event came to be known as "The Battle of the 1st Selectman's Backyard"!
We were camped , and fought, literally in local backyards.)
Colonel Joseph Leo, cmdg
6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
Herewith, I submit my report of the operations of Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry in the action around Ashfield, May 14-16. Please consider this also as the official report for Dement's Battery, 1st Maryland Artillery.
A detachment of 12 soldiers and 7 civilians began to arrive at the site early Friday evening. I fear that I must report that the information provided by our scouts concerning the proper route, left something to be desired. There is no 116 west, it is marked north and south, and the promised signs to guide us were nowhere to be found. However, with some backing and filling, we all finally arrived.
I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by my first look at the size of the site. However, we were quickly assured that this was a temporary site. The actual site planned for next year's full scale event was unavailable due to road construction.
The temporary site did have problems. It was on enough of a slope that camping was awkward, holes and mounds made walking awkward, and there was a wetlands beginning at the base of our camp. Pvt. John Williams' (Tim
Barrett) vehicle became stuck and had to be towed out.
Speaking of Pvt. Williams, it was wonderful to see him after a two year absence from the field, while attending Norwich University. He has just graduated, and is now a second Lieutenant in the US Army, 20th Century! I would like to take this moment to give him my commendation for that accomplishment, and my thanks for the great help he gave me in setting up camp in the gloom.
It is worthy of note that our company's historic mascot, the famous black lab, made an appearance in the form of a black and white cat, who belongs to the property owner, the 1st selectman of Ashfield. He seemed much enamored of us, even to the extent of sleeping most of the night on Cpl. Purnell's (the Yetti) cot. The animal did not know of it's close escape!
Saturday dawned beautifully. The ground was so uneven that a full company drill was deemed inadvisable. Since the battalion mustered only our 12, 3 from the 12th GA, and Morton's Battery, with both guns and, I believe, 6
cannoneers over the weekend, battalion drill and dress parade were also out of the question. We had planned, under the circumstances, to function as Dement's Battery, and stage artillery demonstrations in conjunction with our friends and mentors at Morton's. Much of our living history focused on Barker, our 3/4 scale James gun. I would like to compliment Pvt. Grogan particularly for spending much of his day sitting on the limber chest explaining the weapon and it's equipment to spectators.
We had also detached 4 soldiers to Morton's to help serve their guns. Indeed, armed with the knowledge that there would be no battle, I detached myself. Lo and behold, a battle suddenly appeared on the schedule. Fortunately, 1st Sergeant Ezekial Dorsey (Chris Svejk) took command of the company, and performed admirably.
There is little to report of the "battle" itself. With small forces on both sides, it was most limited, skirmishers thrown out and popping away. Some of the fighting had to take place in the quagmire At least we won!
Perhaps my most memorable moment was the cannon hit taken by the Federal field music. One moment they were playing away, the next they were all dead. I could only think, "Guys, we've just blown away a bunch of 13 year old kids!" Great hit, though!
This brought us to lunch. After lunch I scheduled a full company artillery drill, on Barker. Cpl. Brad Hendricks from Morton's was very kind to act as instructor for us, and did a splendid job.
I do, sadly, have to note that Pvt. Schliephake (Craig Kovacs, but this is Schliephake's problem, not Craig's) must have made quite merry the night before, and was found to be sound asleep at the time of this drill. A roar of "Schliephake, you Drunkard, get out of the sack", brought him to drill, complete with his "Drnkrd" sign, which he is to wear when these little lapses occur as a reminder that the men of Co. H are gentlemen, and are expected to conduct themselves as such. (See the CMD AAR for the story on the historic Schliephake. Craig is a good sport!)
Cpl. Hendricks is an excellent instructor, and the drill was most valuable, and seemed of great interest to spectators, even though we did not actually fire. It was, however, unfortunately curtailed when the Federals started to deploy at 2:00 for the scheduled 2:30 sneak attack. I make light, but, since we were looking this as an artillery training opportunity, it would have been well to go according to schedule.
