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Ft. Adams AAR
To Colonel Joseph Leo, cmding,
6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
I herewith submit my report of the operations of Co. H, 1st Maryland Infantry, in the actions at Ft. Adams, RI, on the 9th, 10th and 11th of July.
A detachment of 14 soldiers and four civilians of Co. H began to arrive at the fort on Friday afternoon. Sgt. Major Sullivan (John Maloney) had done his usual excellent job of laying out the camp. Many of us had the chance to leave fairly early and avoided the crush of traffic. Our scouts laid out a much better route than two years ago, and we found the fort with little difficulty, despite the narrow roads of Newport.
I might suggest to organizers that some signage at the park might help first timers. We had no difficulty, having been at the site two years ago.
Weather was threatening, but was much cooler than preceding days. Our camp was set up efficiently, and we passed a most sociable evening.
We awoke Saturday to some drizzling rain and overcast, but the expected day long rain did not materialize. I was assigned command of a combined company, consisting of elements of the 1st and of the 7th Tennessee. Company Parade and drill was held at 8:00 AM, and the drill proved most effective. While some confusion about facing worried me at first, once we got into the swing of things, we had a good drill, covering basic close order by both flanks, and an introduction to skirmish drill. This was new to many members of the 7th, but they picked it up quickly and well. The drill was over an hour long, but much was accomplished.
Battalion drill was held at 10:00 AM. This consisted of a review of most basic evolutions, form column of companies to line of battle, and changing front. I was again pleased with the performance of my composite group.
Forming a cohesive company from those who are not used to each other can be difficult, and I praise the men of both units for their patience and hard work.
Our next formation not being until 1:30 PM, we had time for some relaxation in camp, and, wonder of wonders, a trip to the sutlers! Our last couple of events were lacking a Merchants' Row, and it was a pleasure to see both Big Bear and Confederate Yankee, two of our better vendors, in attendance.
Camp life may perhaps have been too relaxing. There was a notable lack of spectator traffic, and those who were there seemed to have come simply to visit the Fort, without knowing of an encampment. Perhaps some more advertising might benefit here.
After the formation at 1:30, you directed me to take my company outside the fort for some further drill. Much to our surprise (he-he) we were fired on by Federal artillery, wiping out half of my second platoon. I quickly deployed the first platoon as skirmishers to meet the attack (I was certainly glad we had drilled that in the morning). Capt. Walter of the 7th took prompt command of the reserve and provided support, carrying off our wounded, and replacing them in line. We were further supported by the arrival of the 17th Virginia, which strengthened our line on the left.
After several minutes of skirmishing, the main bodies came up. We rallied on the battalion, and took our place in line. We were pushed back under the fire of Federal artillery, but reformed the lines and hit them again. At this point I met my most unfortunate demise. I understand though, that thegods of war did smile upon us that afternoon.
I do need to point out here that this space outside the fort is not really conducive to a good battle scenario. The need to place spectators on the waterfront leaves almost no room for maneuvering. The battle scenarios for the weekend lasted a scant half hour, and good not have been stretched any longer. Fortunately it was a small turnout, both of spectators and reenactors (about 40 Confederate infantry and two guns, about the same Federal infantry and three guns). Much more could not have been accommodated.
This did mean that we were at our ease for most of the afternoon. The threatened rain never did appear, and we were actually treated to sunshine, and a very beautiful sunset.
There was a tactical at 6:30. None of my soldiers had interest, which actually relieved me. While I can certainly see the attraction of fighting in the defensive works of the fort, doing so in the gathering gloom in a largely unrestored area seems to me to be an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately, there were no injuries this time.
A large part of my men's reluctance to take part in tacticals stems from rifle cleaning. With recent safety issues in the last several reenacting seasons, we have established a firm policy that is a weapon is fired, even once, it must be cleaned before the next formation, or it will not be allowed on the field. Therefore, if they were to fire in company drill, battalion drill, battle, and tactical, they would need to clean their rifles four times in the one day. I have alleviated this to some extent by never firing in company drill at events. We go through the motions for correct stepping in the rear rank, for proper fire by file, and working with skirmish partners, but we do not actually fire. Practicing with powder is reserved for non-event drills. We find our company volleys to be just as crisp as anyone else's, so the lack of practice at events is not missed.
At Hammonassett this year, we fired a lot in battalion drill, then a great deal in the battle. Many of my soldiers were running very low on ammunition, so they began to snap caps or go through the motions in Sunday's battalion drill. I might offer two suggestions: one, if firing with powder is deemed necessary, perhaps it could be reserved for only one of the battalion drills on the weekend, say Saturday, to get everyone warmed up. Sunday it might be enough to go through a semblance of firing. Two, might it be enough to fire caps only in battalion drill? This would both save on powder, and eliminate the need for some of the cleaning. I would point out to all, that if this is adopted, it will be necessary at least to clean the nipple, to cut down on misfires in battle.
After the tactical, there was a candlelight tour of the fort. Spectators seemed content with that and did not bother us in camps to any real extent. A number of reenactors, including Mrs. Johnson (Liz Jones) took advantage of the tour and were extremely impressed. I had gone on it two years ago, so I stayed in camp. I do recommend as the highlight of a trip to the fort however.
