I arrived late Thursday afternoon along with my battalion Sgt Major (John Buker) and one other passenger. We located Division HQ and quickly found that no specific camp layout had been made yet. Fortunately we were prepared and quickly paced off distances for stakes marking the company streets and officer's row. The few troops who had arrived pitched their tents and we spent the rest of the evening trying to stay dry in the face of a cold mist.
Friday dawned fair and cool and we took the opportunity to run into town for breakfast and visit the sutlers before taking the vehicle to reenactor parking. After returning to camp the pace of arrivals began to pick up after noon. However, there were still too few people on site to justify filling out strength reports until after 3 PM. Sgt Major Buker and I had made guard mount planning a big part of our pre-event preparation, so we were ready when our first Brigade guard was due to march at 4 PM. This preparedness was much appreciated by Division. We maintained our own Battalion-level guard after Brigade released our men at 7 and I am confident our perimeter was not infiltrated during this evening. The rest of the time was spent getting our various units settled in and prepared for Saturday's early-morning festivities.
Reveille sounded promptly at 4:30 AM Saturday morning. As briefed, the battalion arose, companies formed ranks and weapons were inspected. After forming the battalion in line, arms were stacked and the men allowed to return to camp to pack belongings and cook breakfast. Two patrol companies, including our own Co. A, were also dispatched at this time. We formed on the stacks at the bugle signal and were on the road to "Pottsville" by 7 AM. Having arrived near the field of battle where the cavalry were already engaged, Col Lavis called the battalion commanders together and discussed his plans. Our battalion was to lead, with 1st Bn on our right once we deployed and 3rd in reserve, after which we would advance as ordered. Upon returning to the line, I formed the battalion in close column, left in front and advanced to a ridge just behind the cavalry skirmishers. We deployed in this covered terrain and waited for orders which were not long in coming. Two battalions of enemy infantry were reported advancing to support their cavalry, and our task was to stop them. Unfurling the colors, we advanced in line and opened fire, supported by 1st Bn on the right. We received orders to press forward and accordingly double-quicked in as close as safety and prudence allowed, then halted and began firing as rapidly as possible. We held this ground for a short time then were ordered to retire, sending the colors to the rear and making use of the "disperse". The enemy pressed forward and we were highly gratified to see 3rd Bde arrive and take position along a fence connecting with and at right angles to our left. I felt sure that we had the enemy dead to rights and the efficient use of musketry would soon drive them from the field. Unfortunately, it was not that easy as each Secesh infantryman had evidently brought a week's worth of ammunition along and was determined not to quit the field until it was expended. Further, none of them seemed to be overkeen on "dying" until this had been accomplished. Having thus assessed the situation, I felt it might be a good opportunity for my field officer (Maj Minton) to gain some experience in battalion command, and therefore went down with a "leg wound". I did not pay close attention to the rest of the battle, but the Rebs eventually exhausted their ammunition. We collected casualties, cleared weapons and marched back to camp to prepare for the next phase of the day's activities. Co A had rejoined us during the battle and their captain (Ed Mandes) reported the patrol had been unfruitful.
After a short rest, we retrieved bedrolls and formed on the stacks of arms for the march to our next night's camp. At this point we were joined by Chris Anders' 2nd Bn, which for a combination of reasons was severely understrength and was seeking a home for the remainder of the weekend. These troops were admitted to our ranks as "Co G" and Lt Col Anders ably served as right wing commander for the duration. Having marched to our campsite in a meadow, we formed line, stacked arms, broke by right of companies to the rear into column, opened ranks and welcomed the men to their new home. Bedrolls were thrown down into place and the officers formed their own sections a little further in rear of the stacks. The adjutant, Sgt Major and I deemed the camp sufficiently remote to dispense with battalion guard duty unless requested by higher command.
