150th Gettysburg Reenactment 3-7 July 2013
Gettysburg is as many call it “the high water mark” of the American Civil War for the Southern Cause. It is the turning point in the War for the Northern Cause. Hopefully this narrative will capture for us all the planning and execution of the 150th Gettysburg Reenactment by Battery D “West Point Battery” 5th United States Artillery. For us, the Gettysburg Campaign began at the 150th Reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in September 2012. My memories of this event are still quite vivid. A brand new 2013 Ford Dually on the side of the road about 10-15 miles from the reenactment site, dead with a piston through the block. SGT John Horvath, PVT Lindsey Stanley and a trailer full of horses and equipment stopped. As this unit has done time and time again, we helped each other. CPL Chris Moose and his dually came and got us and the horse trailer while a “rollback” towing vehicle rescued the dually. This was our first major event following the unexpected death of a “rock steady” member of the pulling team. Gemini, one of our lead team horses, had been killed by a lighting strike in his pasture. After numerous discussions with SGT John Ruf and CPL Moose, we decided that we had a solution for this problem. As we arrived in camp, we found that we needed to keep the horse trailers with us since there was no room for a picket line …..and there went the authenticity. We had both our Parrott Rifles since our plan was to fight two guns. As we moved onto the field for the first day’s engagement we saw the growing crowd and listened to a Union band playing. Our horses have never appreciated period music much but seemed to be working well for their drivers SGT Ruf and CPL Moose. Cannonners followed along to take care of any issues while we traveled. I watched from the back of my mount Rebel and gave the command for the unit to Left Flank March with the plan to do one more of these moves and unlimber and begin firing, this didn’t happen. As I rode next to the team, a rider came over and was talking with me about our deployment and as he turned to leave his mount pushed Rebel into the trace chains and a chain reaction began. Rebel spun and I was thrown off and watched as the normally steady pulling horses surged forward, toward the crowd in an uncontrolled canter. Our lead driver, SGT Ruf, and the wheel horse driver, CPL Moose, struggled to turn the team away from the crowd while trying to regain control. CPL Moose was unhorsed and managed to regain control as he and John slowed the team and took control again. Rebel was a lost cause for the day and we lead him back to camp as the team pulled the gun back to camp. We had made arrangements to have the dually towed back to North Carolina, along with the horse trailer the next day so this ended our 150th Antietam with our gunners staying to fight on Sunday as a static piece. As the dust settled, talk immediately started about the 150th Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. I was again scheduled to command the horse drawn artillery, and here our team of horses had clearly not worked well and my own mount was less than reliable.
SGT John Horvath, his wife Sandy, Joyce and I rang in the New Year at the Eastover Civic Center with a big “BOOM” from our Parrott Rifle and 2013 began. We had a training weekend in February and John Ruf, who had Ramius, began to focus on working with him. We had an opportunity to support the Grand Opening of the Stafford County, Virginia Civil War Park, in April and the team performed flawlessly. We also had some bad news that because of work commitments neither John Ruf nor Chris Moose would be able to attend the Gettysburg Event in July. We used the time at Stafford to begin to work with one of our unit members, Bobby Allen, to fill the role as wheel horse driver. The Stafford Event was an excellent one for our horses, our men and the public who witnessed our demonstrations that included firing and retreating by prolong. It was clear John Ruf’s working with Ramius had paid off in big dividends.
