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Colonel Joseph Leo, commanding
6th Battalion, ANV
I herewith submit my report of the operations of Co. D, 16th Alabama Infantry, in the action at Neshaminy this past weekend.
Our unit arrived in stages, with an advance team reaching the site in the early afternoon. The space allotted for our street was quite small, but Lance Sergeant Purnell and Corporal H. Hebb, (Emile Roux and Paul Plante, under the overall direction of Sgt. Major Sullivan (John Maloney), made the most of a tight situation, and laid out a most comfortable street. The remainder of the unit arrived during the day, and was followed by myself. Having urgent business to which to attend, I arrived in camp at approximately 1:30AM. Since my stalwart comrades had set up my tent, I had an only about an hour of organizing to do before retiring. There was a chill in the air, but it seemed that most of slept quite comfortably.
Prognostications of poor weather proved incorrect, as Saturday dawned bright and lovely, with just a nip in the air to remind us that summer had not yet come. Company parade and drill was held, as usual, at 8:00 AM. Our total military presence was 14 soldiers, including one on detached duty with battalion staff, (the Sergeant Major) and one detached to assist Jackson's Flying Artillery. We were accompanied by seven civilians. Our infantry company had an excellent drill, concentrating on close order review. Considering that this was the first event of the year for most of our troops, I was very pleased with their performance.
At the nine o'clock officer's call, we found that our battalion was fielding five companies; 1st, 16th Alabama, (AKA 1st Maryland); 2nd, a composite of 16th North Carolina, 21st Virginia, and 55th Virginia; 3rd (color), 2nd Florida; 4th, 21st Georgia (guests from the 7th Battalion); 5th, Lee's Light Horse. We were supported by a mounted courier, courtesy of Lee's, and two mountain howitzers, one from the Richmond Howitzers, and one from Middlesex Artillery. It was disappointing that Division staff did not make an appearance, although with ours as the only ANV battalion at this Max Effort, I guess it was understandable. It was, however, a great pleasure to see our friend, Sgt. Major Donnie Strum, from the 2nd Battalion, who gave us much valued assistance in the field, as well as good fellowship in camp.
While the ANV was not in full force there were two other infantry battalions taking the field, one from PACS (Provisional Army of the Confederate States)under Colonel Bair, and the First Confederate Battalion, (host unit)
under Colonel Johnson, a large artillery force (including Dement's Battery from Maryland, whose acquaintance we were most pleased to make) and a most impressive contingent from the1st Maryland Cavalry (mounted). While may seem like a strong force for the Confederate Army, Federal strength was three times ours.
We formed the battalion at 10:00 AM for drill. The drill area near camp was taken over by three companies from other battalions, so we were forced to march over to the battlefield some distance away, a very uneven ground. The ground was less of problem than the frequent thorn vines, a particular problem for those of us who must periodically march backwards as we observe our troops. However, while stabbed a couple of times, I was not seriously wounded. We drilled for the better part of an hour, with excellent results. All our known evolutions were reviewed with very little need for instruction, other than the fine tuning of detail, a most impressive showing considering most of us were out for the first time this season. Of particular note was the first battalion volley, crisp and clean, as though we were in mid season. Also of note was the return of the double quick on our return to camp, making a most invigorating end to a most effective drill.
We returned to camp at about 11:00 AM, laving time for a trip to Sutlers' Row. The array of sutlers was impressive, and I was pleased to be able to secure a new cup from the Village Tinsmith, and a most unusual antique box from the Maryland Sutler. This box had multiple divisions inside, giving almost the appearance of some sort of instrument case.
The battles at this event are traditionally staged as semi-tacticals which break into on open field, becoming the spectator battle. Thus, we were in the field for some time, and had to form the battalion shortly after 1:00 PM. The day being quite a bit warmer than expected, we formed in the shade and were inspected expeditiously before marching out.
