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(This event came to be known as "The Battle of Pee Wee's Playhouse!")
Colonel Joseph Leo, commanding
6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
Herewith, I submit my report of the operations of Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry, in the actions at Hammonassett this past weekend.
Our advance party arrived close to noon on Thursday, and began the process of laying out our extensive camp. Corporals Purnell and Hebb (Emile Roux, Paul Plante) did their usual outstanding job of arranging the site for the expected turnout.
Camp was set up on Thursday in order to be ready for the school presentation on Friday. Eight or nine Marylanders were able to time off from work for the presentation, and many others, myself included, set up Thursday in order to have an impressive garrison camp for the students to tour. While I was unable to take part, I understand that all went quite well, with the students exhibiting much better behavior than in past years. The only comment to pass on was that the groups were too large to allow for effective interaction.
I must take a moment here to give a special commendation to Private William Gardner (Bill Maisano), who has been working with a group of inner city students from New Haven. He has worked behind the scenes for months to arrange to have these students at Hammonassett, a learning opportunity that is so rarely available to this type of students When it seemed that their school would not be able to secure transportation to the event, Private Gardiner covered the shortage out of his own pocket! It is this sort of dedication to the education of our young people regarding this vitally important aspect of our nation's history, that marks reenactors as special individuals. I am most proud to have been placed in command of men of such caliber as Private Gardiner.
I returned to camp Friday evening to find a very different campsite. Not only had our brethren from the other battalion units begun to arrive and set up, but or own street had grown to two, side by side! In all there were 32 soldier's of Co.H who served in some capacity over the three days, three on detached duty, two as musicians, and 26 as infantrymen in one or both days of fighting. We were joined by many civilians, by my recollection, as many
as 18 at some point over the course of the event, making this our second largest turnout ever, second only to the 135th Gettysburg. I was especially cheered to see the lovely Miss Liz, who had provided musical background for the school presentation. Since many of us were already set up, Friday evening became a great opportunity for socialization, despite the heavy showers that rolled over us.
The night was very comfortable for sleeping, unlike so many Hammonassett's past where it had been quite cold. We awoke Saturday to a lovely day, warm without being uncomfortable, ad not nearly the expected humidity. Our morning parade and company drill was held, as usual, at 8:00 AM. There was good review of close order drill, necessary as this was the season opener for over half the company. We also introduced the proper method of avoiding obstacles in battalion line.
At 9:00 AM, Co. H took the first tour of duty in guard mount, with 1st Sergeant Jim Hollister serving in able manner as Sergeant of the Guard. Officers of the Day were also posted, with Lt. Roger Coyne of the 21st Mississippi serving on Saturday, and Lt. Sean Stevenson of Lee's Light Horse taking responsibility on Sunday.
At 9:00 AM officers call was held. I was most pleased to note the excellent turnout by our sister units in the 6th Battalion. Company assignments were as follows: First Company, 1st Maryland; Second, 7th Tennessee; Third (Color) a joining of 21st Mississippi, Sumpter Rifles (color guard), and 21st Virginia; Fourth, 4th Alabama; Fifth, Lee's Light Horse; and Sixth, 12th Georgia, with elements of the 33rd North Carolina Troops. We also admitted a new member unit, another company of the 4th Alabama, from Maine,
who united with the Southern New England 4th for the event.
10:00 Am brought us to battalion drill, our first of the season with a large battalion. All went most smoothly in review of standard evolutions, and proper period firing techniques in battalion order, most particularly the fire by company were introduced or reviewed. For an analysis of the vicissitudes of maneuvering in the obstructed field, see my short monograph on Obstacles.
With the early afternoon battle, the interval for rest and lunch was short. Fortunately, Sutlers' Row was quite close. It seemed as though the merchant array was smaller and less varied than in years past, but that may have been the comparison with the larger events at Bentonville and Neshaminy which began our season.
We reformed the battalion at 12:30 for the 1:00 battle. We were inspected, and then marched by the right flank to the battlefield, led by the 5th Alabama Field Music (host unit). It was invigorating to march to the beat of the drums and the shrill sounds of the fifes again.
We marched into cover, out of sight of the spectators, and stacked arms, an interesting exercise as we were on a rather steep slope. There we waited as the left wing began the battle.
As the battle began, the left wing under Captain James Duckett, detached from the 12th Georgia for field service as major, was detached as an independent battalion and engaged the enemy. After a few minutes of fighting, to which we could only listen, our wing, now a battalion moved out. Co. H was detached from the battalion to move onto the firing line in support of the erstwhile left wing. At this point, the integrity of the wings broke down, and there began to be some confusion as to who was in command of what. Nonetheless, we worked together and fought on.
Major Duckett attempted to perform a flanking maneuver, but his first efforts were of no avail, as to do so would have masked the mountain howitzer of the Richmond Howitzers, our artillery support on the right flank. The Federals smoked out his intention anyway and strengthened their left. Through continued efforts Major Duckett did manage to put a company on their flank, but, valiant effort though it was, it was too little, too late. The overwhelming numbers made offensive action difficult, and battle turned into a slugfest, as we gave ground grudgingly in a fighting withdrawal.
