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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 recent action at Orwell, VT, September 10-12.
A small detachment of five soldiers and one civilian from Co. H began to arrive on Friday afternoon, in a driving rain. Despite the foul weather and a serious accident in Connecticut, which slowed traffic to a crawl, the drive was still well under four hours. Under good conditions, I would expect 3 1/2 hours from central, Connecticut, a most reasonable drive, considering the quality of the event.
I will point out two small problems. The first, in no way under the control of the event organizers, is that the highway signs on US 4 are almost unreadable at night. We had no problem, as I am familiar with the area, but those new to the area should be forewarned.
Secondly, the camp areas had not been laid out at all by noon-time. For a relatively small event, this was not a serious problem, but if the event grows as I believe it should, this should be addressed.
Camp was set up expeditiously, with the assistance of our friends from the 55th Virginia, and the 16th North Carolina. These two battalion units attended in force, as did the Middlesex artillery, though without their mountain howitzer, and with small detachments from the 1st Maryland, 21st Virginia, and a single soldier from the 12th Georgia. There was also representation from a 4th Battalion unit, the 13th NCT, and two guns from the Bedford Light Artillery, who made the six hour trip from the Buffalo area. Their support and ability to work with new people was quite an asset. The rain subsided as our setup began, and a convivial and comfortable night was spent.
Saturday dawned, a beautiful morning, with reveille at 6:00. By the way, the 2nd Vermont Artillery has an outstanding young bugler. We breakfasted on two pounds of sausage and four dozen eggs donated by locals. Had they realized that Sgt. Jack McCoy and the 21st VA were camping with us, we would likely have had twice as much!
Officers' call was held at 8:30. By agreement with Capt. Rathbun of the 55th and brevet 2nd Lt. Lamitie of the 16th, I took overall Confederate command. Our opposition consisted of the 2nd VT Infantry and Artillery, and three mounted troopers from the 1st VT Cavalry, who were the host units. They were joined by the 5th VT and a contingent from the 20th Maine, who had traveled 8 hours for the event!! This led to roughly equal forces, two infantry companies on each side, and two guns. The cavalry had two green troopers and horses, and so remained on the periphery of the action. The impressions were aided greatly by both federal and Confederate Field Hospitals, with most impressive displays. I should also point out that the 55th has a very promising field music contingent of two fifers. While they are just learning their craft, they played well indeed!
We were informed of a rather amazing schedule, which had not been announced in the pre-event information. They had scheduled two spectator battles a day, with a tactical for Saturday evening. With this heavy schedule, I abandoned any plan of battalion drill, and gave the company commanders an opportunity for company drill, which led us directly into the 11:00 AM battle.
Orwell is a 300 acre site, with both extensive wooded areas for tacticals, and a very large, slightly hilly, open field for spectator battles. It is unfortunate that the cavalry could not be more actively involved, as this is one of the few areas with ample room for them. It also allows artillery to stay active throughout the battles, since infantry can fight outside their safety ranges.
The morning battle was sluggish. Both sides seemed disposed to slog it out for 50 plus minutes, and quick movements did not happen. It had been decided at officers' call, to wing the battles, with no preplanned outcome.
Since the forces were so equal, this resulted in a stalemate.
Before dismissing the battalion, it became clear from talking to the men that four more fights of this nature would exhaust the supply of ammunition before Sunday. Capt. Rathbun, brevet 1st Lt. Lamitie and I went to the Federal command, talking with Capt. Mike Blakeslee and Sgt. Wight Manning. They were most understanding, and it was agreed to limit the other battles, so as to conserve ammunition.
Sgt. Manning indicated that in future years, they would return to two battles, with the evening tactical. Those of you who know my feelings on tacticals on event weekends may be surprised that I endorse this. Th Orwell site presents such outstanding opportunities for tacticals that it will be well worth the extra effort.
The 2:00 PM battle went off much better. Capt. Rathbun and the 55th took the left flank of the gun emplacement, and brevet1st Lt. Lamitie took the right flank. Fighting raged up and down the hill, mostly in skirmish order. The Middlesex Artillery under Capt. Tom Rathbun, without their gun, rendered excellent service in beating off a flank attack on the gum emplacement by both federal cavalry and infantry. The battle was about 30 minutes, and despite being shorter, made a much better show for the spectators.
While Orwell seems a bit off the beaten track, it is not far from Rutland, Middlebury, or Vergennes, and is a very reasonable drive from greater Burlington. Spectator traffic, while not extremely heavy, was steady during the day, and the battles were well attended.
