Sunday, May 25, 2014

On the Lake in Blue

Painesville OH

May 24-25, 2014

Capt Trent Boham of the 4th OVI contacted me about an event up on Lake Erie in Painesville, Ohio.  He was going up with a few of the 4th to consolidate with the 25th OVI and the 83rd PVI to form a decent-sized Yankee unit, and invited me to tag along.

We were assigned as 5th company in a five company battalion.  The battalion was led by the captain of the 41st OVI.  The Confederate forces were led by the Army of the Shenandoah with members of the 5th Texas falling in.

The grounds were small—only 8 acres for the entire event.  The Yankee numbers were solid, but the Confederate forces were in substantial need.

Since I rode in with Trent and the 4th’s Cpl Aaron, I packed light, bringing little more than my dog tent and basic essentials.  I had some cherrywood branches I used for poles that I brought along.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t really had much a chance to use them, normally setting up my A-frame.  To my dismay, the dog was a bit unstable, tending to fall over at a slight breeze.  The rare times I had set up the dog in the past I always used ropes to stabilize the shelter, but this time I realized that ropes shouldn’t be needed, so struggled to figure out why the tent would not stay up.
I had two ends to use to guide the width of the tent, and it finally occurred to me that my uprights were too short—the canvas did not have enough tension.
I was able to get to use a couple of logs to give the needed extra height, and was able to secure the tent despite having arrived at dark.  The permanent solution would be one I would have to work on later at home.

I met with some of the members of the other companies that were consolidating with the 4th OVI.  Some were NCOs—but all conceded their ranks, insisting to go only as privates.
The entirety of 5th Company--the 4th OVI Consolidated.
Particularly memorable was Ghost James, a private with the 25th OVI.  Ghost had joined Trent at a grill at Gettysburg last year, and Trent managed to goad him into eating something known as “Ghost Wings”.  These were chicken wings cooked with a sauce made with ghost peppers—which are apparently the hottest peppers in the world.  The story I was told was that Ghost first had to sign a waiver before they would bring the wings out for him to eat.  The waiter the brought out the wings while wearing chemical gloves and a gas mask.
Now—personally, the waiver would have been enough to stop me.  But James was one who would never turn down a dare.  He ate into the first wing and started on the second.  Trent noticed he still had meat on that first wing, so made him return to it.
Before he could get into the third wing, Ghost suddenly leapt from the table and rushed to the restroom.  After some time had passed, a waitress came out and said that James was asking for his captain, who was also eating with them.
Trent followed the captain into the restroom where they found Ghost in a stall shaking in an uncontrollable fit, blood dripping from his nose, eyes swollen shut, with a waitress dabbing milk on his face, saying, “You’re so brave—WE NEED MORE MILK!!”
He had somehow spread the pepper oil over his face and into his eyes.  Paramedics were called in.  They said he had to wash the pepper oil out of his eyes or he could go blind—so he immediately struggled over to the sink and begged them to get started—barely feeling the burn of the soap in his eyes over the pain of the ghost pepper oil.
To this day, Ghost cannot eat anything spicy.   He’s even lost a significant amount of weight.

The night was cold.  The weatherman had predicted a low of 50, so I thought simple blankets would keep me warm.  It must be nice to be paid for a job where you really have no clue because the temperature actually dropped to near 40, and I was constantly awakened shivering from cold.

The event promised plenty of food, so Trent and I only worried about Saturday morning meal.  He provided the eggs while I provided the bacon, cooler, and cooked.

Saturday we drilled first as a battalion, covering the few basic maneuvers we would do for the battle, then breaking into company drill.  Capt Boham led us through a few basic maneuvers, then into On the Right By File into Line—which the consolidated company struggled through—but did manage.  What I found curious was the overall Yankee commander—the captain of the 41st OVI—noticed our efforts and commented on how unusual it was for him to see companies able to pull that off so well—if at all.
The battle was unscripted—the only thing planned was that the Yankees, with their superior numbers, would win.  The surprise to me in this is that the commanders actually admitted it was to be unscripted.  Usually details are planned out as to how the battle is to go—then when the first soldier steps foot on the battlefield, the whole plan goes to pot.  I think it’s better just to admit that there is no plan.
And the battle went well.  The colonel first sent 1st company out as skirmishers, followed by us, 5th company.  We took the extreme left, steadily working our way farther left to flank the Rebels.

