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I have an idea, but I need help

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  • I have an idea, but I need help

    With the 150th Cycle now concluded, it's time to look forward to what comes next in our hobby.

    For some years, I have thought about reviving the concept of "War on the James," and wanted to see if there are like-minded individuals who would be willing to work together on a project for 2017.

    The guiding principal would be "moving to the sound of the guns," and requires a largish parcel of land in VA where we can draw authentic living historians from all points on the compass. The purpose of the event would be experiential; I would prefer it to be first-person, but I don't know if there are enough authentics left to carry a realistic event of the size we would need to be realistic. Time frame should be 1862 or 1863 before the killing machines took over and chewed men up in huge proportions.

    I am NOT interested in command of either side, but hope to find individuals who are willing to work together to insure that participants have a terrific time, as those of us who were "War on the James" did. We did some inventive things, stole some ideas from other events, and produced an event that folks still talk about.

    Authentic civilians welcome.

    Feel free to PM me if interested.
    Bill Cross
    The Rowdy Pards

  • #2
    Re: I have an idea, but I need help

    I don't remember the War on the James or maybe it was under a different name or something. Could you tell me what the concept was for the event?
    Rob Bruno
    1st MD Cav


    • #3
      Re: I have an idea, but I need help

      Here you go Rob. This should at least give you an idea. I attended the War on the James event in 2003 and have fond memories. This is my first person letter from the event:

      October 13, 1862
      Near the James River, Virginia

      My Dearest Wife:

      I am feeling a bit "all-overish" as the saying goes, as I have become ill in the last week. I fear I am suffering from consumption and have a continuous cough. Don't be alarmed as I am confident that we have some of the best surgeons in the army and the thoughts of you and home in New Haven keep me from succumbing to the fever.

      So many things have happened in the last three days that I don't really know where to start, but I will try and describe it to you the best way I know how. Maybe, if I can tell you what happened, it will help me understand the loss and hardship that my friends and I in Company "C" endured.

      It began on Friday, October 10th when all of the companies of the 10th stopped along a back road next to a corn field. Like any good soldiers, the members of our company gathered the things that would make us comfortable for the night. We collected our rations at the commissary, which consisted of potatoes, onions, bacon, bread, sugar and some coffee. Since some of the wagon trains had not reached us, the coffee had to wait, but we were happy to have the rest. We found a good spot in the tree line and began the business of clearing out an area to sleep. The rain was falling in a misty and lazy way and looked like it was going to last for a while.

      We gathered wood from the deadfall in the trees and started a fire. In the army, there is something special when you get that first fire going and you have the warmth to gather around. We hollowed out an area within the cedars and removed the lower branches so as not to poke our eyes out later when it was dark. We gathered the remains of the harvested corn and placed it around for bedding. In short, we began to get cozy for what looked to be a wet and somewhat uneventful night.

      About the time we had the camp in good order and began to admire our handy work, the lieutenant arrived from the big bug meeting and told us that we were being assigned to picket duty for the night. We would be moving out very soon and needed to gather our things. How dejected we were! We had just made this little corner of the woods our home and now we would be uprooted and placed somewhere on that dark field directly in the line of the Rebels who we knew were close by. We packed our knapsacks and bedrolls and followed Sergeant "Tiny" to our unknown destination. Little did we know at the time that this would be the last night we would see some of our good friends and this was the beginning of an exciting and frightening time.

      We marched in the darkness to a patch of woods in the middle of two large fields. At the route step, we trudged along. I thought of home and our quiet life in New Haven. I thought of the Green at Yale and of the warmth of our home. I thought about your face and hoped that I would live another day to think about the return to you and the end of this struggle that has taken this regiment along the coast line. I thought about all of the destruction I had seen and the loss of life. The disease and the men torn to pieces.

      As we neared our destination, we came across three women who were camped in the field. In normal times, this might have seemed a bit strange, but given the circumstances of our current situation and position, it was even more of a curiosity and reason for apprehension.

