Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Far Away on the Mini Battlefield

Jackson, Michigan, August 27-28, 2011

Jackson is a good distance for all of us to travel—I think it is nearly five hours for me.  This is really only worthwhile for large events.  Fortunately, Jackson is a large event.  We set up camp in a distant corner of the campground, right against where the suburban neighborhood began.  Sergeant Mott selected this location as a means of both ensuring the unit would be able to camp together and to get good shade from the nearby trees.

Breaking in Lt. Sharp's new slouch hat.
Once we set up camp, we visited the large number of sutlers that opened early.  Fall Creek and the Regimental Quartermaster were both there, along with several other large sutlers.  Jackson is a great place for shopping the sutlery.   Caps were $12 for RWS and $10 for CCI.  Regimental Quartermaster had the best price with a sleeve of 10 tins of the German caps for $95.  Prices overall were disappointing—I was looking to finish out an officer’s uniform (to go with the pistol and my recent sword purchase), but the gauntlets I found at Fall Creek (which had the best price of $35) would not fit, even though they were extra large (large size gloves normally are the correct size for me). And sashes were around $40—so I decided to go with eBay instead.  I did find a good cravat, though.

The event provided pulled pork for the Saturday supper, which I am sure would have been a wonderful meal, but due to the distance from camp, we chose to prepare our own food of ham and potatoes, with corn and squash.  It was very good, and nice to not have to wait in any kind of line.

After supper Private Zack and I challenged Captain Evens and Lieutenant Sharp to a battle of Euchre.  I suppose this was to break the curse of last year’s round of Euchre (Jackson 2010 After-action report) where Sergeant Enyart was my partner—but Enyart was absent this weekend.  I believed we did not stand a chance this time.  My experience over the past year was that the only way I could defeat the Evens-Sharp team was with Enyart has my partner.  Anyone else and I could keep the match close, but I could not win.  With Zack as my partner, I honestly expected quite the whooping.

But apparently I was quite successful in training Zack up at Nelsonville with those 14 or so games.  He disposed of many of his tells, so you could no longer read him like a billboard on Times Square.  And his confidence had reached its pinnacle.  I also learned how to play better against JR and Evens over the past year.

The first of three games we did lose, but we kept it a challenged.  But the second and third games we won, still keeping the game close the entire time.  I think I taught JR one thing, too—and that was to beware of trying to bluff me.  At one point I had a hand of questionable strength and would have had to order the Ace of spades into JR’s hand.  I nearly passed on it, but then JR said, “Go ahead and order it up.”  So I did.  It turned out he was trying to bluff me—he had a loner hand in hearts.

The only trouble now with winning was that Zack and I were put on detail to guard a puddle of water in the middle of the battlefield.  Well, I guess that’s the price for beating the commanders.

And then there was the Sunday morning romantic breakfast between Lt. Sharp and Pvt Silvers.

Saturday morning I finally caught on what was meant by Battalion parade.  I had always thought of it as basically a march in front of the public—but apparently it is really nothing more than lining up as a battalion, to the rear in open order, first sergeants reporting on numbers, close ranks, then going off to drill.

During that drill we overheard an NCO of another unit spew forth all sorts of profanities at his men trying to get them in line.  Mercer commented to our captain, and I think all of us agreed, that if any of our NCOs talked to us in that way, we would head back to camp, pack up, and go home.  The biggest problem was that this was in front of the public, and the event coordinators complained to our colonel.  During Sunday drill, the colonel warned us (without naming names, even though we all knew who he was talking about) that this is not the place for that language and that it needs to be kept under control.

But as we lined up for the Sunday battle, that same unit passed by us while we were in formation and a number of their soldiers were having difficulty keeping the line.  That NCO, the second sergeant, had no pause about spewing profanities like an alcoholic on some bad liquor.  There is no way his captain could have missed that.  Even without the warning from the colonel, that sergeant should have been summarily dismissed from the battalion—told to pack his gear, and go home.  He has no business being a reenactor.  He was warned by the commanding officer, and yet he chose to ignore those instructions.  In the real military, insubordination like that can get you a dishonorable discharge.  Maybe the NCOs commanded like that 150 years ago, and maybe not, but reenactments with public attending are supposed to be family events—kids will be there and within earshot.  I will admin that private in most groups, including ours, the language is like any normal gathering of adults.  But bring kids into the picture and we do our best to keep our French under control.  The colonel was present, but I am not sure he heard that sergeant or not—but if he had, I think he should have gone to the captain of that unit and requested the sergeant be removed. 