The Confederate forces were behind rough ground filled with large shrubs, thorns, swampy ground, and a few trees.  The undergrowth was thick and only a handful of Confederate forces were ever visible at a time.  As we pushed around, we found ourselves deep in this thick, and Capt Boham thought this to be an opportunity to take the enemy flag, pushing further to the left.
However, in the thick, Cpl Aaron lost track of the rest of the company.  He pushed forward, straight into the enemy.  He reached the clearing where the command staff stood with the flag.  Ready to rush forward to take the flag, he suddenly realized that he was alone—with no idea as to where the rest of 5th company was.  He was fortunate that he probably had surprised the Confederate forces as much as he was surprised because he was able to make a hasty retreat.

After the battle, the event held a speed shoot competition for a pound of powder.  Had it not been for that bounty, I probably wouldn’t have worried with it since I’m now spending more time on command and a bit out-of-practice with my speed.  But that powder bounty was too enticing.
Six competitors put their name in—two Confederates and the rest Yankee, including myself.  I expected to have a good showing, even if I were a bit out of practice.
They went over the rules, which had me a little concerned.  They covered nitpicking details, such as only being able to return the ramrod with your little finger—even emphasizing that you would have to repeat returning the ramrod if caught returning without using the little finger.  I was certain I could abide by these rules, but since I was not used to being concerned with that—only with the actual actions without the details the manuals specify—I rehearsed a few of the motions to be certain I would do it right.
The first competitors started and I found my concerns to be unwarranted.  Those details the judges warned about were completely missed.  The Yankee competitor slammed the ramrod back in using his whole hand.  On load he placed the butt outside his left foot instead of between his feet, and the judges didn’t notice.  It gave me relief because it also meant I could focus on getting into a fast rhythm over perfect motions.
My turn came and I faced against a short Confederate NCO.  The consolidated 4th OVI chanted my name. We started and he fired the first shot a few seconds before me.  But was able to get into my rhythm, and my second shot was about three seconds faster than his.  I simply needed to keep the rhythm, and I was certain to win.
Except that my third cartridge decided not to cooperate.  I had a little difficulty pushing the tube into the barrel and could see my competitor pulling his ramrod out of the corner of my eye, so I was falling behind.   I pulled my ramrod and tried to push the charge down—and it seized about a foot down.  No matter what I did, I could not get it rammed any lower, even bending the rod in the process.  My competitor fired his third shot and my chance was done.  I gave a few more pushes on the ramrod—finally giving up and firing off my final shot—which fizzled more that banged.

Our meal that night was catered by Boston Market—an excellent chicken dinner.

Saturday night was not quite as cold as Friday night, so I was able to get a bit more rest, though I did find myself dozing off a few times during Sunday in my chair.
No drill, no battalion parade, no flag raising—it was an easy morning after the pancake breakfast.
We did set up a scenario with Howard of the 83rd PVI.  We chased him down as a deserter and brought him before the colonel for court martial.  Upon being found guilty, we took him before the firing squad.  There was only one lone soldier made the entire firing squad.  Since I and Ghost were part of the guard detail that brought Howard to the colonel, I suggested to the first sergeant that we load and become part of the firing squad—but just as I finished my suggestion, I heard a bang and saw Howard go down.  I guess that lone shooter had a bit too much of a hair trigger.  He didn’t even wait for the commands to shoot.
But Howard wasn’t done.  He struggled up, groaning in pain.  “You call that a shot?”
So, our 1st Sgt Kinder bayonetted him.

Our hearts weren’t into the Sunday battle as much as the day before.  We were to lose, despite outnumbering the Confederate forces something like 4 to 1.  The Confederates had lost a significant number in the night, and their battalion looked smaller than a company—though they did have good musicians—which the Yankees lacked.
In order to try to give the Rebels the edge, we were instructed to not go into skirmish lines—staying compact in company formation.  For me, the battle didn’t last long.  Our first push into the bushes, I took a hit.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Yankees in Gray

Conner Prairie

May 17-18, 2014

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization. 

