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Averell's Advance - After Action Report

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  • Averell's Advance - After Action Report

    Photo of the 28th Ohio, Company "A" at Averell's Advance By Tom George Davison

    Now that a little time has passed since the conclusion of Averell's Advance (Droop Mountain), I wanted to take a moment to record my thoughts about the event. I served as the First Sergeant of Company A, 28th Ohio for the weekend.

    FRIDAY - On Friday night, we were at the original location (called Little Levels) where the Federals camped in 1863 prior to the battle of Droop Mountain. Previous to our arrival, the intrepid members of Company "A" found a perfect spot on a porch where we were safe from the elements for the night. Fortunately, we saw no precipitation and spent a cold, but dry evening.

    SATURDAY MORNING - After rising and taking roll in the brisk, misty cold of the morning, we were issued rations consisting of some excellent beef, hardtack, coffee, rice, and sugar. Our boys cooked their breakfast and got themselves situated for the march that was to come. We then brushed up on manual of arms, stacking, some field maneuvers and skirmish drill. For a group who was consolidated just prior to the event, I felt that we acquitted ourselves quite well.

    THE MARCH - Going into the event, we knew full-well that we would be recreating the roughly five mile march. People at work asked me what my weekend plans were and I was proudly able to declare that I would be climbing a mountain... but that was only the finale.

    We set off on the road through a small West Virginia town. Passing motorists stopped to film us, snap some photos and give us a thumbs up for our journey. Spirits were high and we moved along at a steady pace as the town transitioned into rolling fields, pastures, scattered farms and houses. Soon, we were veering off the road onto a period path with our ultimate destination, Droop Mountain looming in the distance.

    As we passed through the fields, we attracted the attention of several herds of cows. In each instance, a "leader" cow approached us to see what we were doing on their turf (pun intended). The looks on the faces of the rest of the herd can only be described as bemused superiority. It is indeed a humbling experience when a cow sees you for the history nerd you truly are. After enduring the gauntlet of bovine condescension, We successfully flanked each herd with no casualties and continued onward.

    We stopped for a brief time in the shadow of the mountain to rest and get a bite to eat out of our haversacks before beginning our ascent. As it turns out, this brief respite would be better-timed than we could imagine. At that moment, we felt fresh and ready-to-go. We would need this energy reserve shortly...

    The first part of the climb was gradual and I thought to myself, "this isn't going to be too tough." Well, as I always seem to forget in West Virginia, what looks like the top of a peak is only really the beginning of the next one. This phenomenon recurred ten or twelve times. We would reach the top of a hard slope only to encounter an exponentially harder one around the next switchback. Have you ever been on a march where it seems like someone is attaching heavier and heavier weights to each leg for every step? Yeah, that was the feeling. By the time we started approaching the "real" summit, I swear I had an anchor hanging from each leg.

    By this point, the battalion was pretty-well strung out. Our lead group reached the top, stripped off our gear and collapsed to the ground. Within fifteen minutes or so, the rest of the group made it to the top. Happy to report that to a man, everyone made the climb. We were now ready to make our final assault.

    THE BATTLE - We came up a small slope and the firing began. As we moved up the small ridge, we could see the Confederate breastworks built to repulse our advance. Company "A" was ordered forward in a skirmish line, firing as we moved and finding cover behind the trees, rocks and depressions in the ground. Company "B" was then ordered to the front and continued the movement forward. The lines wavered back-and-forth in this manner for about thirty minutes. The Rebs would move on our flanks and we adjusted accordingly. No grand charges. No Cowboys and Indians. Based on the accounts I read of the actual battle, it seemed to go off without a hitch. I took a hit when I saw a Confederate draw a bead on me and I stayed down until silence signaled the end of the hostilities before re-joining our ranks. Per the script, we had pushed the Virginians off of Droop Mountain.

    SATURDAY CAMP - At the conclusion of the battle, we were marched past the visitor center and into the woods toward the observation tower which overlooked the valley below. Since the night promised to be in the thirties, we immediately and instinctively began making fires. Wood was plentiful and dead fall was all around. The only challenge was that the heavy rain of the previous day made it a little difficult to get the damp wood going. No worries. Everyone was determined to be as warm as possible for the night.

