Sic Semper Tyrranus Richmond, VA
Thank you for carrying on in the noble tradition of F Company, even though your Captain was unavoidably detained and forced to miss the Battle of Cedar Creek. I would especially like to thank Lt. Turley for standing up to the challenge of taking over the company at a moment's notice when the Captain has gone missing. Our unit is very lucky to have such a capable and reliable officer. I could not have predicted the bizarre turn of fortune that forced me to miss the event that I was most looking forward to all this season. Suffice it to say that two book dealers from the United Kingdom all of a sudden appeared, and I was required to be their host. Since they were here to spend copious amounts of good Yankee dollars, I was unable to resist the temptation, and I therefore had to forsake glory on the field of battle, for a much needed infusion of cash into our business bank account. On Sunday evening we were on a plane for England, with my heart still aching over the missed adventure, and my head still reeling from the visit by the blokes from Wales.
So now we're back, after some serious hiking, book dealing and pub crawling in our retreat in the Black Mountains of the border marches of Wales and England. Time now to finish the reenactment season with a good shoot-out in North Carolina, another one of my favorite places. See y'all at Fort Branch!
1st Lieutenants Report
I would like to thank everyone who attended the Cedar Creek Reenactment. Thanks for your support. For more details about the event, see the 2nd Sergeants report.
The season is quickly coming to a close. The only things left are the Fort Branch event and the Gettysburg Parade. For the Fort Branch event, we stay at the Perrys house. You cant beat the accommodations and it is a great wasy to close out the year.
As for the Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg, as long as the weather is agreeable, I do plan on going. Those of you in the Richmond area, let me know if you want a ride.
Until next time, take care.
1st Lt. Turley
1st & 2nd Sergeants Report
There were no reports received for this months issue by either Sergeant. Maybe next month will give us the years recap.
At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, the Confederate Army chose Rainbow Banks in Martin County as a site for fortifications. These fortifications provided the upper Roanoke Valley with badly needed protection against the Union gunboats that were beginning to enter eastern North Carolina's rivers and sounds. The 100-foot clay bluffs at the area of the river gave the Confederates a clear view of the river in both directions, and their vantage point was too high for the guns on the Union boats to reach. In addition to protecting the citizens of the area, the fort protected "The Lifeline of the Confederacy" -- a railroad bridge at Weldon that helped to supply General Lee's army with provisions -- and the building site of an ironclad vessel, the C.S.S. Albermarle, just above Hamilton.
After learning of the fort's construction in July 1862, the Union Army launched an expedition from recently occupied Plymouth to destroy the fort. When the Confederate Army received an advance notice of the intended attack, forty-three Confederate soldiers mounted their horses and rode to await the three Union ships further down the river. When the ships appeared, the two sides opened fire on one another, and the conflict continued up the river until it finally ended at Hamilton. Following this battle, Confederate officials committed themselves more fully to building better fortifications at Fort Branch. By the end of October 1862, under authority to organize labor and supervisory forces, Colonel Walter Gwynn's assembled work force began strengthening the defense of the fort. Another attempt to destroy the fort, which occurred two weeks later, caused further delay. Upon completion, the fort was named Fort Branch in honor of General Lawrence O'Brian Branch, a local hero who'd been killed on a Maryland battlefield. Containing provisions for 1000 men and a total of eleven guns, activities at the fort slowed down following the April 1864 recapture of Plymouth by the Confederate Army. When the Union forces took Plymouth again in the fall of 1864, their plan for another attack on Fort Branch was stopped. The Confederates had mined the river heavily, and the Union forces were forced to return to Plymouth.
November 5th-7th marks the 18th Annual event where we travel down to the great state of North Carolina to give our support to Fort Branch and spend our last time fighting together this year. Its almost like Memorial Day and Labor Day. The season starts and then youre at the finale. We have a great turnout expected for this event. Hopefully, all those who have signed up for this one will be able to make the final event a successful one, as well. I know that Mr. & Mrs. Perry are more than gracious in opening their home to us for this occasion. Please show our thanks to them by remaining the gentlemen that we are and respecting (as we always have) their home and hospitality. Plan on a fun evening on Saturday after the battle is over. We will have a wonderful dinner out at a local eatery (to be determined), a good movie (with all of our own critiques), and much laughter to end the season on a warm/ dry/ cozy note. Bring your sleeping bags and whatever you need to sleep. The Perrys home will welcome you, as it has for many years. Mrs. Perry .thank you for letting us share your home for one weekend. On a personal note, I love being down there. I hope you promise to see us while were there. O.K promise?