      As near as I could tell, these three ladies had been uprooted from their home in Richmond and were trying to get away from the fighting. Little did they know that they had landed themselves right in the middle of the two armies. After some discussion out of my earshot, two volunteers were selected to take the ladies back behind our lines. Our sergeant and one of the other privates waited patiently while the ladies gathered their things and cursed their luck. Once everything was secured, they left us and went back towards our camp. We kept moving forward.

      We arrived at a spot of trees and were placed at picket facing the James River. The rain had subsided and there was a full moon which lit the landscape in a way that is hard to describe unless you had been there to see it in person. If not there to be a soldier, it would have been quite a romantic occasion. Otherwise, we felt fortunate to be able to see a little.

      We were assigned to two shifts for the night and I was able to sleep for the first two hours if you can call it sleep. When the army is in motion and the enemy is nearby, you can't really sleep in a sound way. You kind of close your eyes and rest your body, but your mind wanders continuously. You begin to relive the scenes of the war mixed with images from home. You think about the sounds of battle and then hear the crickets and sounds of the night. The stillness sometimes means that something is about to happen... except you don't know when.

      After the two hours of rest and fighting the skeeters, I went on picket with Peter from our company. Two of our other friends were to our right. We were told that one could be on guard while the other slept, but neither of us wanted to sleep. We sat there in silence watching across the field and waiting for something - some sound or some movement. I decided to try and sleep again and Peter kept watch on our position. I closed my eyes for a time and began to drift off when Peter asked me to come over and look at a light across the field. Was the light a fire for the opposing rebels or was it just a far off train? We didn’t know, but when you are tired; the moon is full and men are across a field intending to kill you, you never know what to think.

      We ask Corporal Maranto to come over and look at what we were seeing. None of us could figure it out. The light would be there for a time and then it would disappear. Because of the darkness; the tension of the upcoming conflict and odd light of the moon, our sergeants went out to explore and found nothing. A second expedition proved just as futile. I guess it shows you what tricks the mind will play when uncertainty is all around.

      At around 6 AM, we formed our company after about eight hours on picket. Lieutenant Murley was kind enough to provide us with some skirmish drill to get our blood moving as we waited for the regiment to join up with us. It was during this time that we became aware that we would be moving into battle soon. All the signs were there – officers talking together in groups, couriers running to and fro and men passing along the latest rumors.

      We marched forward through the plowed fields and over the rolling hills through the woods and came upon the rebel breastworks. They were piled breast high and situated on a ridge. Surely the commanders would not have us charge those works! After three years of this war, we had learned the hard way what happens when you attack a strong position. Whether this was on the minds of the others in my company, I don’t know, but we would certainly do what was asked of us when it came time.

      We formed into a battle line with skirmishers in front and began moving forward. There were fallen trees and bushes all around for cover, but we were constantly pushed forward. We came up on the works as men were falling around me. I heard screams and the thuds of men going down. We were firing as fast as we could and stepping over our fallen comrades. The rebels began to fall back from the works as we were ordered forward. As I reached the top of the pile, I looked down and saw a fallen rebel. He was bearded and wore an odd expression on his face in the middle of this chaos. It almost looked as though he were at peace or sleeping. For a second as I looked, the sounds around me died away and all I could see was a man enjoying a morning nap.

      “Forward!” yelled an officer behind me, waking me from my brief trance. The sounds all came back and I rushed forward to find cover. A group of us hid behind some fallen timber to the left and I saw Dave Greenplate from my company but no one else. “Where did they go?” I thought frantically. The rebels in front of us were regrouping now and began to fire with such ferocity that more men fell as others climbed back over the works. Dave and I looked around and decided to get back before we were captured or killed. A mixture of companies formed on the other side of the works and we fired some retreating volleys, but behind us, the regiment was disappearing back over the hill. The firing began to subside as our lines had all but disintegrated. The battle was quick, brutal and decisive. We had been repulsed and sustained heavy losses and it was over before we had a chance to comprehend what had happened. We heard the rebels hooting and hollering behind us as we walked to the rear to find our comrades.

