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Colonel Joseph Leo, commanding
6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
It is my pleasure to submit my report on the operations of Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry in the action at Wickham Park, August 20th through 22nd. This report will also serve as the report for Dement's Battery.
On Friday afternoon 28 soldiers and 11 civilians of Co. H arrived to set up camp. Since the countryside is familiar, there was no problem in reaching the site. However, on arrival, we saw that a large part of the ground, which had previously been allotted for our camp, was not mown and unusable. What had always been a comfortable and spacious camp became very tight. It was only through the yeoman work of Sgt. Major Sullivan (John Maloney), and the poor weather, which served to keep attendance down, that a workable camp was arranged.
We also discovered that, for the fourth successive year, there was a problem with water distribution. While a water buffalo was provided, it was located in the Federal camp, a totally unreasonable distance. When the event coordinator was presented with the problem the only solution offered was to ferry us over in golf carts before camp opened and again after it closed. This was completely unacceptable. It was only through your work on our behalf, and the good offices of the federal commander, Col. Bill MacMullen (AKA "Skippy") that problem was brought to a satisfactory resolution.
I would like to commend Col. MacMullen for having the water buffalo sent to us even before a source of water was secured for the Federal camp, feeling that they had the benefit of it overnight and in the early morning, and were able to fill their containers. This spirit of cooperation made a bad situation work out well.
Despite the difficulties, we set up a comfortable camp, and spent a convivial evening, well fed by the superb vegetable stew prepared by Mrs. Grogan (Janet O'Connor) our cook. We were very happy to be joined by many in camp, particularly Lt. Col. Boyle and Miss Karen. Rain came, rather hard at times, but, under the protection of our fly's, we were quite comfortable.
Saturday morning dawned gloomily. While the rain was never more than hard drizzle, it was almost constant. While it was unpleasant, it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits. We had officer's call at 7:30. A plan for the day was difficult, since no schedule had been provided to the reenactors. Still, a good morning schedule was arranged.
At 8:00 morning parade, we were privileged to confer a well-deserved promotion to Pvt. H.J. Hebb (Paul Plante), who is now our newest corporal. Morning drill was a review of close order drill by both flanks and skirmish drill, aided greatly by our new bugler Pvt. Dan Cook, who will surely become a great asset to us.
At 9:00, Dement's Battery held artillery drill, under the instruction, as usual, of Morton's Battery. Six members of our battery received basic instruction in the safe operation of our piece. This event marks th Battery's third appearance, and second as a fighting force.
At 10:00 battalion drill was held. Basic evolutions were reviewed, and good work was done on estimating wheeling distances when opening a close column to full wheeling distance. Instruction was efficient, and had good effect.
The mid-season battalion meeting was postponed, and then laid over for Sunday, due to the inclement weather. However, the time was put into good effect in compiling the results of a survey of the Legion membership. This is an outstanding idea, and we were pleased to hear that the members of the Legion who were unable to attend will be asked to fill out a copy, so that everyone has an opportunity to have input.
Formation for the afternoon spectator battle was at 2:45. We deployed our line in the rear of the rail fence, about 1/3 of the way down the hill. An artillery duel commenced, and then the Federal infantry came out. A fierce firefight ensued. We left our fortified position and fought down the hill for time, but their overwhelming numbers pushed us back to the fence. Even with our artillery superiority (when was the last time we could say that?) the preponderance of Federal infantry, caused us to make a tactical withdrawal, in good order, beyond the hilltop. The artillery, whose fierce fire prevented the infantry from pursuing us, covered our retreat.
I would like to commend the Sumter Rifles, our color guard, who, by the way, were celebrating their one year anniversary as a unit this weekend, for their superb performance. Our color went down about 10 times, each time picked up by another member of the guard. They appeared to be only three men, but have been 15. (This might sound a little silly, but it was so well orchestrated by Color Sgt. Jeff Fioravanti, that it looked great!)
In all, this was a fairly typical New England battle, rather static and back and forth. This battlefield, although bigger than most we have to work with, is narrow, and does not present great opportunities for maneuvering. This can be dealt with, and was, as this report will show.
The battle was reasonably well attended, considering the poor weather, and the fact that a 2:00 start had been publicized. Again, the fact that the event coordinators did not see fit to provide us with a schedule was the problem.
After the battle, we were treated to the delicious smells of our dinner being prepared primarily by Mrs. Davis (Maureen Barker) and Pvt. Valiant (Tom Harwood, who gave us a delightful meal. This was shared by our friends from Morton's Battery, our way of thanking them for all the help and kindness they have shown to Dement's Battery in our inaugural season. It was an excellent inter-unit social opportunity, which, I hope, can be repeated with Morton's and with other units.
After dinner, we had our August meeting. While it ran a bit long, many important matters were addressed, by-laws amendments, and, very importantly, incorporation as a non-profit corporate entity. Then, after a quick executive board meeting, we settled in for a pleasant, though very damp, evening. It was particularly nice to be able to spend the large share of it on headquarters row catching with the continued development of our excellent battalion, and sharing a relaxed time. I particularly enjoyed the arrival of Bill MacMullen, who, with the blue coat he had on, bore a striking resemblance to his brother "Skippy". At last, we settled in for a relaxing sleep.
