Sunday, June 22, 2014

Invasion of the North

Ohio Village

Columbus, OH

June 21-22, 2014 (June 21-22, 1864)

Plans were made leading up to the assault against a little village around the area of Columbus Ohio.  General Johnston formed a small battalion to attack Ohio Village for its strategic importance, brevetting Captain J.R. Sharp of the 1st Tennessee Co B to the temporary rank of colonel to lead four companies behind enemy lines to obtain supplies and information from sympathizers in the town.

It was a melting pot of companies, with Col Dave Julian of the Independent Guard taking command of the right wing of this provisional battalion, the Copperhead Battalion, and Lt Col Greg Van Wey of Medich Battalion leading the left wing.  Capt Sharp selected me as the battalion adjutant.  The companies that joined the fight included the 1st Tennessee Co B temporarily commanded by Capt Danny Linkus, 5th Kentucky Co B, commanded by Capt Jeff Steiner, 5th Texas Co A, who I believe was led by Dave Puechel as 1st Sgt since Lt Col Van Wey normally leads them, and a consolidated company which included the 13th Virginia and 6th Kentucky, commanded by Rick Compton.

We were also given a detail of the Confederate Marines to supply an artillery piece for us.  They were apparently going to join us by way of the Scioto River.  A cavalry unit, commanded by Merle Collins was to assist, as well.

Joe Johnston’s orders were to disband the battalion at the conclusion of the objective and have all units return to their home regiments.

Our information told us that we would be up against the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Col Bob Minton.  I am not certain of all the Yankee companies that were involved, but I do know they included the 4th Ohio Co B—commanded by Trent Boham, 41st Ohio (I don’t know who commands them), and a consolidation of the companies from McCook’s Brigade, commanded by Andrew Mott.  We were concerned about the two artillery pieces that they had to defend with, too, but we knew, at least, that they had no cavalry.

The space we had did not suit well for organized streets for our camp, so we camped in rather disorganized array.  The various units were at least able to camp together. I supplied each of the infantry units with blank morning report forms.

We held a brief parlay with the enemy in the village square Friday evening, perhaps hoping the Yankees would see our numbers and avoid harassing us.  All commanding officers were there and we each introduced ourselves.  But the meeting ended only with the certainty that a battle would occur Saturday afternoon.
Early Saturday morning I received the morning reports and held the officer’s meeting, making the basic plans for the day.  Word of the impending attack also apparently had become known to the local reporters, as we were accosted by them.  Capt Sharp tried to avoid meeting with them, delegating private Bob (whose last name escapes me) to the task, since he is a teacher and had the ability to sound knowledgeable, without giving away any of our plans.  But those reporters are tricky.  They somehow cornered both Capt Sharp and I, involving us both in the interview.  I’m sure I sounded like a stuttering fool, but Capt Sharp seemed to come through as a sharp-tongued serpent.

Having passed that first test, we formed the battalion for drill, but things seemed sluggish.  It felt as if we were leading a pack of turtles with ropes.  The drill was to rehearse our assault against the village, but all the companies were slow to follow the commands, and it seemed difficult to keep them organized.  Perhaps it was the heat.  We troubled ourselves to understand the unusual difficulties we had.
Again under a flag of truce, a ceremony was held for Edd Sharp, former captain of the 1st TN.  Honors were granted to him for mapping the trail under which John Hunt Morgan traveled in his invasion of Ohio.
Fortunately, we received word that the Yankees were having similar difficulties.

We started the battle outside the gated area for the village.  A Yankee company approached our camp, and we began the assault.  This company extended in a skirmish line, but collapsed quickly.  We chased them into the area where they played rounders, where that company was joined by at least two more Yankee companies.

All was going well.  We pushed the Yankees into the town and continued to decimate their forces.  But the Yankees had a stronger force there than we expected.  Yankee reinforcements entered the village from the north side and pushed us out.  Back in that rounders field, Lt Col Van Wey took his wing to flank on the Yankee’s left, while the rest of the battalion spread out to cover the right.

The area through which the Yankees could come out was tight.  As they exited the town, their battle line was more of a battle ball, with confusion hitting at every corner. It bought us a little time to get ourselves into some organization, but we knew we would not be successful in taking the village.  We fell back.  The Yankees pursued us a little, but broke it off before getting too far from the town.

They were at least kind enough to escort their captives back to us.

That evening the Yankees agreed to a flag of truce while a local Amish family—the Der Dutchmans—supplied food for soldiers of both sides.  Having gone hungry all day, it had been a long time since I had eaten that well, with a couple of pieces of broasted chicken, fresh green beans, potatoes and a roll, not to mention an exceptional peanut butter and chocolate pie for desert.  I think perhaps these Amish had an underlying purpose in their generosity—I believe that they hoped our overstuffed soldiers would be too weighed down from the food to be able to fight the next day.