After our evening company meal, a delicious lamb stew that was prepared by our company cook, Mrs. Grogan (Janet O'Connor), we settled in for the evening. The conviviality of good friends was abundant, for the company of old friends, particularly Pvt. Augustus Williams (Dave Barret) making a return visit, after a couple of inactive years, and Sgt. Major Sullivan (Maloney) who had been sorely missed at our last three events. We were also most pleased to welcome a new friend Miss Sally O'Rourke, good friend of Pvt. Schliephake (Craig Kovacs) who, perhaps because of her good influence, was well under control this weekend. It was too bad to see three soldiers have to take their leave, due to ill health. Pvt. Johnson (Evon Muschinsky) had arrived with sciatica, which flared even worse, and Sgt. Dorsey (Matt Svejk) and Pvt. Zollinger (Greg Frank) both had symptoms of mild food poisoning. Before anyone asks, they did not eat the lamb stew. We hope they arrived home safe, and are all feeling better.
The evening passed beautifully, cool but not cold. There was an ever stiffening wind blowing up. As we settled in for a sound sleep, we could hear the rustling in the camp as people scurried about, pounding stakes to keep their tents up, and taking down their flies. I invite any one who had such a problem, to examine our system of storm ropes. I have never had a fly go down when the storm ropes were attached properly. To quote Sgt. Shanks (Frank Valvo, Sr.) when a federal civilian asked him why our flies were up when all theirs had blown down, "that's because we know how to put them up."
The front blew through without any rain to speak of, leaving us a cool Sunday morning of almost indescribable beauty. The sky was a blue, such as I have rarely seen since the days of my youth. Company parade was held at 8:00 AM, and since the Saturday drill had been so long and intense, I held a very abbreviated company drill. I took advantage of the extra time to visit with our friends at Morton's Battery, and to plan for the return of Dement'sBattery to the field, hopefully at Sutton.
Church services were held at 9:00 AM ably led by Chaplain Hal Hoffner of Morton's. It was particularly interesting to hear a period sermon, which had amazing application to modern times. At the end of the half hour service, I felt uplifted, and I encourage all to attend Chaplain Hoffner's services when next he conducts them.
Dress Parade was held at 10:00 AM, and I feel our approach to this military custom is improving steadily. My compliments to Battalion command. Parade was followed by battalion drill, which reviewed learned evolutions, and made one significant improvement.
For the benefit of those not there, we made an advance in authenticity in advancing or retiring by the right of companies. When we first began to use this maneuver, some three years ago, it seemed confusing, so an adjustment was made in the command sequence, to clarify it. While this was intended as a learning tool, it stayed in place. This is what we have been using:
"By the right of companies to the front (rear). Battalion, Right Face. By file left (right) March."
The corrected version is:
"By the right of companies to the front (rear). Battalion, Right Face. March."
After the command to Right Face, each company commander should cause two files to break to the front (rear). Turn the first four man file to face in the new direction, and the second about halfway through their wheel by file. At March, these files march in the new direction, with others wheeling by file to follow them. I suggest in your company drills, practice breaking the files. If the men know what to expect, this is a simpler way eliminating an unnecessary command. If they don't, confusion could abound.
After battalion drill, we again had our ease. More purchases were made at the sutlers, and I took some time to study both CS Regulations and Hardee's. By the way, Big Bear Trading Post (Steven Salisbury) has copies of the 1862 North Carolina reprint. I took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a new copy, my seven year old copy having faded almost to illegibility in some spots. At 25 dollars, I recommend this book to anyone interested in accurate drill.
We formed at 1:30 for the afternoon spectator battle at 2:00. In this scenario, we basically replayed Saturday, reversing the roles of gray and blue. Having kicked off the battle the day before, we were held out till the end. I cannot really report accurately, as we were at rest around the corner of the fort, and spent most of the battle watching the sailing ships go by. It was a rather pleasant way to spend 20 minutes.
As for the battle, I would compliment the 17th Virginia for their excellent cannon hit. Other than that, as I pointed out, the constricted space makes an involved battle impossible. However, the spectators did seem to enjoy the show. We retired to strike the tents.
It was interesting, when you thanked the troops for a good weekend. After we gave you three cheers and you expressed your thanks, the battalion officers simply turned around and walked back to camp, without dismissing the formation. After a couple of moments of standing there, Capt. Perkins was kind enough to dismiss us to break down camp.
It was a great break down. The temperature never exceeded 80 degrees, and we had exerted ourselves little in the battle. We were packed in record time, and on the road.
I would warn anyone planning to attend in the future not to expect to get home soon. It took us over an hour to get from the fort to the bridges, and found slow going thereafter. Indeed Miss Liz at one point allowed as how she didn't remember having spent so long a time on RI 138 on the way there. I pointed out that we were going somewhat faster then 5 MPH on Friday.
Still the event is worth it, if only for the Fort itself. Short static battles bothered me not at all. I would have been happy just to be camped in that imposing edifice. Oddly, my biggest concern about this event is that it might grow. Our ranks were lightened by a combination of work and family conflicts. Perhaps being the weekend after the holiday made scheduling more difficult. We could easily have had 15 more members attend. Should the event grow at all beyond this year, we will have outgrown the battlefield area. Even so, I, for one, will continue to attend, just to experience the Fort. I recommend the event to all who have not seen it, and I recommend that the battalion continue to support it.
Captain, Co.H, 1st Maryland Infantry,
Major, 6th Battalion, 1st Division, ANV
The Southern Legion