Monday, August 26, 2013

A Decline in Numbers

Jackson, MI

August 24-25, 2013

Jackson, Michigan has been one of my annual staples since 2010, when I went all-out for Civil War reenacting.  For the number of reenactors that attended--normally several hundred--the battlefield is rather small, but forces those in command to think quickly and maneuver in tight quarters.  This was my second year here on battalion staff.

But numbers were down.  We considered a lot had to do with Gettysburg, but we weren't really sure.  Of the Independent Guard companies that attended, only the 50th Virginia and the 12th South Carolina were there.  We were too small to even carry our flag on the field.

Another Confederate battalion was there as well--Medich battalion, but their colonel was unable to attend, leaving the command to their Lt Colonel.  I'm not sure how in such situations overall Confederate command is decided, but Col Medich is normally overall commander for this event, and I think that was how the event coordinators decided to make their Lt Colonel overall commander.

Because of our small numbers we had a lot more interaction with Medich battalion that we normally do.  Usually all we see is Medich battalion doing their thing on the battlefield, while we do ours.  Col Julian will discuss a few things with Col Medich, but that is about the extent of it.  This year, however, there were a few times where we appended ourselves onto Medich Battalion to make us look like one large battalion.  We still pretty much had our autonomy, but we worked much closer with Medich battalion to accomplish the tasks.

Lt John Porter was also unable to attend, so I filled in as acting adjutant for the weekend, though with only two companies, there wasn't much for me to do.  In addition to my role as major, I basically brought the two companies on line and formed the parade.  Lt Porter also handles attendance roles, but there was not much worrying about that this weekend.

Saturday morning proved a bit of a rough start.  At four in the morning I awoke to a coughing fit due to allergy problems.  My allergy medication takes about an hour to kick in, so I was up for the day.

I started the fire with the wood the park provided--it was probably the greenest wood I had seen at an event.  It was all spruce and pine and some of the spruce wood still had sprouts with green needles.  The pine sap made it easy to start the fire, but the green wood made it difficult to keep the fire burning well.

The Saturday battle was not overly memorable.  It was a scenario from Chancellorsville, though I don't know the intended details.  We had the 12th SC start out without their coats to give the impression they were Yankee militia, and they started fighting against us.  The plan was that they would be captured almost immediately, then our battalion--which was only the 50th VA at that time--would take them as prisoners, where they would put their coats back on and rejoin us into battle.

Something didn't go quite right.  As soon as we took the 12th SC as prisoners, we were ordered back on line to defend the left flank.  The 12th quickly put their coats on and joined us.  I guess we could say that we paroled them--and they decided to join us.

From there, all I know is that both battalions pushed the Yankees across the field, with the 12th SC flanking them on the right, and Medich's last company flanking on the left.

Supper that evening left something to be desired.  Two slices of roast pork, a roll or cornbread, and potato or macaroni salad.  Not much to fill up on, and not much taste.  Fortunately, the Lt Colonel offered me some lunch meat to supplement my meal.

My allergies were a little better Sunday morning--I had taken some Benedryl the night before, but I still had a bit of a coughing fit around 1:30 in the morning.  I found, however, that I wasn't alone in my allergy problems.  Col Julian also expressed problems with allergies, along with a number of others.  There was apparently something in the air at Jackson that was giving all of us problems.  My best guess was that horribly green spruce and pine wood--burning that wood must have put allergens in the air that made us ill.

I did manage to sleep later, waking to the bugle call of reveille from the Yankees.

This day seemed a bit lighter--we started drill with our annual meeting, voting for the Sergeant Major and Adjutant positions.  Since both Len Kiser and John Porter ran unopposed for those positions, we only had to re-affirm them, though both seem to have been granted their positions for life.

We then went into a simple drill with Medich Battalion, forming a column of companies and circling the battlefield--basically making sure the companies do their wheelings correctly while in a column of companies--though we never needed to use this again.

After drill, Jeff, Trish and I wandered the sutlers.  My drawers were falling apart--I had patches upon patches--and managed to find a decent pair at James Country.

The battle had an intermission like Saturday's battle.  Jackson did this last year as well--and I'm not sure what that is all about, other than it lengthens the battle time.  Perhaps it works well--it's tough to make an impression from my perspective.