The battle, while not truly satisfying, did have the advantage of being short, about 40 minutes, I would estimate. We were able to return to camp, and cool off a bit. We were most fortunate in being on the coast that the temperatures were very comfortable, while the interior baked. Our respite was shortened a bit by the arrival of a messenger from the 8th Connecticut, asking to move our scheduled townball match, an annual tradition at this event, for the possession of the tally bell, engraved with the CT state seal on one side, and a Calvert cross on the other, from 3:00 to 2:30, as they had to form up much earlier for the evening battle than we did. Our men were tired, and unsure how full an effort we could give, with the beach battle yet to come, but we assented.
We appeared on the field a little ahead of schedule, and awaited the 8th. We presented two equal sides. Lt. Boucher and I agreed on a timed match or first to 21.
Having competed for three years now, both teams have acquired a much better sense for the game. It was a very well contested match, however, I am glad to say, we gradually pulled away, winning 11 to 4, and retaining possession of "The Bell"!
Basking in glorious victory, we returned to camp, with a little less than ninety minutes before battalion formation. Our cook, Pvt. Valiant (Tom Harwood) busied himself preparing as much of the meal as possible before we had to leave. As the time drew near, a raindrop or two fell, however, fortunately, no serious precipitation presented itself.
We were formed and inspected at 5:15, and were once again marched by the right flank out to the beach, to the stirring sounds of the martial music. It was a long enough march, that we made use of Hardee's instruction to shift arms to left shoulder in a long march (left shoulder shift), giving the men a measure of added relief.
We continued to the beach, and undoubled files as we passed onto the boardwalk. We wheeled by file to the left, and beheld Battery Wagner!
Our jaws dropped as we saw this little pile of sand, defended by three mountain howitzers. In honesty, I cannot blame the engineers, who worked within the means available. Actually, it was well executed, and had we been in the area of six inches tall, it would have been great. Those few of us who remember the original Battery Wagner efforts at this event were appalled.
We marched around the "fort", and deployed into line, and then formed column. Again, the left wing was sent forward to skirmish and defend the anthill, I mean fort, from the defensive positions in front.
The battle commenced with an artillery duel of a round or two. The assault on the sand box, I mean fort, began, as we watched from the beach. The 54th Mass led the assault, but there were not enough of them present to really
create an effect. Their color guard survived and were taken into the "fort as prisoners. Their silk color is most beautiful, and I can see why they did not fall, wanting to protect it.
The Federal army seemed to commit their entire force almost immediately, rather than assault in waves. Our left wing fought them almost to a standstill.
We of the right wing had pretty much just stood there. We should have manning the "fort", but with the mountain howitzers in place, there was scarcely room for a platoon front. We were placed into a column of platoons, and marched around by the right flank, one platoon at a time, fronted at the "fort" caused to fire one volley, and to return to the column of platoons. It was a bit awkward until I figured out that it was pointless to return to a column, and just kept marching around the circle by the right flank. We spent quite a bit of time marching around in a circle.
I understand the desire to try to involve all companies in the action. In a real (historic) situation, one platoon would have been stationed on the "wall", and all the others would have loaded muskets and handed them up t the men on the firing line. Obviously this is not possible with reenactors.
Unfortunately, the result was that we had no real part in the action, and due to having to march in a circle, couldn't even watch any longer. Fortunately, there seemed to be more laughing at the absurdity of it all than there was real grumbling.
The dreary activity made the battle seem endless, although it couldn't have been much more than half an hour. Finally, mercifully, it ended. On a positive note, the blue clad bodies strewn dead in front of whatever it was we were supposed to be defending.
Those of you who have read my previous reports know that I try to take a positive outlook, and attempt to report on that which makes a battle good. I am sorry to say that in this case, there simply was no good in this fiasco.
The spectators were charged $10 a head to view this. I am not sure for whom I feel more sorry, those who are learned enough to realize that they wasted their money in terms of seeing history recreated, or those who are not learned and may well think they witnessed a realistic recreation of this assault. Either way, we did not participate in a good service to reenacting that evening!
I do not blame CS or US command, who made what they could of a bad situation, or the engineers, who can only work within the means at their disposal. I can also see the problem from the side of the event organizers, who, by the time we arrived on Thursday, were backed into a corner by the advance sale, and could not have canceled it. Yet, we should all learn that if we do not have resources to bring off a grand plan, it would be much better to try something on a smaller scale. Lets be sure that our grand ideas are tempered with realism.
We returned to our camp and settled in for the evening. Dinner was unusually late due to the beach thing. By the time it was served, we were ravenous, and enjoyed the delicious repast all the more. Light faded quickly, and we settled in for that time of the event which is most dear to so many of us, Saturday night. The skies were mostly clear, and thus we had a cooler, though still comfortable evening. We had the stars in the skies and the company of good friends. In short, all anyone really needs.
