Thunder in the Valley
Battle of Cross Keys
Port Republic, Virginia
June 11-12, 2016
With the long drive to Virginia, J.R. Sharp, Chad Cochran, Jeff Carte, Rick Compton, Mark Nichols, and I stopped in Lexington for a tour of Lee's Chapel at Washington and Lee University, and a tour of the museum at VMI.
Aftward, J.R. checked his smart phone for a local restaurant, finding the Southern Inn, which looked promising. He reserved our place--but when we arrived and were seated, he realized by the superfluous amount of silverware he had picked the wrong restaurant. Although the food was excellent, our casual dress put us a bit out of place, and the prices put a bit of a dent in our wallets.
Returning to the drive, we followed GPS coordinates to the address we were given for registration for Thunder in the Valley, and were led to a road the led to nowhere. Fortunately, a bit of educated guessing got us on track, and we soon found our destination, unpacking and changing into our uniforms and gear (though J.R. and Chad chose to change back at Lee's Chapel). Jeff and Mark parked their trucks at the parking lot a few miles away, returning by shuttle, while Rick and I watched the gear and J.R. and Chad headed for the officer's meeting.
For the weekend, J.R. took the rank of major. Chad was corporal, posting with the color guard. Jeff was also a corporal, while Mark, Rick and I were privates.
Once Mark and Jeff returned, we marched the distance to camp and bivouacked for the night.
The night was a bit cool as I had a little difficulty keeping warm under my blanket--eventually pulling out my shelter half out of my knapsack to use as an extra blanket. The ground was uneven and highly sloped. At one point during the night, Cpl Carte rolled a distance down the hill.
Morning finally came and I ate a supply of my pre-cooked bacon out of my haversack, along with a bit of other rations. Cpl Cochran brought an abundance of essence of coffee, and was able to supply me with a hearty cup. Though it was sweetened, it was satisfying.
The morning was spent relaxing, waiting, drilling, and holding battalion parade. We had a long 3 mile march ahead of us in high heat, so Lt. Col. Ben Cwayna instructed us to leave behind anything that was not necessary. Pvt Compton quickly took the lead, dumping whatever he could, even holding up his musket and asking, "Anybody want a gun?"
We marched out for the battle, facing the Yankees from behind a fence. Skirmishers went out first, facing the Yankees beyond the crest of the hill and out of our sight, then falling back. As we hunkered down behind the fence, we eventually saw the Stars and Stripes rise to our far right above the crest, followed by the Yankee battalion.
The split-rail fence was stacked in a jagged formation, and our line followed this formation, giving us difficulty in safely firing upon the Yankees, so our section worked out a routine where two would take to the fence and fire, falling back to reload while the next two filled the gap. Eventually the Yankees were forced back and we pushed our way onto the field, eventually winning the day.
When we began our march, I immediately realized that we were marching at too fast a pace, complaining about it to those around me. We might be fine for the first mile, but in this heat (in the 90s) I knew we would be suffering casualties. Our rate was at a quick-step, instead of a normal common-time step.
We climbed the first hill on the asphat that steadily baked our feet, and Cpl Carte already had to step out. I stood with him, to make sure he would be all right, continuing the march from the back with Major Sharp at the back of the column once Jeff was loaded into the follow vehicle.
We stopped for a short five-minute break to refill canteens, and continued on, Cpl Carte rejoining us, stopping again for about half an hour about halfway. By now we already had about a half-dozen casualties.
We stopped again for another short five minutes to refill canteens, stopping at a crossroad in the sun. I was able to march most of the way, but after this stop I found difficulty keeping the pace, eventually hitching a ride with the follow vehicle when I found myself at the back of the column, getting further and further behind.
We finally arrived at camp, near a fork of the river and many took to cooling off, wading through the cool waters. I threw off all my gear and crashed.
As hunger set in for the evening, we heard rumors of someone selling cooked chicken halves. She was eventually tracked down, and we happily enjoyed the chicken over rations we had carried.
I slept through the night in an unconscious stupor, keeping comfortable in the warm air.
We prepared for another march--this one a two-mile march to the next battlefield. A number of soldiers decided to find a way to ride on a shuttle to the battlefield, and so I and Major Sharp decided to join them. I figured I probably could have made the march--but I had nothing to prove and did not want to tear myself apart marching in the grueling sun.
We followed the column in the truck and picked up casualties as they fell, eventually arriving at the battlefield.
We rested at the edge of the wooded trail that led to the battlefield, finally marching single-file in. We reformed at the foot of a hill to begin our assault. One battalion pushed forward and was repulsed, then our battalion pushed up the hill until we were repulsed. We made a second push up the hill, but the ground was steep and slick, and I could no longer keep up. I eventually stumbled over a log to find Major Sharp recovering from the wounds of war, where I fell beside him to recover from my own wounds.
The battle soon ended, through I don't know who won. I just know I was ready to sleep in the truck on the way home.