Cavalry After Action Report
The following is a lengthy discourse on 2003 TAG, written as much for my own memories as for public consumption. If it gets boring, skip ahead to the Cavalry After Action Report. It was written from my perspective, and is thus flawed, but I hope interesting.
I can add but little to Cory's and others' well considered remarks about the Advanced Guard, the AoP and the WIG organizations. The more I reflect on this event, the more convinced I am that it has set a new and higher bar for realism in the hobby. While there are anachronisms which are unavoidable, I was gratified to see honest efforts made by the organizers to incorporate necessary items (e.g. water facilities) in a manner which was the least intrusive to the period. I do not know what kind of rations the Fed's enjoyed, but I was amazed at how much work went into the Confed commissary. The food included a huge keg of biled beef, ration boxes containing corn dodgers, red potatoes, onions, as well as incidentals like raw peanuts, coffee substitutes (parched corns w/ chicory), great bricks of pressed tobacco and crystallized brown sugar. Even the ration issue was period correct. A detail was organized to retrieve the company's ration, it was then brought back to be distributed among the soldiers. Two other things to note on Friday's ration distribution, first, kudos to the organizers for having a separate officers mess. This was very realistic, and I understand the officers had pickles, pickled watermelon rind as well as fine tobacco and whisky. Second, when we were first issued rations, we had been fighting all day. The troops had no idea whether we would ride out immediately. Imagine the rush we were in to get a fire started and come coffee boiling, while our horses remained saddled and ready to move on a moment's notice. Our pickets extended outside of the camp and were relieved after the first of us ate.
While I hesitate to sing any one's praises too loudly, lest their heads swell like halloween pumkins.... I must say that for tactical realism, Sgt. Coley Adair of the Critter Co. performed exceedingly well. I should mention that his second sergeant, John Cleveland seemed to be of one mind with the commander. I have participated in numerous tacticals throughout the years, but rarely do to section commanders perform so seamlessly with one another. They seemed to be on the same wavelength the entire event, as exhibited by their coordinated troop movements, often separated by hundreds of yards.
I would like to compliment the troops portraying the Arkansas cavalry. Coming from disparate states, Georgia, Kentucky, South and North Carolina and Virginia, and possibly others. Several of us had never ridden together before. We all pulled together, cooperated as veterans, looked after one another when some of our number were injured. We joked and poked fun throughout the event with the jocularity of veterans. I was privileged to ride with such men, each of them cognizant of his period attire and persona. I cannot say we stayed in first person throughout the event, rather, we slipped in and out. Out typically while in camp, in while on picket or riding to engage or locate our adversaries.
We were pleased to have several members of the WIG infantry and staff pass through our camp, as it was near water and the commissary. The attitudes of these men were excellent. I was personally impressed by Maj. Craddock, who tarried some while with us. I was very impressed with his field dispositions, but I found him to be unassuming and polite, a gentleman.
What can I not say about the infantry? These guys really put in the effort. They trudged up and down hills, across creeks, deploying often, maintaining reserves, detailing soldiers to various tasks. When we would ride by in the afternoon, some of the guys would be practically passed out. It was obvious that they were exhausted. The impressions were tight, the military discipline exemplary. Likewise, I would state that the fighting spirit of the Federal infantry was unmatched for vigor and determination. These troops more than once drove our mounted band back with concentrated fire and rapid reaction to our advances. They were most worthy adversaries. I believe the Federal cavalry troops enjoyed being immersed in a fluid tactical situation. I do not know what their orders were from on high, as for much of the event, they maintained close contact with their infantry. They were forced to respond to repeated forays both by our cavalry and our infantry. I am sure that the experience gained will prove valuable in future encounters.
What could have been improved upon? In my opinion, a concerted effort to attain at least twelve hours each day of first person interaction. We drifted in and out, and while I think it unreasonable to stay in character for 48 hours when we want to catch up with friends and discuss the hobby, we could commit to first person only from 5 am to 5 pm each day. Second, the whole taking hits thing. You know, I do not care so much if one takes hits, but please respect the fact that your opposition is armed with RIFLEs! Get back! When you are being shot at from a covered position, trees, ditches, etc., you should not advance unless your numbers justify it. How can ten skirmishers push back fifteen under cover of trees? Realism can only be achieved if we all use our good sense to make the experience better for our fellow participants. Finally, if the other side refuses to play by the "rules," bitching about it is only going to spoil the period rush for those around you. Just do the best you can, and quit whining.
To Maj. Craddock from Sgt. Coley Adair, Pvt. E.L.T. Harrelson reporting, regarding my detachment's Independent actions around your command, October 17-19 instant.
