Monday, October 29, 2012

Fallen Friend

October 27, 2012

One of our beloved comrades in arms suffered a heart attack.  Last week, Gary Shaw, former 1st Sergeant of the 1st Tennessee Company B, was admitted to Mount Carmel East in Columbus, Ohio.  A few of us visited him after the Ohio Leadership Conference.  He is doing fine, and is expected to return home on Tuesday.

I personally owe a lot to him.  If it were not for him, I am uncertain that I would be in this hobby today.

Our prayers are for him.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Stump

Monroe OH

October 20-21, 2012

When I arrived at Monroe, I camped near the same place as the year before.  Sgt Nyman arrived about the same time as I and since we were the only ones of the 1st Tennessee to be camping, we chose a spot a little up the hill, where we could use an old tree stump as our campfire.  Only Pvt Quinn Marcotte and Pvt Jay Uilhein of the 9th Kentucky were there at the time, so we hoped more of the 9th would show up Saturday morning to give us a unit to fall in with. Pvt Kletzli lives close, so he chose to sleep in the warmth of his home.  Pvt Steve Battishill made an annual appearance both days for the battle, along with Pvt Jason Foust for Sunday’s battle.  Shawn Swart also showed up Sunday in a civilian suit of the period, bringing his wheelchair-bound wife along to enjoy the day with us.  Most of the 9th chose to come in later, with the 1st Sergeant making it just in time for the battle both days.  It did seem strange that most of the 9th Kentucky guys only came for the short time between drill and the battle, but they are entitled to run their company their way.

Wood seemed to be a bit of a problem.  There was plenty of it, but most were the diameter of telephone poles.  Still, with sticks from some piles and use of some of the smaller logs, we were able to get enough of a fire to meet our needs.  But I had a challenge to get that tree stump burned up.

Saturday went through, the weather was good, but the reenactor attendance was a bit light.  In the battle we pushed constantly forward, facing the Red Leg Yankees and a small Yankee infantry unit, and eventually we won the battle.  Their turn came Sunday.

The evening meal was provided by the same caterer as the year before, and was just as good with pork and potatoes.

That evening the event held candlelight tours through the park, with stations set up for presentations.  They asked for volunteers to play dead in the cold field while waiting for tours to go through.  Quinn volunteered and returned with a report of scaring a guy senseless as he jumped into the arms of his girlfriend when Quinn suddenly raised up and said, “Help me,” while grabbing the guy’s ankle. Quinn also spent time talking with some of the Red Legs, and said they seemed a good bunch of guys.

Sunday's battle had us being pushed back.  At one point, only one of the Red Leg Yankees was still standing, and we fired a company volley--and he did not go down.  I guess we all fired a bit high. Later, both Pvt Marcotte and Pvt Swart ran off the field as deserters.  Marcotte got his due when half the company turned and fired their muskets at him.  I cried out, "Hey--we've got Yankees in front of us!"  I guess they wanted to make sure Quinn was dead.

The weekend was light and there was not much to report, but it was a relaxing and enjoyable weekend.  And I did succeed in burning up that tree stump.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gone with the Windy Shiloh of Indiana

Hartford City IN

October 13-14, 2012

Hartford City was always one of my largest events every year, and I had probably attended that last six years there.

But going there just a week after Perryville seemed anti-climatic.  None of the 1st Tennessee joined me to continue recovering from the onslaught experienced at Perryville (or perhaps they are just not quite as addicted to wool as I am).

I took the time to get to know members of the 19th Virginia and 50th Virginia better.  The 33rd Virginia and 44th Tennessee were also there, but camped a bit further off. 

Somehow we were outnumbered by the Yankees, which was unusual for this area, but we were lacking two regular companies, the 1st Tennessee and the 5th Kentucky.

The theme for the weekend was Shiloh, so all battles—two on Saturday, and one on Sunday—were representative of skirmishes from that battle.

The battalion came out at the start of the morning battle overrunning the temporary Yankee camp set up for the scenario.  The camp was a bit odd—one dog tent with one wood chair, and a bunch of blankets and bed rolls. All the blankets and bed rolls were our own—the Yankees only donated the one dog and chair for the scenario.  I guess it made it look better when we confiscated the blankets and returned to camp.