Members who signed up for this event: Cpt. Ramsey, Lt. Turley, 1st Sgt. Wilson, 2nd Sgt. Firth, Cpl. Pearson, Cpl. Stafford, and Pvts. Gammon, Catlett, Harris, Lawrence, Courson, Schirmer, Perry Sr., Perry C., and Alexander&Alexander, Inc.
Directions to Fort Branch
The following, are directions as given by the 1st NC that I had requested, should you be going directly to the Fort instead of the Perrys house:
Thank you for your interest in Fort Branch! The schedule has been changed to hopefully better accommodate the participants as well as the spectators. The battle will be Saturday at 2pm and the tactical Sunday morning. South of Petersburg 295 joins back into 95 and you will be 47 miles from the NC/VA line. You will be less than an hour away once you cross into NC. Once in NC go approximately 9 miles and take the NC 125 exit. I believe it is exit 171. Take NC 125 South towards Halifax. Near Halifax, NC 125 will join NC 903. Continue on NC 125/903 South to Scotland Neck. In Scotland Neck, stay on NC 903 towards Hamilton. Go approximately 1 mile past Hamilton on NC 903 and turn left on the Fort Branch Road. There will be an old house to the right and an old gas station on the left. Look for the CW sign and/or banner. The fort will be 2 miles on the left.
Directions to the Perrys
Cedar Creek Recap
By Henry Gibson
Much appreciation goes out to all the die-hard members who, once again, showed their support for our unit. Present for the 140th Anniversary were: Lt. Turley. 2nd Sgt. Firth, Cpl. Pearson, & Privates: Ward, Harris, Price, Baird, Schirmer, Gammon, Catlett, Gregory, and Company-Aid Messerley. Those members registered who were unable to attend: Captain Ramsey, 1st Sgt. Wilson, Cpl. Stafford, and Privates: Perry, May and Lawrence. Thank you for staying in touch with us and letting us know your status. Mr. Baird became Mr. Stafford.
Private Baird was first on-site with Private Harris and myself right behind. We chose a camp within the woods, about a 6-minute walk from our wagons and only 20 yards from wood, water, and the latrines. It came to pass that it was good to be so close to the woodpile. Both Friday and Saturday evenings gave us star-lit skies and tolerable, yet breezy air.
As was pre-warned, cold evenings and short periods of daytime rain did befall us during the weekend, but nothing that hindered the spirits. Actually, Sunday was the kind of weather that one would wish to have all season: sunny, cool, and breezy. It was a great way to end the event.
Many thanks also go out to three members of the 4th NC, and I believe members of the 22nd VA that helped to fill our ranks for the weekend battles. After all, this was the first time that Pvt. Catlett saw the elephant and the 1st Anniversary for Pvt. Harris in battle.
The Sunday morning tactical was well sounded all right from the comforts of my bed lying beside the fire. With the itinerary of a tactical, breakfast, church service, getting our heavies back to our wagons, company formation at 11 a.m., and then falling in for the Sunday battle at 11:30 a.m., we decided to forgo the tactical in lieu of food for the body and the soul.
Theres no view grander than the movement of thousands of troops along roads, valleys, and fields. On Sunday, our vantage point was along Route 11 overlooking the land between Belle Grove Plantation and the Cedar Creek Battlefield. As we were staging our strength along the road, we could view the battle that was moving below us knowing very well that it would soon be our turn to get into the action. And, it was action that we did see and some of which was at the double quick as we tore our way through the Yankee camp over a mile away. As History would tell, we had a great victory that soon turned into a route as General Sheridan rallied his men upon his return from Washington.
Pvt. Schirmer led us in an outstanding church service on Sunday morning. Mrs. Schirmer was gracious enough to join us all for that service which was full of revelation, hymns, and togetherness. It appeared that our strong singing voices had reached other camps. Now, thats what I call reaching out and touching.
