Fort Branch 2006 Article
November is the month that has for many years had the most challenging and fun event of the year; Fort Branch. That old fort on the Roanoke River has been the sitting for reenactments of the battle fought there during the war of rebellion and the public and reenactors enjoy seeing and doing it. The weather for Saturday’s reenactment was perfect for wearing wool. The crowd was about the same as in the past and they all seem to enjoy the action that took place on the field. But for the reenactors gathered there the real magic of the weekend is the tactic that takes place Sunday morning.
It was a cool but comfortable Friday afternoon when we started sitting up camp. Our cook Ed Gray had really gotten his tent up, some nice guys had helped him with the erection and he had a good fire in his oven. The rest of us rolled in during the hours before sun up Sunday.
Word was passed to the cannon crew that early Sunday morning we would pull out.
In the cold hours of that faithful morning the cook was up fixing a hearty meal for the cannon crew. The horses were brought out of the woods into the frost covered field. The frost was so heavy it looked like snow. The moon was full and bright in the western sky. A chill and the excitement of the coming battle were in the morning air. The soldiers all went about their duties in the professional manner that regulars do when preparing for battle. Soon the horses were saddled and hooked-up.
Now we waited for the order to move. Our Captain gave the command and all the gallant crew moved out to face the fate that would come to them this cold morning. As that honored band marched to battle the cannon and limber sparkled with a covering of frost which made this instrument of death and destruction look sparkling jewels fit for a king. The horses breathed out smoke from they nostrils like breast from another world doing their part for the Gods of War they labored under the weight of cannon and limber. Where would we find the rebels was the question and it would prove to be a difficult question to answer?
The column moved by a road that paralleled a wood line on the right then across an open field. The wood was on the left side and then and the road cut into the forest with vision on both sides limited 20 to 30 feet inside the heavy growth. The Colonel in charge of the infantry sent his cavalry down the road to search for the rebel force he knew was in the area. Our Captain was concerned about the rebels getting to our rear so he went looking for them.
After going back on the road a quarter of a mile he spied the enemy cavalry. He shot at the rebels and they followed him back to our route of march. Infantry troops were moved back down the road to form a rear guard. The Colonel still needed to know where the main force of the rebels was located. Our captain rode out past the rear guard and found that the rebel infantry had marched behind their cavalry and was coming. Our rear position now became our front. Our cavalry retuned and informed the Colonel they had found a battery in position covering an open field and road on our flank.
As our rear guard fall back to our position in the wood line the cannon poured canister into the advancing cavalry and infantry. We need reinforcements and the Colonel sent our position most of his troops because he now knew this was the main force he was searching for. We fell back and formed a new line of battle and fought there till it was decided that we had better positions to fight from if we moved back using the swamps on our flanks as barrier to the enemy.
Our cannon cause the rebel great lost as our cannoneers poured canister into the advancing horde. Our position was so close to the foe that we moved to new positions pulling the cannon by prolong using the horses. The fighting at this point was hot and heavy, positions were changing fast as we pressure the rebels and they press us.
In moving to a new position we had to cross over a very narrow road with swamp on each side the gun being pull by prolong attached to the limber. As the cannon crossed the narrowest portion of the road the gun sledded into the swamp and our gunners could not get it to move. Seeing our trouble a group of the gallant infantrymen laid down there rifles and rushed to our aid and make quick work of helping getting us back on the road again. On this road with swamp on both sides we handled the rebels in a manner that made certain that many of they number were with the angles. Our Captain called for canister and his orders were properly carried out by men who knew how to do the soldiers work this day.
Then the rebel cavalry came on our left flank and threaten to turn it so we moved again but this time we did not have time to advance the horses so a call for aid was answered by the infantrymen who handed their rifles to a Conrad in Arms and grabbing the prolong with the cannoneers bodily moved the gun some distanced to a new position. From this new position a deadly fire of musketry and cannon was delivery upon the enemy.
Now our attention went to the battery that covered the open field and road to our rear. Our Captain knowing that their raking fire would cut down many noble infantrymen when they charged the battery decided to limber the cannon and at a full gallop charged though and past the battery. This usual plan was carried out with three men or the limber and our captain in the lead. Such a daring charge by horse artillery is seldom seen. The Captain’s Spencer rifle fire was the only covering fire we had as the charge was made though the rebel battery and what a charge it was. The galloping horse cut though the battery like the wind of a hurricane. The crew on the limber kept shouting to the drivers to go faster till the gun was past the rebel battery.
At this point the rebel cavalry turned their total attention to the gun shouting “to the gun, to the gun.” At this point our cavalry raced in and turned them away.
So ended another great experience at Ft. Branch, this one would have to rate as one of the best. All parties I hope had a wonderful time. I know my trip home was full of conversation about the different things we did during that enjoyable weekend that now is a memory that I will keep forever. Thanks to all of you the great memories!