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Brig. General Joseph Leo, commanding
1st Division, ANV,
Herewith I submit my report of the operations of Co. D, 16th Alabama Infantry, in the actions at Bentonville, North Carolina, this 17th through 19th, inst..
A small detachment of four soldiers and one civilian made the 10-11 hour trip for this ANV event. Most arrived Thursday, but I arrived at 5:30 PM on Friday. One might dread arriving then for a large event, but I spent all of
about five minutes at registration, and was directed quickly and easily to the Confederate camp.
While it might have been difficult locating the 16th's camp in the large wooded area, the first faces I chanced to see were Lt. Colonels Boyle and Huddleston, who directed to the general vicinity.
Camp was set up most expeditiously. As I had packed relatively light (dog tent only) I was able to load in in one trip, with assistance of members of the 1st, 1st Sergeant Thomas Armstrong Jones (Chris Svejk), Cpl. and Mrs.
William Purnell, (Emile and Sue Roux), and Pvt. William Gardner (Bill Maisano). Setting up camp in 15 minutes was an unusual and pleasant experience for me. It left the remainder of the evening free for a visit to
the sutlers. I was most taken by the new bowlers that had been purchased by Sgt. Jones (Svejk) , Cpl. Purnell (Yeti) and Lt. Col. Boyle. There was nothing for it but to make a trip to Dirty Billy's for a new chapeau!
The camp being set in the woods, did not permit proper company streets, but was appointed most comfortably. We shared the general area and the fire pit with our friends from the 55th Virginia. While it was great to see Capt. Rich Rathbun again, I was for a moment, transported back to the 135th Gettysburg, by the sound of a language other than English around the campfire. Four of the six private soldiers who accompanied Capt. Rathbun were from the Montreal platoon, and of course spoke French! They were delightful fellows, and it was a great pleasure to get to know them.
We were also camped next to our friends from Lee's Light Horse, and near the smaller version of battalion staff. With yourself detached to brigade command, Lt. Colonel Boyle took command of our small battalion, I served as
second in command, and we had the excellent services of Lt. Ed Forquer of the 16th NCT as our adjutant. While not camped with us, we were also joined by Capt. Tom Rathbun and the Middlesex Artillery. In all, we had good
representation for such along trip. A very pleasant, though chilly evening was spent by all in renewing our friendships after the long winter interval.
Tired by the travel exertion, I retired relatively early. Unfortunately, not all in the camps around us shared that desire, and sleep was difficult, despite the cozy confines of my small tent.
We arose early Saturday morning, which was still quite cold. Company drill was set for 7:00 AM. As I had no company responsibilities, I went to observe the drill of the composite company of the 55th Virginia and 16th
Alabama, with Sgt. Jones (Svejk) as 1st sergeant, and under command of Captain Rathbun of the 55th. It was pleasure to see these two fine men work so smoothly together. Close order drill was reviewed, and skirmish drill
was instructed well. The soldiers of the two companies worked well together, despite the language barrier.
8:00 AM brought us to brigade drill. We were brigaded with the 2nd Battalion, with whom we had worked so well at Cedar Creek last year. It was fine to renew those relatively new friendships. Since the brigade was quite
small, it was decided to drill it as though it were one battalion, a wise move, given the numbers involved. While the winter's rust clearly showed, as did our unfamiliarity with the 2nd Battalion, Still, we reviewed basic
evolutions and drilled with good effect for the first event of the season. Brigade drill was followed by a brief independent battalion drill. Our small battalion was augmented on Saturday by a small company of Georgia
artillery, whose historic counterparts had fought as infantry in the battle.mCol. Boyle and I drilled the small battalion for a short time, but, having covered many evolutions in brigade drill, we then returned to camp for a
At 9:30 the division was formed for the morning tactical. This tactical was rather different than most, in that it was a strictly refereed engagement, with modern military personnel as referees. Effectiveness of weaponry was
carefully considered, using such excellent texts as Paddy Griffith's Battle Tactics of the Civil War. Casualties were given cards describing their wounds and conditions. It was interesting to note that in the packet of
50-60 casualty cards carried by the referee assigned to us, there were only four clean kills, an accurate reflection of casualties during the war, where most deaths occurred after the battles from wounds.
We marched out onto the battlefield (yes, the actual field), and formed the army for a photo opportunity. I found it a bit of an annoyance, but I suppose the images will prove worth it.
We then moved off out and onto a dirt road, which quickly turned into a path through a swamp. Our engineers had thrown up some corduroy and nice little bridge to facilitate our passage. We could feel the small bridge shake as we marched, reminding me of period accounts of troops being marched over makeshift bridges at the route step, in order that the impulse of the cadenced step might not shake the bridge apart.