Dedication to Home & Company
On Saturday morning, October 16, as we were in formation, we caught the glimpse of Private Gammons wife, son, and a friend searching for us. With permission from 2nd Sgt. Firth, I whistled and waved my arms furiously like a guinea hen or someone, whose armpits have just caught fire. After we were ordered to break ranks, we went over to speak with Mrs. Gammon. I didnt see the usual smile on her face and the reasons were just about to unfold. She had been directed where to park at the event, but was not informed of the large rock protruding out of the ground, hidden by taller grass. The rock managed to damage the oil pan from the under carriage causing immediate loss of the vehicles oil. After discussion with her husband, it was decided to be towed back home which, by the way, was approximately 3 hours from the event. Private Gammon nobly stayed for Saturdays battle, but felt the desperate need to leave before it got dark. Private Catlett, who drove with him also left. With much respect, I thank Mr. Gammon for hanging in with the company for the Saturday battle and am glad that all went well at home after the damage was done for the weekend. Mr. Gammon is quite the mechanic. And more so, a special thanks to Mrs. Gammon for coming to see us all at Cedar Creek and very sorry that her visit couldnt have been on a happier note with fonder memories. Thanks for being there with us & for us.
From The Secret Diaries
Of Private Gregory
Giving Them A Volley
Col. Rufus R. Dawes, of the 6th WI, states that during the action at Brawner Farm, "The left wing fired a volley into the woods, and the right wing advanced and fired a volley into the woods. There were four volleys by wing given, at the word of command. "
Everybody in reenacting loves a volley. Whether by platoon, company, battalion or wing, there is nothing that gives a listener a bigger charge than that crisp sound of massed muskets firing simultaneously. On the opposite hand nothing sounds worse than the ragged discharge of muskets firing several seconds after the initial volley.
Before I get into the meat of this article; which concerns the use of the volley, I am going to say a few words about volley firing as it applies to reenacting.
A well-executed volley shows three things about a unit. The first is that it demonstrates that the rank and file is listening to their officers and NCOs. This is an important factor that is often overlooked in reenacting. A lot of units are too busily engaged in yelling and laughing to listen to the men who are controlling their fire. Units that listen are very safe units to be around.
The next item is that it shows if the men are listening and are capable of reliable volley firing, they are also capable of withholding their fire should it be necessary. I can speak only to you from the experience of someone who is usually looking over the shoulder of his file mate. I cannot see what is going on the right or left of my unit and for all I know some unit is about to cross our front and would receive a good toasting if we should fire a volley at the wrong moment.
Finally it demonstrates is that officers and NCOs are doing their job which is to ensure the unit has a clear field of fire, rear rank is stepping up properly and that the men are performing in a safe manner.
Something that has to be understood is that every battle action in the gunpowder age (1500s to today) consists of a series of firefights. It does not matter what the action is, be it a SEAL ambush against VC river junks in the Sung Rat swamps or the Battle of Gettysburg; each will consist of a series of firefights. He that wins the firefight wins the battle. Winning a firefight is simply a matter of applying correct tactics for the usage of your weapons.
The Volley Fire as we shall call it is applying correct tactics for a weapon of the Civil War and this particular weapon would be the smooth bore musket. Lets look at a little history for a background. We are all familiar with the old tale of the backwoods rifleman dressed in buckskin who fought the British regulars during our Revolution, well the fact of the matter that the rifled musket actually did very little damage against the red coat ranks. It the was the blue coated soldier Continental line who by going toe to toe with British regulars won our independence and their weapon was a smoothbore musket. This musket might have been a French, Dutch, or Spanish model. It could have even been a Committee of Public Safety model, which was locally produced.
The Brown Bess musket of the British redcoat won an empire. It was the smoothbore muskets of Napoleons soldiers that broke kings and emperors.
Volley firing was an application of using tactics to the weapon. It allows the on scene commander to make a conscious decision about the force he was to engage. By use of the volley he could control the rate of fire that was being applied to his foe and thus he had the capability to control his section of the battlefield.
Apply some logic to the stated fact above. A well-trained infantryman was expected to get off three aimed shots a minute under fire. If he is carrying a total of sixty rounds (which we are led to believe by various veterans accounts was a standard ammunition load) and he is shooting as fast as he can he will suddenly be out of ammunition in under twenty minutes. If your unit is in the very forefront of your brigade; you might find the rest of your men some distance to the rear. Even if they are hurrying up to your support it could take some time for a unit even less than a mile away to arrive. In combat being alone for a long time is not a good thing.
Volley firing gives a commander a good opportunity to apply some serious punishment to his foe and allow him tactical control of the battlefield.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1What you have above is a representative diagram of a British regiment on the firing line. You have ten companies numbered respectively from right to left. Each company is divided as follows into two platoons.
