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Interesting Improvised Tactic

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  • Interesting Improvised Tactic

    In doing some research for an upcoming local living history I came across the following (WR Series I, Vol. 5, pp. 503-504). It's a bit lengthy but I've highlighted the part I found most interesting. It sounds like a modification of "Street Firing" using the section as a basis rather than platoons or companies. It may be worth noting that the battalion in this case was about as large as a reenactor "battalion":

    February 3, 1862 Reconnaissance to Occoquan Village, Va.

    Report of Col. Stephen G. Champlin, Third Michigan Infantry.

    HEADQUARTERS PICKET GUARD, February 4, 1862.
    SIR: I have the honor to report that the reconnoitering party sent out early yesterday morning returned about 3 p.m. The party was commanded by Captain Lowing, and consisted of Lieutenant Brennan and 34 men from Company I, and Lieutenant Ryan and 44 men from Company H. They took the road leading by Millstead and went as far as Barkers, intending to push up as far as Burkes Station and then pass over to Brimstone Hill, returning by way of old Ox road; but the storm was so severe that the captain did not think it advisable to continue farther, so turned off to the left, and passing the house of Williamson, went down to the river side opposite Occoquan Village. The river side was reached through a ravine through which the road passes. Arriving on the shore of the river, the road turns sharply to the north, while a precipitous rocky bluff of near 100 feet high rises immediately behind, leaving only room for the roadway. Upon nearing the river Lieutenant Brennan and 10 men were thrown forward to reconnoiter. He saw but few men in the streets of the village on his arrival, and those seen appeared to be squads of unarmed recruits drilling. The scouting party was soon discovered by the enemy and the alarm given, when armed men rushed out of the houses and opened a fire upon the party. Captain Lowing then came up and ordered the fire to be returned. Three rounds were fired, when the men, being too much exposed and having accomplished the object of their mission, were ordered to retire, and returned by way of Pohick Church.
    The falling snow prevented objects from being distinctly seen. Four of the enemy were seen to fall, however, and were carried off by their comrades. Great confusion seemed to prevail. The enemy were evidently taken by surprise. Owing to the difficulty of getting the men under cover Captain Lowing did not deploy his men but brought them through the ravine in sections of eight men abreast, delivered his fire in this order, retiring from the right and left to the rear, thus exposing the head of the column, the balance being hid in the ravine through which they approached the river. The men delivered their fire deliberately and filed to the rear without confusion, acting with coolness and courage throughout.
    A camp of the enemy was seen below Occoquan and on the south side of the river. No fortifications were seen. The range of vision was limited, however, by the falling snow. At the corner near Mrs. Violetís house a cavalry picket post was discovered, but the pickets had fled up the old Ox road. They found a good common tent there, in which the pickets had sheltered themselves. They destroyed the tent, as they were too much exhausted to bring it away with them. With the exception of this, no picket post was seen.
    Captain Lowing was informed at Barkers that the enemy kept a picket post at the saw-mill between Barkerís and Burkeís Station. I am inclined to believe that the old Ox road is picketed by cavalry from Fairfax Station to Mrs. Violetís, though I have no certain information of the fact. On the return, four of Captain Lowingís men becoming so exhausted that they could travel no farther, he directed search to be made for horses on which to mount them. He found two horses in a barn near a deserted house. The owner of the horses could not be ascertained, so he took these horses and mounted the exhausted men on them, and they rode them in. He now inquires as to what disposition he shall make of the horses Ė whether to hand them over to the brigade quartermaster or to return them to the place from whence taken.
    Just before Captain Lowing returned, and when he was in the neighborhood of Pohick Church, heavy firing of musketry was distinctly heard in the direction of Parkerís, on the Pohick road. The firing lasted several minutes. I am inclined to think that it was between two detachments of the enemy, and who met at the cross-roads, probably mistaking each other for Captain Lowings party. I shall request the officer who relieves me to ascertain if possible the cause of this firing.
    I strongly second the views of Captain Moses in relation to pushing the right of our line of pickets out to the Springfield road. The advantages are, it gives a stronger line of posts, is more easily and more securely picketed, while in the rear, along the whole line nearly, is strong ground for the pickets to fall back upon if forced from their position. it will take fewer men, thus giving stronger reserves at the threatened points.
    I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
    S. G. CHAMPLIN,
    Colonel, Commanding Third Michigan Volunteers.
    ISAAC MOSES, Assistant Adjutant-General.
    Michael A. Schaffner
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