The battle was good, but the grounds were rather, well, strange.  My biggest complaint of that battlefield is the ridiculously small size of it for the number of soldiers.  The battlefield is small for even a small event, but for the numbers we had—two battalions on each side—it was difficult to maneuver.   But this year there was another problem—the park had used heavy equipment to plow and completely reshape half the field.  Half the field was completely absent of sod, and had tons of ruts, rocks, and various mud holes to injure ankles and knees. It was better on Sunday after we had packed it down significantly from the Saturday battle.  But anyway, the battle quickly ended up not going as planned.  From what I have been told, the Federal forces were led by Shackleford, and from what I hear about him, he throws out all plans five minutes into the battle and creates his own scenario.  Although I enjoy the battle, it felt cramped.  The Yankee forces advanced far closer than felt safe.

But it was the Sunday battle that had a moment of insanity.  Overall I liked the Sunday battle better as it seemed to last longer, and we were all over the field taking advantage of holes that the Yankees gave us.  But there was one point we watched one Yankee battalion corner and advance on the other Confederate battalion.  We were all backed to the edge of the battlefield, so could pull back no further.  But the Yankees continued to advance in a scenario where the Confederates were supposed to win (the Battle of Bethel Church), although casualties were near zero.  Then the moment of insanity occurred.  The Yankee force advanced close enough to actually shake the hands of the Confederate soldiers—and that is no joke.  It looked stupid.  Both sides were in confusion—they did not know what to do.  They were too close to even load.  All they could do was stand there, admiring the color of each others’ eyes, until the commander figured out how to get out of this kerfuffle.  It was not until the federals finally pulled back that the battle could be re-engaged.

Of course, there are not many that can be blamed for such a farce.  The only one responsible was the Yankee colonel of that battalion.  Everyone else was just following orders, and the Confederate colonel was pinned with nowhere to go.  Perhaps that Yankee commander should try playing private for awhile.  I know a few privates that could better command a battalion.  Although the 1st Tennessee was not part of that Confederate battalion, we were all wandering, “What are those Yankees thinking?”

It had to be the absolute stupidest thing I ever saw.  It was insane to see two opposing battalions standing close enough to shine their enemy’s boots, looking around, waiting for someone to figure out what to do next.  Here is an idea—the Confederate colonel could have claimed the entire Yankee battalion as their prisoners.

The thing is, the only possible thing that Yankee commander could have been thinking was how he could make the Confederate forces look foolish.  If that Confederate force had pulled back as little as fifteen yards, they would have been in our lap.  Both battalions of the Confederate forces would have been jumbled together, their artillery overrun, and would have been the farce.  And in my opinion—that’s what makes this Yankee commander as worthless as a deerfly.  He is so concerned with making others look foolish that he himself is made the fool.

Despite that disturbing moment, and the lack of space to maneuver, I thought the battle quite an enjoyable experience.  I nearly finished off my rounds, to which Mercer said, “Well, if you didn’t shoot eighteen rounds a minute, you might still have some.”  I guess I have gotten a bit quick on the reload.

And despite all the fussing I have made, I did enjoy the event.  I was even told that the announcer acknowledged our unit for the first time (apparently they acknowledged every unit but ours in the past).  The food was great and the quantity of sutlers were extraordinary.  The only real downside (other than the “N” gauge battlefield) is the distance.

Youtube video of battle
Youtube video of battle

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Red Carpet of Coshocton

August 13-14, 2011

This was the third first-year event that I have ever attended, the first being Fort Recovery last year and the second being Nelsonville last week.  Coshocton (or “Shocatoan” as Pvt Jim Kletzli says it) was a good event.  They treated the reenactors very well.  It was surprising that they supplied T-shirts, 3x5 period flags, powder rations, and showers to the registered reenactors for this free event.  I’m not sure they will be able to keep that up.  It was a small event—and I am not sure if they have much room to grow.  Again, as usual, the Confederates outnumbered the Federals, but Hale Farm is nearby the same weekend, so that did not help.  Located at the highest point of the town, next to the airport, we occasionally joked about the Confederate Air Force preparing a raid.  The airport distraction is not a problem—only small aircraft used it.  The in-town reenactments are far worse.  The event provided two good breakfasts and a Saturday dinner, all of which were very good. 

It was a disappointment that no sutlers, other than a Sassparilla vendor, made it to the event—but again, this was probably due to Hale Farm.  It’s too bad that it did not occur to even one small vendor that there would be a good opportunity for them here.

I was surprised to learn that the nine rifles that showed up for the 1st Tennessee made the largest unit—particularly when this event was not even on our calendar (it was a free weekend).

Saturday battle went well as we joined with the 5th Kentucky to defeat the Yankees, whose numbers were not too much less than ours.  I think the Confederate commanders are starting to learn that if we promise the Yankees to win on Sunday, they are more likely to stay for the Sunday battle.  It seems that if they win on Saturday, they tend to go home right after.