The platoon is divided into two sections or squads.
Thus you could have a group of men who are identified as 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, 1st Company. For purposes of this article we will assume that there are twenty five men in this squad. (twenty four rank and file and one NCO who does not fire.)
In this case we will assume this British unit is the Brigade of Guards at Waterloo and the oncoming foe is the Imperial Guard.
As the French approach his position the commander can commence firing volleys into them. The command would be "Make Ready, Volley Fire, by Sections, Commence Fire." The officer in charge would commence fire by the first section. The first platoon section would fire, and commence reloading. The second section would immediately fire, followed by the second platoon, first section. Then the second platoon, second section fires. The action shifts to the tenth company first section and so on. The fire would roll from one end of the brigade to the other. What might you ask is the reasoning behind this?
By firing from differing sections of his battalion an officer in charge is doing several things. First he is reducing the amount of black powder smoke in his front. A second benefit is that if the section volleys are punishing enough there will be a tendency in the oncoming troops to shift to the right as they instinctively react to the incoming musketry. Study what happened to Confederate troops at Picketts charge and see how they were almost herded into making themselves a better target.
Allowing five seconds for each section to volley, it is over a minute and half before the firing order returns to the first group. If the individual soldier is carrying sixty rounds of ammunition, he is capable of staying on line for close to ninety minutes. More than enough time for an ammunition resupply or reinforcements to arrive.
British regiments were trained to sustain this rolling fire. Every five seconds or less; twenty-five muskets are slamming a one-ounce lead ball into their chosen target. Some simple math should convince you that there is a lot of hurt going downrange.
The volley at close range is an attempt to provide the "shock of combat" on an oncoming foe. The idea is to get him to close range, hold him, and break him. At the battle of Fontenroy; although they lost the battle, one well-timed volley by the British put 700 Frenchmen out of action. At Breeds Hill it was"dont fire until you see the whites of their eyes" that broke the first British charge.
Prior to the rifle musket being accepted into service by the American army, the standard ammunition round was the .69 cal ball. To make the smoothbore even more effective, the "buck and ball" which consisted of a .69 cal ball topped with three .31 cal balls was issued. In addition there was a "buckshot round" that consisted of twelve .31 cal balls that could be loaded. George Washington recommended that the "buck and ball" be made the standard service round of the continental army. All these rounds are designed to increase the effectiveness of the smoothbore musket at close range.
Take a good look at a smoothbore musket. You will notice that there is no backsight. The soldier was expected to sight along the barrel and when told, pull the trigger
Despite the usual reenactor propaganda of everyone carrying rifles, we need only to look at some of the official records and realize that even as late as Spring of 1864 there were still significant amounts of troops on both sides still armed with smoothbore muskets. When you tour Civil War battlefield look at the visitors center and the recovered artifacts on display. Almost always you see .69 caliber round balls.
The rifle musket was about to start a revolution on the battlefield, but it was a revolution slow in fulfilling its promise. Although the rifle promised increased accuracy and longer range several problems were discovered when attempting to develop new tactics for rifles.
In what is surely an example of the law of unintended consequences it was found that although the rifled musket was more accurate at longer ranges, in the hands of untrained troops it was hopelessly inaccurate.
The problem lies in the fact that the black powder used gave the minie ball a rather slow trajectory. For the first 100 yards there is virtually no difference between a .69 cal ball and a .58 caliber Minie ball as far as accuracy. After a 100 yards an interesting phenomena begins to affect the Minie ball.
The slow trajectory and the spin imparted to the ball caused the minie ball to rise from its projected path of impact. If uncompensated for there is a good chance than an infantryman in a zone from approx 120 to 350 yards from a fired rifle will be relatively safe as the minie ball will probably pass over his head. The rifled bullet would then drop back down along its original path.
Studies by the French and British armies concluded that although the new rifles were very accurate they would be useless in the hands of untrained soldiers. So both the British and French started schools of musketry whose purpose was to instruct soldiers in the proper use of the front and rear sights on their new muskets.
This training came too late for the Crimean war but by the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, British soldiers were regularly engaging targets at 600 or more yards.
The French realized the significance of the new technology and they realized something else as well. That no matter how fast a soldier moved he could not run faster than a bullet and so something else needed to be tried.
French military theory believed that unless aggressive tactics were utilized the battle would degenerate into a long range shooting matches that would do no one any good. So they developed a new tactical manual designed to move the troops as quickly as possible into a close range combat situation and then with a quick volley, the application of the bayonet and the "Furor Gallic" would carry the day.