In any event, our cannoneers reported to Morton's, joined by two new cannoneers, one of whom looked a bit like Captain Pereira, and the other remarkably like you sir. He even wore the same black slouch hat and linen trousers that you usually wear.
As to the battle, again my report must be a little vague. Our battery was overrun fairly early, and I was lying dead on the limber chest. As I breathedmy last, I took note of the incredible calmness of the ladies of Morton's, as
they sat only yards away, watching their husbands being bayonetted. Perhaps 1st SGT Dorsey could elaborate on infantry operations.
Again, I make light, but the fighting at this event did pose some problems. This event had some trouble because of the limited site, and organizers did the best they could, but it would have been better to stage some sort of other demonstration. The ladies of Morton's sat by because the battle was raging in their camp. On Sunday, we were fighting just about in the Federal camp. Also, according to the plan, we were supposed to be shot dead to disable the battery, not overrun. Even scripted and practiced hand to hand usually looks poor. The unscripted version is not only unsafe, but makes us look completely foolish to the spectators. Lets not do hand to hand anymore, if at all possible.
There was talk of a third fight later that afternoon, but counsel that two was enough was accepted, and we stood down. Our Board retired to my wall tent for a short meeting during which there were two miraculous occurrences. First was the odd appearance of an apricot tree in front of your tent. From the appearance of the fruit, it appears the tree has lacked water, and may have been moved in hopes of improving its condition.
Second was the arrival in camp of Pvt. Augustus Williams and Mrs. Williams (Dave and Terry Barrett, Tim's parents). This family has been such an important part of our unit, that it was wonderful to welcome them back to us. Unfortunately, Terry could not stay, but having Dave and Tim in camp made it feel like camp was complete. I also relished in eating a "Hop-Sing" cooked breakfast.
Speaking of food, we had an excellent repast, focused on chickens roasted on a spit. As so often happens, the cooking of our dinner, which took all afternoon, made a very good living history display of its own, though I am not certain that the spectators all realized that we fully intended to actually consume them.
After dinner, my unit saw fit to surprise me on the occasion of my 18th wedding anniversary, actually on the 16th. Unfortunately, Mrs. Johnson, (Liz Jones) had to work, and was unable to attend the event, but she did send a lovely card. I was most appreciative of both the lamp (with fuel) and the book.
After the festivities, we were able to bring Barker on line with Morton's mountain howitzers, for a night firing demonstration. We crewed Barker, with Cpl. Hendricks as gunner and placed men on the other pieces as well. Cpl. Purnell (Yetti) took himself downrange to make sketches. At least that's what I believe meant by "take pictures". These pictures should be interesting to see.
The rest of our evening passed most sociably. Saturday night in camp is the true essence of reenacting. Those who only day trip, while very welcome, miss so much. 1st SGT Dorsey realized that, and stayed, though he had an
important appointment, bedding down in the supply tent and leaving in the morning. The night was quite cool, but bearable, and sleeping was pleasant.
Sunday was again a most beautiful morning. We have been blessed so far this season, and can only hope it continues. It being my turn to lead divine services, we picked a spot of level, mown ground, in the shade. It turned out to be the camp of the Federal commander, but being a religious man, he and many of his soldiers worshipped with us. It was a lovely setting, and we had a fine and devout service.
However, the war still impended. So that we might be well prepared, we took ourselves over to Major Alden Whyte's fly, where he kindly consented to give us a very thorough lesson in making cannon rounds. He taught patiently and in detail, and we are very appreciative. The process is quite simple, but, when working with powder in that quantity, we wanted to be sure we were doing it correctly and safely.
At this point, urgent concerns in Richmond called me, Bradley Johnson (Lee Jones) away from camp. I left the camp in the capable hands of Sgt. Elisha T. Russell (Lee Jones) in the absence of 1st SGT Dorsey (Svejk). (Gosh, this gets confusing. It's darn good thing McHenry Howard couldn't make it this weekend.) I will turn the balance of the report over to him.
