Monday, September 10, 2012

Double-Quick Up the Hill

Fort Recovery, OH

Sept 8-9, 2012

The change in perspective from private to major is dramatic.  As a private, all I saw during a battle was the blue target in front of me.  I fired my musket on command.  I right-faced on command.  I marched on command.

But now, as major, my job is to know what is going on and assist the colonel in commanding a battalion of muskets.  I give commands. I look for not just one, but all the blue targets on the field.  I work with the colonel to get the battalion out of the line of fire and into position to fire upon the coats of blue.

Where before I would wonder, "Why are we running all over the field?" Now I wonder, "How do I get out of here?"

Wet.  Friday opened the weekend at Fort Recovery very wet.  I was fortunate to get my tent and fly set up at battalion headquarters before the rain started, but once the much-needed torrent started a little after dark, it never stopped until about six the next morning.

I kept an eye out for Colonel Julian.  He had let me know he would not be there until 11 pm on Friday, but as the hour passed, he was still not present.  I found out that when he arrived at 12:30 in the morning, he was kept from entering the park with his car for fear his car could get stuck in the mud.

I was up before daybreak, as the dawn comes much later this time of year, and the hour I arise does not change.  The fire pit I dug the night before was now a pond, and would have had ducks swimming in it were it not for the lake that blocked passage to the plastic palace.  Fortunately, Steve Winston was up and finished with his shovel after digging a trench to drain his fire pit, and he let me borrow it to bail the water out of my pit.

Getting the fire going proved the largest challenge of the weekend.  Pvt Winston, determined to use nothing but flint and steel, had to work through three charcloths to finally sustain a blaze.

I was lucky to have a camp next to the battalion headquarters with an established campfire.  They were kind enough to lend out a few coals.  I stacked my wood high to keep the coals out of the moist soil.  Both the adjutant, Lt Porter, and I fought that fire to blaze up.  Although the wood was relatively dry, there was still a high level of humidity in the air.

When finally we had a blaze large enough to use (which was now well into daybreak), I balanced my coffee pot on the stack, only to lose all of the water into the pit.

At least the reenactor portraying General Picket (Dwight Hensley) camped nearby was kind enough to offer cup.  It was not the tar I like, but it was sufficient.

Other than that early drowning, the weather was perfect for reenacting.

Battalion drill started with a safety meeting to discuss the rules concerning the pyrotechnics that were used on the field, and after going through a few maneuvers, the companies broke off to drill independently and skirmish against imaginary Yankees.  Skirmishes were on the schedule, but those Federals chose not to come out and play.

Capt Sharp took the 1st Tennessee out and drilled them on deploying into skirmish lines forward.  They had never trained deploying forward in the groups of four-only deploying on the flank for when already on the battleline.  I was out watching with the 27th South Carolina captain, and noticed that Capt Sharp kept maneuvering his men at me, then having them fire.  Every time I would move, he would reposition his men.  The 27th SC captain backed away from me, and Capt Sharp finally surrounded me.  I thought it best to take a hit when the entire company fired upon me.

Saturday and Sunday battles were very similar.  Both had pyrotechnics, but we were to be decimated on Sunday.

At the Sunday officer's meeting, the Yankee colonel complimented us on our maneuvering, commenting that as soon as he got his lines in position to fire on us, we would move, and he would have to reposition.  I think some back in camp thought the Yankee colonel was complaining, since we seem to get a bit of that (like one Yankee at Reynoldsburg complaining about us "messing up his lines"), but I think this Federal actually enjoyed the challenge we were giving him.

Capt Craig Schmidt had good humor with his company, the 19th Virginia.  He only had his 1st Sgt, his Lt and two privates show.  But because we needed three companies to be able to carry the battalion flag, the 19th VA was kept as a separate company.  He commanded his company with grandeur, as if 30 men were under his command.  But it is difficult to keep a straight face when commanding the company to wheel with only two soldiers in line.  Right and left face nearly caused his company to disappear.  At one point, he brought his company up to the battalion, then had them count off by twos.  The two privates repeated the one-two about a dozen times to sound like a much larger company.

At rest before the battle

For the Sunday battle, we followed a similar path as Saturday: 1st TN, with the Adjutant, Lt Porter, sent a skirmish line in first to face the Yankees, then the rest of the battalion (with both Col Julian and I) followed in.  We progressively left flanked and double-quicked up the hill to flank the Yankee battalion until we reached the high point behind a small barricade.  As the Yankees got into position, a small federal howitzer was brought up beside them to fire on us.

Being that we were to lose on the Sunday battle, and that we were now cornered, our options were limited.  The 1st TN was keeping the bulk of the Yankee battalion and the howitzer occupied on the right flank, but we on the left flank had to deal with a hand full of Yankees with Henrys.  Col Julian ordered the 2nd and 3rd companies to the left, sending us into those Henrys, which put me at the front of the battalion, which was now starting to quickly shrink.  I ordered a double-quick, and as we approached those Henrys, it occurred to me that we could not stop to deal with the Henrys as both they and the Yankee battalion would finish us off, so I ordered a charge, not realizing that Col Julian at the back of the battalion also ordered a charge.  I took a hit about 10 yards from the skirmish line, but saw enough of the battalion fall to know this was our final stop.  I overheard someone checking on Col Julian, so I guessed that we did not have a single survivor, especially considering that there was not a single survivor of the battalion staff.

We were a bit surprised that the Federal cavalry did not seem to do much. I'm not sure if they got their run out at the start during the artillery barrage, or if they were focusing on scouting.  We were somewhat prepared-we had drilled forming a square, though we seemed to have a bit of a confusion concerning how to get out of that square.

