Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hills and the Wind

Hurricane WV

March 24-25, 2012

West Virginia—a state that resulted from a rebellion of a rebellion—is a hilly state.  Cpl. Carte and I arrived at Hurricane Friday and set our tents where we were told.  Since we knew no one else, we stumbled up to the Confederate Commander, who we had served under at Guyandotte (or Guyandirt, as he called it) last year.  He had us set our tents along the street of his company (the 5th VA Company C), tilting nearly 45 degrees along the side of the hill.

Weather was fantastically warm—nearly 80 degrees.  We had tried to get others from the 1st to join us, but I think they were too afraid o the typical March weather.  Rain fell during the night, but perhaps it would be done with by the time things started Saturday morning.  The colonel wouldn’t let me set up my fly (he wanted his tent to be the only one with a fly, which I can understand when working to attain a proper military camp), so I couldn’t enjoy sitting out by my tent during rains, but I was a guest of his unit, so I followed his rules.

As I unpacked my gear for the first time since Guyandotte last November, I discovered how much the mice had made a home in my gear as droppings piled up over my canvas floor.  Next year when I winter my gear, I’ll have to find something more mouse-proof to keep the little varmints away.

I brought an over-abundance of gear—nearly everything save my Federal and officer’s gear—as I was too lazy to sort through my stuff ahead of time.  Unfortunately, one ofth e items I seemed to have left behind was my housewife, as I had popped a button off my vest as I raised my tent.

As darkness fell on the camp, we had a little chance to talk with our colonel.  It gave a perspective we did not have before—that he was a bit of a character.  I believe the best way to describe him is eccentric.  As one of his soldiers put it, his colonelship could sometimes go to his head.  Not that such behavior bothers me—we’re all a little off in the head for enjoying running around in wool on ninety degree days, just to blow some blackpowder out of a long metal tube.

This weekend may prove interesting.

As morning arrived, I was awakened around 4:30 am to a slight chill and a bit of a sudden breeze.  I laughed at those chicken-hearted soldiers worried about being frozen when I regained comfort when I tossed a couple of my extra blankets over me.  How those others who feared the typical March weather must regret not coming.

Never revel in another’s misery.

The winds picked up harshly and suddenly.  There was a gentle pecking of rain against my canvas.  Then, as I stared at my ridge pole, the front corner of my tent came up and the shelter slowly fell over on top of me.

Both ends of the stitching of the stakeloop had broke.  I was fortunate that Cpl Carte was just then returning from a regular run to the green palace, as I’m not sure I could have found my way out of my tent without his help.

A late morning drill was called, and my first sign of concern occurred when they failed to count off by two’s.  Our unit was combined with a “dismounted” cavalry unit.  It appears the term “dismounted” pretty much means that anything goes, including a complete lack of any real military manual of arms and school of the soldier.  I think should arms and order arms were about all they could manage.

Our entire drill consisted of skirmish drills, front and rear ranks leap-frogging until we ran out of space, about-facing and repeating, now inverted, with new front and rear ranks.  I never could keep straight whether I was in the front or rear rank.  Jeff and I kept to the same file to ensure that an unknown would not be behind us.  The units were using Gilham’s tactics, but I doubt anyone would have noticed if Jeff and I had used our preferred Hardee’s tactics—as messed up everything seemed to be.

Breakfast was a healthy and tasty biscuits and gravy with potatoes.  I think the biscuits and gravy taste better the further south they are eaten.  I’m not sure if it is because Ohioans don’t know what they’re supposed to taste like or if there is simply something magical about approaching the Mason-Dixon line.

Most of the day was relatively dry.  The rain did show a bit of Southern hospitality and kindly waited until during supper (eaten inside) to drench us with a springtime torrent.

The battle itself went far better than I feared.  The captain—who I believe was from the dismounted cav unit—debated with the colonel as to what the plan for the battle was as we stood at attention preparing for inspection.  The original plan had us holding the breastworks, then advance as skirmishers (the idea of which terrified me after that experience from the drill), but now the plan suddenly changed and we were to take to the flank against the Federals.  Shortly before we moved out, a soldier I had not seen before showed up and took the first sergeant’s position (another bad indicator).

We were warned we would be advancing into mud, but what did that matter—I would be seeing the elephant again, and there wasn’t much this unit could do to mess that up for me.  Jeff and I somehow managed to both end up in the rear rank—a great relief.

Since we failed to count off, we knew the commands would be simple (and we would certainly never double-up on right and left flanking).  They could be summed up with “Forward, march”, “by files right” (or left), fall back, “company ready”, “aim”, “fire”, and “fire at will”, with shoulder arms and order arms thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes we had to assume the “march” or “arms” part of the command.  Capt. J.R, I miss you.

Anyway, we advanced down the valley.  We stopped ten feet from the mud and fired upon the Federals with intense fury.  So as to encourage the frightened little bluecoats, we fell back out of the valley, taking hits along the way.  I’m not sure how the battle ended—all I know is that suddenly the shooting stopped and the dead were ordered to resurrect.

Saturday night proved rather cold, but tolerable.  I had left my army sleeping bag in Jeff’s truck, so made due with all my blankets, my gum blanket, and my great coat.  Tolerable, but the sleeping bag would have made it comfortable.

Sunday proved a lazy day.  Breakfast was the same as Saturday. I had brought my staple of eggs from my hens and some bacon, but used those for lunch on Saturday and a double-portion breakfast for Sunday.  No drill on Sunday—the colonel was satisfied with what he saw Saturday.

Now, from what Jeff and I gathered, it appeared the 5th Virginia Company C was basically a Boy Scout troop, run by the scout leaders and manned by the scouts.  The first sergeant (who was late to yesterday’s battle) appears to desire to learn, as we were able to take the time with him to show him how to stack arms.  I think he’s close, but I’m not sure he quite has it, as the last time he attempted it solo he had left the stack in a state that would have allowed a good wind to knock it over.  I did go over it again with him, and maybe it’ll stay with him long enough to at least look it up in a manual somewhere.  So long as the unit desires to continue to improve, then finding them in a faltering state is acceptable, as we all must start somewhere—just so long as they continue to improve our skills.  Being in this hobby is more than just lining up and shooting ‘em down—you can just play cowboys and Indians if you want to do that.  This hobby is about honoring those who went through the Civil War and educating the public about those times—but there’s nothing wrong with having fun in the process.

The Sunday battle was much better that Saturday’s.  For one, I think it lasted twice as long.  I wore my knapsack, which I normally do anyhow, but I think today it was more to be a show-off, and perhaps to knock over anyone who walked too close behind me.  We advanced down the road into the valley and assaulted the Federals up the opposing hill. This took us to the opposite end of the battlefield at the double-quick.  We were formed into a single line and advanced about ten feet up a rather steep hill toward the Federals, and I think I a bit too much enthusiasm in the advance as I quickly found myself ahead of others.

Afterward, Jeff and I discussed and believe we’d be willing to return next year to Hurricane.  I don’t like the high registration cost of $10 for an event that lacked skilled reenactors, but it is not a street fight and modern things are hidden.  It is a small event, which is always a terrific benefit of its own.  We figure that if we can get about four or more of us to go down, then even though we don’t have enough to form our own company, we can at least have our own campsite and street.  I’m not sure if we’d want to fall in with the 5th VA (definitely not that dismounted unit), but there was a Virginia unit there that seemed to have a solid showing—even using Hardee’s tactics.

Besides, there’s always the Bob Evans Farm on the way home that we can eat at and have good laughs about the weekend.

Herald-Dispatch News Story of the Event

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