Saturday, March 31, 2012

An amusing story -- The Charge of the Mule Brigade

Soldiers on both sides often copied the tunes of popular songs and adapted the words either in parody or to suit their own situations. "Johnny Comes Marching Home" was a popular hymn that was cannibalized thousands of times.

Much in the same way as men tried to liven up their horrible lives with song, there were also a great many poems men composed.

This poem in particular, also recorded for posterity in the annals of John D. Billings, recounts a heroic cavalry charge at midnight by not horses, but mules! And what better way to pay tribute to this bizarre event than a parody of Alfred Tennyson's epic poem Charge of the Light Brigade.

I reproduce the passage from Hardtack & Coffee for your amusement.

"On the night of Oct. 28, 1863, when General Geary's Division of the Twelfth Corps repulsed the attacking forces of Longstreet at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, about two hundred mules, affrighted by the din of battle, rushed in the darkness into the midst of Wade Hampton's rebel troops, creating something of a panic among them, and causing a portion of them to fall back, supposing they were attacked by cavalry. Some one in the Union army, who knew the circumstances, taking Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" as a basis, composed and circulated the following description of the ludicrous event:--


Half a mile, half a mile,
Half a mile onward,
right through the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

"Forward the Mule Brigade!
Charge for the Rebs!" they neighed.
Straight for the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

"Forward the Mule Brigade!"
Was there a mule dismayed?
Not when the long ears felt
All their ropes sundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to make Rebs fly.
On! to the Georgia troops
Broke the two hundred.

Mules to the right of them,
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed and thundered.
Breaking their own confines,
Breaking through Longstreet's lines
Into the Georgia troops,
Stormed the two hundred.

Wild all their eyes did glare,
Whisked all their tails in air
Scattering the chivalry there,
While all the world wondered.
Not a mule back bestraddled,
Yet how they all skedaddled--
Fled every Georgian,
Unsabred, unsaddled,
Scattered and sundered!
How they were routed there
By the two hundred!

Mule to the right of them,
Mules to the left of them,
Mules behind them
Pawed, neighed, and thundered;
Followed by hoof and head
Full many a hero fled,
fain in the last ditch dead,
Back from an ass's jaw
All that was left of them,--
Left by the two hundred.

When can their glory fade?
Oh, the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Mule Brigade,
Long-eared two hundred!

I don't have much to post for the next two weeks or so until the reenacting season begins, so I guess It'll have to be just amusing tidbits and "filler" posts for now.

My sincere apologies.

"The Sweet Little Man of '61" A poem about "stay at Home Rangers" or cowardice in the Union

This charming little poem was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1861 about a certain class of men in society who considered themselves above service in the Army. These were usually the men who fervently supported the cause of freedom and were against secession; and urged many others to join and take up arms, but somehow always managed to avoid enlistment themselves.

It is mentioned in the Civil war "Reenactor's Bible" {written by an actual Civil War Veteran by the name of John D. Billings, otherwise known as Hardtack & Coffee } I like the polite humor leveled at this oft-maligned upper class group of people in Northern society. It's irreverent, yet not entirely hateful.

here the poem is in its entirety.


Now while our soldiers are fighting our battles,
Each at his post do all that he can,
Down among Rebels and contraband chattels,
What are you doing, my sweet little man?

All the brave boys under canvas are sleeping;
All of them pressing to march with the van,
Far from home where their sweethearts are weeping;
What are you waiting for, sweet little man?

You with the terrible warlike moustaches,
Fit for a colonel or chief of a clan,
You with the waist made for sword-belts and sashes,
Where are your shoulder-straps, sweet little man?

Bring him the buttonless garment of woman!
Cover his face lest it freckle and tan;
Muster the Apron-string Guards on the Common, -
That is the corps for the sweet little man!

Give him for escort a file of young misses,
Each of them armed with a deadly rattan;
They shall defend him from laughter and hisses,
Aimed by low boys at the sweet little man.

All the fair maidens about him shall cluster,
Pluck the white feather from bonnet and fan,
Make him a plume like a turkey-wing duster, --
That is the crest for the sweet little man.

Oh, but the Apron-string Guards are the fellows!
Drilling each day since our trouble began,--
"Handle your walking-sticks!" "Shoulder umbrellas!"
That is the style for the sweet little man.

Have we a nation to save? In the first place
Saving ourselves is the sensible plan.
Surely, the spot where there's shooting's the worst place
Where I can stand, says the sweet little man.

Catch me confiding my person with strangers,
Think how the cowardly Bull-Runners ran!
In the brigade of the Stay-at-home Rangers
Marches my corps, says the sweet little man.

Such was the stuff of the Malakoff takers,
Such were the soldiers that scaled the Redan;
Truculent housemaids and bloodthirsty Quakers
Brave not the wrath of the sweet little man!

