Monday, August 27, 2012

Rising through the Ranks

Jackson, Michigan

August 25-26, 2012

Jackson usually is an event that the 1st Tennessee shows in force, but for some reason was not voted for at the Regimental meeting.  I had debated about whether going to Jackson, or to Richmond, Kentucky, which also had a large event this same weekend.  In the end I decided on Jackson since it was an Independent Guard Battalion event and since Jackson was the event that the battalion holds its annual meeting, and since this year the battalion was holding its election for staff officers—and I was running for major for the Independent Guard.  Capt Sharp of the 1st Tennessee pointed out it might not look good for me if I was absent at these elections.

Four of us from the 1st Tennessee arrived on Friday—Sgt Jack Nyman, Cpl Jeff Carte, Pvt Zack Carte, and myself.  Enough for a few good rounds of Euchre.

Although Col. Julian had brevetted me to major at Reynoldsburg, he asked if I would be willing to allow a long-time staff member play major one last time for the Saturday battle.  Since I technically did not have the title yet, I was more than happy to step aside for him.

We fell in with 50th Virginia Company D.  They proved a great group to fall in with, although they used the face-burning Gilham’s tactics.  Captain Jim Lemon’s hospitality toward the 1st Tennessee was on a level of being more than happy we could join them.  Their numbers were also down for the event, so with our guns, it brought their size to an acceptable level for being a stand-alone company.

It is nice to have groups that are happy to have you fall in with them.  Sometimes you are not sure what they expect—I keep thinking one of these units we fall in with will think they are doing us a favor by letting us fall in with them, but so far I have not encountered that—they always seem genuinely impressed with our abilities and more than happy to share the company lines with us—and the 50th Virginia was no exception.  I watched them at Ft Wayne and was impressed with how well they performed with skirmish deployment.  At Ft Wayne I watched the 50th Virgina deploy forward in their groups of four—and it looked good.  It was good to fall in with them at Jackson.

The battalion had three companies that weekend—the minimum needed to form a battalion.  The 50th Virginia was designated 2nd and color company.

Seeing the Jackson battlefield, I couldn’t help but think of the size of Ft Wayne.  The battlefield seemed smaller than I remembered—maybe the entire Ft Wayne park would have trouble fitting in this field—but it would certainly be close.

Battalion drill helped work out some issues.  Although as private I had my own positions to worry about, I studied the Lt Colonel for where he positioned himself, to try to understand where my job would be once I was elected Major.  I am not sure where the other major was for drill—but he was only available at the battle.

As usual, I visited the sutlers—and as a quick note, they list are among the best of the year, but their numbers seemed a bit less than in the past.

Courtesy Jackson Citizen-Patriot
The battle seemed to go okay—though it was divided into two parts, and as private I was not sure what that was about.  Basically, we pounced on the Yankees, the battle was halted, we marched off the field, then a new phase in the battle resumed.  Fortunately there was no strange action like last year where a Yankee battalion marched upon a Confederate battalion and shook hands with them.   I think this year had a different Yankee commander than last.

However, I found out later that the battle scenario had gotten mucked up (at least, much more than usual).  Confederate forces were supposed to lose—we were to get decimated from an artillery barrage.  Unfortunately, the artillery ran out of ammunition, so could not launch that decimation—causing a Confederate victory.

We got some good Euchre that evening—something that had not happened much since our marathon at Nelsonville last year.  It was good to play a bit after the hiatus from it.

The weather cooperated for the weekend by keeping dry—but the heat and lack of wind seemed to stagnate the air.  Even after taking one of my allergy pills I awoke about 4 am Sunday morning hacking up a lung.  There was not much else to do other than get the campfire going and get the coffee ready.  By daybreak, the tar was ready, and it tasted better than usual.

Sunday I got to play major.  The battalion parade and drill were uneventful—but I used it to study where my place would be.  At the end of drill, the battalion was gathered for the annual meeting, where we decided to attend the GAC Gettysburg to fall in with PACS (as opposed to the BGA Gettysburg).  The battalion staff was then elected, with Col Julian being re-elected, Duane Clark being elected to the Lt Col position that he had been brevetted to after the departure of Gary Wade, and I was elected to major, filling the gap left when Lt Col Clark was brevetted.