    As often happens on a cold night in the field, sleep was not exactly easy. You ever fall asleep at an event only to wake up and discover that there is one cold spot that you failed to cover when you first laid down? Ever established that warm bubble underneath your blanket and gum blanket only to realize that you have to get up to relieve yourself at the precise moment you are the most comfortable? Yeah, that all happened Saturday night. In the morning, our Colonel asked how we slept. I replied, "I slept for about ten minutes, but that happened about fifty times."

    We began to assemble our gear for the march out and some of the organizers and officers mentioned that we might want to take a look at the view from the observation tower. We wandered up there a bit after sunrise. What a spectacular site. The entire valley was covered in a dense fog that I can only describe as a cloud sea with islands (hills & ridges) protruding through the top. One of the reasons I love events in West Virginia so much is the scenery and the general landscape. This scene alone made the trip worth it.

    MARCHING OUT AND THE FINALE - Once everyone was ready to head out, the organizers took us to some of the actual locations on the mountain that we had recreated the previous day. I thought this was a nice touch on their part. We were able to view the original and still-intact earthworks created by the 19th Virginia. We saw the actual slope where the battle had occurred. The organizers explained that due to land permissions, they shifted the location for the battle to a different area. They also took the opportunity to describe their planning for the scenario and some of the choices they made for the event. As someone who has organized events, I really appreciated the historical background and a little of the behind-the-scenes thinking that went into the scenario.

    We then marched back toward our cars, stopping to say our goodbyes to our comrades and hurrahs to the commanders and event organizers.

    IMPRESSIONS & THOUGHTS ABOUT THE EVENT - First, hats off to Stephen Pavey, Andrew Potter and the rest of the Broadside Mess for hosting this event. We attended their Floyd's Folly Event at Carnifex Ferry a few years ago and are happy to support these boys and what they are doing in West Virginia. Thanks to Will Eichler, Jeremy Bevard and Dom Dal Bello for their leadership throughout the weekend. Always great to see you guys in the field. Special thanks to the outstanding camaraderie we had in Company "A". It was an absolute pleasure to fall in with you and I would do so again without hesitation anyplace and anytime.

    I LOVE West Virginia. It is one of the most beautiful and pristine locales for an event. That was my first attraction to attending this one. There is just no other place that matches the mountains, scenery and raw landscape. I also feel that the Western Virginia Campaign is something that isn't done very often and appreciate the fact that the Broadside Boys are covering this aspect of the war. I know they have ideas for future events in West Virginia and look forward to hearing more.

    The ONLY downside I see from this event has nothing to do with the setting or scenario. I think the event itself was very well organized and executed. It was obvious that a lot of planning went into it and while I'm sure there were adjustments made along the way, they were seamless and didn't disrupt the experience.

    The lone negative I could see was the number of participants. I don't think I am speaking out-of-turn to say this because I had a long discussion with Stephen Pavey last week. I think we ended up with roughly eighty-five total participants for an event that was originally slated to have a brigade on each side. I won't go into my various theories for the lower than expected numbers other than to say that I have repeatedly lobbied for battalions as the basis for organizing EBUFU events as opposed to brigades. In general, it seems like the approach for all of us to consider is to build events from the bottom-up rather than start with a large structure and build from the top-down. Just my opinion, of course, but there it is.

    I told Stephen that in terms of the product they created, I had no qualms whatsoever. In terms of an event experience, Averell's had all of the right elements. It was well-done, well thought-out and well-executed on all counts. It was on par or better than many EBUFU event I have attended and that list goes back fifteen years. I only wish we could have had more of us there to experience what turned out to be perfect weather in one of the most picturesque parts of the country. I had fun.

    If you attended, what are your thoughts? Post your AAR here on the AC for posterity so others can read about your personal experience for years to come.
    Last edited by Eric Tipton; 11-15-2018, 04:24 PM.
    Eric Tipton
    AC Owner
    Founding Member, Mess No. 1
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  • #2
    Re: Averell's Advance - After Action Report


    Appreciate the thoughts on paper. It's ironic that often those of us who don't attend are the first to race online and scour the AARs. I for one can say this event was never a player for us AS A UNIT due to the distance. We've done a lot of traveling east the past few years. Yes, West Virginia is east for us. I personally was in Kuwait this year only recently returned, but even still would have attended our Kansas event otherwise. Your words hit home, as they are my precise thoughts from Fort Blakely last year. A beautiful location, a first rate plan, and not enough participants to get the full effect. I wholeheartedly support your theory on bottom up EBUFU organization. The IR guys do a LOT of that out here, and while us in the 24th Missouri aren't truly adept at establishing our own events we are bottom up driven. Cal's philosophy is he'd rather split into platoons if too large than have 12 rifle companies.