At the afternoon battle we had a bit of a strange addition.  One dandy in a lieutenant’s uniform came up with a mountain man and claimed to be scouts—that the would be there as observers.   I had seen the guy before on rare occasion and did not really have much to think about him.  The colonel approved them as observers thinking they would not cause much trouble, but when the mountain man began pouring powder straight from his powder horn down the Hawken he was carrying, the Lt Colonel stepped up and put an immediate stop to it. 

As a side, a general rule of thumb is that if you don’t drill with a company, you don’t play in the battle with the company.  We are playing with explosives, and people get injured at these things.  Injuries occur even when the best safety practices are followed. 

So a number of safety issues were suddenly thrown at us—a guy we didn’t know was going to fire a weapon amongst us, he was not part of any of the companies, and he was pouring straight from a powder horn (the scariest part of all).

That dandy tried to defend the mountain man.  After the Lt Col had his say and left, the dandy kept talking back to me, since he was on my wing.  The whole issue was brought to the colonel’s attention and he backed the Lt Col, so when the dandy spoke to me and asked in arrogance, “And just who does he think he is?!” I simply responded, “He’s the overall Confederate commander—and his word goes.”  That put a stop to the whole mess.  The dandy left the event in a huff after the battle.  Good riddance.  This hobby does not need that kind.

A solid pattering of rain hit about the time for supper and continued for a few hours.  But the weather warmed significantly from the night before.  I spent most of the rest of my evening trading stories with the colonel and his wife.

Winds whipped up in the morning.  It helped with getting a good roaring fire going for breakfast, but as the day progressed, so did the strength of the winds.

The battle was scheduled for 2 pm, but after flies started demonstrating bird-like behavior, many started packing up.  There was a thread of a storm, and most wanted to get packed up while they could still drop dry canvas.

I lost another corner to my tent.  I had just sewn the second lost corner Friday after losing it at Perryville, so now I have another repair before my next event.  With the loss of that corner and fearing of losing my entire tent, I finally gave into the peer pressure and broke my camp, cramming everything in rush into my car.  This left only the colonel’s tent standing, but even he lost part of his fly by end of the battle.  It was strange and eerie to see all tents gone, with a battle yet to come.  Many sutlers also packed up early.  The sun was out for the battle, though.

The battle went okay—by the end of it, the battalion had lost all officers, captains and NCOs.  Only a few privates were left carrying the wind-whipped flag, commanded by the guy who does General Pickett, and I’m not sure he’s ever done this kind of thing before.

The weekend good, and I got to greet with some of my friends of 4th OVI I hadn’t seen in awhile. I said my goodbyes to the battalion staff and many from the companies, as this was the last battalion event until next year.  But the season is not over for me—there are still three more events.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The First National

Perryville Battle, 150th Commemoration

Perryville KY

I grew up in Ohio, and my idea of seafood was something from Red Lobster.  It was something passable for supper, but stank fishy.

But then I visited Barcelona, Spain, and had fish fresh from the Mediterranean.  I realized Ohio does not have seafood—it only serves spoiled fish.  Seafood can actually taste good.
Courtesy David Stephenson of the Lexington Herald-Leader

A national event was an experience that has escaped me until now, so when I arrive at Perryville, Kentucky, I was not sure what to expect.  But after this weekend I realized I had not really experienced a reenactment before—the thrill in contrast to what I had been attending was that much different.

Since this weekend was a battalion event, so I held my new rank of major.  Studying up on the rank’s duties, I realized that since our adjutant was not able to come, his duties fell to me—and of all times to fulfill extra duties, this was the one weekend with the most work.

I drove down in the midst of a seven-car caravan of the 1st Tennessee, setting up camp in the “mixed” camp (as opposed to the “military” camp).  The mixed camp was the 1st Tennessee’s choice so that many of their wives could join us.

After setup, I hunted down colonel, locating him in military camp on the other side of a hill, half a mile away.  That half-mile is no exaggeration.  The Confederate commander had measured the distance—0.62 miles if you took the easy, winding road, or .45 miles if you took the shortcut that took you up a steep hill of which even a mule would be leery. It was a long ten-minute walk.  That first Friday evening alone I had to make the trip about four times—once after locating him, once after the brigade officers meeting, once to get all the adjutant’s (my duty, remember) company and battalion forms I had forgotten in mixed camp for the battalion officers meeting, and once more when the colonel of mixed camp informed me battle was moved from 7 am to 8 am, to confirm with Colonel Julian. I believe by the end of the weekend I made a total of eight round-trips.