Near dusk Alabama, of the 19th Virginia, and Private Steve Winston decided to initiate an artillery barrage on the Union forces.  Alabama pulled out his 12-pound Napolean (no, it did not fire 12 pound balls, it weighed 12 pounds) and Steve brought out his toy cannons.  It was hilarious to watch as Alabama called out artillery commands.  “Fire by battery, two second intervals.”  “Gun number one, ready.”  “Misfire on gun number two,” and then he crossed his arms over the little pea-shooter.  The union tent they were shooting at also had a toy cannon, and was kind enough to play along with return fire.  I heard that the artillery crew that was there asked, “Are they making fun of us?”

The Union forces challenged us to a Sunday morning tactical, which we were more than happy to oblige them with.  The only concern was that the prediction was for rain.  The night did bring some heavy rains with slight drizzle off-and-on in the morning, so we thought the Yankees might cancel—although I think we would have been more understanding that we were at Reynoldsburg because of how wet everything was.  But to our surprise they wanted to continue anyhow.  I discovered later that they had a bit of a tactical advantage that they wanted to use.  They had scouted out the nearby woods and knew the lay of the land the night before—we never had such an opportunity due to the lateness of the challenge.

But none of us mind that if it gets the Yankees to play.  There were some killer ravines in that woods that we climbed through trying to get behind the enemy forces while the 5th Kentucky held them down at a clearing.  But we had a lot of fun, even if we did end up a bit late to the battle.

The Yankee numbers had dwindled for the Sunday battle, so three of us (including me) from the 1st Tennessee galvanized to balance the numbers.  The Rebels still outnumbered the Federals, but they were about 14 blue to around 17 gray.  We started out at the bottom of the battlefield, pretty much out of site from the public.  The plan, which was made clear to us by the Federal commander, was to allow the Rebel troops to march in toward the public.  We were then to advance, pushing them more to the public.  This was obviously so that the public would get a clear view of all the soldiers.  The field was narrow, but long.  The rolling nature of the field put the Confederates at their starting position completely out of view of the public.  We took a knee at the start of the battle to take us out of view as well.  Since we did not have full Federal gear with us, the three of us basically just took off our jackets and wore blue vests to appear as militia.  To our right were the eight or so regulars, and two Henrys held position to our left.  Granted, if this battle were for real, and if the Henrys fought like they really would have back then, the two Henrys alone would have defeated the entire Rebel force on that field.  But those Henrys really seem to have no idea what they are doing out there.  There we were, waiting for the Captain to give the command to rise and advance.  The Rebels were just advancing above the first hill and turning toward the public to move into position.  All of a sudden we hear this machine-gun fire to our left.  Those blasted Henrys—against all common sense and chain of command—fired off all 17 of their rounds in under five seconds.  The 1st Tennessee, the unit closest, had no choice but to respond.  And now, with the battle now underway, the rest of the Federals also had to react.  I looked to Big Dave, who was next to me, and said, “What the heck?”  What was wrong with those Henrys?  They basically ruined the entire battle for everyone on the field—public and reenactor alike—in less than 5 seconds.  The entire battle was found over 200 yards from the public, with most of the Confederate forces completely out of site so that it looked like the Yankees were shooting into a hole.  I still had fun—but it did not sit well with me at all that a couple of soldiers on the field are nothing but loose cannons—pretty much worthless to the reenactor community as a whole.  No—I think they really don’t have any business being on the battlefield.  Someone needs to give them lessons on chain of command and on the art of “aiming”.  It is not the fact that Henry rifles were on the field that bothered me—it is the fact that they were used solely as a means to become the center of attention.  My recommendation to any commander that reads this is that if these Henry soldiers ever end up on the battlefield again, either prohibit them or locate them such that any Confederate response will put the Confederate into the position you need them to be—instead of like the preempted position they ended up in at Coshocton.  For example, if those Henrys were placed by themselves at the top of the battlefield, near the public, the Confederate response would have moved all the action close to the public—plus those insane Henrys would have become the center-of-attention clowns they wanted to be.

But anyway—now that I have gotten that gripe out of my system—it was a good weekend.  I have seen those Henry rifles before, I have always thought little of them because of the way they machine-gun those things—I had just never seen them mess up the entire battle like that before.

I do hope they continue with this event.  They should probably move this to a different weekend than they Hale Farm event, since that is a rather large event.  For the 1st Tennessee to return, they also need to keep it out of September, since that’s a pretty big month for us.  But I know we are looking for to next time for how well they treated us.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cavalry Raid on the Nelsonville Train (without the horses)

This weekend was a first-year event in Nelsonville, Ohio.  We were to do an impression of dismounted cavalry and take over the train.  I did the Civil War Train Raid in Lebanon, Ohio a few years back, and it’s hard not to have this type of event be a farb fest.  But it was fun nonetheless.  Since we were to be dismounted cavalry, I got to play with Lil’ Mary (my .44 1858 Remmington) and Nicolas (my best guess is that it is some kind of American target rifle reproduction from a little before the Civil War period).  The concern was that the Confederates would heavily outnumber the Yankees (big surprise there), so a few of us, including me, came ready to galvanize.