The village’s tavern opened for a few hours under that flag of truce.  I watched soldiers of both sides spend time together, completely forgetting this War, laughing and having a good time.  It was a terrible thought that these men would be killing each other tomorrow.

It had been a long day and I was weary.  Capt Sharp discussed some business with me, which went to the early hours when we retired.  At some point during the night, I was told that one of the ladies that were with the 5th Kentucky became seriously ill and nearly died.  She was discovered passed out late by a couple of the 1st Tennessee guys as they returned from visiting their friends with the 4th Ohio.  Capt Sharp provided assistance and sent out a telegraph to the local medics, who promptly took her to the nearby hospital.  I received word later that although she is in intensive care, she is recovering.

I slept well.  As this was one of the warmest nights of the year so far, I experienced one of my first nights not shivering, and barely needed a blanket.

I awoke at daybreak and made my morning ritual, including a pot of coffee.  I managed one cup out of my pot—but when I went for a second I was disappointed to find the pot empty.  At first I was ready to find someone to blame, but then saw a small pinhole that had released all the remainder of my coffee onto the campfire.

Our numbers dwindled some as a few deserters lost the courage to face another battle against the Yankees, but we still held a significant force.  We received word that the Yankee numbers had dwindled a little as well.  Now, instead of numbers that exceed three soldiers to each our one, they only doubled our numbers.
Word also came to us that the Yankees intended to attack us in our camp from the south, so we quickly advanced to the village, taking it without incident. The Yankees completely abandoned the village in their enthusiasm to hit us.

But our victory was not to last.  The Yankees came at us hard.  We sent Capt Compton’s group out as skirmishers first, but they were forced back once the remaining companies obtained positions to defend our take.

We covered the gaps between each of the buildings on the south side of the village.  I ran back and forth between each of the companies to ensure a path of communication between them and Capt Sharp.  And the Yankees kept coming.

They pushed us back into the village square where we made our stand.  With numbers dwindling, the Yankees started to break, giving us the chance to push back and keep the village.

But I took a hit in my shin.  I knew the farmhouse on the northwest side of town was sympathetic to the Southern cause, so I had a private help me up and assist me to this home.

There, I, uh, changed my hat and coat and transformed myself into a civilian.

I met with photographer John Rys and proceeded to assist him as he photographed the aftermath of the battle.  He handed me the exposed plate, which I carried to the dressmaker’s shop where he had set up his lab, returning with a new plate for him to use.

We found Private Tim Ellifrit of the 1st Tennessee dead on the road.  We tried a few different poses for him, trying to convey an emotion that would attract the attention of some publishers.  First I rested his musket on his belly and put his hand on it, but something about it didn’t seem right.  So we moved the corpse over to a tree and tried to sit him up—but apparently these Confederate soldiers are getting fed much better than what we have heard—or maybe it was just the Der Dutchman meal from the night before still being digested.  Anyway—he was too heavy for me to pull him to the tree in my present weary state.  Perhaps if the battle had occurred early in the morning I would have been fresh and able to pull him up.  I settled on simply resting his head on his haversack.

John still was not satisfied with the pose, finally pulling out a small photo of his wife and placing it in the soldier’s hands, to make it appear he died viewing his love.  I had to agree the photo would definitely be a candidate of choice.

I do hope you enjoyed my first person attempt at telling my story of the Ohio Village Reenactment—it is a means to reflect the level of immersion the event is trying to reach for spectators, taking this hobby to the next level beyond simply blowing powder at each other for 45 minutes, then blowing a bugle to have everyone get up and walk off.  To me, this event is again an unqualified success—meeting the success of the year before.  As the battalion adjutant, I was worn weary with my duties—but it was worth every effort.  And Capt Sharp gave me the highest of compliments for my efforts.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Captain in Blue at the Reformatory