Yield him the sidewalk, ye nursery maidens!
Sauve qui peut! Bridget, and right about! Ann;--
Fierce as a shark in a school of menhadens,
See him advancing, the sweet little man!

When the red flails of the battlefield's threshers
Beat out the continent's wheat from its bran,
While the wind scatters the chaffy Seceshers,
What will become of the sweet little man?

When the brown soldiers come back from the borders,
How will he look while his features they scan?
How will he feel when he gets marching orders,
Signed by his lady love? Sweet little man.

Fear not for him though the Rebels expect him,--
Life is too precious to shorten its span;
Woman her broomstick shall raise to protect him,
Will she not fight for the sweet little man!

Now, then, nine cheers for the Stay-at-home Ranger!
Blow the great fish-horn and beat the big pan!
First in the field, that is farthest from danger,
take your white feather plume, sweet little man!

A "White Feather Man" was another name for a coward at the time. This poem is basically stating that men who thought themselves too rich to fight were girly men. Notice how it mentions their ladies often defending their husband's right to refuse the service. The overall sentiment was "maybe we should send your women to fight in your stead!"

Just an amusing little poem.

Monday, March 26, 2012

150th Manassas Video 2

150th Battle of Manassas/Bull Run

The epic movie-scale battle that I was actually at but didn't see a second of. I spent the whole time in the medic tent dying of heat stroke :(

The videos just don't do this any justice. There were 400 cavalry present on both sides, at least 50 cannons and over 8,700 reenactors. The video also does not show how truly loud this battle was. The muskets sound like stapleguns in the video. In reality the cannons were so loud they set off car alarms a mile away.

The 150th Gettysburg in 2013 is anticipating 25,000 reenactors and a quarter of a million spectators.

Mifflin Guard at Cedar Creek 2011

semi-professional video done of the battle at Cedar Creek this year. This is the Battalion or Brigade I'm now joining.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't buy a soldier's hat at Gettysburg

Somebody needs to tell the Gettysburg visitor center that the souvenir hats they sell didn't come around until 1872. The crossed rifle pin didn't replace the gold bugle as a symbol of the Infantry until after the Civil War. Also, insignia was on the top of the hat in the 1860's, not on the front. Insignia on the front was for officers only.


If you see an adult reenactor wearing this hat, scold him sternly and slap his wrist. If he argues with you about its "realism," give him an uppercut to the jaw and tell him to go watch Glory.

Kids wearing the Gettysburg kepis are understandable, because only they make hats that small. But if you see a kid reenactor wearing this hat, pay 2 dollars and get him a bugle pin to put on it, and throw away that crossed rifle nonsense.


Per 1863 regulation, the top of the forage cap or kepi could only have a Corps badge made of wool material or an infantry bugle, the Regimental number in brass, and a company letter.

The brim of the hat was a single piece of leather, not whatever that faux sewn plastic leather they use is. Creased hat brims didn't come around until the 20th century when baseball players folded the cap to put in their back trouser pocket.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Completed Handmade Drill Rifle.

Remember the pattern for the wooden P-1853 Enfield rifle musket?

Here's my finished result.

I used part of an old aluminum broom handle for the barrel. The stock is pine, cut by saber saw and then carved by hand with my jacknife. The barrel is removable and held on by hose clamps. The long, thin tube clamped to the stock is to slide the dummy ramrod into, shown below it. The ramrod is part of an old curtain rod. The trigger guard is a pipe fastener.

I really need to practice drawing the ramrod and replacing it, which is why I made this in the first place. I measured the barrel, stock and ramrod so that they are accurate to the real deal. It weighs about 10 pounds, just a bit lighter than the genuine article, but when you hold it in your hands it feels like it could be real.

The last thing I want to do to make it complete is buy one of those farby kid rifles, remove the hammer, lock and trigger assembly, and install it on here so the thing can shoot caps :)

I'll keep working on it, but not bad for a first try. If my company likes this one I can make more.

Dog Tags Invented in 1861???

Identifying dead soldiers on the battlefield has been a problem nearly since the birth of war itself. Unless there were men alive who still knew a soldier or who were eyewitnesses to his death, soldiers were typically not returned to their homes and simply buried in mass graves.

During the Civil War armies on both sides tried various methods of identifying individuals should they be killed. They often carried photographs into battle with names of relatives inscribed, or had sewn strips of cloth into their coats with their name, regiment and company, and possibly hometown. Some Confederate men cleverly engraved pieces of bone or ivory with their designations, and others even carved them on acorns.

But the generally held belief is that the armies of America did not standardize an official way to identify soldiers until World War I, half a century after the War Between the States.

This has been proven false.

We now know that while there was no standard throughout the army, certain regiments did more to ensure the safety of their men than others.