      When we reformed our company, our number had fallen from fourteen to seven. Our Sergeant was gone and several friends including my good friend Bill Rodman. It was a strange feeling as I looked around that we would never see these men again. In a group, each person adds their own part and it felt like one of our arms had been amputated. Regardless, we would have to push on, because this battle was not yet over.

      Once the remainder of the 10th Connecticut staggered back to the lines, we were formed up and all of us in Company “C” were ready for some rest and food. Quickly, we learned that it was not time to rest yet. We were assigned to picket duty out in front of our line until further notice.

      Fortunately, members of Company “D” (I think) had already dug some decent rifle pits, because you could sit down and maybe lean a little and your head was out of the rifle sights of the enemy. Company “D” was pulled out of the picket line and we were told that we would hold this position.

      A slow mist began to fall and the main body of the regiment began building breastworks behind us. I sat in the rifle pit watching the tree line to the left with the James River behind it. To our right was a tree line with a vast cornfield running further off to the right. The rifle pits rested on a ridge which allowed us to look down onto the Confederate position. Although we had this perspective, we could not see the Confederate rifle pits. What we could see was a lot of activity going on behind the Rebel lines. We could see small figures moving between the trees, but after a while, we almost became immune to the movement as long as nothing looked too suspicious.

      I was relieved and went back about forty yards to the location where we had built a fire and sat down for a moment. The sergeant asked me to make a canteen run to re-supply my comrades, which I did and then sat down to cook some breakfast. I reached into my haversack and pulled out an onion and a potato and proceeded to cook them with the same plate I had used to deepen my rifle pit earlier. As I ate, I looked back to see our men furiously building the breastworks behind us. I looked out on the rifle pits and saw my friends in various stages of awareness, half sleep and boredom. The rain was still coming down, but it wasn’t too bad.

      After finishing my meal, I relieved Dave from the rifle pit on the right and dropped my knapsack on the ground and slumped into the hole. I took out a ground cloth and was just in the process of spreading it out when I saw movement to the left. Our sergeant and one of the corporals went over to investigate. “Probably more civilians coming through our lines” I thought to myself.

      Before I had the chance to think too long on that point, a line of Confederates appeared before us and on our right beyond the tree line. They were pretty far out in front of us, but with four of us on the line and about thirty of them, the odds did not look good. We fired off a round or so, but they were right on top of us now. We began to run for the cover of our lines. I grabbed my knapsack and ran as fast as my legs could carry me – keeping my head down the whole time and staying as close to the tree line as possible.

      Upon reaching our main line, we formed our company and were sent out in a skirmish line to the right in the corn field. We exchanged volleys with the Rebs and with superior numbers managed to push them back. The center of their line began to fall back over the hill as well. Things died down for a few minutes as we reported back to the commanders what our situation was. The main body of our skirmish line went to the center with two of us left on the right side behind the tree line to watch the Rebels. I constantly counted their numbers and yelled through the trees on their activity. There were two dead Rebels in front of me and as one of my comrades came through the tree line we examined the fallen men. Now, the gray line two hundred yards away began to reform and we yelled to our Sergeant in the middle that they were coming at us again.

      Their line advance back across the field as our numbers came pouring through the trees. We spread out in a line once again and again pushed them back. The firing fell off now as the Rebels had retreated back into their lines. Compared to the morning battle, this had been a skirmish, but because of the open terrain and the constant back and forth, it seemed to go on for an eternity. The whole regiment remained on the alert for an hour or so as the impact of the attack began to subside. A general truce was called after of the commanders went forward with a white flag. We were able to collect the dead and wounded at that point and the battle was over for now.

      It was early evening now and we received word that we were finally being relieved. We were told to find shelter and get some rest. The seven of us that remained found a spot behind the lines and as darkness fell and the rain began, we engineered our shelter halves to build a she-bang amongst two fallen trees. It was as if the trees had fallen in such a way to provide a ready-made house and it felt good to finally complete what we had started on Friday night. A fire was built and we removed our traps and gear and tossed them inside the shelter. The seven of us lay down and with the exception of one leak we stayed dry the rest of the night. More than anything else, we were warm – if not a bit cramped - and fell asleep quickly.