We had picked up some new members (T.J. Duncan, Sharon Hickman, Gordon Horn and Drew Patton) and wanted to have them train with us and to discuss our expectations for the upcoming Gettysburg Event. It was going to be more than a 3 day weekend it would be 4-5 days of feeding both men and horses while engaging in what became up to two battles per day. We scheduled a 14-15 June training at Eastover and 1SG Slifer and I were pleased with the turn out. One of the new members who had never spent a day in the field with us offered to cook. My words of caution were, “be careful what you wish for.” Sharon Hickman with the help of 1SGT Joe and Geanie Slifer met and exceeded all expectations for feeding the men. Ric Morrow was able to join us coming up from Georgia and he brought along a new member, Kyle Szabo. Gordon Horn also came up from Georgia to join us for training having also expressed a desire to join us for the Gettysburg Campaign. Bobby had to leave early and when he walked away from his team, Vigilark and Surprise wanted to go with him. Ric was quickly mounted, but the team didn’t perform the way they had, arousing new concerns with me about our horse’s preparedness. When we came back out of the pasture, Lindsey suggested moving Ramius from the onside lead to onside wheel and move Vigilark to the onside swing. We made the change while keeping the offside horses in harness and when we tried this combination in these positions it worked great. We also learned at this event that Billy Horne and Bobby Allen would not be able to drive for Sunday’s battle. Good thing I like challenges!!! Lindsey and Drew had decided to go giving us a couple more young cannoneers and one that knew the horses well. We agreed to have another training day on the 29th of June and it went well and we began to focus on the move to Gettysburg. I ran up to Dennis Brooks’ to pick up 50 pounds of powder and he told me of the muddy mess that they had encountered at the event the weekend prior to ours.
The Fayetteville Observer had contacted me and wanted to do an article on the 150th Gettysburg event so they came and took photos of the training and interviewed unit members. We were happy when the first of two installments was printed on the Wednesday the event started and I picked some up before we left Eastover. The weather forecast was predicting that our weather would mirror that week and we began to plan for the worst. I had been in contact with other horse drawn elements of our Battery, Capt. Steve Cameron, Loren Andrews and Capt Ken Dombroski (an instructor of mine in Command and General Staff College) who was coming with the 3rd US Artillery Regiment Batteries L & M. They had decided not to bring their horses and to bring two guns, hoping their drivers could lend a hand to our horse drawn battery. Steve was the first on the ground with horses and Ken and his Californians followed. Drew, Lindsey and I arrived in the afternoon along with Dusty and Dakota Summers, Ric Morrow and Kyle Szabo. We got the picket line established and locked in with Capt Cameron’s horses. We then put my wall tent up (which hadn’t be up for years) and put up a tent for the commissary that a former member Steve Wolford had brought by to give the unit earlier in the week. By Thursday afternoon we had 19 folks on the ground and were getting acquainted with both the Tennessee and California folks. It quickly became obvious that we were blending well together and if the weather held, there was the promise of a good weekend.
When we took a head count on Thursday morning we realized that enough folks had arrived to fight the Thursday morning fight at Willoughby Run. The battle was a reenactment of General Buford’s Cavalry’s delaying action that caused the Confederate’s to deploy their troops into attack formation. We took our 4 guns out by horse and deployed our section just across the creek and sent Capt Cameron’s section across the creek to engage the Confederate Flank. As we prepared to go into action we noticed folks in the creek bed to our front creating an unsafe front for us to fire. We yelled for them to move and finally they got out of the way, but as they were falling back one of them with a cooler ran right toward Rebel, he spun and off I dismounted to fight on my back. We had begun to fire and from our rear, Union Infantry was coming up to meet the Confederate threat. Their Color Company came right through our section with flags flying and we opened a place in our line as they passed through us in a poorly coordinated move. Luckily, Rebel was still under control as they brushed against him as they would another soldier. At that point, my pride was the only casualty from the engagement as I remounted and began to direct our section firing. Truth is, my great, great grandfather was wounded on the first day fighting with the 22nd North Carolinians and I figure he put his great-great-grandson on his ass, since I was in the wrong color::J)) The Cavalry began to fall back as the infantry assumed the battle and again we were in the middle of the withdrawal. In retrospect, our guys both old and new had been engaged in quite a fight. Both men and horses had fought well, and the only concern I had was with Rebel.
By now, everyone had arrived and Thursday evening was the inaugural event for our Commissary and Sharon Hickman proved herself more than up to the task. We all ate well and continued to do so for the remainder of the event. Friday morning was a Cavalry fight and we joined in again with all our guns including the Californians. As we deployed, we again crossed the now quite muddy creek without an issue. We deployed the guns and began to engage the Confederates. It became apparent that we were being pushed and I had the guns deploy their prolongs and we began to withdraw to another position. As we reached a perfect firing position and had engaged, a Cavalry Courier rode over to me and asked me to redeploy the guns back to the spot we had just evacuated. I explained why I had moved the guns and that I didn’t want to move again. Satisfied he returned to the fight. As the fight ended we limbered up our guns and headed back to camp. When our team crossed the creek, Rebel, who had behaved perfectly, got in the way and the horses stepped in the tugs. The gunners had lagged behind and I “encouraged” them to move up and help. Pvts Lindsey and Drew Patton quickly corrected the problem and the crossing was made without further incident, from our gun. When the Rhode Island team crossed, their horses got very, very tangled in the traces and required a number of our folks to help avoid a disaster. Situation fixed, we headed back to camp.