On arriving on the field, we seemed to be moved from place to place as brigade command (I believe that was Colonel Johnson, although he seemed also to command his own battalion, an awkward procedure,) decided how best to meet the expected Federal advance from the woods. We were eventually deployed near our drill site of the morning, amidst the high grass, and alas, the thorns.
After a short wait, we moved out through a narrow pass and deployed line and quickly came under heavy fire. We returned as hotly, but were quickly flanked. Our left was well refused, but the Federals, seeming to ignore the fact that they were advancing into a large body of armed men, simply marched right into our line!
While it seems amusing now, it is this sort of ludicrous behavior that ruins the illusion of what it was like to actually fight the war. I suppose that if you just ignore your enemies' presence, all sorts of wonderful maneuver become possible.
Once that little difficulty was ironed out, we continued our advance though the high grassed clearing. Soon we heard the rattle of Federal musketry. Our company was ordered forward as skirmishers. We deployed forward on our right file, in order to cover the battalion front. Unfortunately, as we moved through the high grass, we found that a company of skirmishers from Colonel Johnson's battalion was also deploying on a part of that ground. We marched by the left flank, to disengage ourselves, and closed intervals to the right, in order to cover the battalion fully.
We caught a glimpse of the Federals through the high grass in the woods, and opened fire upon them. We engaged in this manner for about five minutes. I was just about to begin a cautious advance, to draw out their intentions, when our battalion received orders to withdraw. We began to fire in retreat, and were met with a heavy Federal advance in line. Our slow withdrawal checked their forward progress beautifully.
As we were engaged to the front, a second Federal battalion appeared out of the woods on the left flank of our retreating battalion. They were stopped by heavy fire from the two left wing companies. This allowed the two remaining right wing companies to retire through the narrow opening. As the left wing retired we moved our second platoon in retreat by the right wheel, thus refusing the left flank. Since we were aided by the dense shrubs and trees in either side, our small company was able to hold off both battalions at the pass.
Our battalion having passed, we moved quickly through the pass by the right flank and at the run. We planted ourselves in skirmish line between the battalion and a third Federal battalion, which had just worked its way through the woods and was about to pursue our battalion. We began to fire in retreat once again, checking the new Federal advance After a few minutes fight, our battalion had retired through another pass, and out onto the open field. We rallied on the battalion, forming properly in column behind the second company, and the men took a short, but much needed rest.
I have dwelt a long time on this half hour or so of skirmish action because it is memorable on several counts. It was a stunning example of how to use skirmishers to cover a retreat. It was fascinating to see how ground that unfavorable could be turned to our advantage in the maneuver. It was amazing to watch my company perform skirmish maneuvers in their first event of the season, as though we were in mid-season form. It was amazing to watch these maneuvers we had drilled so much, enable our twelve man company to hold off three Federal battalions. It filled me with great pride in my men, and, on a personal note, was one of my most exhilarating reenacting experiences.
I would like especially to commend Sgt Major Don Strum, of the 2nd Battalion, who functioned as our communications link with the battalion, and as our eyes on the flanks. Without his most able assistance, we would
have accomplished our goal of allowing the retreat in good order, but would very likely have been cut off in the process, and had to surrender. Our thanks also, to you, Colonel, for giving this position of honor.
After a short rest behind the sturdy protection of Lt. Forquer's second company, we rejoined the fray, filling a gap on their right. The battle raged on, as we moved from point to point, trying to find an advantageous position. We finally settled on a defensive position behind the field works, which we were determined to hold against all odds. Unfortunately, the near emplacement of Confederate artillery ( not our mountain howitzers, which, as usual, moved freely about the field in infantry support) and concern about safety forced us to abandon the position, and, there being no other defensive position, and facing overwhelming numerical odds, we were compelled to leave the field in good order, to fight another day.
