Monday, June 24, 2013

What Could Have Been

Reynoldsburg, OH

June 22-23, 2013

Another year at Reynoldsburg.  I always enjoy this event.  It is close to home, has a good number of sutlers, and is generally a good-sized event.  This year, however, saw a light turn-out of reenactors due to its proximity to the two Gettysburg events (the first being next week).  Few reenactors are as crazy as me and willing to burn powder and wear themselves out the week before a major national event that they are attending.

It was not a complete loss.  The 4th Ohio Company B (my old unit) was there with good numbers.  I think they are attending the GAC Gettysburg—the same one the 1st Tennessee Co B and Independent Guard are attending—so there is a week break for them.  But it did make the All-officers meeting a bit different—since the only Yankee officer was Capt Trent Boham of the 4th Ohio.  That meeting actually turned out more of what I would expect such a meeting to be—basically, “we’ll come out over here—you over there, we win today, you win tomorrow, we’ll dance about the field a bit—see you at the battle.”  It was the kind of planning that really makes more sense—not like many that I’ve seen where it’s really a meeting to rub the rank insignia a bit and thirteen Yankees gather around our lone Colonel Julian and all make sure to give their input, extending the meeting by an hour and a half.

Our battalion had good numbers.  5th Kentucky Co B as 1st company and 1st Tennessee Co B as 2nd company and color company were both there.  The 43rd Tennessee, who we only see at Reynoldsburg, also returned, but there numbers were significantly reduced—to about seven.  However, a new company I had not encountered before was there as well—the 1st Tennessee Co H, but also in small numbers.  For the weekend we had the 43rd TN and 1st TN Co H combine to form a single company.  A strange thing I noticed with the 1st TN Co H was what appeared to be a rather large number of officers, with a lack of privates.  They even had a colonel in their ranks.  I didn’t question their officer arrangement—it’s their company, they can run it the way the want—but it did confuse me a bit, because I really never figured out who was in charge.  The combined company mixed things up with each battle—the captain and 1st sergeant of the 43rd TN taking charge for one, with the captain and 1st sergeant of the 1st TN Co H for another.  

Lt John Porter, the Independent Guard’s adjutant, was unable to attend.  I never got information as to why, but I imagine it was a family emergency.  Having become familiar with the adjutant’s role, I volunteered to be acting adjutant.  I did discover that I have a bit of hashing out of my duties during battalion parade—we had three that weekend and each time I gave a slightly different set of commands, forgetting one thing or another.  The last parade on Sunday, however, I nailed.  It did make me realize why Lt Porter always uses a cheat sheet.

They did feed us well, providing cheeseburgers for lunch, pizza for supper, and sausage burritos for Sunday breakfast.  Not exactly period-correct, but who really cares when you’re being fed well.

Honoring the retiring Fred the Mule for his years in reenacting.
Sunday was a bit more laid-back.  There was a tactical scheduled, but apparently only one Yankee was interested in participating.  So when we formed our parade, Col Julian had me take a group of five volunteers over to the Yankee camp to stir up trouble.

We marched behind the Yankee camp and fired a volley.  Some Yankee prick started shouting at us that we weren’t supposed to be shooting there—so I made sure to order another company volley or two as my way of showing a particular finger.  We saw a small squad of Yankees on the battlefield retreating from us, so we made our way onto the field to play with them.  A shot came from behind and I had Tim Ellifrit respond—but the Yankee immediately raised his hands in surrender.  Tim shot him anyway, and he went down.

We pushed the Yankee skirmish line quickly across the field, and as we pushed, we saw the 5th KY join us as reinforcements.  It wasn’t long before we had them.

The battle Sunday was the closest I had ever seen a battle get to a true cluster (using terms appropriate for mixed company).  Had one thing happened differently, the result would have been a mess of epic proportions.  It would have been no one’s fault—it would have been nothing more than the result of two companies of opposing sides taking advantage of the situation before them.  But the result would have been a level of mass confusion between Yankees, Confederates, and public that I have never seen before.  It is a result that I sort of would have liked to have seen, if nothing more that to say I was a part of that—because it would be a story to tell for decades.

The battle started normal—actually better than normal.  The battalion formed a column of companies and deployed to a breastworks.  It was something that although we have drilled for as a battalion, we do not often do in battle—and it looked good.  Usually—particularly with the relatively small numbers we had—we simply march on the field by file—on the flank—and front the battalion for our battle line.  It’s an easy and simple way to deploy, particularly where the space is limited.  But we formed a column of companies from our marching at the flank (it was a little difficult to get 3rd company to understand the intent), then deployed on the breastworks.

We fought there awhile.  Col Julian had me take two volunteers from 3rd company to investigate the opening in the woods to the other field to make sure the Yankees weren’t flanking us.  All we managed to do with that was attract a couple of Yankees to the field with us and take a few pot-shots until the cav came through and helped us out.

We returned to the battle line.  1st and 2nd companies (the 5th KY Co B and 1st TN Co B) were on the breastworks—some stacked split-rails—while 3rd Company was deployed as skirmishers beside them.  As we fought from this point, the Yankees progressively advanced, bringing a howitzer up with them.  Their final advance made me a bit nervous—the howitzer was brought within the dangerzone—we were probably about 25 yards apart.  It was angled up a bit and the company they pointed at (the 1st TN Co B) were on their knees behind the breastworks, so Capt Sharp was comfortable with the situation.  The 3rd company captain realized we had an opportunity.  We were easily close enough that once that cannon fired, the 3rd company could charge it and take it.  I got Col Julian’s approval, so we prepared to charge.  There were about four Yankees with Henrys to the howitzer’s right, so I informed the cavalry on our left of our plans—and told them to occupy the Henrys when we charged.  Morgan told me he had only three rounds left in his pistol—I told him don’t worry about it—just do something.  I realized once we took the gun, the battle would be about over anyhow.

So we waited for that gun to fire.  By this time—with all my running around getting the colonels permission and getting the cavalry ready—the howitzer was nearly ready.  They pulled their lanyard—and nothing.  The gun misfired.

Terrific.  Of course, I had no idea at this time the disaster that awaited us had that gun fired.  The disaster of epic proportions—that would have given a story for my grandkids.  As we were all kneeling there in frustration, grumbling to each other, “C’mon, get that gun cleared—fire that thing!” we had no idea that the Yankee infantry was thinking the same exact thing.  We could not have known that the Yankee infantry had made plans almost identical to ours—only with a different target.  We could not have known that had that howitzer fired, that as we charged that gun, we would be passing the Yankee infantry as they charged our main battalion force—with both sides wondering with words not appropriate for mixed company what exactly was happening.  And the public watching a scene that looked like it was right out of the movie Braveheart.

But such was not to be.  What could have been was not.  We waited for that gun to clear. And waited.  Oh, the frustration.  Jeff Stein was in front of me, expressing all the frustration I felt.  There was no way we could charge a gun that had misfired—it was a hot gun, meaning there was a risk it could fire at any time unexpectedly—and therefore it was not safe to approach.  If this was for real, there is no question we would have charged at the misfire, but safety comes first these days.  As we waited—the Yankees were apparently waiting for the same thing as we, but Col Julian gave motions to the Yankees to go ahead and make their final charge.

Oh well—once the battle was lost I joked a bit with Capt Boham about what our plans were.  That was when I discovered the Yankee’s plans.  The image it brought to our minds brought good laughter.  Had that gun fired, 3rd Company would have successfully taken that gun, only to look back and realize that we were all that remained of the Confederate force.  At least we would not have had to turn the gun to fire on the Yankees, but I think our next concern would have been, “Now what do we do?”

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