Greetings! You are reading an article from The Mudville Gazette. To reach the front page, with all the latest news and views, click the logo above or "main" below. Thanks for stopping by!
October 14, 2011
The Long Roll (4)By Greyhawk
October 21, 1861: After hearing musket fire all day the men of the 19th Massachusetts were finally going to war.
Two other regiments from their home state had been the first to cross the Potomac during the pre-dawn hours of that day. Then Company A of the 19th had been tasked as ferry boat pilots - delivering Colonel Baker's California Regiment (that was a confusing name for the outfit; Baker was a Senator from Oregon, and all the men they'd met from the unit were from Pennsylvania) and the 42nd New York from the Maryland shore to Harrison's Island - all while being serenaded by the sound of shooting from the Virginia side of the river. Corporal John Adams and the other men of Company A had become familiar with Colonel Baker that day - he'd spent a bit of time on this side getting things organized.
"At first we pushed the boats over with long poles," Adams recalled, "but the current being very strong they drifted down the river and it was hard to land. After one or two trips a rope was obtained from a passing canal boat and stretched across the river, making transportation much easier."
And back and forth they went, until finally, near the end of the day, it was time for the men of the 19th to cross over to stay. Marching to the sound of the guns they tried to banish from their thoughts whatever visions they'd conjured up to illustrate the scene; they were about to see reality for themselves.
Once on Harrison's Island they were in range of rebel marksmen, close enough to the action that along with the sound of firing "the sound of the minie balls greeted us for the first time." The first thing Adams saw on landing wasn't encouraging, either. "We met four men bearing a stretcher, on which was the lifeless form of Colonel Baker of the 1st California. He was the first man we had seen killed in battle." He'd been shot multiple times - at least one in the head. It must have been quite a sight.
They were still learning to be soldiers, these young men of the 19th, and until this day their biggest battles had been with some of the locals on the Maryland side, contests the men from Massachusetts tended to win. After only a few weeks of army life, Adams already had some good stories to tell the folks at home - if he ever made it back there. "Many incidents occurred at Camp Benton that are pleasant to recall," he wrote. "We were in a country where there were many slaves, all anxious to serve our officers..."
...and nearly every day some citizen would come into camp hunting for his runaway negro. One day a man came to the colonel and was sure one of his negroes was in our camp. Colonel Hincks sent for Sergeant McGinnis of Company K and ordered him to assist in the search. By the look the colonel gave McGinnis it was understood that the slave was not to be found. McGinnis went into the woods with the man. As soon as they were out of sight he halted and cut a switch. "Look here!" said McGinnis, "do you suppose we left Massachusetts and came out here to hunt negroes?" and to add force to his argument he touched the old fellow up with the switch. The man was indignant and said he would report McGinnis to the colonel. " Go ahead and I will go with you." Both went to the colonel, and the citizen told his story with tears in his eyes. Colonel Hincks turned to McGinnis and said, " Sergeant McGinnis, is this true?" "Colonel, do you think I would be seen doing such a thing?" was the reply. "No," said the colonel; "Sergeant McGinnis is a man of truth and I must take his word. You have deceived me, sir; leave this camp and never enter it again." The man, fearing McGinnis might get another chance at him, left as quickly as possible.There was no cutting of switches today; their opponents were a bit more tenacious. "We were marched across the island, meeting wounded and half-naked men who swam the river," Adams recalled - apparently there weren't many boats for use on the far side of the island, either. They saw that for themselves soon enough; they got there in time to witness the remaining men on the Virginia shore "stampeded."
They rushed down the hill and into the boat. The little craft being overloaded was soon swamped, men were swimming the river to escape, and many a poor fellow, not able to swim, went down before our eyes; others were shot by the rebels when almost within our lines.
Too late for the thick of the battle, the men of the 19th went no further that day - but more was expected. Now tasked to guard against a possible rebel assault, they dug in on Harrison's Island, under fire from the enemy across the river perched above them on Ball's Bluff. The sound of battle became the sound of aftermath - they could hear the cries of wounded comrades on the far shore, and others calling for boats that didn't exist. Then, to top everything off, that night "A drenching rain set in and without overcoats or blankets we remained shivering until morning."
(Part five is here...)
Posted by Greyhawk / October 14, 2011 9:13 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com