We returned to camp (at the quick step, fortunately) arriving at about 3:00 PM. After a half hour break, our unit took it turn at guard duty. Major Pereira quite wisely realized that to ask for a detail if six when we had only nine rank and file, was too much, and asked for two for the two hour 3:30-5:30 PM shift. I would like to commend Privates Johnson and Grason (Evon Mushinsky and Leo Scillia) for volunteering for the detail, and for
serving on active posts for the entire shift, there being no relief. I would especially like to commend Private Johnson for his diligent attention to duty. He detained both Sgt. Major Sullivan (Maloney) and Lt. Colonel Boyle, and refused to allow them to pass when they proved not to have passes!
I spent an hour or so dead to the world, making up for my lack of sleep. I awakened in time for an excellent repast prepared by our company cook, Mrs. Grogan. As day slipped into night, we settled in for the good fellowship that makes Saturday evenings the most cherished time of an event for so many of us. I was pleased to renew many acquaintances, particularly with our Northern comrades in the 16th, 21st, and 55th. I was also pleased to break in my new cup with some of Colonel Boyle's coffee. It was unusual stuff, black all right, but cold and bubbly, with a very heavy body, and, by golly, he poured it out of a bottle! It was most refreshing, however!
There was an evening social, mandatory for all officers in both armies! However, with my recent experience in such matters, I quickly resigned my commission and spent a wonderful evening in camp. We retired eventually, and spent another most comfortable night, despite the chilly temperatures.
Sunday morning was again lovely. Due to my sleep deprived condition, First Sergeant Dorsey conducted morning parade, inspection, and drill in a most able manner. Many of our members attended the Catholic Mass, while others attended the Protestant service. I, for once, did neither, and contented myself with the business of waking up in time for dress parade at 10:45.
In the absence of our adjutant, Major Pereira filled in, doing so in a most able manner. We then proceeded with inspection in the manner prescribed in Regulations. We discovered the same problem I have found. When company fronts are quite small, as many were this weekend, there is scarcely enough room for officers and sergeants to line up in front of their companies, and still allow the inspecting officer. My suggestion is, lets all recruit so we can turn out 20-25 men at every event! (Well, we can try!)
Battalion drill was a much easier process on the nearby field. The ground was level, and there was nary a thorn to be found!
I did manage to confuse my company in avoiding an obstacle when marching in line of battle. Most of the work we have done in battalion drill in avoiding obstacles has been in column, where the best method is to march by the flank past the obstacle, and reform on the other side. When we have encountered obstacles in line, I have usually done the same thing since th men know the movement so well.
The proper method is to mark time to disengage the company, march by the flank and place the company into column behind the next company. Once the obstacle is passed, the company is marched by the flank again, and brought back into line at the double quick. The command sequence, assuming that the first company faces the obstacle, is:
Company, Mark Time, March.
By the Left Flank, March.
By the Right Flank, March. (This should bring you into column behind thesecond company.)
By the Right Flank, March.
By the Left Flank, Double Quick, March.
Quick Time, March.
Which should bring you back into line. I had planned to instruct the company in this at Hammonassett. Unfortunately, when faced with an obstacle, I started this movement, which, while correct, was unfamiliar, thus confusing everyone. My apologies.
With a late drill and an early battle, there was scarcely time for another visit to the sutlers, but many of us took advantage of it anyway. It is quite convenient to have an early season event where we find sutlers that we often only see at the major events.
We formed the company for inspection and marched to the battalion formation. The battalion then marched to the drill field, where the brigade was formed. Once formed, we moved out, at a very deliberate pace, to position ourselves for the tactical.
The Saturday action was supposed to represent Averasboro, and Sunday, Bentonville. In reality, it was the same generic battle, with role reversal. Sunday, we moved through the woods, developed and attacked the Federal positions.
As we reached our position, we deployed skirmishers to protect our exposed right flank. We discovered some enemy activity to our front, and the 21st Georgia was deployed forward as skirmishers, under the direction of Major Huddleston and engaged the enemy. Soon our battalion moved into the woods, only to find the enemy in our rear. We quickly reversed our front, and the right wing delivered fire, while the left wing moved on their left flank. There they were pinned, as the 1st Maryland Cavalry was in their rear. Thus was their attempted flanking maneuver turned to disaster!
