Friday, July 12, 2013

The Best and Worst of Times, Part 2

GAC 150th Commemoration, Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg, PA

July 3-7, 2013

Day 2: The Tour

Joe Bellas giving the tour.  Courtesy Cookie Owens 
Most of the rest of the 1st Tennessee arrived around 3 am Wednesday morning, renting a hotel room for a couple of the wives to stay at, but crashing there until they could come and pitch a shebang on the campgrounds.  I was delighted to learn just how knowledgeable Joe Bellas was about the Battle of Gettysburg.  It turns out that he is a high school history teacher with a focus on the Civil War.  He even told me that he passed the National Park Service exam for becoming a tour guide of the battlefield, but simply did not get the certificate as it would require him to give paid tours, which would require him to be away from home for extended periods.  He took the company around the battleground of Gettysburg and gave us the stories of the battle.  It was a personal tour better than we could have ever gotten from anyone else.  We spent the morning and most of the afternoon touring the battlefield, covering only the first day of the battle.

Shortly before 3 pm we headed over to the field where Pickett’s charge occurred.  Since today was the 3rd of July, 3 pm was 150 years to the minute from when General Pickett started his charge.  If you know your history, you might be saying, “But 2 pm was when the charge started.”  Yes, that is true, but Daylight Savings time had not been invented 150 years ago, so technically when we were stepping off to start the charge when our watches said it was 3, it was really 2 according to the way the Civil War period tracked time.

We parked our cars for heading over to the charge on a residential street.  The owner of the house where we parked came out and met us.  He was a friendly gentleman, happy to see us.  He directed us to a shortcut to the field through his backyard into the woods.  That shortcut saved just enough time for us to get to the start just in time, but it was still a mile from our cars.

We had hoped to march independently, just our unit.  But the park service would not allow us to do that.  We had to march with one of the groups forming up.  We found off to one side of the field and formed up to the left of another Confederate unit that formed there, with a brigade in front of us. The march began and that other unit and us marched in formation, with many in modern clothes following along.  We approached several fence rows with openings, and J.R. maneuvered us behind the rest of the battalion to get us through the opening, then back into position at the left of the battalion.

(Video of the march, thanks to Cookie Owens:

The march continued without stopping, nearly the full mile length, getting ever closer to the rock wall the Yankees defended 150 years ago.  We halted about thirty yards from the wall, about the distance the furthest the regiment of Confederates would have reached from this position.

Courtesy Jared Springer
J.R. said he could not have gone further.  It was a long march, and it was a long return.  We stopped at the Tennessee monument to get pictures, then return the rest of the mile back to our cars. We hiked through those woods behind that gentleman’s home, putting in a total of about four miles on our off day.

Trish Carte was thirsty, so Joe Bellas asked the gentleman for a glass of water for her.  Joe talked with that gentleman for awhile, and before we knew it, the gentleman had gone into his house and returned with a Civil War wall plaque with both Confederate and Yankee flags, and presented it to Joe.  It was quite a surprise.

By this time it was getting late, so we ate at another branch of the Appalachian Brewery, returning to camp for the night.

The 1st inspected their muskets, and I gave them mine to inspect.  Because of a number of visitors we had that were falling in with us for the weekend, we loaned out five muskets, mine included.  It was a good thing I had mine inspected, as it failed.  It turned out both the tumbler and sear spring had gone bad.

Day 3: The Event Starts

Courtesy J.R. Sharp
The second morning began with bacon and eggs and four cups in one of my coffee.  We had morning meetings.  We formed for parade, performed weapons inspection, then proceeded on a long march to the field of the first battle.  The scenario called for us to win (1st day struggle, Willoughby Run), but the Yankee forces were tough.  We advanced to the creek, but we kept losing our numbers, while the Yankee Kevlar was impenetrable.  I don’t think a single Yankee fell, and we were quickly dropping in numbers.  In the distance, we could see the Yankee camps, and we watched as an entire Yankee brigade marched from the camps to the field.  We were in trouble, no chance of success.  1st company (the 1st Tennessee) broke, running to cover in the rear.  2nd company (5th Kentucky) was gone.  I have no idea what happened to 4th company (10th Tennessee).  Only a handful of the 50th Virginia (3rd company) remained.  I ordered 3rd company to a single rank to widen our line.  Captain Sharp of 1st company managed to get a few of his men back, but requested of Brigadier General Julian that the battalion retreat.  However, General Julian said, “Why should we retreat?  They’re falling back.”

Sure enough, the Yankees, still full in numbers, were falling back.  The battle was soon over, our victory assured.