Your orders of the 17th to post my command in control of the main road placed my squad of nineteen on the heights overlooking the route I deemed most likely for the Federal advance. My selection of ground allowed for an ambuscade against movement up the road as well as for an orderly withdrawal if pressed on my left flank. While my intention was to strike smartly at our adversary's cavalry scouts, these troops elected to keep close to their infantry support, and as such, never came within the range of our rifles. Rather, we were pressed on our left by infantry skirmishers. I withdrew my command in good order, giving ground slowly and trading fire with the advancing troops. The Federal skirmishers necessarily advanced up an incline, and we were able to retire to our mounts without incident. I then withdrew and dismounted my men in a copse and defended the approaches from the cover of the woods.
The Federals at first were aggressive in their assault, however, I believe the steep approaches had them blown by early afternoon, and they slowed their advance. Our adversary posted his skirmishers and we retired out of rifle range to fix their position and await your arrival with the van of our army. This position we held until relieved by your companies in the late afternoon. After retiring, I took the opportunity to rest my men and their mounts, see to their sustenance and allowed them a rest as they had been constantly engaged since the morning.
As you are aware, our pickets guarded your right and rear throughout the evening of the seventeenth. At dawn I formed my command and determined that we had two men incapable of performing their duties, one due to an acute stomach illness, another due to an ill horse. One other minor injury was due to a smart kick to the leg sustained the previous day by one soldier, who carried out his duties after binding the bloody wound with cloth to hold the flesh together. I can only compliment the good spirits of my troops, who readily answer my calls and offer one another succor when in need as if they were brothers. The spirits of my men are high, and they willingly perform even the most onerous duties without complaint.
The morning of the eighteenth brought a heavy fog which coated the dells with an almost impenetrable mist. Your orders indicated that I should explore an approach to strike the Federal column in its right flank while your infantry fixed it by demonstrating against its front. I removed my command by a circuitous route to remain out of sight and hearing of the Federal videttes. By riding roughly two miles around a commanding eminence, my squad was able to fall onto the Union right with a daring charge at the gallop out of the surrounding mists. Our losses were only one in this assault and he fell at the very feet of their lines. I reformed my men and stood to your right flank.
Our next opportunity presented itself after you advanced your command over a small creek. Your skirmishers engaged the enemies videttes, and reported the movement of enemy cavalry in support of his lines. I withdrew stealthily and dismounted my men in a wood. We then descended to a point where we could take the enemy cavalry in the flank with our rifles from the cover of the trees. Our first barrage surprised the enemy, and he responded with ill-directed fire with pistols and carbines. Our second volley forced him to retire from the open field or risk being destroyed in detail. We then returned to our position on your flank, having achieved our objective.
I took the opportunity to rest my men, allowing them to eat, water their horses, and dress their various wounds. An exchange brought about by your adroit maneuvers returned captured weapons to my command, for which I am very grateful. I offer my compliments to you for your most capable handling of your troops to the embarrassment of our adversary.
The only other significant action of the eighteenth occurred when I was able to attack a detachment of the Federal cavalry while they were positioned at a ford. A rapid charge brought my column into their midst, and much firing ensued. Some of their number surrendered while others fought on. The confusion scattered some of my troops, and about four dispersed to avoid capture. I am pleased to report that by later that day, all four returned, after riding a circuitous route well to the northwest of our position. After this raid, there was some degree of confusion behind our lines, and some prisoners were allowed free passage without proper supervision. While they presented no immediate threat, you will see how their presence compromised our safety.
By evening my troops were well spent. We saw to the feeding and watering of our mounts, established our guard schedule for the evening, and prepared our victuals. In the early evening but after nightfall, and most importantly, before our videttes were posted, a strong detachment of Federal cavalry approached from the direction of your lines. In my opinion, this group most assuredly was led by one of the exchanged prisoners to our position. I am quite sure that no hostile force located our camp during the day, and yet this detachment rode to our position, unchallenged, and delivered a volley into our unsuspecting troops. We sustained numerous casualties, and the responsibility for this loss must ultimately be our own.
Early on the morning of the nineteenth, my videttes were posted in the fields stretching to your right beyond the hanging tree. We found no sign of the enemy in this quarter. Rather, it was clear that he would approach from your front and left. Your position placed you on commanding high ground above the creek and a farm. Your skirmishers were able to keep a hot exchange between you and the enemy. I formed on your right in a position calculated to allow my troopers to defend our right and rear or to attack the Federals in the flank from the cover of the woodline commanding the curtilage of the farm and outbuildings.
While the Federal cavalry demonstrated at the wood line, they were unwilling to try their mettle against our dismounted riflemen in the trees. They retired without further incident. They likewise did not attempt to outflank your troops, opting instead for mounted and dismounted pushes against your positions. I ultimately called in my pickets posted on our extreme flank and joined in your final assault against the Union lines in the area around the farm. The fighting around the farm and the ford became confused and desperate with Federal skirmishers fighting hand to hand with my troops. They being formed and well supported, I withdrew my command across the stream to regroup. You then fell among them, and the fighting became general. My detachment was able to withdraw from the engagement without further incident.
Respectfully submitted, I remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,
For Sgt. Coley Adair’s Ark. Cav. detachment
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