After giving the troops a few minutes to settle in, we formed on the stacks for battalion drill. We covered basic matters first, including general alignments and the use of guides, and the posts of officers when advancing and retreating in line. We practiced advancing and retreating by right of companies, believing we would need this maneuver during Sunday's scenario to go through an artillery position. We also ployed into close column doubled on the centre, and deployed into line, believing this might be needed for a rumored Brigade dress parade. We finished up with some instruction in a "real" countermarch, as opposed to the "reenactor" version, which was enlightening for many of the troops. Brigade drill did not occur, so we let the troops relax until time to form for the Saturday afternoon battle scenario.
Our task for this battle was initially to provide skirmishers to support the cavalry, then to support an artillery battery on the Federal left during the final withdrawal. We were the extreme left of the brigade with our left flank close to the guns. We found there was just sufficient room for the entire brigade in line once the skirmish companies had been pulled out. Upon orders, we sent our skirmish companies forward intending to form two lines. Unfortunately, due to the proximity of the guns and maybe misunderstood orders, they headed straight forward and became intermixed with those of 2nd Bde. Two fleet-footed messengers (Lt Col Anders and Brigade ADC Dangel) quickly corrected their course and got them into position. Maj Minton was then sent forward to relieve Anders and take tactical control of our skirmish line. The skirmishers were well handled, and did their best, but unfortunately the enemy came on in such strength and unexpectedly (due to the rolling ground) that they were compelled to fall back precipitously. At this point the enemy cavalry, having driven ours off, experienced "target fixation" and pressed in determined to outflank and surround the skirmishers. Had they bothered to look to the right they would have seen a whole battery of fieldpieces at extremely close range, and had those pieces been discharged probably no horse would have been left standing. In their quest for laurels they also contemptuously ignored several volleys from our line. It was only when our own cavalry reformed and approached to within pistol shot of their rear that they decided to retire to their own side of the field. I hope no spectators were watching this part of the action, or at least none took it seriously.
The "showboat Kevlar" cavalry having cleared our front, we braced ourselves for the advance of a line of infantry, which took full advantage of some dead ground for cover and appeared to mean business. We had been told to expect three feints in this sector, followed by a fourth determined assault which would break us. This first enemy line pressed in energetically, but was well briefed, took casualties and retreated when they perceived our determination to hold. All was not well on our right flank, however. We had not been able to see much due to folds in the ground, but quantities of powder smoke and noise had told us the right of our line was at least moderately engaged during our skirmishing with the cavalry. Having driven off the line to our front a glance to the right told the "rest of the story"; evidently our right and center were already broken, and the Secesh were on our flank and heading into our rear! It looked as if the timing of our break to the rear might require a forward adjustment.
Things became a bit confused at this point. Wishing to speak to me, Col Lavis had his bugler sound our prelude and recall, which I took for an order to disperse and establish a new line. Fortunately the enemy in our front were still retreating and were unable to take advantage of our temporary confusion. Col Lavis attempted to form line with the remains of 3rd Bde, but they continued to retreat and we were in very real danger of being hemmed in. Upon a bugle signal we dispersed again and successfully formed line in a clear area some 100 yards to the rear, then commenced firing again once our front was clear of friendly troops. Lt Col Anders remarked to me that he didn't see how this scenario was going to end, upon which I replied that it would end sooner for some than others, and promptly went down with a "chest wound". I heard him telling Lavis shortly after that he had no effective troops left, and the remnants of our line fell back, leaving me between the lines. When the engagement ended our troops were badly scattered and the battalion could not be reformed. I took command of the troops I could find, cleared weapons and marched them back to camp.
A Brigade staff meeting was held and we decided to limit guard duty to 7-11 PM in order to let the troops rest and refit. Like several others, I took the opportunity for a short nap in the warm sunshine, and succeeded in getting my feet dry for the first time that day. Our energetic Sgt Maj and Adjutant promptly formed the guard for duty at 7. Passed were issued to those soldiers requesting them and those staying in the "mixed" camp or our Friday tented camp were dismissed. However, at least half of our men remained in the remote camp during the night.