As I walked the camp that afternoon, I heard the sounds of "Ashokan Farewell" being played. I came up behind the 55th's camp, to discover three fiddlers and a violist, if I am not mistaken, two federal and two Confederate, playing together. One of the 55th's fifers is an accomplishe fiddler, and the other is a very promising violist. And all this time, I thought there was talent in the 1st Maryland!
Dinner was cooked with very able assistance of our friends from the 21st VA, Jack McCoy, Jeanne Bourdon, and Lee ? from New Zealand. Not only were there culinary skills appreciated, but it was fine indeed to get to spend a little time with these battalion members from Montreal. Dinner consisted of five whole chickens, three roasted on a spit, and two fried, potatoes and carrots, again all donated by locals. Make a note, if you attend Orwell, do not bring food!!
Since I have been suffering from a bad cold, Capt. Rathbun took out about half the infantry for the tactical. The men were instructed to leave 40 rounds in camp to ensure the next day's fights. For those who may attend this event in the future, I advise bringing many rounds. While the schedule of battles will not be this heavy, I can assure you they will be active.
As it became fully dark, I made a point of bringing each southern New Englander out to look at the sky. A clear night in Orwell is worth the trip by itself! Away from city lights, and with no haze of any kind, the clarity of the stars must be seen to be believed. The Milky Way, which in Connecticut at best resembles cloud cover, was stunning. Even with a mere sliver of a moon, all my lanterns were almost unnecessary.
Capt. Rich Rathbun suited up and took out a detachment of the younger 16th soldiers, who wanted to do outpost duty. Again, Orwell is a beautiful opportunity for such activities. The 1st staged an impromptu cribbage tournament under the fly, and the 16th had music. I spent a very happy time under their fly.
1st Sgt. Lamitie, Sgt. Tichnour, both of the 16th, and I decided to make grand rounds, and scout out the outpost. We arrived without lights, and were promptly challenged by a very alert sentry. Seeing that all was well, we returned to camp. The sociability of the evening, my favorite part of the hobby, was outstanding.
Sunday dawned, yet another beautiful morning, with the excellent bugling aforementioned. Breakfast consisted of the four beef briskets which were not cooked from Saturday dinner, left over sausage form the morning before, and eggs. Cpl. Purnell (The Yetti) took the other two pounds of sausage, and Provost Marshall, Capt. Bass (John Prushko) took the remaining four dozen eggs. The sausage should appear at Millis, while the eggs are going to be pickled for a guest appearance at brick House. Once again, if you go to Orwell (and please do!) don't bring food!!
Divine services were provided in the Federal camp, a slice of Episcopal Morning Prayer, a period sermon , and music. Unfortunately, the service started late and ran long, and I had to leave for battalion drill.
Dress Parade was dispensed with, due to the lack of an adjutant. I regretted that, since we actually had music available, courtesy of the young 55th musicians. Still, we persevered with battalion drill, bringing the 55th and 16th up to speed on our latest developments. The two companies, under Capt. Rathbun and brevet Capt. Lamitie, performed excellently.
Drill brought us right up to the 11:00 AM battle. We decided to take a much more active role in Sunday's fighting, rather than waiting at the top pf the hill for them to come to us. Capt. Rathbun moved quickly and effectively to occupy the depression in the left center of the field. Brevet Capt. Lamitie attempted a charge on the hay bail fortification on the right, but was beaten there by Capt. Blakeslee's brave Vermonters. Unfortunately, a
medical emergency occurred. Cpl. Jacob Lamitie's musket cooked off, causing a burn on his hand. While this was a most unfortunate occurrence, it was good to see the quick response of the Confederate field Hospital personnel. Both field hospitals have 20th century medical personnel, and were well prepared for any problems. It would be great to persuade them to make trips south to our events. Brevet Capt. Lamitie took his son to a nearby
emergency room. I am glad to report that Jacob will be fine.
Unfortunately, a misunderstanding then took place. Ist Sgt. Dorsey (Chris Svejk) now in command of the composite company, saw that his unit was inside of safety range from the Vermonters. He arranged with Capt. Blakeslee to pull back to a safe distance. The captain of the 20th Maine, seeing the movement, decided to move his troops, in effect, although though misunderstanding, improving his position during a medical timeout. Capt. Rathbun, who did not see the composites move, quite rightly declared the 20th dead and out of the fight. They continued to fight up the hill, opposed only by the four brave soldiers of the Middlesex Artillery, under Capt. Tom Rathbun. The Bedford Light took them out with a round of canister. I took the opportunity, away from the fight, to explain the problem, and understand the misunderstanding.
Unfortunately, the 20th, rather than sitting out the rest of the fight, as would have been the wise course, went down the hill and returned to the fight. Capt. Rich Rathbun, seeing them, called an end to the fight. A parley was held, where the misunderstanding was explained to all, and apologies made. It was decided at that point to end the morning fight.
