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Cedar Creek AAR
Colonel Joseph Leo, commanding
6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
Here is my report of the operations of Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry, in the actions at Cedar Creek, in Middletown, Virginia, October 14-17.
On Thursday afternoon, an excellent turnout of 19 soldiers and three civilians of Co. H began to arrive on site. The drive was not as long as feared, and check in at registration was efficient and convenient. The campsite, unfortunately, left something to be desired, being most hilly. Our quick thinking and ever active Sgt. Major Sullivan (John Maloney) made the most efficient use of the space allotted, and managed to get the battalion camped in reasonable comfort. The Virginia evening was cold, but we passed the night well.
Most reenactors began to arrive on Friday. Our folks in camp decided to take a sight seeing tour of this historic area, while the rest of the army gathered. I remained in camp to assist the new arrivals, and took advantage of the opportunity to visit the sutlers. This season has been a very light one for sutler attendance, so this Sutlers Row seemed like a candy factory! Many purchases were made.
The schedule called for a Friday afternoon march through Middletown, followed by a battle. This trend toward three-day events is a problem. Following the pattern of Sharpsburg and Gettysburg 140th's, organizers seem to think this is a requirement for a major event. Clearly this is not so, as most of the ANV had yet to arrive at the scheduled time. Many reenactors are having enough difficulty getting Saturday and Sunday free for events.
General Clark wisely decided not to participate in the march. The idea of not participating in the battle was discussed, but it was decided to go ahead out of courtesy to the event organizers. My company was not at strength, as the sightseers had not yet returned, so the 1st's soldiers were combined with the 16th North Carolina, and I took command of a Canadian contingent, consisting of the 21st Virginia and friends. In all, we managed to field three companies for the fight, a larger number than any other battalion in the ANV.
Perhaps the less said of the battle, the better. It was a simple melee. Both armies simply took the field and collided. We very quickly found ourselves at distances both historically inaccurate and unsafe. As the ANV withdrew, we were posted as a rear guard. Our gallant stand allowed the rest of the ANV to withdraw safely, but led to our unfortunate and untimely demise.
On our return to camp, we found it filling up nicely, with most reenactors following the standard pattern of Friday afternoon arrival. Our sightseers returned, rather emotional over the history they had experienced. In all I think they gained much more from their excursion than we did by fighting the battle. The mid October day turned quickly to night, as we enjoyed the spectacle of vehicles sliding around the field in their effort to climb the
steep hills upon which we were camped. The social aspects of camp were fine as always, and the chill was not nearly as bitter as the night before. A comfortable night was spent.
Saturday dawned, clear and chilly. We held our usual 8:00 AM company parade and drill, reviewing close order by both flanks and skirmish drill. The drill field was most awkward due the steep inclines, but only one small accident occurred. As we deployed our skirmish line forward, Pvt. Schliephake (the Screaming Drunkard) took a tumble. As we helped him up, we surreptitiously checked his breath. It seems the uneven ground was the culprit, not the merrymaking of the night before.
Battalion drill was held at 10:00, according to our standard plan. We dressed as three companies, the 1st MD as first company, 21st Miss-12th GA-21st-VA and friends as second, and the 16th NCT-55th VA as third (color) company, with the Sumter Rifle, Brian Patton, as color bearer. This unusual arrangement was to allow for two companies from the 2nd Battalion, as the left wing. However, there was a miscommunication, and so we drilled with three companies. The odd placement of the color and the ungainly size of the second company did cause difficulties in drill. Still it was not without good effect.
It should be noted that battalion members Morton's Battery and Jackson's Flying Artillery were also in attendance, and were, of course, detached to the artillery battalion.
The division was formed at 1:30 for a 3:00 battle, an unnecessary use of time, since we sat on the field for over half an hour before engaging. We were pleased to be joined by the companies from the 2nd Battalion, Col. Salmon serving in the ranks under your command. His Lt. Colonel served as commander of the left wing, and Capt. Rich Rathbun served most ably as commander of the right wing, leaving Lt. Ed Forquer in firm command of the 16th-55th.
Once the battle began, we were heavily engaged throughout. We advanced quickly over a small creek (no, not the Cedar Creek) and up a hill. We were quickly met with heavy resistance from our front and right flank. We fought a slow withdrawal and, some of us nearly knee deep in the muddy waters of the stream, held our ground there despite a withering fire from the Federals on the hill, who advanced on us, but could not move us.