Voilia ! A new tactical manual is born . Since the United States is getting ready to adopt the 1855 Springfield rifle musket as its standard weapon, we need a new manual of tactics. Then Colonel William Hardee translates the French manual into English and quicker than you can say « Bobs your Uncle » we have a new manual.
So we have new weapons, and new tactical manuals, what could go wrong? Well American soldiers both North and South are going into battle with relatively little training. What training they do receive has nothing to do with how to use their weapons. Besides the specialist sharpshooter units such as Berdans there is no training in range estimation and how to use the adjustable sights. That is until the winter of 1863 when Patrick Cleburne a veteran of the British army begins to train his division in the musket techniques of his former army. This concept spreads fairly rapidly and by the spring of 1864, the newly raised Confederate sharpshooter units will have been well schooled in how to use their sights.
Studies have shown that most combat in the Civil War is going to be at relatively close ranges. Most battles are going to take place at under 150 yards.
During the late unpleasantness we have several examples of effective volley fire.
At the Battle of Gaines Mill, Fitz John Porters troops were entrenched to the eyeballs behind log breastworks. They had already repulsed one charge. Hoods Texans/Georgians came up and in a beautifully executed passing of lines moved through Whitings Division whose attack had stalled. Hoods men although under terrific fire moved forward and at a distance of 100 yards began moving at the double quick the intention of closing with the bayonet.
At a distance estimated at less than 25 yards, Hoods division let loose a volley that broke the center of Porters defenses. Pouring through the gap Hoods troops along with men from D.H. Hills command caused the Union troops to flee the breastworks.
After pushing through, they continued to advance. As the second line of federal defenses began to crumble, five companies of the 5th U.S. cavalry charged in a desperate effort to save Porters retreat. A single volley from the 4th TX/18th GA broke the charge and killed or wounded over 150 troopers.
We are not through with Hoods boys yet. At Second Manassas a single volley from the 5th Tx completely devastates the 5th NY Zouaves so effectively that they are never again an effective combat force.
Prior to the Manassas campaign, General Beauregard issued an order directing the men to hold their fire until directed. General Rosencrans in several letters and circulars to his commanders emphasized the British method of firing by the wing or the half battalion.
Implications For Us
Lets address an issue concerning volley fire as it relates to reenacting. Some will say that since CW soldiers had rifles they didnt need to fire volleys because they can engage a target at a longer range. That is true since it would apply to the real world of combat where if I fire a rifle at someone they are going down. Not so at the annual reenactment of the Battle of Joes Pants.
At a reenactment it does not matter what the manuals say. It does not matter what the historical record says. At a reenactment I can be armed with a 500 Gigawatt plasmatronic laser cannon and as long as I am shooting blanks no one is going to fall.
At the recent Cedar Creek Saturday battle we were in a battalion of campaigners. So we marched smartly off and did the parade ground evolutions. We formed up slowly (By the way you never see reeanctors move at the real pace of CW soldiers). Made sure our lines were perfectly center dressed. Had a good chance to study the ranks of the foe.
Meanwhile, the Federals have poured at least five or six battalion sized volleys into our nicely dressed ranks before the concept of removing our muskets from our shoulders was considered. In real CW combat there would have been no need to figure out who was at fault since there wouldnt have been enough left of the battalion to fill a matchbox. But we stood there patiently awaiting the order to do something.
That said, what needs to be done is if the battalion is going to be the maneuver unit, it needs to start putting some smoke downrange a lot quicker. When the companies come into line there is no reason on earth that they cannot start the firing sequence. The center dressing can wait for another time.
I just got back from a weekend with boy scouts. As youd probably expect, I had just as much fun as the boys and their scout leaders did. You would not believe the size of the fire ring we had. I was burning tree trunks, not sissy little 2 foot logs. And, yes I did keep in going all night long. Im always afraid that Vice is going to show up somewhere all grouchy and no hot coals to make a pot of coffee. Yes, its all in the training. It turned out to be an excellent weekend. Warmer weather than we had at Cedar Creek and no rain. They couldnt believe how I got by on so little. It was about a mile or so walk from my wagon to the camping area. I guess I didnt mention that it was uphill both ways. Anyway, now itll be off to North Carolina to share the last battle event of the season. For those unable to make it, well, its your loss, but you will be missed again.