BY NICKLAUS SIMPSON
SHILOH, Tenn. – When Vickie Rumble looks across the peach orchard at the William Manse George Cabin on the Shiloh battlefield, her eyes don't stop at the cannons or the tour markers – they take her back to the 1860s when, she imagines, the orchard was full of children running to see Grandma.
Rumble and almost 20 other history buffs formed the Homespun Living History Guild more than a decade ago to illustrate how people in the late 1800s lived.
Beginning in 2002, a small group has met at the cabin each year to reenact old-fashioned Christmases as they were almost 150 years ago.
Starting with 1860, they recreated this weekend the Christmas of 1862 – the first Christmas after the April battle of Shiloh during the War between the States.
“We've toned down a lot,” Rumble said while knitting with the other women. “After the battle, they didn't have much. In years past we decorated trees and dressed like Santa; that just didn't seem realistic after a major battle.”
The re-enactors – six in all – said the driving force behind portraying the rural side of life was to show people today the hardships our ancestors faced. Groups like this are rare, Rumble said, because re-enactors tend to gravitate to the military aspect or the aristocratic, hoop-skirt way of life.
“I've done military re-enactments since 13,” said Lee Walker of Columbia, S.C. “I started thinking, these guys weren't always soldiers, so by researching civilian life I hope to better understand why they did things in the military like they did. A lot of people don't recreate the rural life, but this was the real backbone of America.”
Walker said hours of research go into the preparation for one weekend. They check what crops were available, when the troops last moved through and even what the climate was like in 1862 – a rainy week said Ken Staggs of Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
Besides the research, the guild makes their own clothes and furniture. Walker, the resident carpenter, built two beds and several tables for the weekend.
One table, built from an 1850s plan, had to be rebraced for stability.
“It wasn't Lee's carpentry – the plan was just off,” Rumble said laughing. “I bet many a lady lost their supper on that thing.”
While most of the group spends hours perfecting their weekend-long play, during the week they have jobs ranging from author to banker to firefighter to a museum curator.
A visit to Shiloh
Even after Rumble and her gang leave, the Shiloh National Military Park still has plenty to offer.
Pick out a good CD, leave the maps at the door and bring your sense of adventure. Head past Corinth on Highway 45, then stop and ask for directions along the winding country roads.
Driving down the same two-lane roads where – more than a century ago – a battle roared from the banks of the Tennessee River at Pittsburgh Landing winding across several dozen miles to Corinth, there is plenty for everyone.