      I awoke and wasn’t quite sure what time it was, but walked out to look at the field that we had fought across all day. It was all quiet now and the full moon still hung over the area like a beacon to all present. Peter was tending to the fire as he could not sleep. He and I were end-to-end in our little hovel and because of his height, he was more cramped than most. We talked a bit and then I went back and lay down to sleep.

      Well, I wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was still dark as we were awakened by the sound of gunfire. At first it seemed to be far away, but it quickly became close. We all grabbed our guns and ammunition in the darkness and ran into the field. The Rebels were once again right on top of our position. I looked out in the field and all I could see were dark shapes and muzzle flashes. There was confusion all around us and people seemed to be running in every direction. We formed a skirmish line reaching the woods and the James on the left and moved forward. I saw a man go down in the darkness and two figures rushed towards him. I heard someone yell that they were trying to capture our sergeant and a couple of us rushed to his aid. The two dark figures fell back and the sergeant told Dave and I to enter the tree line and check the road beyond. We struggled through the trees and watched the road. There was still sporadic fire going on, but the sounds had died down. Mostly, men were talking, pointing and trying to make sense of this latest attack.

      After some time, we were told to fall back and form our company. Lieutenant Murley informed us that we were falling back from this position and we should break down our shelter. He also said that there were two civilians trying to locate a grave out on the battlefield. He asked us if anyone had seen the grave and I told him that I saw it the day before while we were on picket. He told me to go out and see if I could help them find it.

      I walked back across the field that we had crossed and re-crossed so many times over the last days and reached the crest of the hill where our rifle pits had been. Off to my left, I saw two women. One was digging up the grave and the other appeared to be crying. I hesitated for a second and just watched the scene. I was sure that these were Southern women and how would they take it if a Union man walked up to them at this moment. My instincts told me that they needed a hand, so I went forward.

      When I reached the site, I removed my cap and didn’t quite know what to say.

      “I was told by my Lieutenant to come out here and make sure that you ladies found the grave you were looking for” I said. “Who are you?” I asked.

      ‘We live on this land. This is the grave of one of my relatives’ He was killed here. (I don’t remember which relative).

      She asked me where I was from and what I did back home and we talked for a minute. I finally asked if I could help.

      “I know this is painful for you” I said, “but I hope you realize that we don’t want to be here any more than you want us here. I’m sorry about your relative, but unfortunately, we had a job to do today and there was a lot of loss on both sides”.

      With that, we scraped the dirt off of the grave and it revealed a body wrapped in a gum blanket. We gently lifted the body and placed it on the small cart they had brought with them. I tried to adjust the position of the body and the head flopped backward. One of the women let out a sob. I was taken aback and stood there for a second and didn’t know what else to say except that I hoped it would all be over soon and I hoped they would be all right.

      I walked back to the lines and we formed up and marched away from the site. We marched back over two fields and across some swampy land until we crossed the area where we had tried to set up camp two nights before. As we left the area, I looked back remembering all that had transpired over this ground the last two days and all I could think about was home and you. I wanted to write this all while I had the chance so you could understand what it is that we are doing down here.

      Think of me when you visit the Green and when you visit East Rock in New Haven. Please write my parents back in Ohio and let them know I am all right. I am thinking about all of you constantly and since we are so near Richmond, it looks like the end of this war may be very soon. Pray that I can survive just a while longer to be able to return home and see you once again and return to the life that we built together.

      I must leave now because the light is dim and my candle is all but gone. I will see you soon.

      My Fondest Affection and Love,

      Last edited by Eric Tipton; 05-02-2015, 09:21 AM.
      Eric Tipton
      AC Owner
      Founding Member, Mess No. 1
      Cincinnati, Ohio


      • #4
        Re: I have an idea, but I need help

        Thank you, Eric, for that very wonderful shared letter.

