Monday, May 16, 2016

The Cycle Begins Again

Hartford City, IN

May 14-15, 2016

The sun Friday as I arrived gave a false promise of good weather for the weekend at Hartford City.  I was able to keep warm through the night, almost too warm, even.

But as I rose Saturday morning to wind and occasional cold spit from the skies we struggled to keep warm around the fire as we cooked for morning breakfast, tearing our eyes through the smokey burn of cedar.  Stories of the night of canvas flying off their posts from the wind and ridgepoles falling on the tent occupants circled around the fire.

It was to be a busy day, with a morning battle immediately after parade, followed by a drill at one, and a second battle at four.  The battle scenarios for both of Saturday's battles and for Sunday's battle centered around parts of First Manassas.

We were to lose that first battle.  I brought my wing down to face the Yankee wing, and we reached a stand-off with even numbers.  Capt Sharp told me he would cause the 1st Tennessee (7th Company) to break, giving the entire wing the excuse to collapse and fall back, if only the Yankees would fire a volley by wing--or even by company.  But they continued only at independent fire--so I ordered a fire by wing, and immediately withdrew the entire wing in an apparent panic withdrawal, to give the crowds the impression of a total collapse.  We reformed and gave enough pressure only to slow the Yankee advance, but not to stop it, eventually forcing us from the field.

We sat around the fire, shifting to the fly whenever cold spit started hitting us from the heavens, fighting to keep warm in any way we could.  As the time for drill approached, Colonel  Linkous decided to cancel drill to allow us the chance to stay warm and dry.

We formed for the afternoon battle.  The colonel instructed me that I was to take my wing to face a Yankee wing that would be down at the low point in the center of the battlefield, so I took the wing at the left flank onto the battlefield.  As I crested the hill, however, I saw that the Yankees were in fact much further to our left.  I had planned on simply fronting the wing, adjusting the line with a short wheel, if needed, but this was no longer appropriate.  Without thinking that the men were at the left flank, I ordered, "Companies into Line", followed by "Forward into line on the last company".

Taking cover from an artillery blast.
If you are not a reenactor, you won't realize how difficult this can be done at the left flank.  Maneuvers like this are almost never done at the left flank--so everything is pretty much an opposite mirror of what we are all used to doing.  To do "Companies into Line", each company does "Company into line", which forms each company into a battle line.  Normally, when doing this at the right flank, the companies form off their 1st sergeant (forming to the left), but at the left flank, it's off the second sergeant (forming to the right), which can be confusing if too much thought is put into the process.  And my "Forward into line" command, which (I believe) should have been "By inversion, forward into line," would normally be followed by a left half-wheel--but because we were marching inverted, is followed by a right half-wheel instead.

I have to say, that in spite of being at the left flank, and being inverted, and my not getting the last command right, the men executed the maneuvers perfectly.  I almost regretted performing these maneuvers, because at 1st Manassas, the men would not have been drilled very well, and I am not sure that the actual soldiers would have maneuvered as well as these men did this early in the war.

Once in our battleline, I took my time advancing.  We pushed a little, and the Yankee wing advanced to face us.  But at one point, the Yankees shifted to our left to try and flank us.  The error in that plan, however, was that it forced me to cause the 1st Tennessee to refuse, putting them at an angle that caused us to be directed toward the watching crowd.  The entire Yankee line soon joined the angle, so all I could do was to answer, wheeling the wing to face them.  For safety concerns, the 4th Florida refused to fire at the direction toward the crowd--and I held no issue with that.  Those Yankees were turning the battle into a farce.  I looked to the right to see the situation that right wing was in--and the Yankees they faced were near decimated while right wing was still at full strength.  This action the Yankees were doing was a fool's errand--we were even matched.  All I needed do was to stand fast and wait for right wing to join the fray, and the Yankees would be bottled up with no where to go.

The Yankees did finally get a brain in their midst and start to retreat before our right wing could join us, allowing us to readjust our angle away from the crowd.  It was a learning experience, and after the battle we discussed the action and how to prepare to prevent the Yankees from making such a move again--so for Sunday's battle we were prepared.

The meal offered that evening was quite enjoyable, though a number of the 1st Tennessee--including Capt Sharp--stayed in camp to have some Cowboy stew, which they regretted the next morning.  Though when I and Private Farrelly returned to camp with Cherry cobbler, they couldn't help but make the trek to the mess hall to grab some desserts of their own.

Through the night Saturday I was unable to keep warm, waking on occasion to shiver out enough warmth to drift to sleep again.  Once I woke to hear the sound of rain on my canvas.

A dreary light through the canvas woke me, and eventually I heard the sounds of the 1st Tennessee as they gathered by the campfire.  I gathered myself, tied my cravat, straightened my hair, put on my coat and boots, and trudged out to the fire to give my morning greetings in a grunt that acknowledged their presence.

The day looked to be better than Saturday, with the sun peaking through the clearing skies, but started much colder.

I cooked my breakfast and headed to headquarters to get the day's schedule.

We formed for parade at 10:30, and afterward drilled for about an hour.

We formed for the battle, which was planned to be Jackson's stand at Manassas.

I took the left wing out to the left in an inverted column, bringing them on the left into line once in position.

We pushed down the hill to the Yankee wing and met with solid resistance.  Unable to push, we began to fall back, but soon our lines broke as soldiers fled back.  I reformed the wing behind right-wing, who pushed forward in force to allow us to regroup.  We dressed to the right wing and pushed. When I saw the entire Yankee wing turn to retreat, I ordered us to push, stopping only when the Yankees turned to face us. I thought of ordering the men at the double-quick, but we were already pushing faster than the colors and the right wing.

I let Capt Sharp take the 7th company off on their own to flank the wing--but the Yankees kept falling back before he had the chance.  We pushed all the way to the Yankee artillery, and Capt Sharp took the chance to capture one of the guns.  The Yankees surrendered shortly after.

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