Monday, July 15, 2013

The Best and Worst of Times, Part 3

GAC 150th Commemoration, The Battle of Gettysburg

Gettysburg, PA

July 3-7, 2013

Day 5: Bivouacked

Saturday arrived, and we had already fulfilled a normal reenactment, but we were only halfway through this one.

I again fried up my bacon and eggs—I brought a lot of bacon and eggs with me—and enjoyed a quiet morning.

One thing I had failed to mention was that the first day we had a bugler in our brigade echoing the commands of General Julian. Unfortunately, though it seemed like a cool idea, there were certain inherent problems with this concept. The first being that none of us knew any of the bugle calls. It was therefore nothing but some mood music while we battled. The second problem was that since we were 2nd battalion of a three battalion brigade, the general and the bugler were stationed immediately behind us. So, the general would give his command, with the bugler blaring in our ears, and there was some difficulty in hearing the voice commands. It would have been great if we had some idea what the bugle calls were. Several respectfully requested at the next officer’s meeting if the bugler could find a better place to shove his horn.

So, for the morning battle, we had no mood music. But we had to wait in the sun by the grandstands for about an hour before the battle began. I wish I knew what the delay was—but at least there was a water buffalo nearby, and I kept suggesting to the captains to keep the canteens all full. Even I, with two canteens, had to refill one of mine. That is one thing I learned about nationals—two canteens are better than one. Through every battle I finished off one and got about halfway through the second.

When the battle finally started, we advanced onto the field away from the grandstand. We did not move far from that location, but we pushed forward against what seemed insurmountable odds. I don’t really know where the other Confederate brigades were, but they had to be somewhere—though I did hear the entire ANV division decided to rest for the morning. I guess that left us to fend off the Yankee hoards.

We were toe-to-toe with the Yankees, and a dismounted cavalry unit in front of us extended their lines, extending around our flank. Capt Sharp expressed concerns they were beginning to surround us, so I told him to go ahead and extend his line as well, as he refused our flank—we couldn’t have the Yankees surround us. Our other flank was in no better shape—we lost our left wing and were refusing that flank as well with the little we had left.

Somehow, we pulled through the battle, but it seems we had unknowing help from another of our battalions—they were situated so that the Yankees were caught in a crossfire, coming up behind the Yankees before us. It wasn't until the end of the battle that we could even see the other battalion.

Resting between battles.  Courtesy J.R. Sharp
The 1st Tennessee was the worse for wear at the end of this battle. Twice there were shots fired by privates in unsafe positions in the chaos, getting pvt Jared Springer’s eardrum blown own and Joe Bellas ear rung. Joe sat out the evening battle to recover, but Jared had to be taken to the hospital for examination. Jared seems to come through okay, but was pretty much done for the rest of the weekend, only able to watch from the sidelines.

Having learned about how wearing the march back to camp was, the battalion decided to bivouac on the battlefield in a nice shady area. This saved us—I don’t think any of us could have participated in the evening battle had we not rested in the shade. A water buffalo was handy in that shade, allowing us to keep well hydrated. We were going to have to leave the area once the Yankees started forming up on the battlefield, as we were at the location the
Courtesy J.R. Sharp
Yankees were to start. But we still had several hours, and it gave a chance for a few to visit the sutlers.

There was a bit of sucking up to General Julian, as Bob Mergle of the 5th KY retrieved the general’s favorite treat of Hawaiian Ice, and Jim Kletzli of the 1st TN gave him sips of Peach Schnapps. I couldn’t tell you who won out there—it was tough competition. I think one of them came up with an idea of Peach Schnapps Hawaiian Ice as the ultimate treat for the general.

We enjoyed watching some live mortar fire. It was interesting to watch, particularly from our perspective, as the mortars were being fired in our direction. Fortunately, the mortars fell short by several hundred yards. But the last shot apparently had a special charge added and landed a earth-rumbling blast about a hundred yards from our location.

(Video of live mortar shot:

As we waited, we saw the ANV division march through, fresh from their long morning rest. We soon followed them to the staging area where we would begin the fight for the afternoon battle.

(Video of ANV arrival:

It was a fight that I feel left a bit of a sour taste. We marched until we were out of site of one set of grandstands, all the way back to the woods where we had bivouacked. We seemed to advance a bit close to the Yankees that had entrenched in the woods, but all the Confederate brigades had them in matched lines. The whole battle just seemed a bit “off”. Once we reached that close location, the Yankees in front of us ceased firing and stood at attention. The 1st TN waited for some company fire and all took hits. We pulled back and stood and waited. At some point, someone told me that some Yankees were throwing vulgar and obscene insults at us. One Confederate from another battalion ran up to the Yankees, running up and down their lines throwing insults back at them.

I kept expecting the bugler to blow taps to indicate the end of the battle, but it never came. As we stood, us not firing, they not firing, I lost my adrenaline. Not long after I took a hit and just stayed out—I was spent, and the battle really wasn’t fun anymore, anyhow.

Next time: Day 6: The Charge--Deploy the Belgians!

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