We left that position only when ordered to march by the right flank by division command, in order to move around a small house and up the hill again. As we advanced rapidly up the hill, I was wounded, leaving 1st Sgt. Dorsey (Chris Svejk) in command. Despite my wound, I struggled up the hill, dragging myself along. I had reached about 30 paces behind the line, where the battalion was engaged in a fierce firefight. I saw that my entire
company was down, either dead or wounded. I started back down the hill, assisted by a surgeon, where I was soon joined by the remnants of the gallant 6th Battalion, down to about 15 men. Torn apart, but still filled with fighting spirit, we deployed a thin skirmish line and vowed to hold our ground. We fought hard but the overwhelming numbers were too much for us, and we met our untimely demise.
Speaking of numbers, the Federal forces outnumbered us by quite a bit, unusual for Virginia, and making for a very effective battle. In all it was one of the most satisfying battles of my reenacting career.
The sutlers beckoned again, and took up a fair part of the remainder of the afternoon. Our cook for the event was unable to make the trip, so we had a potluck. True to form, even without the planned cook, we had a marvelous meal of stew, porcetta, and vegetables. There was enough for lunch on Sunday as well as Saturday dinner.
With the planned dawn battle, camp was quiet that night, and most retired early. I did spend a bit of time over in the 16th's camp, where I renewed my allegiance as an apostle of Phil, the god of Insufficient Light. The embers of Heck, marked by the flickering of burned out three way bulbs, could almost be seen there in camp.
Most of us were looking forward to reenacting Early's dawn attack, and were disappointed to learn that it was going to be an unscripted fight. We were awoken an hour earlier than planned, since word was received that the Federals were going to be assaulting our camp. Fortunately they did no such thing. It was exhilarating to form line in the dark, but an extra hour would have allowed us to see a little once taking the field. The night march through the cow pasture was also kind of neat, but once we took the field, it was pretty much standing in the dark burning powder for no particular reason. It was unfortunate, since the potential for an exciting experience was wasted by a lack of any real planning. Still, it had its moments.
We returned to camp in time to get another hours sleep at least. Morning company drill was canceled to allow a little more rest. Battalion drill and dress parade was held, with the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion presiding over dress parade in a most able fashion. Drill was most effective and enjoyable, particularly in seeing how well the elements of the two battalions meshed together.
Lunch and a last trip to the sutlers followed. Many of us began to stow gear in preparation for the long trip home. Our ranks were thinned a bit, as one of our soldiers was not feeling well so he and his travel partners had to leave. Still, we formed proudly as part of our battalion at the formation for the afternoon battle. We marched out and formed column of companies, leading the division. We forced our line through the Federal camps, (Early's dawn attack, just a little late) and forced the Federals into a full-scale retreat, bordering on a rout. On we pushed, driving the Federals before us, down the hill and through the small bog. It seemed as though we would return to Maryland!
However, Federal resistance stiffened. (I assume Sheridan arrived to rally the troops, although I didn't see him.) Soon the overwhelming numbers began to wear on our tired troops, and we fell beck. We were so hotly pressed that we had to disperse and rally on the colors at least three times. We finally took a stand near the top of the hill. General Heffner ordered us to withdraw, but by then it was too late. Once again, we met an unfortunate and untimely demise. In all, it was an outstandingly well-planned and executed battle scenario. There were some who were upset at the dispersals, which, although a legitimate drill tactic, does give the appearance of a disordered rout. However, if we are going to reenact actions like Cedar Creek, we must be prepared to reenact the reality of what happened. Early's army was far too small and too worn to stand up against the incredible odds.
On our return to camp, vehicles had already entered, so I took advantage of the opportunity and broke camp. Having traveled light, I was packed and on the road in 1/2 hour! Those who know me will be properly amazed.
This final campaign of the 1999 season was an exceptional event. I believe events of this size to be much more rewarding than the huge mega events to which we have become accustomed. It was easily large enough to give the rush of the huge event, but of a size that allowed all the troops to be actively involved in the fighting. We had large camps, but enough room and easy vehicular access, in spite of the hills. The sutlers were plentiful and varied, but did not require an oxygen mask to survive the sutling experience. The nightmare of registration as we had come to know it at Sharpsburg and Gettysburg, was non-existent. While the gigantic events may have their place, I hope large though manageable scale events such as this will once again generate the excitement among reenactors that they deserve.
Let's see, its four months to Bentonville!
Bradley T. Johnson (Leonidas Jones)
Captain, Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry
Major, 6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
The Southern Legion