Ohio State Reformatory

Mansfield, Ohio

June 7-8, 2014

The Ohio State Reformatory has come into a bit of fame for a few reasons, including being the filming location of “The Shawshank Redemption”.  This weekend we were there to hold a Civil War living history.
Being the first year, numbers were small, but the huge old building had a lot of history.  Bob Minton of the Army of the Ohio led a group of Yankees.  JR Sharp led the 1st Tennessee.  Bob Mergel was there for the Topographical Engineers.  The 110th OVI was there with their Henry’s, the original regiment having been mustered out of Mansfield.
I arrived Friday evening and set up my dog tent.  Trying to correct some of the problems from Painesville, I used a rope for my ridge instead of the pole.  The dog tent did stay up better, but it was still rather pathetic.   I am left with having to fabricate taller uprights.
As the sun set, our hosts led us through a ghost tour of the building.  We were led from room to room and told of some old story of how someone died there and was still haunting the area.  JR and I kept looking for a way out to return to camp and escape the sheer boredom, but the place was a poorly lit maze of twists and turns—and we would have gotten lost.
The night in my dog tent proved a bit cold as I had forgotten an extra blanket. I did have my army sleeping blanket which keeps me warm even in freezing weather, but it was still in my car, and I was too lazy to get up to extract it.
Morning finally came, but when I readied my pan to fry my bacon, I realized I left my cooler in JR’s tent—and with the captain sleeping with his wife, I felt it unwise to intrude just to get my bacon and eggs.  When JR did finally rise, I quickly relocated my cooler to the company supply tent.
The day was pretty light and easy, with the occasional member of the public passing by and asking questions.  One reporter from the local paper revealed just how clueless she was when she interviewed Jared.  She asked that since we represented Confederate soldiers, did that mean we also supported their ideals, including slavery?
To even ask such a question is rather offensive, perhaps even bigoted.  It also showed a lack of understanding of what the war was about.  Jared proceeded to explain and instruct the reporter.
When time for drill came, I realized I had forgotten to bring a sufficient supply of my own water, so filled my canteen with some Poweraide.  I very strongly recommend against this.  I learned the hard way on this one.  About halfway through drill I noticed the drink gaining a strange and nasty taste.  By the end of drill, the Poweraide was downright disgusting.  All I could figure is that something in the drink reacted with the inside of my canteen.  And unfortunately, the side effects that I knew were about to come on were inevitable.  From within half an hour after drill till about supper I had the authentic Civil War experience, making regular rushing runs to the porcelain facilities as my system dealt with the Georgia Quick Step.  Fortunately, JR had a couple of Immodium pills that settled me in time for the pulled-pork supper.
Early afternoon we held a pay call.  As company clerk, it was my responsibility to hand out the pay.  As each member of the 1st TN came forward, I checked off their name, announced their rank, and their pay.  I’m sure normally their pay would not have been announced, but I presumed this was for educational purposes.
However, when Pvt Chad Cochran came forward, I did something different.  Using the excuse of his being late to morning formation (he had overslept), I refused his pay and handed him over to guards for court marshal.
Defended by Jared Springer, Chad faced a tribunal presided over by Capt Sharp, with George Moore prosecuting.  Witnesses were brought forth and questions, with Chad eventually being found guilty.
George read the list of possible penalties for desertion, which was the charge made against Chad.  The penalties included a list from refusal of pay to execution.  Since the Confederate army needed every rifle, George recommended leniency and suggested he only be served bread and water for two weeks.
After supper we were placed at several stations within the building for an evening candlelight tour for the public.  I was at the first stop in my officer’s uniform.  Captain Sharp donned a Union brigadier general’s uniform, while Bob Mergel portrayed a lieutenant general in overall command.  We performed a short skit whereby Mergel held a war council, planning his attack on Atlanta.  I came in with a Yankee prisoner to perform a prisoner exchange, and the sketch ended with a drunk Yankee facing the general to be taken for court marshal.  We performed the skit about six times.
Other reenactors located themselves at various stations within the building.  Col Minton stationed himself as a guard over Steve Winston, who portrayed Jefferson Davis.
After the series of skits, we exited to the front lawn where we grabbed our muskets.  The union lined up against one side of the building with an artillery piece and a company, while we formed a skirmish line on the other side of the building.  Being dark, we only knew would could not advance more than twenty feet.  It wasn’t a battle, but more of a night fire at each other.
But apparently one local resident was not amused.  Threatening to call the police he ran to the border fence by us, shouting at us.  It was both amusing and annoying.  We pretty much told him to go ahead and call the police.  Since there was already a car on site—their response should be pretty quick.
We ended the skirmish with the artillery signaling by securing their piece.  We then formed a single battalion with the Yankees and followed the command of Bob Minton for several final firings, all sounding near perfect.
I slept much better that night than the previous—I used my army sleeping bag as a blanket and was plenty warm.  However, I woke Sunday morning with threatening storm clouds looming toward us.
I find it quite amazing just how quickly a dog tent and all gear inside could be tossed into a car.  I must have had the whole thing down and away in ten minutes.
Most everyone else had wedge tents, so left their tent up when the rains hit.  The rains were heavy at times, but we were located on high ground.  The Yankees, however, were not.  A few wound up floating in the lake that formed.
The rain pretty much ended the event.  There were a few clearings from the rain, but never enough to bring significant crowds.
Overall the event went very well, in spite of the rain.  Many were discussing how we were looking forward to next year.  Our hosts discussed also that instead of a ghost walk for his, they will more likely focus on the history of the building—something which all of us are much more interested in.  We built a friendship with these Yankees we hope will further the cause of this hobby.

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