This incarnation of the 20th has some work to do, as this incident shows, but they are not without promise. They reenact in Maine, where they have no opposition to speak of. They need training, but the fact that they traveled 8 hours to this event shows they have the desire to reenact. We should give them a chance. At any rate, let the record state that Capt. Rathbun acted exactly as he should have in the field situation, and was most willing to work out the problem afterwards. He has both my compliments and my esteem.
We gave the troops their ease between the two battles. It is odd that in a weekend so overscheduled, it seemed that there was nothing to do between the fights, except, of course, try to eat the left over food. There was a concern over water, as the tank, while it had water left, was not delivering any. Capt. Blakeslee and 1st Sgt, Jeff Breer quickly attended to the problem. Water, fire wood and porta-johns were not at all a problem for the weekend. By the way, the water tank was Sgt. Breer's creation, and was refilled as needed during the weekend.
For the afternoon battle, Capt. Rathbun and I developed a plan. He would amble out with his company, and flank the Federals with an attack from the woods. Brevet Major Lamitie would divide his forces at the guns, to mask the absence of the 2nd company. Actually, this plan proved advantageous to both sides, as the 20th Maine pulled out, due to their 8 hour drive. The afternoon battle began with roughly equal forces.
Our plan was that brevet Lt. Colonel's Lamitie's forces would draw the federal infantry up the hill, leaving the way clear for the 55th's flanking movement. The Vermonters were too clever to fall into that trap, so we advanced on their guns, brevet Major Lamitie taking position behind the hay bail fortification, and 1st Sgt. Dorsey (Svejk) advancing to the depression on the left. We could hear the 55ths music playing in the tree line, which seemed odd for a surprise maneuver. Still, we were in a good position, though stalled by the Vermonters fierce resistance.
By the way, brevet Colonel Lamitie's position was threatened by Federal cavalry, and he rallied his forces by platoon, a very nice and effective touch.
Suddenly, the 55th charged from the tree line, well to the rear of the Federal gun emplacment. Capt. Rathbun, realizing that he had been spotted by the Federal cavalry, had left his music as a diversion, while his company had moved to a new position. The ruse, worthy of Prince John Magruder, was a great success.
The Vermonters quickly deployed skirmishers to meet the new threat, but the numbers were overwhelming. At the last instance, Capt. Blakeslee saw that I had left a hole in the center ( actually, I was trying to leave a hole for Bedford's guns to continue to fire) and led a desperate charge, taking our guns. At the same time, the 55th took the Federal guns.
Capt. Rich Rathbun, leaving the guns in charge of the Middlesex Artillery and his brother, Capt. Tom Rathbun returned quickly up the hill to retake the guns. However, the quick thinking of 1st Sgt. Dorsey (Svejk) had already accomplished the objective. The victory was ours, and I presented the two captured guns to the brave Middlesex Artillery. (Well, okay, I let the owners take them home, but it does sound good, doesn't it?)
As a hobby aside, all the above action took place in about 20 minutes time. So often I have heard host unit representatives say that a battle must be drawn out for 45 minutes or an hour for the spectators. An action packed 20 or 30 minutes is far more interesting for both spectator and reenactor than an hour of stalling tactics.
Marching back to camp, I stayed with brevet Brigadier General Lamitie's soldiers, as his voice was much the worse for wear. We saluted the spectators as we marched, and as we waited to dismiss, we stayed to present arms to the Federal infantry as they retired.
Brevet Major General Lamitie then gave me the honor of dismissing his troops.
Vehicles were allowed in camp at three for breakdown. While it was sad to say goodbye to the 55th and 16th, who have become close friends, it is good to realize that we will be together again soon. Both units will be at Brick House and Cedar Creek. With at least the 1st, 21st Miss, 16th, and 55th as a nucleus, we should do well at Cedar Creek.
In conclusion, I obviously enjoyed this event. I would strongly recommend its inclusion on the battalion schedule for several reasons:
1. It is a 300 acre site, with tremendous potential for growth.
2. It is a very reasonable drive, judging by the drive home, less than three
hours from central CT in optimal conditions.
3. Being a Federal hosted event, there is a core of Federals who will
4. There is a ton of food!!!
If we can add just another company from Southern units next year, that will be an excellent start. This seems to me to be the best choice for an event to add for our Northern units convenience. The fact that there are already units driving 6-8 hours speaks to the quality of the event. (16th, I know you have do drive about as far as we do for this, but it's a start!) I hope we can consider this for the 2000 season.
Bradley Tyler Johnson (Leonidas Jones)
Capt. Co.H, 1st Maryland Infantry
Major, 6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANY
The Southern Legion