Sunday broke with gray skies, but blessedly, no rain. Morning parade and company drill were held at 8:00. Attention was paid to safety concerns in firing, maintaining proper distances in marching, and, happily, platoon drill. We are rarely blessed with large enough numbers to make this drill effective. The men seemed to enjoy something new.
At 9:30, I took my turn at leading divine services. Assisted by Chaplain Hoffner of Morton's, we had a service of Morning Prayer, which was very well attended. Towards the close, it almost seemed as though the sun would break out. Unfortunately, it never quite did.
10:30 brought dress parade. It seems to me that our dress parade has improved markedly over the course of the season. The fact that you have continued to hold it, when often it would seem easy to omit it, has been a good decision. It is a short ceremony, and is a part of the military impression we all strive to maintain.
It was a particular pleasure to hear the announcement of the promotion of Captain Joe Pereira to Major. He has been a superb addition to battalion staff and is very popular with the men. His promotion was both welcome and well deserved.
Battalion drill was held along the same lines as Saturday's, and with the same good effect. We broke, and then quickly went into the battalion meeting postponed from Saturday. It was particularly interesting to note the support for the idea of doing events like Ben Salem and Monmouth. These events are on the scale of Hammonassett or larger, without the constricted battlefield area. While I never been to Ben Salem, some of the best battles I have ever participated in have been at the Monmouth Court House battlefield. I look forward to hearing the continued results of the survey of the membership begun at this event.
With a 1:00 battle, lunch was prepared and eaten quickly. Just prior to the battle, we were pleased to announce the end of the one-year leave of absence of Corporal Zollinger (Greg Frank) and his return to his duties. With the promotion and return, we are now up to our full allotment of three sergeants and four corporals.
We marched out promptly to the field. The infantry battalion was reinforced on its flanks by two mountain howitzers; one from Morton's Battery and another from the Richmond Howitzers. This line advanced on the unsuspecting Federal camp. The Federals scurried to send out a line of skirmishers, but met with a withering volley from the infantry battalion and both guns together. Oddly, we all missed.
We had caught them completely by surprise. Both guns in their defenses were completely unmanned. After their futile resistance, I dispatched four infantrymen, under the command of lance corporal Grayson to man of the guns. Captain Hendricks of Morton's detached a gunner to help my men operate the piece. Since it was, indeed, virtually identical to Barker, our James gun (hint, hint) they had no trouble in working it. Another crew was dispatched to man the field howitzer we had just captured. The infantryman in command of that gun, by the way, looked remarkably like Captain Boertlein of Jackson's Flying Artillery. Remarkable coincidence, that!
We were basking in the glow of our easily won victory, when we were startled by a report from behind us. There, from the top of the hill, Federal reinforcements, an infantry battalion and two guns, had arrived. We quickly reversed our front, and returned fire. Now, supported by four field pieces, we advanced on the Federals. The firefight was fierce, but our far superior (boy that's fun to say) and mobile artillery ensured that we won the day,
the Federals retiring over the hill.
I would like to commend both yourself and Col. Skippy MacMullen, for devising a battle plan which had some different twists and used the limited battlefield to it best advantage. The men in the ranks enjoyed it thoroughly, many saying it was the best battle of the season. With inventiveness like that, good experiences can be had on less than perfect fields. It was short, but could not have been sustained for much longer without disintegrating into silliness. Event coordinators who seem to insist on hour-long battles should learn from this. We had about a 25 minute fight that was packed with action. This is a far better experience for both soldier and spectator than a sluggish, drawn out and unrealistic battle.
We returned to camp and enjoyed a last bit of camaraderie. At 3:00, we began to break the camp. We were fortunate to complete breakdown with dry canvas, as more rain returned as we drove home. I would particularly like to thank Hal and Becky Hoffner of Morton's, Tim Perkins of staff, and Brian Patton of Sumter Rifles for staying and lending their assistance to Mrs. Johnson (Liz) and myself.
This has become the traditional midseason gathering for the Legion, but this year's attendance by units was far less than in the past. The battlefield has been criticized because of the baseball diamond, but, honestly, we reenact on much worse. In the past we have had a lovely camp area, but this was cut in half this year. I was told by someone on the event staff that this was done to hide the Confederate parking from the spectators. I can understand this, but it took away one of the few quality parts of the event. To have to fight for an afternoon into the next morning for a supply of water is absurd. These problems with event coordination have taken their toll on battalion units, who, one by one, are no longer putting it on their schedules. Even soldiers in the 1st, many of whom live 1/2 hour away or less, are doubtful of returning. I would like to recommend this event for our schedule in the future, but if event coordinators cannot handle such a simple task as a decent water supply, it seems unlikely to have a good future.
Major Bradley Tyler Johnson
Captain, Co.H, 1st Maryland Infantry and Dement's Battery
Major, 6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
The Southern Legion