We decided to sit the Saturday fights out to rest the horses but decided to hook the team, as did the rest of our battery. We had contacted an individual close to us who had built a Battery Forge and after we had drilled the section and taken some section photos on the Parade Field, we went and hooked to the forge for a second time. We had hooked earlier after getting permission but the Smitty wasn’t there so we returned it before pulling it. The Smitty wanted to ride the limber as payment and we were happy to allow him to do just that since it was an honor to pull his forge. His smile as he rode the limber was a sign of his happiness to have the forge pulled as it was in the Civil War by artillery horses. Sharon and the Slifer’s had planned a great meal for us Saturday night and as we finished eating we went to feed the horses with the help of a Bugler who sounded “grain horses call” and “attach nose bags call” as we fed the horses. I never realized there was a bugle call for almost everything they did. He told the tale of new artillery recruits who were given instructions to groom the horses and after they had started complying with their orders, the Bugler would play “grain horses” and all the horses would come back to the feeding location, leaving the recruits horseless in the field.
Saturday evening was marred by the only negative event for the whole weekend. Someone in the woods threw fireworks or set off a gun near our picket lines. We jumped up and chased the culprit(s) through the woods showing our displeasure. We checked our horses and they were safe and seemed un-phased by the blast. I stayed up late that evening contemplating what to do with the loss of our primary drivers for the photo we would be taking Sunday morning over in front of the bleachers on the Confederate side of the field. Fortunately, Ric Morrow has trained as a driver with us and the Californians and has been happy to be a gunner while Billy and Bobby have driven. He had gotten a little saddle time at the training weekend. I put Ric on the wheels and after checking with Capt Dombroski, I asked Dee Murphy to drive the lead team. She had spent all weekend with us and knew our horses well. PVT Lindsey Patton rode Rebel over to the location where the photos were taken. COL Paul (Mad Dog) Rice wanted to take advantage of having an unheard of opportunity for the eight horse drawn teams who had attended the event to take some photos. The photo was scheduled for 1000 and the Artillery Reserve was having a final formation that morning at 0830. 1SG Joe Slifer and I were scheduled to present Col Ric Dennis the Order of Saint Barbara at this formation. Mad Dog had arranged a golf cart to transport 1SG and me to the photo site after the presentation. When we were called forward, I explained to the formation our unit’s relationship with the US Army Field Artillery Association and how we had one of the two reenacting units that had chapters in the Association, the Rowan Chapter. I then explained the significance of Saint Barbara and Joe and I presented the award. The golf cart took Sharon, Joe and I to the photo site. We had asked the Smitty for the honor of pulling his forge and he again was happy to accommodate us as he and his “boys” rode the limber. When we arrived, we realized that changing uniforms to have a blue and grey photo wasn’t going to happen so we took one with our section in blue and the Confederate section in gray. The significance of this photo may be lost on the casual observer. We had four guns, three caissons and one battery forge all being pulled by 4 horse teams. Sandy Horvath took some awesome photos that could be merged to form one shot of all 8 teams. Great work Sandy!!!! As we pulled back to our campsite, the Rhode Island team who had pulled our gun, left it at the muddy crossing and all the teams returned to camp. Horses had done well, no accidents to either horse or man and whatever the first day’s issue was with Rebel, it had disappeared and he had been rock-steady in all the events following the first day. We began to break camp and to deploy our six guns to the battle site for the Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble Charge. Our Battery D position on the last day of the fight was the far left of the line on top of Little Round Top. There was no room for us to fight with horses. Battery D’s guns had been hauled to the top of the hill by horses and manpower. John Horvath and I went to get our gun and move it into position and realized there was a drainage ditch that we couldn’t get the gun across. We left the gun in the ditch with the prolong deployed and went to get help. After picking up our cannoneers we returned to the site and just like our Civil War brothers, pulled our gun, by prolong, into position on the far left of the line. Due to space constraints ,we had to limit our battery size from 6 to 5 and with our loss of personnel this worked out perfectly. We continued to break-down camp and then deployed with other gunners to our site. The