The first part of the battle was not very memorable--it was something from Gettysburg, but I couldn't tell you what. However, the second part of the battle was a success.  We did Pickett's Charge, forming three battalions of two companies each, with Medich splitting their battalion, while we stood on our own.  The field was small, so we didn't have far to go.  Each battalion advanced and fired one battalion volley, loading once more for all of us to fire at once.

We then advanced hard on the Yankees.  The fight didn't last long.  The entire IG Battalion was decimated.  I took a leg wound and started dragging myself to the rear of the battlefield.

I do enjoy this event--but it would be better if we can see a return to solid numbers.  Perhaps next year, when the big 150th events will be in the past.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Confederate Commander

Jackson OH 

August 17-18, 2013 

Courtesy Keisha Waley
Jackson, Ohio, so I was told, was intended to be for this one time only, in commemoration for John Hunt Morgan's 150th year of invasion into Ohio.  The event went well, and talk was that it may be brought back next year.  The huge battlefield had space for four battalions to maneuver comfortably, and still have cavalry and artillery running the field, so if it could obtain the reenactor numbers, Jackson Ohio has the potential for being one of Ohio's significant events.

That being said, with our numbers at only 10 Confederate Infantry to 12 Federal Infantry, along with a dozen or so cavalry and 6 artillery pieces on each side, we were rather limited in what we could do.

The event started with a trip to downtown Jackson to reenact Morgan's run through town.  It was a bit goofy, with the four of us from the 1st Tennessee carrying our muskets, pretending to be dismounted cavalry, while we followed the cavalry on horseback through the town square.  We were told there would be wagons there with food and that we were allowed to raid the wagons.  Most got away with several ears of corn--but I already had corn back in camp.  I got away with a cucumber and a few beats the size of cantaloupes.

We were taxied from the downtown area back to camp in a driver in a mini-van.  Since only five of us could fit at a time, several trips were required.  Sgt Kletzli, Sgt Carte, and I took the last trip, and wished we had walked.  The driver was an interesting, and frightening woman. She changed subject matters faster than a woman with a TV remote on all-sports Sunday, and she barely took a breath, never stopping her conversation the entire trip back.  She had gotten so engrossed in her talking that we desperately wished to escape from, that we she exited the van to open the door for us, she forgot to put the vehicle into park and nearly leveled a nearby sutler tent.

The largest single organized group at the event was probably the 43rd Tennessee, who we encountered as third company at Reynoldsburg.  The overall organizer for the event appeared to be one Sgt Kletzli told me was Merle, who portrayed John Hunt Morgan.  Merle was a good man--but I was not familiar with him.  Sgt Kletzli knew him well, though.  I knew the 43rd TN through my command over them as wing commander at Reynoldsburg, and wasn't surprised when Sgt Kletzli told me about the officer's meeting for the Saturday battle where Capt Hornsby of the 43rd TN basically told Kletzli that whatever he wanted would be what they all did. Merle pretty much agreed.  The Federals weren't much better--Bob Mergel (of the 5th KY) was playing Federal this weekend and told me they had no one in charge of their group.

That pretty much put Sgt Kletzli as overall Confederate Commander--by proxy.

I believe he did well, but it was interesting to see this guy who can complain about a missing petal on a flower in a field of daisies, as he tried to make sense of the challenge ahead of him.

The Saturday battle was okay, but not memorable, and all of us agreed it was rather boring.  Basically, the cannons fired a bit, then we went out in skirmish lines and face the Federal skirmish like and blasted at each other for awhile, then withdrew from the field.

The 43rd Tennessee planned to all take hits, while we would gracefully withdraw to cover the cavalry's retreat.  The fields was too short--it was perhaps less than 75 feet between the marked safety zones of the opposing artillery forces, giving us very little room to maneuver in.  The four of us fought awhile against Henry repeaters on the far side of the field.  We tried to get the help of the cavalry, but it was a struggle.  Sgt Kletzli ran to the cavalry fighting on the other side of the field to get their help, but only got the response, "But they've got repeaters--we can't help."

Sgt Kletzli reminded them, "But they're only firing blanks.  They're not going to be a problem."

We did get some help from the cavalry, enough to be able to finish out the scenario.

