April 12, 2015
Thanks to the professionalism and good humor of the troopers of the Old Second the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox Station and Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was a huge success. Although this event marked the end of the 150th Anniversary season it included a number of firsts for our unit, and we rose to the challenge like the Regulars we portray. Drill, of which we had plenty, was impressive and I appreciated the focus of those in the ranks given that we did not have a mounted training this year. The unit looked magnificent. The comments that appear below are a mixture of mine and input from unit members who attended.
FCA: First among firsts was a Federal Cavalry Alliance chain of command that created two "squadrons" under a Regimental HQ. Due to a relatively small number participants from eastern states, our squadron consisted of only one company. This created the surreal effect of orders coming from a variety of sources, either in succession or directly: Major Doutt, Captain Womack, First Sergeant Sopko, or Sergeant Barry. The flexibility of the unit showed itself here and orders were executed promptly and accurately no matter their source. For its part, the leadership showed just how effective of a team we have by not letting any personality conflicts or power plays get in the way of a good time. The FCA leadership also proved to be effective at managing two distinct but equally effective styles exhibited by the two squadrons on the field and in camp. This organization is proving to be a winner a so far.
NPSisms: The next "first" is the "battle demonstration" system used by the National Park Service (NPS) on Thursday morning, which recreated the Battle of Appomattox Station on the exact date and time as the original. Fighting dismounted for 2.5 hours, as 1,200 troopers did against 9,000 Confederate infantry 150 years ago, was unprecedented in my 25 years in the hobby. When we do dismount it is usually for a few rounds then it's back in the saddle, and entire battles generally only run to an hour or so. While monotonous, it was a valuable lesson in the realities of Civil War combat, and combat in any era for that matter. Much of "seeing the elephant" is really a lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen or exchanging desultory fire with the enemy punctuated by moments of sheer terror when something does happen. Lastly, the two cavalry surrender demonstrations were entertaining and touching in equal parts, with some great acting (or was it?) by our Confederate counterparts.
Mess: A next first was the use of a mess system at a large event, although Marci and Corporal Happy and his team did soften this blow considerably by establishing a kitchen and bringing more than enough cookware. We had ample, tasty food and the chores seemed to be distributed evenly between the messes. However, all messes were not created equally in terms of internal communication, so if we continue to use this system its success will depend on coordination within and between messes, And, yes, more than one week's notice! Noted.
What follows are some general lessons learned from my saddle and comments from others in attendance:
A horse is a horse? Of course! Given the myriad personalities and levels of training of both troopers and their mounts it is a challenge to make everyone happy with their position in formation. We strive to put new mounts next to seasoned ones or position them where they will at least "do no harm." Unfortunately there is only one back left spot and typically more than one green or recalcitrant mount present. We'll focus on this more closely the rest of this season now that we know who gets along with whom, and I may play undercover boss and ride in the ranks more for a first hand look at things. In a mount's first season some level of stress and nonconformist behavior is normal, but if it hasn't settled down by the end of the season then it is time to ratchet training up to the next level. What is unacceptable is the shrug of the shoulder and "that's just how he/she is" approach: at the end of the day it is the trooper's responsibility to control and train his or her mount.
Camp Life. The Camp SOP places the command tent at the opposite end of the "company street" as the fire, which can in effect create two camps. To enhance cameraderie either the chain of command should move their butts to the camp fire area or we should modify the SOP. For now I'll probably choose the former option and bring the fiddle to fire. With all of the FCA meetings I had little time for socializing but I expect this will be the exception rather than the rule. It would be helpful if everyone (myself included) would learn the words to the 2nd Cavalry Song written by Dave Michel and the ones to the 2nd Cavalry version of "Over the Hills and Far Away" penned by yours truly so we can show the Cornfeds that we do have music of our own. At one point when I was trying to play fiddle with them one of them asked me for some Yankee music and either one of the above songs would have been a great way to reply.
Bugle calls. I got hit with a bugle call pop quiz on the field this weekend and got a C. I'll work on it. If anyone wants to be unit bugler I'm all for it, as I don't get exposure to bugle calls unless it is a large event with someone else's bugler present.
Quartermaster: To ensure that we have everything we need but not duplicate effort somebody besides Charlie and I need to keep track of who is bringing what to an event. I'm considering identifying a quartermaster for each event to ensure this happens, which will require some more email or phone traffic. For many smaller events this can be the event PoC, but for others like Appomattox that generate tons of email from higher HQ another trooper should handle it. If anyone has ideas in this area let me know.
Guest Units: We shared camp with the 1st Vermont Cavalry and the 11th PA joined us in the ranks. This was seamless from my point of view and I would have been lost without Tim Short identifying some of the bugle calls for me. Kudos to everyone for making them feel at home and for generous sharing of food and beverage all around.
OK, 'nuff said. Comments from the NPS official in charge of the living history portion appear below my signature block below for your reading pleasure. Appomattox was a great event and a memorable and fitting tribute to the momentous occasion it was 150 years ago. I was humbled to be your Captain on that field and thank you for your support.
Very Resp'y, Yr Obt Svt,
2nd U.S. Cavalry Company A/9th Virginia Cavalry Company D
P.S. A note from the NPS official in charge of the Appomattox Court House living history events:
I trust that you all got home safely. I want to thank you all for a great event, we heard a tremendously positive response from the public. I think that our visitors learned a lot and had an educational experience. I know that our leadership team managing the event were also very pleased.
Unlike many of the other big 150th events, living history was at the heart of this event- you were truly the center of attention.
We appreciate the time, effort, and expense that you invested in last week's event, and thank you for sharing your time and talents with us. We also appreciate your patience as we had some last minute changes and challenges with mud/rain, etc. I know we asked a lot of you, but you all delivered.
Total visitation is estimated at about 23,000 for the 5 days, I personally think it was higher. FYI, that makes this the #3 highest 150th, after Gettysburg and Antietam.
This was definitely a career highlight for me, and I hope a reenacting highlight for you all.
You''ll find some great photos on the park's Facebook page, so check it out.
Please share this message with all of your members.