I already experienced the level of activity of an entire weekend, and the weekend had not even started.  I drained my sixty-four ounce canteen plus in all that walking on that first evening.

In addition to Lt. Porter unable to attend to fulfill the adjutant’s position, Lt Col Clark was also unable to attend, so Colonel Julian brevetted Ben Cwyana of the 12th South Carolina to fulfill this role. Cwyana was the one who filled the role of major for the Saturday battle at Jackson, Michigan.  Since I had never served with him before, I was not sure what to expect.  I had no issue with not being brevetted myself since I have not had the opportunity to prove myself as major.

Saturday morning, and my first duty, as battalion adjutant, was to deliver the morning reports—in military camp.  A half-mile hike, up a long, steep hill, to Independent Guard headquarters to consolidate the reports from the mixed-camp units of the 1st Tennessee Company B and the 9th Kentucky Company D with the military camp units of the 12th South Carolina and the 5th Kentucky Company B.  Then a return hike to Confederate headquarters to deliver the reports.  There was no point of returning to mixed camp at this point—the battle started in under an hour.  I marched out with the military camp units to the rendezvous point on the battlefield.

In a sense, I wish the battle started at the original earlier hour.  I had heard that fog always fills the hills for the morning battle that adds to the ambiance of the weekend.  There was no fog, but to watch two full brigades populated by five battalions was an experience I have not been privy to before.  The battlefield was large—perhaps among the largest I had seen at an event—but did not appear anything out of the ordinary.  But it was on the grounds of the original battle that the event was reenacting.  However, after seeing what I thought was the entire field for our battle, I came under the impression that the grounds we were using to fight on were a scaled-down version of the actual thing.

In preparation for this weekend I studied various battle maps ahead of time.  I learned that the battle front of Maney’s Brigade fell on the same location where the 1st Tennessee was camped.  There were many details of the battle I did not know, but I did know that the space filled by both the original armies was vast.  I had not realized that the morning battle only gave us a taste of things to come, as we ended it just before we crested the hill at the end of that field.

After the battle we held morning parade.  I misplaced my little cheat sheet of the commands the adjutant was to call, so went from memory, only missing the final “Present, arms”.  Capt Sharp later told me that I rattled off the commands way too fast, threatening to put me on Riddlin, thinking I was nervous.  I was not nervous—I do not get nervous—that speed was just the adrenalin rush I was feeling from the excitement of the weekend. Or maybe it was just the coffee.

After parade, the park presented us with the flags we used for the morning battle.  The concept appeared as strange to us as it sounds reading it.

The flags used for the battles were all authentic reproductions of the actual battle flags.  When Capt Sharp heard that the park was going to give us the flags to use, he was concerned that they would be cheap nylon and polyester farbie banners that would embarrass us on the field, so offered to use the 1st Tennessee’s banner, which was a careful reproduction Polk-pattern flag.  However, when he saw there was practically no difference between the 1st Tennessee’s flag and the flag presented by the park, he was at ease.  The only thing he could find wrong with the park’s flag was the lack of seams in particular places.

The second battle started halfway up the hill about where morning battle ended.  I had a bit of confusion about this start point and expected the battle to be short; there did not seem anywhere we could go once we reached the top of that hill.
Courtesy David Stephenson of the Lexington Herald-Leader

But when we got to the top of the hill, the field continued on.  We went down the hill and up another.  The field turned to the right.  Up yet another hill, and it turned to the right.  Up another hill and it continued on.  Up another hill and it turned to the left.  In all, that battlefield must have been at least a mile long.  It had to have taken half an hour to return to camp, as we stopped occasionally in shade to take a break.

At one point near the end, we were taking severe casualties, and Capt Sharp tried to get his men to take hits.  He ordered Jackson Nyman to take a hit, but the private was oblivious.  Capt Sharp repeated his command, then resorted threatening to pistol-whip him if he did not take a hit.  I am not sure what went on in Pvt Nyman’s head—he seemed confused by what Capt Sharp wanted.  Finally, someone told Pvt Nyman to lie down—so he turned around and carefully laid down.  It took all I had to keep my composure and not roll on the ground with laughter.