hill (Little Round Top) was high and overlooked the battle site. We were high enough so we were firing over another battery, a first for us. The Federal Reserve had a plan to park trucks and trailers close by to recover guns quickly from the field when the battle was over. Capt Dombroski, a former artillery officer, laid our battery in with our gun forming a one gun section on the far left of the line. Captain Cameron’s guns formed our center section and the Californians formed our right section. Captain Cameron started the final battle with a Battery Prayer. We were right up against the crowd of spectators and unable to resist the temptation I turned around and told them about what they were seeing and was rewarded by their clapping and cheering each time we fired. The battle finally started and we began to engage the Confederate gun line on Seminary Ridge. As the Confederate Infantry began its attack, we shifted our fires to engage them. From our vantage point we could see the Confederates reach the angle and then the Federals counterattacked and began to push them back. The Confederate battle line began to disintegrate and fall back in uncontrolled groups back to Seminary Ridge. I thought of the Mort Kunstler Print, “It’s All My Fault” of General Lee greeting his retreating men. We continued to fire until we were ordered to stop. I questioned “why?” since the Confederate guns were continuing to fire. The safety officer showed me the squall line on his cell phone and the dark clouds moving our way forecast wet weather. The fight was soon over. Trucks were sent on the battlefield in quite an orderly fashion and our battery was loaded and headed back to camp as the rain came. I saw Drew moving the horse trailer to camp and the exodus began. 1SG Slifer had coordinated breaking camp so as we arrived men continued to work as a team, tents were broken down and although wet they were well folded and packed. When everyone was packed up, we invited Capt Cameron and his men, Loren Andrews and his Rhode Island Boys and the Californians over. Steve prayed for everyone’s safe travels and we said our good-byes. As folks got in their vehicles and started to leave, I went over to say my Good-bye’s to Steve Cameron, Loren Andrews, Ric Dennis and Jim Lynch. The truck Jim had been trying to get off his parade field had finally left, after fixing a flat tire. Steve’s horse wasn’t acting right and he called a vet who gave him a worst case story so I asked Ric to get the event Vet and, when he came, the issue was quickly corrected. We got in the dually and began our trek out. Joe had lead the way out and called to warn us how slick the roads, particularly a hill we had to go down, had become. Everything was quite orderly and we got out and onto 15 in an uneventful manner. On Sunday evening, we were headed to Northern Virginia (about 2 hours away) to drop Ramius off at the Ruf’s and then return on Monday to pick up our new horse “Black Out.” As we headed down 15, I realized that adding our 5 horses to a new pasture with the Ruf’s horse, at night might be a recipe for disaster. We made a brief stop at the Meuiner’s and dropped off all the girls and continued on our way. After an uneventful trip, we arrived and unloaded Rebel and Ramius, took a wonderful shower and died in bed. Early the next morning, we ate a little breakfast with Pam and headed back toward Gettysburg to pick up the three girls and “Black Out”. We met the Horvath’s who were headed south (home) after spending the evening in Gettysburg. About 12 hours later, we had completed our Culpeper to Taneytown trek and pulled into Flea Hill Road, safe and sound…a great event with great memories behind us. Sandy Horvath had taken photos with my camera and one of the Tennessee guys posted some great shots when combined with Sandy’s shot’s were a great chronological pictorial of the event. I asked everyone to give me their comments on the event and you can see those below. As I reflected on the ramp up for this event and then the actually event itself, I smiled with satisfaction. I struggled for words to say how I felt, having been doing this hobby for 20 years. Unit members old and new pulled together and performed in a manner that must have given immense satisfaction as our ancestors both blue and grey, as well as, the horses all looked down on us thinking, “They honor all of us by doing it just like we did as a team”. The words that said it best were spoken by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, "If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." This was the attitude of the men/women, Noncommissioned and Commissioned Officers of Battery D, “West Point Battery” 5th United States Artillery Regiment. It was a real honor and lots of fun to command the Battery and a joy to serve with each and every one of you. Our ancestors must have also smiled with pride as we simply had fun doing what we do. It is over a week after the event and as I write this or look at pictures I smile with both pride and satisfaction.
