Everyone has his or her favorite memory of fall and of Hallowe’en. Perhaps it was a costume, or maybe the camaraderie of trick-or-treating. Maybe it was just the cooler air and the earlier, somehow darker nights. This is a Civil War blog, however, so since my favorite memory of Hallowe’en is related to that conflict, I thought I’d share it here.
Fort Tejon, in the Tehachapi Mountains of California, north of Los Angeles, is an authentic Civil War site. No battles were fought there, but Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Chief Medical Officer of the Army of the Potomac and developer of about a zillion things that
comforted and saved the lives of wounded soldiers, was stationed here for a couple of years before the war. Every officer in the Federal Army who spent time early in his career in California also spent time, even if it was just overnight from Drum Barracks to the Presidio, at this little gem of history tucked neatly into the hollow of a tiny mountain range that separates Southern California from Northern California.
In the 1980s and 90s, there were regular Civil War re-enactments at Fort Tejon. They were held on the third weekend of each month from April to October. Each month had its own special beauty, but the fall season was just breathtaking. The camps were open to the public on Sunday for the battles and other scenarios, but on Saturday nights the re-enactors pretty much had the place to themselves.
October was our last encampment for several months. Everyone thought of the time as special and tried to make it so for the entire group. The Union camp was up the hill from the Confederate camp. Both camps were decorated for the autumn holidays with pumpkins and gourds, old packing crates planted with chrysanthemums, and bunches of yellow and brown California Pin Oak leaves and Indian corn tied to tent poles and camp signs. There were scents of spiced cider in the air, and someone always roasted a turkey (or two!) over a campfire, with corn and apples wedged in among the embers. There was spice cake, gingerbread and soft, warm snickerdoodle cookies for everyone. After dinner, the trick-or-treating began.
There were always many more little Rebels than Yankees in our group, so we (Yankees, that is) meandered down the gravel-and-dirt path to the Confederate camp. All along the way were carved pumpkins. What a sight to see! I don’t know just how or when it started, but the pumpkin carvers vied with each other every year for the best, funniest, most fantastic pumpkin ever carved. All the important generals were represented. Lincoln and Davis were abundant, along with flags and images of cannon, guns, and horses. One year someone even did Rhett and Scarlett, although if memory serves, they were hoisted on a bayonet as “way too farb.” Every year it got better. It was just lovely, and a lot of fun.
The children went from tent to tent, filling up their haversacks. They bobbed for apples. Someone would always have a good ghost story, usually complete with a grizzly bear and Old Peter Le Beck. An enterprising person would set up for a taffy pull or self-dipped caramel apples, and everyone had a great time. Even Mother Nature got in on the fun when the bats would show up at sunset and wheel around the darkening skies. I get nostalgic just thinking about it all!
So, with respect to a time-honored tradition–pumpkin carving–I would like to invite our readers to submit their best Civil War pumpkin carving efforts. We will publish all efforts, and we may even pick a winner! ECW doesn’t want to put its credibility on the line here, but geez! A little fun is a good thing. Besides, who doesn’t want to see the Duel of the Ironclads on the side of a big ol’ punkin!? Maybe it will even get the kids interested.