By Sgt. 1st Class Ray Drumsta July 20, 2011
LATHAM, N.Y. -- Unlike 1861, it was blue versus ACU (Army Combat Uniform) here on July 20, as Civil War Soldier met modern Soldier to commemorate the First Battle of Bull Run.
Civil War re-enactor Sgt. Howard Young, dressed head to toe in authentic Union Army military gear and armed with a rifled musket, stood in sharp contrast to Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Weidlich, standing just as tall in his Army Combat Uniform, helmet with night-vision sights and M4 carbine. Young belongs to the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry, a re-enactor group, and Weidlich, who served two tours in Iraq, is a member of the New York Army National Guard's 206th Military Police Company.
Young, of Rotterdam, N.Y. and Weidlich, of Cobleskill, N.Y. fired blanks with their respective weapons outside the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs and spoke to the differences between 1861 and now for members of the Albany, N.Y.-area press corps.
The gear Weidlich wore is roughly 18 times more expensive than Young's. It cost $42 ($1,080 in today's dollars) to outfit a New York Militia Soldier like those who fought at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21st, 1861. Today a New York National Guard Soldier wears $18,087 worth of equipment when he or she goes into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that gap is dwarfed by other epic historic differences.
By the time of Bull Run, New York State had sent about 46,000 Soldiers to serve. A great many of the 33,000 Union Soldiers who fought at Bull Run were Empire State Natives.
The outcome looked like a Union victory until Confederate reinforcements led by Brig. Gen. Joseph Johnston showed up in time to swing the outcome of the battle towards the South.
The New York State Militia, the force that was later renamed the New York National Guard, played a significant role in the battle. The state of New York sent just over 8,500 militia members to Washington for three months of federal service following the start of the Civil War in April 1861. Most of those Soldiers served at the Battle of Bull Run.
Both armies were composed of newly recruited, inexperienced and partially trained Soldiers. Civil War Soldiers were issued muskets, but only trained to load and fire them, Young said.
"The 125th, which I belong to, never fired until they went into combat," he said.
While Weidlich can fire 90 rounds a minute with his weapon and quickly exchange expended magazines for fresh 30-round clips, Civil War Soldiers went through an elaborate manual of arms in combat, cutting down the rate of fire to -- at best -- three rounds per minute. Civil War Soldiers weren't even taught how to aim their muskets, Young noted.
Nonetheless, Weidlich admired the way Young executed the manual of arms, which included biting paper a from cartridge, poring gunpowder down the musket barrel, drawing the slim, silver ramrod from its stock, ramming the powder home, lifting the musket hip-high, seating a percussion cap beneath the hammer, and drawing the hammer back while raising the musket to the shoulder to fire it.
Though Young only loaded powder into his musket, a bright plume of orange flame and white smoke issued from the barrel when he fired it.
"It's a much more structured and disciplined way of firing," Weidlich said. Civil War Soldiers carried fewer rounds, and had to make every one count, he added.
Young also carried cookware -- a cup to cook rations and a tin can to prepare coffee. But sometimes the necessities of war didn't allow time for the necessity of cooking. Once during an arduous march to a battle, Civil War troops actually chewed coffee grounds for sustenance, Young said.
"You have to have nothing but admiration for those guys," Young reflected.
In addition to a flame-resistant clothing, Weidlich wore interceptor body armor (IBA), complete with plates built to withstand small-arms fire. His vest and modular load-carrying equipment are designed to hold various pouches for grenades, ammunition and other items. Weidlich said the standard combat load is seven magazines for a total of 210 rounds, and a slung bandolier can hold more.
Weidlich's carbine was equipped with an Advanced Combat Optical Gun (ACOG) sight.
"With this sight, I can accurately place rounds out to 800 meters, and just adjust with the reticule that's inside the sight," he said.
Weidlich's weapon is better, Young said.
"They did have repeaters in the Civil War, but they didn't use them that much," he said.
Young has carried and fired his musket at numerous Civil War re-enactments.
"It's a beast, let me tell you," Young said with a smile. "If you carry this around all day, you're tired."
Young's uniform was wool, which he said was tough, breathable and a bit waterproof.
"That's why you had wool," he explained. "But it was hot. Even though it did breathe naturally, it was hot."
Part of the demonstration place took on a sun-drenched field in the hours approaching noon. Young could be seen drinking from his round Civil War-era canteen, which he then re-slung over his shoulder. Weidlich's hydration system -- a plastic bladder of water -- remained on his back as he sipped from it through its slender drinking tube.
"As you can see, there's been significant advances from then till now," Weidlich said. "But even in my time, from my first deployment, there's been great advances."
Those advances include the Army Combat Helmet, an improvement over the Kevlar helmet, and flame-resistant uniforms, Weidlich said.
"Unfortunately, due to the IEDs, they had an increasing need to provide Soldiers and other service members with a flame-resistant uniform," he said.
Both Young and Weidlich reflected on the difference in logistics between the Civil War and now.
Civil War Soldiers carried between 45 to 60 lbs. of equipment on the march, Young said, but some inexperienced Soldiers simply tossed gear by the side of the road. Though the Civil War was the first railroad war, Northern-theater roads became quagmires in winter and hampered operations, he added.
"That's why they rarely fought in winter," Young said.
Technology has also wrought a vast time difference, Weidlich said. Civil War Soldiers took weeks to get to the battlefield - unlike today.
"You can go to bed, and less than 24 hours later, you're boots on the ground, in the combat zone," he said.
Weidlich said he enjoyed the demonstration and admired Young's knowledge about the Civil War. But after getting an idea of what Civil War troops went through, he has no doubt of what kind of Soldier he prefers to be.
"Definitely modern day," Weidlich said.
"They're better equipped, they're better trained," Young said.