Sunday dawned bright and lovely, warmer, but still comfortable. Morning parade and drill were held at 8:00 AM, this time focusing on skirmish deployment by platoon and firing while marching by the flank, in hope that we might get the opportunity to use the techniques that afternoon.
Several of our members went to the activities tent for a Catholic service at 9:00AM. While worship is always good, some were a little disappointed to find that it was a modern service, after having participated or heard about the excellent period Mass (in Latin) that was held the preceding week at Neshaminy. Many of the rest of us attended the Protestant service offered by our new battalion chaplain, Hal Hoffner of Morton's Battery. It was an excellent service and a great way to start off the day.
Our next formation was for dress parade. There was a slight miscommunication which led us to form on the road where all other formations had taken place, while the headquarters staff awaited us on the drill field. Since the companies are supposed to arrive on the parade ground individually, we decided to send Captain Perkins with the color company and band, while the rest arrived one by one a moment or two later.
Captain Perkins formed the parade in authoritative fashion, and took us through what was perhaps the finest dress parade we have ever had. It was a most impressive performance all around, but as the parade centers on the adjutant, Captain Perkins's bars shone most brightly on this day.
We proceeded to inspection, which was done correctly according to CS Regulations, in a column of companies, a nice addition to our already impressive period system.
We proceeded directly to battalion drill, which went well, much along the lines of Saturday's. There was a little grumbling concerning the number of caps expended, but I am sure that as our new firing patterns become more familiar, the need to snap caps in drill will diminish.
It was also pointed out to me by a couple of soldiers, that between dress parade and drill, we were out on the field for over an hour. I had not noticed myself, but it was true. It might be well to shorten the Sunday drill a bit, since we will be having dress parade. Still, this is an early event and there was much to do.
We returned to camp at around 11:00 AM, and with a later battle there was a goodly time for rest and lunch. Volunteers for a fatigue party had been called for, and Pvt. Valiant (Harwood) and my cousin, Pvt. Elisha T. Russell, volunteered for the duty. However, by the time they reported, the wagon had already left, so they returned to camp. I did notice an odd thing on looking into my tent; my uniform trunk was in complete disarray! I questioned the NCO on duty, 2nd Sergeant Dorsey (Matt Svejk), but he had seen no unusual activity.
Lunch ended, we formed for the afternoon fight. Again we marched out, cheered by the band's music. We marched once more behind the tree's, out of sight of the spectators. Major Duckett remained in command of the left wing, Captain Tim Cipriani of the 4th Alabama received a field promotion to lieutenant colonel, taking command of the left wing.
Again, the left wing took the lead, while the right wing waited out of sight. Companies of the left wing were deployed to attack the flanks of the Federal army. I cannot report on the beginning of the battle, as I could not see it. I am, however, happy to report that our ability to stack arms has taken a quantum leap as a result of this event!
When the time finally came, Lt. Colonel Cipriani moved our wing, now a battalion, smartly by the left flank. Thinking quickly and realizing there was no direct command to form line to the front, he formed us by Companies into Line, and then Forward into Line, all at the double quick.
The impulsion of the double quick, and the unfamiliarity of performing the maneuvers by the left flank and then left in front caused a loss of parade ground precision, but no appreciable loss of time. Lt. Colonel Cipriani's commands were well thought out, and he has my compliments.
Once deployed, we waited as skirmishers from the erstwhile left wing delayed the Federal advance. We then opened fire, firing by company, by rank, and by battalion. There was little room for maneuvering, and so it became another slugfest. The left wing retired and reformed the battalion. In a lightning move of artillery, to which the mountain howitzer is so well suited, both guns were quickly deployed on our right, and with a raking fire of canister, won us the day!
We returned to camp, and after a rest began to strike the tents. Vehicle access to camp was very easy soon after the event, making the job easier. Even without Miss Liz's usual assistance (she had another engagement in Hartford, and had to leave at noon) but the usual help of my comrades in arms, my part of camp was struck and packed in two hours, and I was actually able to assist Corporal and Mrs. Grogan (Dan and Janet O'Connor, our blacksmith and cook) with the end of their packing.
In considering the future of the event, I would like to quote from my report of a year ago:
"This event has become a staple of our season, but needs some looking at. While more space may be available at the park, it may indeed be time for event organizers to look for a new venue, in the interest of keeping the event fresh. It would be a shame to see interest wane because the site is getting stale. In any event, the 1st will certainly continue to support the event"
Little has changed from this event. The attempt to add something fresh led to the misbegotten "Debacle on the Beach".
I fear the success of the event with the public may lead to complacency. Sooner or later the difficulty in providing a satisfactory military experience will take a toll. We will continue to come. The event is less than an hour away for most of the unit, amenities are pretty well provided. (No problems with the toilets this year.) I would strongly recommend, however, that event organizers start looking at alternative sites now, before interest from reenactors begins to wane.
Captain, Co. H
1st Maryland Infantry