We pushed on through the woods in search of the now retreating Federals. The going was difficult. It seemed that wherever our company needed to go was entwined with those bedeviling thorn vines. I did cut my hand open trying to push our way through. Fortunately the cuts were all superficial. Hurt, though!
We engaged in one or two firefights as we moved on, finally reaching a somewhat more open path. There we were ordered to halt, but it seemed to me that if we were to continue down the path, we would have a clear shot at the Federal flank. Encouraged by the calm, collected, Major Huddleston, we moved quickly, deployed the 1st, and began to deliver fire on an exposed flank, minutes away from dislodging them from an excellent defensive position by a pincers movement. Then we were recalled.
Turns out that while the schedule referred to this as a "tactical" it was at least semi-scripted. We were supposed to wait for a second wave to roll us up! Well, of course, this second wave didn't arrive, and after several minutes of aimless exchange of fire, brigade ordered us to advance anyway. We then, by frontal assault, took the position that we could have had easily, fifteen minutes earlier.
There was no point in holding that position, so we marched in pursuit of the enemy, now in full retreat. As the right wing broke out of the tree line, we were checked by a company of the 14th Brooklyn, or as our 1st Sergeant calls them the "Red legged heathen Yankee...."(What was that last word, Chris?) We pushed them back, towards the same narrow pass we had defended the day before. Their battalion made a stand, and ours changed front to meet it. I halted the 1st before forming line in order to refuse our flank against the 14th.
The stand didn't last long. The Federals retreated through the gap. The 14th was cut off and captured, much to the delight of First Sergeant Dorsey (Svejk)! The Federals formed their line on the other side of the pas, and began to engage us in a firefight, with some wounded lying in the pass.
Here we must break away, and point out the serious safety violation. These "wounded" were a Coe horn mortar crew, one of whom was lying on the limber chest. The Federal line was deployed no more than 10 feet from him, firing directly over him. Rather than see him blown to pieces, our command wisely stopped the action, and had the mortar crew move the box and piece to a safer location.
We don't see these little mortars much in New England. They are banned at most events. While I hate to recommend banning any period weapon, to position in high grass, where it is invisible, may be tactically brilliant, but is a safety disaster waiting to happen. One is unlikely to look out for a limber chest when there is no gun in evidence.
This brief timeout over, the Federal resistance melted away. We broke into the open and continued pursuit across the broken field. I don't really know how, but it seemed that whenever we moved, the 1st was trying to pass though the thorns again. At one point the advance was halted and I refused to dress back on the battalion. To do so was to move back into the tangled mess we had just cleared.
In any event, we pushed our way through, and came up on the Federals, who had occupied the field fortifications. While we had pushed them all over the site, their numerical superiority was too great to allow us to assault their defensive position. Here, with the sound of Taps, the battle ended.
After the fight, we had to hang around for an everybody loves everybody set of blue-gray handshakes. Well, I guess if it works for the Stanley Cup, it can work for us.
We marched back to camp, and began to strike the tents. The parking area was not too far away, and the camp sites, though tight were laid out so as to allow for good vehicle access to break down. Thank, Sgt. Major Sullivan! Camp was broken down expeditiously, and by 4:30, the wagons were ready to move.
As to the future of this event on our schedules, it is a medium to large event. Federal turnout is about the same or a little more than a typical Hammonassett. Confederate turnout was at least twice as much. Sutlers' Row was well stocked. The battle area, thorn vines aside, was larger than any we deal with in Southern New England, and the battles themselves were quite a bit superior to those we usually find.
On the down side, the inevitable travel through or around New York adds a good hour to the travel time. We traveled four and a half hours back to central CT, while Sgt. Major Strum reports a three and half hour drive home. So much for the ANV coming closer to us!
Still, the good far outweighs the bad, and I would strongly recommend this event for serious consideration on next year's schedule.
your obedient servant,
Thomas Armstrong Jones
Captain, 16th Alabama Infantry