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

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