We reached the end of the narrow road, where we came to a field. There we were joined by the Middlesex Artillery, with their mountain howitzer. We were given our orders to deploy along and hold the road. We sent
skirmishers out into the woods on both sides. The 6th Battalion troops were sent out as skirmishers to protect the left flank. In the woods we encountered Federal skirmishers in some force. After a brief fire fight, dismounted troopers were sent across our front to deal with the danger of the intended flanking maneuver. Our skirmishers were recalled, and we rejoined the main body of the brigade on the road.
Our advance along the road was interrupted by one scare. Lt. Col. Carl Berenholtz of ANV staff attempted to ride around the side of our advancing infantry, but rode into the swamp, burying his horse to the breast.
Fortunately, neither rider nor mount were seriously injured. Knowing that no harm was done, it was a rather amusing memory.
We soon were met with Federal infantry on our front. The Middlesex gun proved a great asset. However, they were restricted in North Carolina to a three minute drill. The lapse of time was covered by infantry volleys in
quick succession. One company would fire, fall back and reform, while the next advanced to the firing line. When the alternating infantry and artillery fire drove back the enemy, we advanced as a body, the Middlesex
howitzer moving quickly and easily with us. With this brilliant tactic on your part, we drove the Federals out of the road and into the open field.
After a brief rest, we were soon into the fray once more, this time advancing into the field and forming line of battle. The howitzer continued to move with us in a manner to which we have become accustomed in New
England, but which was a surprise and revelation in this venue.
The fight ended with a Confederate victory so complete that it was called an hour and half before planned. I feel that our small battalion in our small brigade played a major part [in his victory. I would especially like to
compliment the soldiers of the Middlesex Artillery and Capt. Tom Rathbun, for helping us to show the ANV exactly how a mountain howitzer can be used to best effect as infantry support.
In all, this was easily the best large scale tactical in which I have ever participated. The referees kept firm control, and we were spared the 15 minute firefights at 25 feet into which these affairs so often devolve. It
would be nice to see this concept continue.
The plan had been for us to fight the tactical, have an hour for lunch in the field, and then fight the spectator battle in the afternoon. Our victory was so complete, that we were faced with a two and a half hour
lapse. We filled some of this time with a nice stroll up the road to a secluded field. We stayed there for about 45 minutes before the chilly wind drove us back down the road to the cotton field that was to serve us for the
battle. On our trip back down the path, we a newly created sign, naming the swamp as "Carl's Swamp."
When we arrived at a resting point, several of us picked a ball or two of Bentonville cotton as a souvenir.
After the high of the morning, the spectator fight recreating Morgan's Stand, was a bit of a let down. Of course, we have all read our history books, so we could hardly have expected a smashing victory. Realizing that
our fate was sealed, we none the less formed our thin line in the woods opposite the Federal field fortifications. At the command we charged out of the woods, formed line of battle, and engaged in a firefight with the
entrenched Federal troops. Having no cover, our line was shattered, and we withdrew to the woods to reform. We attacked a second time, this time attempting to push forward closer to the Federal fortification. As I charged forward, trying to lead our men to the wall, I was struck, and met an unfortunate and untimely demise.
On my miraculous recovery, we marched the battalion back to camp and a well deserved rest. With the trees, we had a bit of a wind break, and I finally warmed up a bit, and was able to get a bit a rest, reviving me for the weekend. Col. Huddleston graciously invited Col. Boyle and myself to share dinner with him, a delicious stew, which we learned had been largely prepared by Zachary Huddleston! Both meal and socialization were excellent.
The day had never truly warmed, and as the last light faded it became very chilly indeed. Fortunately, there was ample wood, which burned well. It was only possible to warm one side at a time, but it was good to share the fire with the lads of the 55th, and Col. Boyle who came to join us. It seemed that all in camp had been exhausted by the days activities, and one by one, most retired unusually early.
I took a last walk over to sutlers' row, but found almost all had closed their doors by 10:00 PM, trying to find some warmth behind closed flaps, I imagine. I returned to camp, and even I was abed before 11:00. Evidently
most of the revelers had done so as well.
We were again up early on Sunday. Many soldiers conceived the idea of walking to vehicles to get an early start on packing up. I took one trip in the morning, arriving back just in time for our morning battalion formation and dress parade. The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion does an excellent job with that task, and despite the rust of winter camp, the parade ran pretty well.
The 2nd Battalion does inspection after morning parade in the form as specified in Confederate Regulations, forming a column of companies and opening ranks. I have used this form myself, at Confederate Memorial Day
and at South Hero last year and find it looks good and works well. I would recommend that we adopt it. Unfortunately, we were unable to complete inspection before the division was formed for the Grand Review.
The tradition of this review was born at the 135th Sharpsburg, and is to honor all members of the ANV who passed on in the preceding year. It was a substantial march to the field, but the only alternative was to parade in
review on the drill field/spectator parking lot, hardly a fitting site for such a ceremonial. The review passed well, and we returned to camp.