Conner Prairie gained a reputation for being very strongly favoring of Yankees and not so supportive of Confederates.  In the past, the Yankees placed pickets to prevent access to the Confederates to the park’s Civil War living history village, even though there really was no reason to. One incident in particular even caused the 1st TN not to return until this year.
This year we were given promises that access would not be restricted, so we hoped for the best, and all worked out.  I hoped, though, that none of our guys would bother the Yankee camps.
We did have a guest company fall in with us that hadn’t been part of the Independent Guard before.  This company came to us as the 4th Florida, but they were more used to wearing blue as the 4th Ohio.  We welcomed them in our ranks.
The 4th Florida was a little small in numbers, but the 154th Tennessee was able to fill them out with only a few of their numbers attending.  The 50th Virginia carried the colors as is their preference, being filled out with members of another company.  Also joining us was the 44th Tennessee, being a strong force, along with the 4th Virginia and the 1st Tennessee.  The 1st TN was a bit weak in numbers, but were helped out with three members galvanizing from the 7th Kansas.
The Saturday battle was rather simple.  The 44th TN was sent down to the left flank to face the cavalry.  The 1st TN faced Henrys on the right flank.  I took position between the main battalion force and the 44th TN to relay the colonel’s commands.
Unfortunately, the Yankees pushed us hard, with the Henrys firing like shouldered Gatling guns, blazing away like a farbie Rifleman.
The battle concluded with our numbers nearly completely decimated.
Sunday started as any Sunday—rather quiet.  I warmed my breakfast over a brazier Capt Sharp was using to keep him and Pvt Marcotte warm underneath the company fly.  We had morning parade and a very brief drill.  The rest of the day was clear until first call at 1:30 pm.
We formed up and advanced down the hill. The 44th TN led the way as vanguard, facing the cavalry and dismounted cavalry with their Henrys.  The 4th VA advanced to the right flank into the woods to hide from the Yankees.
I took position halfway between the 44th TN and the main battalion to act as messenger for the colonel.
The rest of the battalion advanced forward, facing the main Yankee battalion, but before advancing past the 44th TN, the IG double-quicked into position on the 44th’s left, pushing the Yankee cavalry back.
As the Yankee battalion advanced and the cav were put in check, we moved back into the center of the battlefield to face on the Yankees.  The colonel sent the 1st TN up the right flank to face down the unit of Henrys, while the 4th VA came out of the woods.  With so much going on, confusion could be seen within the Yankees.  The Henry unit fired away with reckless abandon, and when they were completely unloaded, the 1st TN charged upon them, forcing them to break and run, unable to reload in time.
With the Henrys out of action and the cav pushed back, we surrounded the Yankees.  We started pushing forward into the Yankees, accelerating as we saw that the Yankees had gone into disarray.   The battle ended with the 4th FL taking the Yankee flag and the 1st TN capturing the Yankee colonel.
The battle was good, with constant action and maneuvering.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Wilderness

150th Battle of the Wilderness

Spotsylvania, VA

May 3-4, 2014

The trip was long.

I set my tent in a tight corner by the Colonel's tent.  The Independent Guard had two of the their companies—the 50th Virginia and the 5th Kentucky—in attendance, and the 2nd Florida joined us.

The morning was early.  I woke to the 4 am sound of drums in the distance.  We wrestled up and all were strongly encouraged to participate in the tactical that would have us marching out at 5:30.

The march was long, but took us into the woods where, I was told, parts of the original Battle of the Wilderness was fought.

I had never been involved in a tactical of the scale that we had—I never saw all the reenactors involved.  In the woods, the fighting was different than I was used to.  I've done this on the small scale, with a few companies wandering around—but never with several full battalions, struggling to keep their lines as trees, creeks, and underbrush got in the way.

It became a battle of confusion—Yankees first coming at us from one direction, then another.  At one point, the 5th KY, established as the third and last company of the battalion, somehow got turned around and ended up on the right wing.  And first company—the 2nd FL—vanished as they pursue some Yankees deep into the woods.  The experience was of one of the best tacticals experienced.

The afternoon battle took us onto a field that would have been huge for the numbers we're used to, but for the numbers that were there, it was a bit small.  The field was perhaps 100 yards wide, and Confederate soldiers line the entire back end of the field.

The battle was relatively uneventful.  We pretty much lined up toe-to-toe against the Yankees and blasted away until they left the field.

Courtesy Roddell Durbin
The Sunday battle held more excitement.  We were to advance into the mule shoe of the Battle of the Wilderness, but in a bit of confusion, the ANV Division completely blocked the path for us and the battalion we were relieving—so we adjusted and took up positions in the trench beside the shoe.

We were able to adjust, but it put us into a part of the scenario that we weren't fully aware of the details of.  Originally the Yankees were to take the trenches where the battalion we relieved was located three times, with the third time pushing the battalion away to where the reserve battalion would push the Yankees back.

Instead, that Confederate battalion left early—probably because the Yankees were late in their first push, so we encountered the second and third overruns, which led to terrible confusion when the Yankees expected us to break, and we didn't.  There was a bit of an argument, but someone finally pointed out that now it was starting to look stupid—so we pulled back, and the battle promptly ended.

Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend.  Sometimes these fits of confusion add to the experience.