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War in the time of peace for Shiloh Scheib

For Gerald Scheib, retirement meant going to war.

Sort of.

Scheib gave up full time teaching in 2001. And although he continues to teach art classes at Mission College as an adjunct instructor, he found himself with a lot of extra time after retirement…enough time to re-live history.

Scheib is a "re-enactor" – a member of a society that pays tribute to Civil War ancestors by staging re-enactments of famous battles. Five or six times a year, Scheib puts on his Union uniform, cleans his musket and joins fellow re-enactors in playing out the history that his grandfather actually experienced.

"It’s the closest thing there is to going back in time," he said. "You smell the black powder, you feel the weapon in your hand. You even get a little of that adrenaline rush running around the battle field with people shooting at you."

Portrait of Scheib's grandfather, William Tecumseh Scheib, and family's treasured books.
Portrait of Scheib's grandfather, William Tecumseh Scheib, and family's treasured books. Click image to enlarge.

Scheib’s grandfather, William Tecumseh Scheib, served under General Ulysses S. Grant at the Battle of Shiloh. He was wounded twice, including a bullet to the back of the head which remained lodged in the skull for the rest of Scheib’s life. In subsequent battles, Scheib suffered at least three more wounds.

Grandson Scheib knows all of this because two of his most treasured possessions tell him so. Original editions of "The History of Jackson County, Iowa" (published in 1879) and "Portrait and Biographical Album of Jackson County, Iowa" (published in 1889) provide rich and detailed information about William
Tecumseh Scheib’s war service, family genealogy, and his career as an Iowa businessman and local politician. Such information almost certainly would have been lost through the generations were it not for the books. For example, regarding a wound the elder Scheib suffered at Corinth, Tennessee, the almanac reads:

"After receiving this wound, he was lying on a cot, and having it dressed, when the Union lines retreated and Mr. Scheib was again nearly surrounded by the enemy. Forgetting his wounds, he arose from the cot, and being a good runner, made his escape, the shower of bullets flying after him."

Even the smallest details are treasures, such as this tidbit about how a grateful nation compensated Scheib for the bullet in his skull: "As the United States Government never forgets the soldiers, he now receives a pension of $18 per month."

"My grandfather was shot so many times, I feel fortunate being here," said Gerald. "I came awfully close to not being born. But that’s why I’m re-enacting today: to honor what he did and went through in the past."
Photo of Gerald Scheib standing next to an ammunition cart during a Civil War "re-enactment."
Through his interest in the Civil War, Scheib learned about, and joined, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War – all of whose members have ancestors who fought in the great conflict. Through that organization, he discovered the re-enactment societies and subsequently joined the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, a group of about 40 re-enactors.

After taking part in his first few re-enactments, the activity became much more than a tribute, he said. Because the participants insist on authenticity, in everything from weaponry to the soap they use, the experience became transporting.

"In our group, everybody’s got a nickname," he said. "I’m Shiloh Scheib. When I’m sitting around the campfire with the guys, smoking a pipe, I’m not Jerry Scheib anymore. I’m just Shiloh."

But authenticity doesn’t come cheap. A uniform and a musket alone can run a re-enactor up to $1,000 – not to mention the cost of travel and lodging when a battle re-enactment is held far from home.

Luckily, said Scheib, much of it is tax deductible: "The government says it’s ‘living history,’ so they give you a tax break because they recognize the value of it."

So does Shiloh Scheib.

– BY EDUARDO PARDO  /  Photos: (top) Lydia Chung; (bottom) Courtesy of Gerald Scheib