I was probably the only casualty in that battle from friendly fire.  During the confusion, my wing took massive casualties, and I lost track of who was still standing.  While I worked to orient myself in front, the battle line suddenly leveled muskets to fire, one musket firing unsafely close to me, leaving a bit of ringing in my ears and peppering my face with some residue.   It was a bit of my fault for not paying closer attention to the situation, but it did give me a scare.  I went down to call it a day for me—but let the sergeant who got me know that I was all right—he was pretty shaken up himself from the incident.

That evening, the ladies of the 1st Tennessee made an enjoyable pot roast.  I am sure the soldiers of the Civil War did not eat as well as we did.

Sunday morning came around and I again delivered the morning reports.  At Confederate headquarters, I informed him this was my first time at Perryville.  He told me it was his first as well.  When I told him it was my first national, he commented that he could not tell.  I took that comment with pride that I was succeeding in my duties as major and adjutant.

The battalion commanders all met later that morning for the battle walk-through.  This battle was a little more involved than Saturdays—we were to fight on the opposite side of the park, north of the mixed camp, ending through the same cornfield noted in the original battle.  Due to this year’s drought, the cornfield was more of a field of tall weeds.

As I joined the meeting, I watched a drill between one Confederate battalion and one Yankee battalion, with the confederates charging and entering into hand-to-hand combat—I knew something was planned for battle.

The battle was quite the thrill.  For the infantry, it started ahead of the artillery pieces as we crossed a fence, cramped in against the other four battalions.  The plan was that we could take casualties on the approach to the Federal artillery, and then I would take them up as “walking wounded” and rejoin battalion.  But I think all the men had their dander going as no one took any hits until much later (or they did not believe I would bring them up to rejoin).  As we went up the hill to the artillery, the right wing started a double-quick charge after the signal that guns done. I took the cue and ordered my wing to double-quick.

At the top, the artillery changed uniforms and turned the guns—and we advanced down the hill toward the cornfield

Courtesy Erik Weisgerber
The original 1st Tennessee Company B had almost no survivors through that cornfield, and the Independent Guard Battalion was representing the 1st Tennessee Regiment for this battle.  At the point of entering the cornfield, we had taken no casualties yet.  In honor of that original 1st Tennessee, the modern 1st Tennessee Company B planned to all become casualties in the cornfield.  As we advanced, I was completely hidden by the tall weeds, so I raised my sword to be seen.  As we progressed, I could see the weeds starting to clear, so I took my hit—anyone watching would have seen the sword just suddenly disappear.  I turned on my back to watch for the advancing battalion—I did not want them to step on me. A rabbit wandered by, but ran off as I drew my sword to capture some lunch.

I wandered as a walking wounded back to the rally point Capt Sharp set for our return. I marched back with them to the museum to return the flag.

It was an exciting weekend—and I am ready for more.  Like this Ohioan experiencing fresh seafood for the first time, I feel as if I had experienced the elephant for the first time.

This event does end the season for the 1st Tennessee, but not for me.  I still have a few months left to my season.

1st Tennessee Company B

Video of start of final battle.
Final battle--part 2
Final battle Part 3
Final Battle part 4
Final Battle part 5
Final Battle--through the cornfield

Artillery Fire

Monday, October 1, 2012

Taking a Hit

Pioneer Village
Caesar's Creek
Waynesville, OH

Courtesy Civil War Sites
When I finally crashed on Friday evening at Pioneer Village in Caesar's Creek, I was reminded of sleeping under the street lights of Grove City.

But this time there was no electricity-there were no street lights.  It was the light of the full moon that gave the appearance of dusk all night long.

There was a definite lack of indigo-dyed coats at the event. I came prepared to galvanize, along with a few others, but we were fortunate enough to have a handful of Yankees to play with.

Capt Sharp was trying a few different things this weekend.  For Saturday, Sgt Mott played private or corporal or something, and Cpl Kletzli was brevetted to 1st Sergeant.  James Sturkler fell in with us as Lieutenant.

Due to the lack of blue targets, there did not seem to be much to the skirmish.  We came out on right by file into line, then advanced. We quickly deployed into skirmish lines and broke the company into separate platoons, ending with the first platoon-the platoon I was in-pinned down by cannon.  With the battery distracted with us, Lt Sturkler walked up with 2nd platoon from their flank and said, "Hi!" to the artillery crew, finishing the fight.