Archeological excavators in Delaware and in Gettysburg have unearthed these unusual copper or bronze coin-shaped medallions clearly meant to be worn around the neck. On the front we see the soldier's name, Regiment and Company engraved in a circle. On the back is the Union battle eagle with WAR 1861, UNITED STATES.

This particular tag or coin or disc belonged to Andrew Howard, of the 2nd Delaware Volunteers, Company H. Several of these medallions are in possession of members of my reenacting group.

They can be found but are apparently very rare. I do not know if this was a standard in any other part of the Union Army, or if it's unique to my State's militia in 1861.

So if anyone says dog tags weren't around until the First World War you can say that is incorrect. :)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Song that inspired this blog.

"The Invalid Corps"

I wanted much to go to war
And went to be examined,
The surgeon looked me o'er and o'er,
My back and chest he hammered.
Said he, "You're not the man for me,
Your lungs are much affected,
And likewise both your eyes are cock'd,
And otherwise defected!"

So, now I'm with the Invalids,
And cannot go and fight, sir!
The doctor told me so, you know,
Of course he must be right, sir!

While I was there a host of chaps
For reasons were exempted,
Old "pursy", he was laid aside,
To pass he had attempted.
The doctor said, "I do not like
Your corporosity, sir!
You'll "breed a famine" in the camp
Wherever you might be, sir!"

So, now I'm with the Invalids,
And cannot go and fight, sir!
The doctor told me so, you know,
Of course he must be right, sir!

There came a fellow, mighty tall,
A "knock-kneed overgrowner",
The Doctor said, "I ain't got time
To take and look you over."
Next came along a little chap,
Who was 'bout two foot nothin',
The Doctor said, "You'd better go
And tell your mam you're a-comin'!"

So, now I'm with the Invalids,
And cannot go and fight, sir!
The doctor told me so, you know,
Of course he must be right, sir!

Some had the ticerdolerreou,
Some what they call "brown critters",
And some were "lank and lazy" too,
Some were too "fond of bitters".
Some had "cork legs" and some "one eye",
With backs deformed and crooked,
I'll bet you'd laugh'd till you had cried,
To see how "cute" they looked.

So, now I'm with the Invalids,
And cannot go and fight, sir!
The doctor told me so, you know,
Of course he must be right, sir!

Hear a rousing rendition of the "Invalid Corps" camp song as performed by the 2nd South Carolina String Band here:

Time for a little story behind the name I chose for my webpage. The structure of the US Army to this day is organized into 10 companies in each infantry regiment. They are given letter designations:

A (now known as "Able")
B (now Baker)
C (now Charlie)
D (now Dog)
E (now Easy)
F (now Fox)
G (now George)
H (now How)
I (now Item)
.... <----(see what I did there?)
K (now King)
L (now Love)
M (now Mike)

The company of men unfit for combat duty were usually assigned to Headquarters company (now abbreviated HQ or, during WWII, "CP" for "Command Post"), assigned with desk jobs and clerical work.

During the Civil War, men who were wounded or crippled and could not fight jokingly referred to themselves as "Company Q." Typically the numbers in other companies in a regiment dwindled after the first battle as scores of men were killed, wounded or deserted, but there was never any shortage of new recruits for "Company Q"!!

I always wanted to join the military but I know I'd never make the cut as a soldier, so thus my blog's name, "Dispatches from Company Q" It's an inside joke.


Notice there is not and has never been a company "J" Some non-military personnel might think this is a superstitious practice, like building skyscrapers with no 13th floor. There is however a very good reason for this. It started in the Continental Army of the American Revolution, when all communication between units was hand-written on paper. The fancy penmanship at the time made the letter 'i' and the letter 'j" almost indistinguishable from one another. Therefore, the letter "j" was eliminated altogether.

This is nearly a 300-year old practice that has persisted until today. The United States military has always upheld tradition and retains certain practices which may seem antiquated or obsolete. Like ceremonial swords as part of a Navy or Marines officer's dress uniform, for example.

As a general military historian, I also noticed that today's dress uniform for any branch of the military is typically the combat uniform of several generations ago.

For example the dark blue or black Navy dress uniform my grandfather wore in the 1940's looks strikingly like this photo of a young crewman from the Spanish-American war.

(photo comparison below)

my Grandpa - 1941

this dude - 1898

I can't find any good image examples, but the bright red US Marine Corps marching band uniform of 1942 really uncannily resembles some red British uniforms of the turn of the century (Napoleonic era) and the dress uniform of the US Marines in 1861 looked a lot like the Crimean War infantry of the British Army 1855-1859.

It's all deeply entrenched in centuries of tradition.

Now uniforms and how they evolved are another fascinating subject that would warrant creating a whole new blog in itself, but I worked until about 2 AM last night, am running on about 30 minutes' worth of sleep and am extremely brain-fried and zombiefied, so you'll have to forgive me if I start to ramble.

So until next time I should probably...