I made a last trip through the sutlers, and joined the trek to the vehicles, which, by now had taken on the appearance of a stream of refugees! I returned to camp just in time to attend Divine services at General Clark's
headquarters. The pastor delivered a good down ho-me spirit filled service. Towards the end, he offered three reprints of period New Testament's to those who would promise to study them. I did not go up, as Col. Boyle
gifted me with a copy a couple of years ago. I was pleased to note, however, that our own Capt. Jim Rocha took advantage of the offer. Good reading, Jim!
After the service, there was time for one more journey to the "Refugee camp", and then the formation for the afternoon's action, the fight for the Morris Farm. This was the highlight of the weekend's activities, as not
only was it on the actual battlefield, and on the date 135 year's later, this was, as near as can be confirmed scheduled to begin at the exact time of day! Our mini-battalion, down now to two thin companies, ( perhaps not
historically inaccurate for that point of affairs) formed up and marched, with the idea that this would probably be our final battle, one way or another!
For my great-great grandfather, Thomas Armstrong Jones, this had indeed been his last battle, since Joe Johnston surrendered the valiant but star-crossed AOT soon after. He had enlisted as a young private nearly four years before, August, 1861, and had served without break in the 16th Alabama throughout the war. He served most of these years a 1st Sergeant of Co. D, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant after the battle of Franklin, in recognition of his excellent service, and in no small measure to the fact that most of the corps of officers had been killed in that horrendous conflict. To think that there are those who would have us deny, and even dishonor him and his compatriots! These men not only fought with all they had, most of them lost all that they attained before the war, returned home, and rebuilt their shattered lives. I salute their courage in fighting to so bitter an end, long after the cause could be won.
The battle start was delayed, but given the inconsistency of timekeeping in the period, I am sure we were close enough. The action itself was a near repeat of Morgan's Stand, so far as we were concerned. We staged from a
different tree line, and made multiple doomed assaults. Again and again we were repulsed and dispersed, only to reform and strike again, our ranks, this to begin, becoming thinner each time. I forget how many times we made
the attempt, but finally, weary but determined, we refused to retreat, pushed ahead, but had not the strength, either in numbers, body, or heart. We all fell at least 40 yards from the heavily defended wall. So ended the last offensive action of the noble Army of Tennessee!
The battle raged as we lay for perhaps 15 more minutes. When it closed, it was quite an experience to lie motionless on that hallowed ground, the mournful cries of bugles resounding from one corner or the field to another.
After that moving moment, we arose and tried to reform our brigade. We located most of the 6th Battalion, but the 2nd had been so scattered that we picked up only a fraction. Still, we marched back in good order. As we went, it was cheering to be hailed by a number of our comrades in blue, who had also made the long trip.
As we passed the parking lot, command kindly offered to let any who wished fall out there. Most of our people had arranged for Monday off, and chose to march back to camp. Not having that luxury, I fell out.
I had hoped to pack completely in the morning and leave directly, but I found that I did have to make a return trip to camp. I had dreaded the horrible traffic that would surely ensue at the close of the event, but was
astonished when a most helpful security man directed me around the back way, and I was able to drive in with no traffic, and park all of 30 yards from our camp. 15 minutes of loading and as many for good-byes, and I was on my way home by 3:30! To be sure, the one state highway leading back to I-95 was very slow, but nothing compared to the horrible memories of trying to leave the 135th Sharpsburg and Gettysburg events.
There many to thank for this event. Our two company commanders, Lt. Sean Stevenson of Lee's Light Horse and Capt. Rich Rathbun of the combined 55th-16th, are both to commended for their able efforts. Capt. Tom Rathbun and his men of the Middlesex Artillery must receive mention for the marvelous performance in the tactical, the military highlight of the weekend. Lt. Col. Boyle, my great friend who served most ably in battalion
command, and Col. Huddleston, well, for being Steve Huddleston. Steve your presence in our camps has been sorely missed.
General, I compliment you for your firm presence and command on the field. Your strategic insight in the tactical was more than impressive, it was stunning.
I would also like to thank and compliment each and every soldier and civilian from the battalion who made the arduous journey. I hope that you found it as rewarding as I
Most importantly, I would like to thank Chris Svejk. In serving so ably as 1st sergeant of the company, we was representing my great great grandfather, Thomas Armstrong Jones. Since I could not do myself at this event, I could leave his memory in no better hands than those of Chris. He showed that, while we all know him as the finest 1st sergeant in the ANV, there none finer in the AOT as well!
As to future, this event is only held once every five years, on the major anniversaries. It was excellent run, again showing, as did Cedar Creek last year, that an event can be manageably big and still have the big event
excitement, without all of the mega-event hassles. While it is too far away to be a likely candidate for a max effort for us, I hope we can convince more than a few more of the hardy and faithful to make the trip with us for
Frederick Ashford (Lee Jones)
Major, 16th Alabama Volunteer Infantry
The Southern Legion,
1st Division, ANV proudly representing the AOT