        Rob, the principle was as follows: we borrowed the land where Berkeley Hundred stands, and divided the event up into two halves. Friday night, the CS elements held a strip of land down near the house IIRC. Federal forces assembled downriver and camped for the night. Pickets were sent out to prevent being surprised. The next day we attacked the CS positions for the spectators (so the property owner could derive some income from letting us use his fields). The "dead" and "wounded" left on the field then assembled in the parking lot. I actually shaved off a beard I had grown for the event, removed my major's straps, sewed on captain's bars, then marched the "dead" company back as a different unit after dark. I freely confess to stealing the concept form John Cleaveland's "Pickett's Mill 2001" a few years before that I had attended. It allowed the fellers Saturday night to "mourn" the loss of their comrades without knowing they were back as a different unit.

        That night the CS forces attacked our camp by moonlight and participants had a wonderful skirmish in the near-day brightness. The next morning we moved on the CS works and carried them IIRC.

        All throughout the event a contingent of authentic civilians that included Linda and Hank Trent were loose on the property and took up much of our day Saturday as we arrested spies and saboteurs, and tried to deal with refugees within our lines. We soon discovered many of the civilians were nuttier than bedbugs because they had escaped from a nearby asylum.

        There was also the usual issuing of rations, a dispersal of a gum blanket "bully buy" and other things that kept participants busy with period activities.

        I have found over the years that a good event is a mix of theater, authenticity and keeping all too busy to talk about modern things.

        Oh, and all participants were warned that if they were discovered with a camera or took a photograph, they would be immediately escorted from the event. Needless to say, we had no pictures from within the ranks, as everyone knew I was not kidding.
        Bill Cross
        The Rowdy Pards


        • #5
          Re: I have an idea, but I need help

          Thanks Eric and Bill. That does fill in the blanks and explains what sounds like a really good event. I would be interested in an event like that because it is one of the few concepts that could include the mounted side for what we were intended to do. Over the next couple years, I don't think I would be much help in organizing. Too many things going on as a dad, but would be interesting in seeing something like this put together.
          Rob Bruno
          1st MD Cav


          • #6
            Re: I have an idea, but I need help

            Thanks, Rob. The challenge these days (as you are undoubtedly aware) is that horses kick the event insurance costs into the stratosphere. It will be one of the things the hobby is going to have to deal with in some way.

            I have received communications from fellers who want to attend such an event. WotJ has become storied in the hobby, so it must have been a good 'un. But to have events like that again, we're going to need folks to raise their hands and volunteer to do some of the pre-event planning and execution.

            "Many hands make light work."
            Bill Cross
            The Rowdy Pards


            • #7
              Re: I have an idea, but I need help

              Hi Bill.
              I agree about pitching in to help. I will follow the thread or the idea with info and see what I can do.

              Not debating or arguing, but are you basically saying cause of the insurance, horses probably won't be allowed at the event. Or, are just stating the fact that in today's age we have to pay more for insurance coverage because of the risk of horses?
              Rob Bruno
              1st MD Cav


              • #8
                Re: I have an idea, but I need help

                Hi, Rob, I have no idea whether horses will remain a viable option for smaller events (those not hosted by entities like Henrico Co. who handled the Chris Anders New Market Heights event), or whether money can be found. I would always prefer to have horses accurately and authentically part of my events, as the 19th Century moved by the original horsepower. But I know that several events have seen their insurance costs skyrocket in the past few years.

                What is the answer? I don't know. Will horses be dropped from smaller events? Again, I don't know. I do recall that when working on an event some years back called "The Road to Goldsboro," it was very difficult to find even one underwriter who would quote for horses at the event. The demise of that event was because the land proved to be underwater (literally, and not in the current mortgage terminology), but I spent many hours trying to get more than one quote, and saw any potential payday for preservation to be unlikely due to the high tariff wanted.

                In truth, from my experience, most insurers are quoting "nuisance" fees because they don't WANT to insure an event with horses.
                Bill Cross
                The Rowdy Pards