On Major Johnson's departure, I took quick stock of infantry available, and discovered we only mustered 8 rifles, including my own Mississippi. Lt. Bill Proal of the 12th GA had come in, and was available to take command. We fell in and inspected weapons, and then waited for the sound of Federal sharpshooters begin yet another sneak attack. We marched with dispatch down the hill, into the bog, and deployed skirmishers. We were quickly met with a heavy skirmish line of Federals. Our fire was telling, and we held for some time, but force of numbers gradually forced us back. Had the main body of our forces appeared from the woods, all would have been well, but since we were the main body, things did not look good.
However the sharp eyed Lt. Proal spotted an abandoned Federal field fortification. We took quick advantage and occupied the works. The cover afforded us allowed us to aim with more telling accuracy, and drove the Federals from the field. So ended the 11:30 sneak attack. I had filled my cartridge box before falling in, and returned with 5 rounds, all for a 20 minute engagement.
After the battle, I spent some time at Capt. Periera's tent, where he was being interviewed by a correspondent. At the same time you sir, seemed engaged with the Federal commander, planning the 2:00 sneak attack. Lt. Proal and I, realizing something was up, went to alert the men. As I came in to camp, calling out first call, what did I notice but the sleepy head of Pvt. Schliephake, just awaking from a nap: UNDER THE MAJOR'S FLY!!!
"Schliephake, you drunkard, what are you doing under the Major's fly???" I hope Major Johnson will be charitable when he reads this report. (Poor Craig, he must have had a hard week.)
The afternoon fight opened up with a sneak attack by three Federal Sharpshooters. The dastardly fiends shot and killed one of ladies of Morton's! We fell in quickly and marched at the double quick into the swamp.
We formed our line and delivered a withering fire. After a short but fierce fire fight we pushed to the old abandoned breastworks, where we found the dying Federal sharpshooters, who made a deathbed repentance, and were mystically transformed into Wheat's Special Battalion!
Morton's opened up, and we were at rest for a while. We then noticed that Pvt. Colston (Jeff Mansir) had been hit as we advanced up the bog. We couldn't tell if he was dead, or just stuck in the mud. Pvt.'s Williams (Barrett) rescued him.
The Federal main body, perhaps 15 in number, advanced and fired upon the battery, killing the cannoneers and disabling the pieces. We raked them with company volleys, the men of Wheat's yelling "Keel ze blue" and "Vive New Orleans!".(Actually, that should have been "Vive la Nouvelle Orleans!". I guess that's what happens when Irish dockworkers try to speak French.)
I was a little disappointed that the battle ended with our blasting the three men of their color guard who were making no apparent effort to resist, and that there was again a little hand to hand. I understand the good intent,
but it simply looks stupid.
We returned to our camp for a brief closing ceremony. After that, I was called to return to Richmond, at which point Major Johnson (Jones) returned.
Breaking down camp is always a chore, but particularly this time, when I hoped to get back in time for a bit of our anniversary. I would to thank specially the seemingly tireless Pvt.'s Williams (Barrett) who got me out of there a good 45 minutes sooner with all their help.
In all, this event has great promise. A new site and more troops could result in a great time. Ashfield, while not really close for our northern units, is at least closer than many of our events. I would recommend that we support it in the future. For the 1st, it was a fine time, with old comrades meeting new comrades. I am sure we will be back.
I would like to thank and compliment the officers and men of Morton's Battery, who have been so kind to us in getting our feet wet as artillerists. We hope to be in battery with them many times in the future.
I would also like to commend Lt. Bill Proal for excellent job in taking command of infantry. As I commented to him, it is one thing to echo commands and quite another to have to think of them! He did a fine job, and now has a record of 2 and 0, winning both fights.
I would also like to thank and compliment Col. "Skippy" MacMullen, the evil twin of our own Lt. Col. Bill MacMullen of the CS Marines. He did fine job of putting together a first time event. The concept of starting very small and building up is a good one. It was a fine weekend.
Captain, Co.H, 1st Maryland Infantry
Commanding officer, Dement's Battery
Major, 6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
The Southern Legion