Battalion formation for the battle was to be at 1:15, but at ten minutes to one, Col. Julian started rushing us to get ready.  I rushed over to his tent, confused as to such an early and rushed first call, only to find that the battery on the colonel’s watch had died at 12:10, and he had not realized that the hour hand was still on 12—he thought it was 1:10.  I showed him that it was only 12:50, and from that point on he made me the battalion’s official time-keeper, which proved to be a whole new problem, as I quickly learned that if I keep my watch in my vest pocket, I need to keep my frock unbuttoned.  I also learned that jute makes for a terrible substitute for a watch chain as at some point during the battle the string either broke or came untied from my vest buttonhole, causing me to lose the watch—leaving me at odds when asked the time.  Fortunately, Pvt Carte found my watch and returned it to me.

The battle was interesting to say least—and being on battalion staff puts a new perspective on the scenario.  Because of the unexpected victory yesterday, we had no idea if we were to win or lose today.  The time to start neared and Col Julian had not talked with Col Nick Medich—the overall Confederate commander—so did not know the details of the scenario for the battle, but Medich Battalion was no where to be found.  How could you hide a battalion in this park?  Col Julian even sent the Lt Colonel and myself out to find the other battalion, which we failed to do.  Col Medich finally did appear and provide Col Julian with his orders.

That's me, in the straw hat, taking my wing to flank
the Yankee hoards.
Courtesy Jackson Citizen-Patriot
Battle was again in two parts, and although the first part was exciting for me, there was not much that seemed memorable, other than we started with firing through the woods to make a bunch of noise and not be seen, then pushed the Yankees away from the captured batteries.

In the second half, we were to support Medich Battalion as they attempted to capture the Yankee artillery.  Medich Battalion ended up getting decimated and captured.  We were to retreat from the field in relative chaos.

As we closed in on the Yankees before our retreat, we lined up right at the edge of the artillery safety zone.  Artillery was firing and the captain of 3rd Company (14th South Carolina, and my entire wing) realized how unrealistic it was for there to be many survivors and so had his entire company go down at a cannon blast.  Somehow, however, one lone private of his did not quite get the message.  He was young, maybe as young as sixteen.  I told him, “You’re the only one left of your company.”  He looked around in surprise as he realized his situation.  I told him just to attach to color company, and then reported to the colonel that I no longer had a wing to command.

Getting pampered.
That heat wiped us out.  It has been a hot year, but perhaps that stagnate air wore us out more.  We returned to our camp, and Cpl Carte’s face was a red as a ripe tomato.   He usually gets pretty red after a battle, but I think he was a bit worse than usual.  The battalion’s fifer was camped with his wife next to our camp, and startled by his redness, she began pampering him with ice and wet clothes to cool him down.

Even though the battlefield at Jackson seems so terribly small for the four battalions, eight artillery pieces, and cavalry, it seems we are never at a loss for action and maneuvering.  Capt Sharp has said that he enjoys working in the tight area as it forces us to react and maneuver.  Being major I experienced what Capt Sharp meant, and I agree.  The tight area seemed to prevent the mere forward and back football maneuvering, and keeps the battle interesting for both reenactor and public.

Rising from private to major in a day is quite a change in perspective—but that is what makes this nation great.  Only in America—even if it is not Confederate.

News article of event
News article of event
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Youtube video

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Yankee Hoards

Hale Farm
Bath Ohio

August 11-12, 2012

Most of the events we, the 1st Tennessee, go to seem to have a lack of jackets dyed in indigo.  We’ve been to events where a few of us have to change our gray over to blue so that we can have someone to shoot at.  I have wondered, “Where are all the Yankees?”

Well, I found them.

It seems they have all been hiding out in northeast Ohio. Hale Farm had them in droves.  I think we should have raced back to General Bragg to get reinforcements.

I had worked out ahead of time with Captain Greg Van Wey of the 5th Texas Company A to fall in with them so that we could guarantee we would not end up with the 7th Battalion of the Army of Northern Virginia—the battalion that left us a bad taste at Zoar last year.  He is a great captain and his unit has a lot of similarity to the 1st Tennessee, so we were a good fit.  The 5th Kentucky was also there from a last minute decision—they also were reluctant to come due to the ANV, but the corporal of the 5th Texas convinced them the ANV would not be an issue.

We love blue targets—there are not enough blue targets on the west side of Ohio where most of our events are, but at Hale Farm, we were outnumbered about four to one.