    I was truly sorry to have missed this one. Your remarks about sleeping in freezing weather hit home. Often times the only way I know I've slept is by recalling the parts of dreams lol.

    Thanks for always putting the shoulder to the wheel my friend, and undoubtedly our two units will be doing business together again very soon!
    Mike Phineas
    Arlington, TX
    24th Missouri Infantry
    Independent Volunteer Battalion

    "Oh, go in anywhere Colonel, go in anywhere. You'll find lovely fighting all along the line."

    -Philip Kearny


    • #3
      Re: Averell's Advance - After Action Report

      I second your AAR, Eric -- well done summary all round.

      To add a comment on numbers, I think there would have been more if there'd been more and more frequent message traffic here and on Facebook leading up to the event. Not that there wasn't sufficient information -- there certainly was. But we have a tendency to commit to these events, or consider them, early on and then as the time nears find other life commitments coming up. If we don't get the sense that things are happening at a certain level of activity, we tend to drop off. This is probably especially the case for an event like this, which involved walking up a mountain in West Virginia in November. Five to seven miles, including 750 feet in the last mile, when the weather looks a little dicey, is not something that automatically feels more compelling as the date nears.

      I don't mean that as a criticism of the organizers or of the p/c/h community, but as a simple observation.

      That said, I thought it ended up being a lovely weekend, even if it left me tired and sore for the next week. The numbers worked out. It looked to me like about 45 of us in blue and maybe a few more than that in gray (or maybe it always looks like more from the other end of the musket). That left a good deal of room for realistic frontages and ranges. It also meant that we had more than adequate shelter Friday when the weather was most threatening and could afford the luxury of stretching out on the hike up the hill on Saturday.

      Had we had the original target number of 200, things might have been a good deal more challenging all round, especially for the organizers. I think, for example, that it could have taken considerably longer to get everyone up the hill and that would have seriously affected the schedule given the early autumn sunset.

      On the whole, though, to quote a famous figure from days of yore, I had fun, how about you? :)

      I'll just add what I posted on the FB site -- not so much as AAR as an expression of gratitude:

      "Let me add my thanks to the organizers and federal command for a splendid little event. It was arduous, painful, and at each step I wondered whether I was ready for the next one. But even at the time I knew that's part of why it was great. It was wonderful being a member of a great group of reenactors who came prepared to do their duties as soldiers and remember those who'd gone before.

      "People say the hobby is dying. Well, it's always smelled a bit off, and for some time it's been undergoing a slow demographic implosion as we baby boomers die off. But this kind of event, with this quality of living historians, has no expiration date. I hadn't done something approaching this level since the Bentonville adjunct, and for different reasons I passed on Wauhatchie and Sailor's Creek. So I didn't know whether I could still do it, or whether I even wanted to. Apparently I still can, and certainly I still do. Thanks very much for that, too. See you in the field!"

      Looking forward to the next one...
      Michael A. Schaffner


      • #4
        Re: Averell's Advance - After Action Report

        Originally posted by Pvt Schnapps View Post
        "People say the hobby is dying. Well, it's always smelled a bit off, and for some time it's been undergoing a slow demographic implosion as we baby boomers die off. But this kind of event, with this quality of living historians, has no expiration date. I hadn't done something approaching this level since the Bentonville adjunct, and for different reasons I passed on Wauhatchie and Sailor's Creek. So I didn't know whether I could still do it, or whether I even wanted to. Apparently I still can, and certainly I still do. Thanks very much for that, too. See you in the field!"
        To quote Mark Twain, "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated!"
        So it with our silly little play-dress-up hobby, as well! The next generation up and coming and adding greatly to our knowledge and the hobby at large!
        John Wickett
        Former Carpetbagger
        Administrator (We got rules here! Be Nice - Sign Your Name - No Farbisms)