Yeah, sometimes the scenario has a mind of its own.

The march back was exhausting.  Just as long, but now uphill.  I crashed back at camp, stripping down to my shirt and cooled off as best as I could.  Most of the 1st TN were too beat to return to the evening battle, so chose to instead get more touring of the Gettysburg Battlefield, with Joe Bellas as their guide.

Like most companies at Gettysburg, we had a number of visitors fall in with us for the weekend, including three from Belgium.  The Belgians decided to stay behind to fall in with the 5th KY for the evening battle.  I also stayed for the evening battle.

We marched to the field for the evening battle. The length of the march was far longer than the morning battle—it was probably as far as we could have marched and still be in Adams County PA.

We stacked arms, and as the scheduled time to start, we took arms and waited.  The we open ordered and ground arms and waited some more.  The we took arms, then rest.  Wait and wait and wait.  Finally, a tractor came with a tank of water, so I ordered the captains to send details to refill canteens.  Probably an hour after the scheduled time, we finally started the march into battle.  I found out later the reason for the long wait was that the ANV battalion had arrived over an hour before the start of the battle and used up all their water.  They refused to start the battle until they were resupplied with water.

But anyway, we marched out and quickly encountered resistance.  Across the entire field, heading toward the grandstand where the spectators sat, we pushed the Yankees.  The company directly in front of us was always the last to fall back, causing our battalion to always be behind the other battalions and brigades as we advanced.  That company made a final retreat, faced us, and then stood at attention.  As we continued to fire upon them, a Yankee brigade marched in columns of four in front of that Yankee company, proceeding off the field back to their camps.

I guess it was time to go to bed or something.  Maybe that delay at the beginning got them tired of playing.

Video of evening battle

Weird day.

Anyway, I made it back to camp and crashed again.  After I cooled off, I threw an ear of corn on the fire and a can of Chef Boy-R-D ravioli into my skillet.  It was a good feast.

Day 4: Indigo Messes with the Head

Bacon and eggs again for breakfast.  I was well supplied.  I must have been the best fed soldier in the battalion.

Fortunately, we only had an evening battle, so I spent the morning with the 1st TN perusing through the sutlers.  There was quite a large number of them, but we quickly blasted through them.  I think we all have started to reach the point that we feel like we have seen all that could be bought and have all that we need.

I stopped at James Country where I had Trish Carte and Lindsay Sharp deliver my musket yesterday for repair while I was in battle.

James Country really took care of Christine.  The repair cost was reasonable.  I had thought that the problem was only the sear spring, but he also found a problem with the tumbler and replaced it.  He also suggested I replaced the main spring.

The evening battle was interesting.  The brigade came onto the field and we quickly were faced with a Yankee brigade.  To the left of our brigade was another Confederate brigade.

Courtesy J.R. Sharp
While we fought, I watched while a Yankee battalion pushed that brigade to our left back.  And it kept pushing.  Before I knew it, that Yankee battalion was beside us.  General Julian expressed concerns that it would flank us, but it was apparently completely focused on that brigade in front of them.  They kept going.

I started wondering what they were thinking.  It must have been another case of the Indigo dye messing with the Yankees’ brains.  Before long, third battalion of our brigade (the battalion to our immediate left) took advantage of the situation and slide in behind the Yankee battalion, putting them in a crossfire.  Third battalion proceeded to shoot the Yankees in the back, but that Kevlar just held strong.  After awhile the third battalion figured out that the Yankees had no idea they were being hit from behind, so marched to the Yankee’s flank and fired hard to penetrate that Kevlar.

In the meantime, we were shooting toe-to-toe at the Yankees in front of us.  With third battalion preoccupied, our numbers were a little thin, but we were okay so long as first battalion was to our right.  They are too our right, yes?  Where did they go?  For some reason, first battalion decided to retreat. Okay, now we had a problem.

We were left hanging in the middle of nowhere, fully exposed to a brigade of Yankees. General Julian told me something, and I somehow got it all wrong. While General Julian went back to that battalion to get them, I ran in front of our battalion and ordered them forward.  I only brought them about five feet forward, but I know I freaked out just about everyone.  I really don’t know why I thought that was a good idea, because I looked at all those Yankees and suddenly realized just how bad a situation we were in.  I think I’ll chalk that up to confusion and insanity.  All that indigo dye in front of us must have messed with my head.

Well, dinner held more ravioli and corn.  I think I must be about the only soldier to have gained weight that week.

Video of Friday evening battle (the "Wheatfield")

Next time: Day 5: Bivouacked

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