1SG Joe Slifer:
Having been a re-enactor for 20 or so
years I think it is safe to say I've participated in a broad spectrum of
events: small (tiny), huge (135th G'burg 25,000+),
good, bad, and ugly regardless of their size. Some have been fun while
others somewhat vexing. I would say I've seen it all but each event has some
occurrence which makes it unique in one's memory. Given that I have some
issues which compromise my being out in the field, I am now more attuned to
the experiences of others and my observance of their
actions/reactions...especially our new folks. I was very pleased with the
excitement displayed by Chase (his first real battle event), Johnathan
(ditto), Kyle (ditto), Gordon, and TJ. I want to commend Sharon who
performed admirably in the commissary role and kept everyone well hydrated
and fed.....great food!...and she took a phenomenal number of quality photos
too! Several of our new folks have expressed how intense the activity was
but also how personally rewarding the experience. My memories will be of the
pride I feel in how well our unit performed as a team with our
brothers/sisters in the other MOUNTED artillery units setting a standard of
performance to be envied by our non-mounted counterparts. To all our
members, quadrupeds included, WELL DONE!
SGT Stuart Brandt: We were taking cover behind the gun as we had “friendlies” immediately in front of us in the “NO FIRE” zone leaving us in the middle of it all. The battle was being hotly contested by two large forces. The comment was made by Dusty, “Dakota, this is what we have been waiting for months!” 150 years ago, boys were leaving home to seek adventure and to “fight”, only to get stuck in camp life which consisted of drill and more drill. When the big moment came and the powder was burned, I am sure that a number of folks on both sides were thinking the same thing.
Sharon Hickman: “One of the toughest, most rewarding experience's I've ever had the privilege to be a part of!!”
PVT Chase Berry: My most memorable experience at Gettysburg had to be sitting around with Sgt. Brant, Dusty, Dakota, Kyle, Ms. Hickman, and TJ either helping make breakfast or just simply talking. I also very much enjoyed watching some of the events and just seeing the massive scale of the battlefield, watching the mounted artillery of the Rhode Island and Tennessee groups fly by. This in turn allowed me to feel a great since of bewilderment and joy when our detachment was able to take the field. The last most significant thing that I enjoyed about this week had to be our placement of the Parrott Rifle during Pickett’s charge and being able to see all of the mud that had accumulated on it during the drivers ride through the sunken road and the creek, I thought it was a nice 'badge of honor'. All in all I really enjoyed the week.
PVT Dusty Summers: As for the stories, there are a lot from the first battle (which as I said on the battlefield is what I have been waiting for, the size of things happening around was like a time travel experience), to the search for our horse scaring A&)$&@E to the lessons learned. But I think one of my favorite parts was in camp just being around everyone and telling and hearing others stories. The brother (sister)-hood grew stronger that week. We have a great unit that is well led. Thanks to everyone that was a part of it.
PVT Gordon Horn: “Want to thank-you again for the opportunity I got last week. Been spending a lot of time in the car the last few days—and one thing keeps coming to mind, ‘Wow, Wow, Wow that was GREAT!’ If I had a chance to hang out in the Dallas Cowboy’s Cheerleaders Locker room or relive last week….ok, I’d pick the locker room---But I’d tell them about Gettysburg!”
Battery D, "West Point" Battery attended the second 150th Gettysburg over the 3-7 July Weekend. We were combined with two horse-drawn teams from Tennessee and Kentucky, and a team from Rhode Island. We were augment by soldiers from the 3rd US Artillery Regiment from California, who had planned to bring a team but did not. Very quickly in these five days these units learned to operate as a 4 horse drawn battery. The Confedertes also had 4 horse drawn teams and we took a combined photo, still in our respective uniforms of 4 guns and a caisson line with 3 caissons and a battery forge.
|Photos by: Sharon Hickmon, Gordon Horne, Sandra Horvath, Adam Stoddard and David Stanley|
Updated on 21 Jul 2013.
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