By LEE HILL KAVANAUGH
In camp before the Battle of the Hemp Bales, Union re-enactors received instructions.
LEXINGTON, Mo. | The first cannon boomed at 2:06 p.m. Sunday.
Six thousand spectators huddled under umbrellas and ponchos. There were grandparents and grandkids, veterans in wheelchairs and mothers carrying infants. People showed up in hiking boots, and a few wore sandals.
Everyone here was waiting to see the Johnny Rebs whup the Yankees. This was the 150th remembrance of Lexington’s Battle of the Hemp Bales, where Confederates used the hemp as a shield before they overtook the Federalists.
Rain had soaked Charlie Owen, but that didn’t stop the Higginsville man from speed-dialing his girlfriend in Iowa. Each volley of cannon fire had him nearly jumping up and down like a schoolboy with glee.
“Listen! That’s the cannons … the same one I had. Now do you understand why I like to do it?”
He held the phone up to the sky as Confederate troops lit eight cannons once more. Men gave fist pumps to the Yankees crouched in a 50-foot ditch.
For the commemoration, Lexington was full of Bushwhackers and Federalists in slouch hats and kepis. There were horses, muskets, cannons and lots of wool jackets and muddy boots, most hand-stitched. Women in long dresses clutched parasols and lifted hoops to avoid a mud splatter.
Radka Sherman, 46, who is deaf, gave her husband, Pete Sherman, 51, a thumbs-up as she felt each boom. “It made her laugh because she could ‘hear’ the cannons, too,” he said. “We loved this.”
And when at last the Union troops waved the white rag, leading the troops to surrender was a Leawood woman, although most people probably mistook her for a man.
Sharon Johnson, 54, was playing a high-pitched, tinny fife, her music soaring above the crowd noise and muskets and patter of rain. Part of the 7th and 30th Consolidated Volunteers, The Irish Brigade, she took up the instrument last year. She takes fife lessons from a teacher in Lawrence. Her talent lets her re-enact history with her husband and sleep in the same tent.
“It’s kind of unusual for a husband and wife to come out and be two guys,” she said, and laughed. “We have a lot of women re-enact, but you can’t sleep in the same tent if they’re a soldier. This way I can.”
Women playing the part of men have to respect the 10-foot rule: no makeup, no earrings, and people 10 feet away shouldn’t be able to tell they’re women, she said.
A living historian, Darral Clancy, 52, of Lexington, who — except for his red hair — bears an eerie resemblance to Bloody Bill Anderson — an infamous Missouri pro-Confederate figure — sauntered by with his grandson in tow. His slouch hat was set at a jaunty angle with an ostrich plume rising skyward.
“I’m really not Bloody Bill. I’m just a Missouri bushwhacker,” and he opened his shirt to show the stash of pistols at the ready. “The rifles of 1861 were probably louder than what we heard today. And in the 1961 re-enactments they actually pointed their weapons at the soldiers instead of the air. And they clanged their sabers harder.
“Yeah, this is the safer generation. But this was still thrilling, I thought.”
His grandson, Gage Ralston, 8, launched himself prone and started “shooting” at re-enactors walking by.
“Don’t shoot the civilians, Gage! … My grandson loves history, and this is the way to see it.”
By 5 p.m. most of the civilians and the fighters had left, but the muddy roads stalled out more than a few cars. Tow truck drivers pulled cars out and an army of volunteers from the Wentworth Military Academy pushed dozens out of the muck.
Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh, 47, rounded up stragglers, making sure everyone could drive out of the cornfield goo.
“Everybody I met who came was smiling. I never saw one person who wasn’t excited about being here. … But parking was like turning a battleship in a mud puddle,” he said and shrugged. “We had a complete community effort this weekend, though.
“And it was impressive.”
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