The raid was planned for only one train ride, starting a little after 5 pm Saturday, so that left the four of us that camped Friday a lot of time to kill playing Euchre.  Most of the rest of the reenactors showed up around 3 to gear up and attend the planning meeting.

The plan was that the Rebels hide on the train in the last car (which was otherwise empty) to about halfway to one end of the line and sneak off as a few civilian reenactors got on (to give the excuse for stopping the train at an unusual point).  The train would continue to the end, where we would take the train with the public and civilian reenactors (including Doc Gill) on its way back, then ride the train to the end of the line where the full battle would be held.

Being one that was to galvanize, I boarded the train at the depot in my full Confederate gear, with my sidearm in a borrowed holster (I’m still looking for one for myself), both my Springfield and target rifle, and my Yankee blues in my knapsack on my back (try climbing into a train with all that).  When we stopped at the raid point, I left Christine (the Springfield) behind with my knapsack.  I think that’s when I realized there was only one other reenactor galvanizing.  We mulled about for the half hour it took the train to return, with Kevin Feemen asking every so often, “You got yer cards?” Okay, I like my Euchre, but we’d already gotten about 15 games in that day—couldn’t give it a rest for 30 minutes?  I was grateful that Captain Evens (or “Capt’n Sprinkles” as Private Kletzli calls him) gave orders to post us at several locations to prepare for the surprise attack—locations that kept four of us from being together at one spot.

As the train approached we were to fire off a couple of rounds to stop the train, then board it, harassing public and civilian reenactors for a bit of a show.  Somehow this was a bit different than what we ran into at McConnelsville—I guess it was the smaller number of public, or perhaps that we were not doing our standard infantry to begin with.  It just didn’t feel so awkward like McConnelsville did.  My improvisation was off that day—I did little more than look pretty, but still, I got one shot out of my pistol and one shot out of the rifle.  I wanted to get a second shot out of the rifle—but with it using #11 caps, and those were in my vest pocked underneath my jacket inside an old plastic cigar container with a tight lid, I could not exactly reload in a hurry.  It would not have mattered even if the caps were loose in a cap box—have you ever tried to prime a rifle quickly with those tiny little things?

At this point the plan was we would stop at the end of the line when Yankee artillery fired at the train.  The Rebels were to unload, where there was supposed to be a pause in the action so that the public could unload.  I was to take advantage of the pause to race to the last car where I would switch coats, hats, traps, and rifles, unload and stow my knapsack, straw hat, and target rifle in a safe place, then join the Yankee lines to shoot at all my friends.  But, the battle started as soon as I boarded that last car—I had to hurry if I were to join the fight.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if it were just the coat, but I had it in my head that I needed to use my Yankee traps—plus I still had five rounds in the side arm, so I had to relocate the holster from my belt with the Georgia frame buckle to my US belt with keeper.  I shoved my butternut shell jacket into my knapsack and almost put it on—but realized I’d probably miss the entire battle if I took the time.  When I got off the train and set my unneeded gear down, I realized I was right next to the public—I tried to give them the impression I had snuck around behind the Rebels (yeah—that’s the ticket).  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any reenactors—they were all around the buildings of the pioneer village we had stopped at.  I had no idea where the Yankee line was, so I did the only thing I could—follow the sound of musket fire.  I saw some butternut moving between buildings, so headed that direction, only to find Confederates on two sides of me—but I had the advantage as they didn’t know I was there.

It was a lot of fun—I emptied my sidearm on Sergeant Mott, who took a hit in glorious drama.  Ducking around a cottage to reload my musket, I started to a corner where a musket blast shot in front of me.  I jumped out around that corner and fired a blast toward Corporal Carte, giving him quite the surprise.

Every so often I could hear what sounded like machine-gun fire.  Then I realized it was just Flash emptying his Henry.  It was in the book, Company Aytch, that Sam Watkins talks of soldiers loading their Henrys on a Sunday and shoot all week long.  I don’t think Flash ever read that book—he loads at 4:15, then again at 4:15 and 30 seconds.

Afterwards, the event coordinators served a delicious pulled-pork meal.  It was probably among the best we’ve had this year.

We discussed ideas and tips for next year, such as seeing about locating the campsite in some shade, or somewhere where the public could interact with us in camp.  I think they should do more than the one train raid ride for the day—with nothing else going on, and with the raid so late in the day, most of the reenactors didn’t have a reason to camp when they could show up at 3 and leave by 8.

Hopefully we’ll get solid numbers next year—it’ll be nice to be able to stay in butternut next year.  It’s kind of awkward being a Confederate in blue—although Kletzli thinks I secretly enjoy it.