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.


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