Sunday, May 17, 2015

The New Guard

Conner Prairie

Fishers, Indiana

May 16-17, 2015

A threat of rain was of some concern over the projection of warm weather, but it was a weekend I looked forward to as the first battalion event of the season.  This would be the first event with Danny Linkous as colonel of the Independent Guard Battalion.  Duane Clarke and I retained our positions of Lt Colonel and Major, respectively.  "Black" John Porter was on sick call that kept him from participating, so the colonel asked Lt Jim of the 19th Virginia to fill in as adjutant.  

The companies joining the Independent Guard included the 1st Tennessee, with members from the 9th Kentucky and 19th Virginia falling in with them, the 44th Tennessee, the 5th Kentucky, 50th Virginia, 5th Virginia, 4th Virginia, and Austin's Battalion.  5th Virginia consolidated with the 5th Kentucky to form a significant company.

With lows above sixty, it was simple to keep warm Friday night in my A, and in the morning I decided to pass on breakfast before attending the sergeant's call and officer's call.  We were to win the day's battle, but there was much question as to how it would go, since the Yankee commander was also new and unknown.  Col. Linkous had the feel that Col Jesse Poe of the Army of  Wabash had a fighting style similar to his own--one that was aggressive--so we were hopeful for a battle that would prove an enjoyable challenge.

Morning parade opened with Col Linkous taking the adjutant's role since acting-adjutant Lt Jim was not familiar with the parade duties of the adjutant, and the colonel also wanted to be sure to walk through the process with the companies to correct mistakes.

Once through parade, Col Linkous had the battalion break into separate wings for drill, I taking the left wing with the 1st Tennessee, Austin's Battalion, and the 4th Virginia.  I took the men down to the battlefield and kept drill pretty short--perhaps 10 minutes--covering the skirmish drills and wheels that Col Linkous was concerned about.  After I was satisfied with the results--the companies all seemed to handle the commands well (though I saw a little rust build-up in one of the companies), I turned the drilling over to the individual companies to drill at their discretion.

We were to win the afternoon battle.  The colonel split the battalion four ways--right wing waited on the left flank of the battlefield, among the viewing crowd, the 4th VA deployed as skirmishers to harass the Yankees, the colonel would attach to the 44th Tennessee and put pressure on the far right, while I took the left wing at the rear. 

As rain drizzled down, soaking our wool (except mine, since I was among the few who wore a poncho) I took the men down to the road we were to defend as planned, and waited.  I expected to face an entire Yankee company, but none was to be found. Instead, a small band of Henrys and a few cavalry challenged us.  The 4th VA, deployed as skirmishers faced a far stronger force near where the right wing would join the battle, but with the force before us, and I not sure where more Yankees might be hiding (was there more that would enter to our right flank?) and also not sure if the 44th TN would be able to come around in time to support us, I held ground, deployed as skirmishers instead of advancing.  The pressure was light, with the cav only briefly attempting to flank us, when the captain of Austin's expressed a bit of his impatience to put some pressure on them, though it was not until Capt Sharp decided to push forward that I moved the wing to keep up.

From that point, the battle went quick.  It seemed that for every step we took, the Henrys fell back three.  I halted the wing when the Yankees took defensive positions behind the fence.  At that time, I saw a clear opening on the right that was undefended and unnoticed. As I glanced around to see how the rest of the battle was progressing, both Capt Sharp and Austin's Captain came to me to request that Austin's take that far right position on the Yankee's flank, Capt Sharp suggesting he would provide support for the maneuver.  Since they were reading my mind, I just shouted, "Go, Go! Go!"  As Austin's got into position, only one Yankee noticed and responded, turning to direct his fire on Austin's.  Austin's managed to get a single volley off, and the Yankees surrendered, ending the battle.

The rain continued for awhile, and most of us were pretty soaked.  Everything below my knees was drenched.  The weather cleared up when we headed to the dining hall to enjoy a meal of chicken Parmesan.

Late that night, Col Linkous came to our camp in the 1st Tennessee with the Yankee commander.  We learned that Col Jesse Poe was a member of the 44th Indiana and fought us at Fort Wayne a few years back.  Our conversation directed to goals of working together to support the hobby.  I was impressed with the man, and hopeful of seeing more corroboration between the two sides of the reenacting hobby.

Through the night I struggled to keep warm since keeping dry was not possible, though remembering the frigid weather of Franklin helped to heat me.

At daybreak I fried up some bacon and eggs before heading over to officers' call.  Today we would lose, and only divide by wings, with the Lt Col detaching with the 5th KY as vanguard skirmishers.  Based on the plan Col Linkous discussed, I drilled my wing even shorter than Saturday, covering the basic maneuvers I was concerned with only twice.  The companies nailed the maneuvers each time, so I was confident that we would take the field for the battle in good order.

The sun shone brightly as we set our positions on the battlefield that afternoon.  I had my wing stack arms and rest at the back of the field, waiting for the Yankees to enter the field and engage the 5th KY.

When the fighting began, Col Linkous had me wait until the second artillery barrage to take arms and join the fight.  I advanced the wing in a column of companies, bringing them forward into line once we were within range to support the 5th KY.  We fought hard, and when the Yankee cavalry tried to flank us, I had Austin's refuse.

But it was not long before we were on the retreat.  I ordered a backward march for about ten paces.  We managed a single firing, but the Yankees kept the pressure on.  We could hardly keep up--each time I brought the men back, they were lucky to fire a single shot before having to fall back more.  The rest of the battalion soon joined up with us, but we were taking casualties all over the place.  The battle quickly turned to complete chaos--it was at the point of fast reaction and survival.  The companies were all mixed up.  At one point Capt Sharp took a hit, falling into the grass and somehow getting a blade of grass up his nose all the way into his throat.

When we fell back to the road, those of us that remained surrendered, ending the battle.

The battle was among the best I had been involved in, even though we lost.  Both days were my first commanding solo, and I found that I think I actually like losing better than winning.  When you are supposed to win, you have to be careful not to push so fast and hard as to end the battle in five minutes, but you also must take care not to leave an opening where the opposing force can take advantage of, and then alter the entire scenario (or try to save the scenario by reacting in an irrational way).  When losing, you can throw all caution to the wind and try things without regard to caution.  If your actions throw the balance in your favor, you only need to open opportunities to the enemy to give the advantage back to the opposing force.

This battle confirmed that Col Poe of the Army of the Wabash is the aggressive type of commander Col Linkous suspected.  I look forward to meeting them again.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome, but will be moderated.