jay, and the Constitution. As might be surmised by the subtitle, the 261 page book is an account of the Constitutional Convention and the three men's role in bringing it about, drafting the Constitution, and pushing for its ratification. The subjects of the book were chosen due to their roles in writing The Federalist Papers.

Mr. Morris begins with a brief background of each man. That helps explain the development of their political thought and their relationship with each other at the time. Following that, each man is followed through the crises leading to the Constitutional Convention. James Madison was especially key in bringing about the convention although Alexander Hamilton also played a large role.

Using Madison's notes and those of other participants, Mr. Morris recreates the convention with emphasis on the parts played by the three men. Madison is often called the father of the Constitution but he could not have claimed the title without the assistance of others, in particular John Jay.

During the ratification fight Jay and Hamilton worked together in New York with the advantage that the Union was pretty much an accomplished fact by the time the were debating the matter. On the other hand Madison led the fight in Virgina and had to do so against formidable odds. In addition to the fact that ratification was not certain, none other than Patrick Henry led the opposition. After a grueling debate, the ratification party carried the day.

After the ratification all three men moved on to immediate well-known success. Madison to a leadership post in the first House of Representatives, Jay to the Chief Justice position on the United States Supreme Court, and Hamilton to an appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. The three would part ways before their public lives were finished but what they had accomplished still stands.

All in all I found Mr. Morris' book to be an interesting one. He obviously has a very nationalistic tilt to his political thought and gives it free reign for most of the book. Alexander Hamilton in particular benefits from this as his many authoritarian views are explained away. In contrast Patrick Henry and others of his school of thought are not allowed the same luxury. In spite of this, Witnesses at the Creation is worth the read for those interested in the political sausage-making that went into the document that our nation still lives by today.