Numbers were down significantly from the last two years at Fort Recovery, but I still think it was a terrific event.  There is room there to easily double the numbers of both sides.  Yankee numbers were surprisingly equal or slightly greater than ours.  Perhaps next year we will see better numbers.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Federals and the Copperheads

Durbin Bean Bake

Sept 1-3, 2012

The Durbin Bean Bake is a Labor Day only event, but the 1st Tennessee makes its own fun Saturday and Sunday.

I arrived early Saturday expecting to be pretty much alone most of that first day, so planned on taking advantage of the time by bringing a bunch of extra gear to repair this and that, patch my canteen, sew the ten missing buttons on the ends of my dog tent, do a bit of gunsmithing on my period Colt pistol, roll up my last pound of powder, and fill the 400 tube order for Pvt Zack Carte.

I found Pvt Steve Winston there already when I arrived at 11:30 am-he had arrived at 9 am.

It was a hot and humid day, and with nothing really planned I took my time setting camp.  I usually try to arrive in uniform, but this time I was in modern wear until my tent was up.

Beforehand we had already established that half the unit would galvanize for the 40th Ohio, while the other half would come representing a rabble of Copperheads.  Federal veterans of the Civil War established the Bean Bake over a hundred years ago, so it was only right that we honored the tradition of the Bean Bake with a Federal presence instead of our normal Confederate issue.

As I changed into my Federal gear, I discovered my Federal sky blue trousers were missing-I had left them behind.  I only had my Confederate jean wool trousers.  Since I had established my name as the token Yankee, I very well could not represent a Copperhead.  Fortunately, my humble call to Sgt (and 40th OVI Capt) Mott proved fruitful as he had a spare pair of Federal trousers to loan me.

It started to rain lightly as the time for dinner arrived.  I ran into Celina, only about six miles away, to pick up ice and pizza for the two of us.  I became aware that this weekend was to turn into a comedy of errors for me as I loaded my cooler with ice and somehow pierced a can of Mountain Dew Voltage, spraying a fine blue mist onto the flap of my tent.  Lucky for me, all it took was some water to wash it off.

As we set up the pizza on a table under my fly, the rain picked up and we suddenly realized that the fly seemed to lack purpose.  Water dripped on us at all points as the fly served the exclusive purpose of water purification, as opposed to a shelter from the elements.

The only time I can recall my tent being in the rain since I bought it a year ago was during a rather light drizzle at Hurricane WV this year, where the fly was absent, so my knowledge of this shelter imposter eluded my comprehension until this day.  Steve and I quickly gathered everything into the tent and away from that cheesecloth, where we finished the pizza in crammed quarters as all my stuff, including all my extra crap I brought to work on, was piled around.  Yes, it was embarrassing for me to share the innards of my tent with Steve, where normally I leave a flap open to impress on others a somewhat period look, only to now feel like a refugee of a disaster zone.

The rain did not last long.  With only two of us, Euchre was out of the question, so Steve pulled out the chess set he made from Minie balls.  It had been awhile since I had last played chess, and it was a good, close game.  In the end, Steve won.

Sunday was an easy day, and I managed to get caught up on a lot of the work I brought up.  There were a few more arrivals during the day, and our Federal Captain Andrew Mott started a tactical for us, breaking us into two teams of two-Zack and I on one team, and Jeff and Steve on the other.  The tactical was basically a treasure hunt with no rules, just "guidelines".  In the end, Steve and Jeff won.  There were many was to get points, but the kicker was where we started with ten rounds and were penalized for every round less than ten at the end.  Steve and Jeff figured out there was no rule regarding returning to camp and refilling the cartridge box-a concept that eluded both Zack and I.

Jen Mott and Barb Moore provided dinner of ham and potatoes.

The tactical challenged finished with a drill with specific maneuvers.  With only two, the drill presented an odd challenge, plus I had to remember the specific maneuvers.  One of the main reasons I write this blog is that I would probably forget what happened a week later.

The Motts have a place nearby they stayed at, so the evening left us with just four-Steve, Jeff, Zack, and myself; just enough for Euchre.  Steve is not much of a Euchre player, but he managed to catch on pretty well.  Although a constant drizzle kept the night in a watery mantra, Andrew was kind enough to set his fly up for us so we would not have to play under my cheesecloth.

Monday morning brought my usual bacon and eggs with tar for drink.  Capt Mott brought me his loaner Federal trousers, and the rest of the 1st Tennessee soon arrived, including the surprise arrival of our former captain, Gary Evens.

A mandatory speed shoot competition was held before the skirmish, where we divided into two groups of about five each.  I won first heat, but in final heat I first dropped my ramrod, then several times my ramrod got stuck after being returned.  I had recently had some gunsmithing done to my rifle, and some of the adjustments threw things a bit out of wack.  I may need to go back to that gunsmith for a bit of tweaking.

The scenario was for us, as federal soldiers, to be attacked by the rabble of Copperheads during our drill. The Copperhead gang, led by Capt JR Sharp, wore the same as usual, except for the lack of their coats to look more civilian.  Mott captained 40th Ohio group.

I carried massive flag of 40th OVI, and as instructed by Mott, took an early hit, which Mercer picked up from me.

For the past two years prior we always spent a good amount of time stirring the beans, but somehow got out of it this time, though I think some of the Copperheads filled the duty.

It was a great time.  I got some things done, others undone (and so ended up with a lot more crap on site than I really needed), and now have more guns to clean.

Girth was originally 1st Sgt for the 40th OVI at the start of this weekend, but was given a promotion to Lieutenant.  JR got the idea to be sure to get a picture of Girth in his Lieutenant's uniform (which was easy since Girth is such a ham).

Plans and plots are always afoot in the 1st Tennessee.