Sunday morning reveille was delayed until first light, about 7 AM. Troops were given time to cook breakfast and pack up, then we doused the fires and marched back to the tented camp for "General's Time". Some of my men had expressed misgivings about these activities before the event; however, once the General began his speech and the games began they swiftly got into the spirit of things. I am happy to report that the Battalion took top honors in the individual loading and firing competition, and also company drill by the bugle. Great spirit was also shown in the relay race, tug-of-war and company loading and firing. Col Lavis having requested each battalion to hold a dress parade, we accomplished that directly after the games and gave the men a couple of hours off before formation for the afternoon battle.
For Sunday's engagement we played the role of the 79th PA, the last Federal line in support of an artillery battery. We marched into position with plenty of time to spare, which gave me the opportunity to confer with General Dolive, Col Lavis and Col Dal Bello before the action opened. I am glad I had the chance to do this as each commander had a slightly different understanding of the scenario and confusion could easily have resulted. Once the battle opened, our task was mainly to wait patiently until our moment arrived. We lost sight of Dal Bello's troops due to the intervening hill and the General had to give us a reminder to advance; however, once in position our line held firm and stopped the enemy's attempts to cross the fence lines to our front. Again, the troops opposite us were well handled and well briefed, pressed in aggressively but safely, and retreated when it became obvious a further advance was futile. A local truce ensued with both sides sending individuals forward to recover wounded.
We thought the action was over at this point, when what do we see to our left front but two battalions of Rebel infantry, walking nonchalantly up the hill right into the teeth of our artillery. It was hard to believe this action was scripted as only an insane man would have attempted to charge these guns. However, it looked like touch and go for a moment since the guns did not appear to be loaded and no organized infantry support was in sight. I was contemplating a change of front to the left, which would have given us beautiful enfilade on the attackers, when the support duly appeared and began pouring musketry into them. With no fire aimed in our direction we were content to remain as spectators, keeping an eye on our late antagonists who were hunkered down behind the fence rails watching the show from the opposite side of the field.
Eventually this action died down, and the Rebel troops opposite us rose, fired a volley over our heads and then a volley of caps. That seemed a good idea to us, so we repeated the "salute" and then broke ranks as previously briefed. No reason to hold up the troops with further "hails and farewells" as we were already close to the parking lot entrance.
Conclusions and A Concern:
One of the feelings I took away from this event on the drive home was a sense of how well different units had pulled together as a team. In addition to our “regular” Army of the Ohio units, we had two companies of men from Florida we had never seen before. We were also unexpectedly joined mid-event by Chris Anders’ “Eastern campaigner” battalion. We had many different kinds of troops, ranging all the way from “authentics” to the gentleman staying in “mixed” camp who had to have an IV meal before attending the Saturday morning tactical. Yet come he did – great spirit was shown by all. We deliberately mixed troops from different units on guard details and I think everyone benefited from the chance to learn from each other.
Before Sunday’s battle, I thanked the troops for their effort and cooperation, and told them no matter what the Internet pundits might say, I was proud of them. Sad to report, my worries about the Internet were all too prophetic. Some of the Forum discussions became so strident that a member of the Western Brigade was moved to ask if he was a “farb” just because he fell in with the “wrong” unit, even though he had dressed the same and acted the same as the AoP. Unfortunately, two members of the AoP essentially answered in the affirmative, i.e. no matter how well-dressed or well-behaved, if you don’t fall in with the “right” people it essentially “doesn’t count”.
I hope these views do not represent the majority opinion of the AoP, or of its leadership. While it is natural for every soldier in the army to feel his battalion is best, and friendly competition is helpful, fostering ill feeling and division is not. Belittling people who are trying to improve their camping impression and military activities, and treating them as permanent second-class citizens is not the way to motivate them to continue. I have no interest in having the Army of the Ohio treated as a “replacement pool” to be picked over for those who have “arrived”, and I’m sure that goes for the membership as well. I hope Division, and the AoP leadership particularly, will remind their members that if we are to remain one Division, we must play together as one team.
James M. Ruley
4th Bn, 2nd Bde, 1st Fed Div