The event was on grounds that reminded us of the historic village at Sharon Woods—only on a larger scale.  There were a lot more grounds and a much larger battlefield.  We were a single battalion of four companies (which included the 5th Kentucky) against what appeared to be two full Federal battalions, not to mention too many cavalry to count, and a solid artillery force.

The morning tactical was interesting, and left me with the impression that the indigo dye must have some strange affect on the brain.  The Yankee objective for the tactical was to get at least one Yankee in the village.   We, as the Confederate defenders, had to keep every Yankee out.

Being a private for the weekend, my focus was to burn powder through my musket, but I had a good view over the unmowed battlefield.  There were several ways the Federals could take to progress to the village.  The most obvious was through the center of the large field, or they could have marched along one edge—or even found a way around the field through the woods.

Remember—they outnumbered us greatly.  They only needed to get one Yankee through.  There were a number of tactics they could have employed to get to the village—and afterwards we thought of how they could have done it.  They could have taken a platoon off around our flank along the far side of the battlefield, and there would have been nothing we could have done to stop them since we were fully occupied by the tremendous hoards of blue.

But somehow, that little concept escaped them—they simply continued a direct assault on our lines, which meant that our force blocked their path to the village, and in the end the tactical ended in a Confederate victory, although we would be pretty much decimated.  We achieved our objective in the time we had and kept the Yankees out of the village.

Christine—my musket—was not happy about the drizzle, however.  Most of Saturday morning was spent getting sneezed on by the overcast sky, and Christine had never been in that kind of weather during a battle, before.  It took a few misfires for her to get going—and she would be fine for awhile.  Then we would have to stop to maneuver, and she would get upset all over again.  I would have to coax her into getting that blackpowder to burn.

Hale Farm was a terrific event, and definitely outsized Reynoldsburg’s claim as the largest event in Ohio.  My only complaint for Hale Farm was that the battlefield was highly uneven—there were a lot of gopher holes and other ruts that we had to be careful marching through.  The coordinators might want to find a way to deal with this issue to keep someone from getting hurt.  The field was left unmowed—grass was taller than our knees.  Being very wet, I left the field soaked to the bone over all my trousers.  But tall grass is not an issue—in my opinion it makes the event more authentic, though it does make marching at the double-quick difficult.

But the event went the distance otherwise—trenches were dug for us to take cover in.  There were even a few rifle pits.  Had it not been for the lengthy and heavy recent rains, and the drizzle that lasted all of Saturday morning, we might have been more willing to dive in and make full use of those pits.    We did use the trenches for the Saturday afternoon battle, but the mud did give a bit of difficulty, though many were looking at the positive side by commenting on the patina that was added to their uniforms for the Maryland, My Maryland event coming next month.  Sunday was much dryer, so we made heavy use of those pits and trenches then.

Somehow the 5th Texas managed to significantly increase their numbers for the Sunday battle.  With three of us from the 1st Tennessee, there were a total of 24 rifles in their ranks.  It is not often you see a company that large—I do not think I have ever seen the 1st Tennessee with that many on the field at once.

Something we rarely see is a band that we can march to.  The Yankees had the Camp Chase Fife and Drums, while we had a small band with a fife and a couple of drums.  This was the first time I had experienced marching out into battle with this.  There had been the occasional young drummer boy beating cadence for us—and we were usually lucky if he had a somewhat regular tempo.  This band at Hale Farm was experienced—they did an excellent job with a series of Southern tunes.

During Sunday battalion drill, we got to experience something else that was completely new to me.  Although I have drilled forming a box around officers and defending against cavalry, I had never actually had cavalry to defend against—it was just something we drilled.  But during the drill, the Yankee cav came out to play with us—charging us at full gallop while we were in a defend against cavalry stance, stopping just five yards from us.

Reynoldsburg did outdo Hale Farm on the sutlers—but there were still a good number at Hale Farm, including a gunsmith I happened to need when my gun sight got knocked off when fixing bayonets.

Much of the spare time we had we spent trading our reenacting stories.  I had never met the 5th Texas before, and they did not know much about the 1st Tennessee.  Cpl Jeff Carte and Private Sean Swart joined me, and I was later surprised by the arrival of Pvt Tim Ellifrit for Saturday.

One way or another Hale Farm will be an event I will return to.  Having made friends with the 5th Texas, we know we will be welcome with them.  In many ways they were like the 1st Tennessee—well drilled and aggressive on the field.  I was right at home with them.  I hope I can get more of the 1st Tennessee to join us for next year.

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