Much beyond that, I spent a portion of the day preparing for the ball, as I was to call it that night.  The ladies of the 1st served us a terrific fried chicken dinner.  The event probably served something, but I do not think it would compare to that fried chicken.

I do not call dances very often, but that is all I really desire.  Pioneer Village is of a perfect size for calling the kind of balls I like, so I am grateful to be given the opportunity here.

One dance I do not particularly care for is one called, "The Hat Dance".  I always try to skip it, but every time someone always requests it.  I think I am going to give up any thoughts of skipping it from now on.

In the past I have stayed with familiar dances as most already know them, so they are easy to teach.  This time, however, I tried a few new ones.  The crowd wore out before I could get to all the dances I planned, so I was only able to get to two new ones, one called "The Irish Washerwoman" and the other "The Physical Snob".

I had called the Irish Washerwoman once, something like seven years ago, but it is an easy dance to a tune of the same name.  The band had that song on their repertoire, so I thought it would be good to bring this dance up.

I had forgotten how simple the dance was.  Basically, four couples form a circle, march to the center, tap four times, back out, swing the corner, then promenade the partner.  There were enough dancers for two circles, and after about the first or second time, each circle started counting their taps.

It was not long, and at some point the circles somehow got out of sync, where one circle was counting just after the second circle.  It soon became a competition-the first circle counting to four, the second counting from five through eight, the first then counting nine to twelve, etc.  Soon it was a competition to see who could come up with the most creative counting means-such as switching to Spanish or German, or rattling off the words to "100 Bottles of Beer".  I think those dancers had more fun on that simple dance than any other.

The Physical Snob was a dance I had never called before, but it was not complex.  Unfortunately most of the crowd had left (it was after ten and getting late), so I did not have much to work with.  It called for three couples to form a line, and all I had to work with were five gentlemen and a lady.  The ladies are always complaining there are not enough men to dance with-they missed their opportunity here.  They were all relatively inexperienced dancers, but we still had fun with the dance, but I realized it was time to bring the ball to a close and had the band play the last waltz.

Courtesy Civil War Sites
Sunday was a new day with a new 1st Sergeant.  Capt Sharp brevetted Cpl Carte and returned Cpl Kletzli to his position.

Capt. Sharp's whole point of giving turns at 1st Sergeant was to give experience with it.  Although for Perryville next week I will be a bit out-of-touch with the inside of the 1st Tennessee as I will be on battalion staff, I'm sure Sgt Mott will return to his role as 1st Sergeant for such a significant event.

The skirmish scenario for Sunday was to be a continuation of Saturday, and worked out surprisingly well.  We won Saturday, so it was the Yankee's turn to win, but since our numbers were so much greater than Yankees, we had to set ourselves up to be in a bit of a state of confusion.  2nd platoon foraged for supplies through the village buildings, using our own gear and supplies as the bounty, while 1st platoon (where I was) passed the time with a game of Euchre on period cards.  And since they were period cards, Capt Sharp stayed out of the game-he complains that it is too difficult to tell difference between the different face cards.  Someone keeps suggesting I write a "K" or a "J" beside the faces, but would that not defeat the purpose of using period cards?

During the battle, I finished off my rounds as we pulled back to our camp, and then waited for a rifle fire to take a hit.

Jen Mott said my hit was spectacular.  Except that it felt like I jarred my teeth loose from my jaw.  Somehow, during my fall, I managed to rifle-butt myself in my chin with my musket.  As I laid in agony, I felt my chin to make sure everything was still in place-and had a bit of a shock when I found my fingers covered in blood after feeling something wet on my chin.  This was not a pleasant moment-there I lay, concerned I may actually be in a position to have to call for a medic-and the last thing I wanted was to get everyone mad at me for stopping the battle for a simple bump.  I glanced to one of the houses and saw Doc Gill standing in back and hoped to get his attention, but he was preoccupied becoming part of the scenario as the Yankees stormed forward.  Fortunately, when I pulled out my rag to blot the blood, Trish Carte came over with a damp cloth to help me out.  The injury was not bad-though I have a nasty-looking gash in my chin and an aching jaw, but otherwise I was unharmed.

I believe this event was better than the previous year, and I hope it continues to improve by attracting more Yankees.  The coordinators have already invited me to call next year's ball, so unless something comes up, I will return.