The Yankees salute General Farbie.  Courtesy Rick Hahn
The event provided a healthy meal for supper, and as I waited in line to get my meal I noticed one person--I'm not sure you could call him a reenactor--in probably the Farbiest uniform I have ever seen.  It was bright blue--so bright he could be spotted from the other side of the park.  Made of polyester, he had a maroon polyester sash tipped with golden tassles.  He wore some kind of cowboy-looking slouch had with some kind of Union shield on the front.  I didn't catch the shoes he wore as the blue was just plain blinding.

It was something I had never seen before.  David Waugh, a Federal reenactor from the 76th OVI came to our camp and talked about him a bit.  He said the guy mentioned that the uniform wasn't quite as accurate as he hoped.  I wonder what clued him in?

Among our group was a new couple and their daughter, and I mentioned that they should experience a ball at least once.  In my mind, dancing is not difficult, and since it was the mainstay source of entertainment among all of that time, then we as reenactors should at least be familiar with this pastime.   They left, and after a few dances I followed to check on them--to see if they were enjoying themselves.

I found them seated and watching as Jim Ruley, the caller, announced that the next dance was the Virginia Reel--the most popular dance among reenactors.  Since they did not seem to be interested in participating, I invited their twelve-year old daughter to dance with me, at least so that I could be sure she had a chance to experience it.  She was one in particularly who had complained that she didn't know how to do the dances, but she did enjoy herself--and I succeeded in my mission.

The next day was laid-back.  Very little planned for us, other than the battle, plus the weather did not cooperate as a sputtering rain pretty much covered the day.  It was decided that something different from Saturday's battle must be done.  I thought Sgt Kletzli tried to over-think what to do.  The idea was that the 43rd TN would come out first and face the Federals for a few minutes, then we would come out and flank the Federals.  Sgt Kletzli was trying to get detail of having the cavalry cover our advance so we could better surprise the Federals, but I pointed out that though the field was a bit larger than the day before, it was still pretty small--we could easily double-quick into position and begin shooting before Federals would realize we were there.

The battle actually worked better than I thought it would--and all were satisfied with the success of that day's battle, in spite of the rain.   We made our advance after the start of the battle and encountered a group of Federal cavalry where we needed to be--and Sgt Kletzli was able to get our cavalry to push them away, so we could double-quick into position.  Fighting took us, the Federals, and the 43rd TN all over that field, with cannon blazing and cavalry charging all over.  Morgan Landis, one of the Federal cavalry shot at us with his Henry and faced us down.  But a problem we had was that we weren't supposed to take any casualties--which I didn't really understand.

My thought is that if you are going to die--die in the shade.  If you can't die in the shade, then at least die in front of the spectators.

We were right in front of the spectators.  Morgan dismounted his horse and began charging us, blazing away with his Henry.  I unloaded and took a hit.

Though Jackson Ohio was a small event, it definitely has a lot of potential if it gets some serious reenactor support.  I do hope to see this event return next year with reenactor numbers to make this event a major one for Ohio.

Video of the event
Article of the event

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Farm in Blue

Hale Farm 

Bath OH 

August 10-11, 2013 

With only Tim Ellifrit from the 1st Tennessee joining me, we decided we would try something different at Hale Farm this year.  We enjoyed ourselves last year falling in with the 5th Texas, but my old unit--the one that got me started with Civil War reenacting was also attending this year, so we decided to try galvanizing to Federal this year and join the 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company B, captained by Trent Boham.

I was unable to get a fire pit going Friday evening, so managed to borrow a shovel Saturday morning and dig one.  But because we had no pit, and many of the 4th were unable to arrive to much later, we found all the firewood supplies gone.  I debated about requisitioning some wood from a well-supplied officer across the gravel road, but I managed to get enough wood Saturday morning by foraging through the nearby woods.  Before I could get the fire started however, we found ourselves under attack by Rebel forces, in a tactical that only the officers knew about.

The 4th OVI was a member company of Birney's Division, which had their 2nd battalion present at Hale Farm.  We quickly formed up in defense of our camp, and the battalion had us quickly rushing around from one entry point of the village to another.  I recognized Col Medich of Medich Battalion hitting us from the west side of the village, and the next thing we were defending an entry at the north of the village.  The battalion seemed in disarray as at several points the 4th OVI, as 5th company in the battalion, could not be put into position to engage.  I even heard the 4th's 1st Sergeant complain about how the battalion reacted.  I just chalked it off to the indigo dye.

At one point our company faced off with the 5th Texas.  Once we fired, we charged the company.  Numbers were examined and found to be even, so victory was determined to be the 4th's by a coin toss.

I don't know who could claim victory on that tactical--but it was fun.

The afternoon battle was very different than the year before.  Last year the battle was fought in a cow pasture, and the field was full of ruts and gopher holes that made marching through a little treacherous. I had made note of that in my blog from last year, and Col Minton of the Army of the Ohio had read that and commented it would be fixed for this year.  I had expected something like plowing up the fields or something, but instead the battlefield was completely relocated.  We fought beside the battlefield in among the period buildings, through an apple orchard, through fences, defending our way back to the village.  It was nothing like the forward-and-back fighting that seems to be standard (and getting quite boring), but was something that kept us moving and reacting.  I don't know if Col Minton took notes from the success of Ohio Village or not, but whether or not he did, I must give the event credit in their creativity in making a fresh change in the way the battle was done.

Saturday I took a hit rather early, concerned about conserving my powder for Chickamauga next month.

In the evening we were a bit disappointed to find no supper for us.  The promise was for breakfast, so I cooked up the rest of my bacon and eggs, and some corn I bought along the way for supper.

Sunday I was awakened to the bugle call of reveille.   Most of the time I am up and awake--and even working on my breakfast--at daybreak, long before reveille, but I must have been particularly tired.  I got dressed and started stacked the last of the foraged wood onto the fire to get it started.  Fortunately the night before a tractor had dumped a small load of wood, providing just enough for us for the rest of the weekend, so I was able to get a good hot breakfast fire going.  Breakfast was to be "rations", and the concern was actual period-correct rations, such as hardtack, salt pork, and coffee.  Such rations may be desirable to the Civil War soldier who gets little to eat, but to us well-fed weekend reenactors who paid a rather hefty sum to be here, we were not encouraged by the term.

Cpl Waggoner led a detail to collect the rations and return them to camp.  Those rations proved to be an over-abundance of unsliced slabs of bacon, eggs, bread, and potatoes.  Our concerns were unfounded--but now we had a new problem--how to cook all this food with nothing but our small campfire.

I offered my large skillet, and someone else had a matching skillet.  We also had one small skillet for some potatoes.  Somehow I was elected to cook the food, probably because I jumped in and got started to avoid an awkward period of indecision, and to get food to my stomach faster.  One private sliced up the bacon and potatoes, and I cooked on the three skillets that completely covered our fire on the grate we had.   We decided to just hard-boil the eggs in whatever pots were available.

I started with both the large skillets frying bacon to get some good grease going.  Once one skillet was clear, we put potatoes in it and the small skillet.  I must have filled the one large skillet with bacon four or five times, while the two potato skillets were refilled another four or five times each.  Every time I emptied a skillet, members of the 4th quickly filled their plates, ready for more.  By the time I finished cooking the last, two hours had passed--and we had so much left over we munched on it all the way till even after the battle that afternoon.

The afternoon battle was similar to the day before--fighting through an apple orchard and around buildings.  We were pushed back to the village.  Moving at the double-quick, Capt Boham directed us against a fence with the command, "On the right by file into line."

This command is one that although basic, is complex enough that only the more skilled companies even attempt.  But I have never seen this command performed at the double-quick.  I'm sure if given the circumstances, that the 1st Tennessee could pull it off, but it is not something I'd expect very many companies could do at the double-quick.  I was impressed with the 4th OVI as they got into position along the fence--nailing the maneuver perfectly while at the double-quick.

A little later we were in an open area, and I used my last cap.  I was determined to go down at the next enemy volley, but suddenly the captain ordered us into a charge.  I think the entire company must have been pretty much empty of ammunition.  I'm not sure how ready that Confederate cavalry we faced were for us as their firing seemed rather slow--but they did manage to decimate the entire 4th Ohio.  I only hope it was with more than just a couple of shots.

It was an enjoyable weekend.  Tim expressed thrill about being able to come and do a Federal impression--something he hadn't done but once before, years ago.  I had done a random Federal impression here and there--such as for the Durbin Bean Bake last year, but nothing like on the scale of Hale Farm, so it was nice for a change in pace.  We will return next year--but I don't know if it'll be as Confederate or Yankee, unless the 1st Tennessee goes as a company.

Photos from the event