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October 19, 2011
A Slight DemonstrationBy Greyhawk
"It was now the middle of October; the oppressive heat of summer had been succeeded by those lovely autumnal days in which a peculiar haze like a thin smoke marks the early hours -- days calm and balmy, followed by nights marvelously bright and clear. At that season, known by the name of Indian summer, the dryness renders the worst roads passable, and reduces the streams to their smallest volume..."
Saturday, 19 October, 1861:
"Look lively, boys," someone called out, "we're about to get a visit from the rightful King o' France."
Brigadier General George McCall
It might seem strange to welcome royalty into a US Army bivouac in northern Virginia, but Brigadier General George McCall was becoming accustomed to strange things. He took a few steps to the edge of his hilltop campsite, where a lookout was peering through field glasses at two approaching riders. He offered the glasses to his general, but at this point they were close enough that even in the fading light of sunset McCall felt certain they'd been identified correctly. Still, he accepted the offer and took a quick scan.
Capt. Philipe d'Orleans, US Army
He couldn't see their shoulder straps from this distance but knew them to be captains - though more importantly they were also members of General McClellan's staff. Albert V. Colburn was an adjutant. His traveling companion was listed on the U.S. Army rolls as Captain Philippe d'Orleans, though most Americans referred to him as the Count of Paris. Over in Europe they called him Prince Louis-Philippe Albert d'Orléans, Comte de Paris. Grandson of the last King of France, he was indeed heir to his country's throne.
McCall returned the field glasses to the watch. "General," the soldier asked him, "you reckon they're coming out to see if we found any of those Quaker guns?" McCall pretended to ignore the question. "Keep a sharp eye out," he said, "there are men out there with real ones." A word from McCall was usually sufficient; he could claim more military experience than any hundred other men in his division of the Army of the Potomac combined. A West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War, he had retired after 31 years of active duty service back in 1853. Eight years later he was in the US Army once again, performing duty much more active than most...
He strode back to his headquarters tent, arriving even as a soldier drove the last stake into the ground. He looked it over quickly, it met his approval. He let the men see him test the tautness of one of the ropes, then gave a quick "good work, Sergeant" to the man in charge of the detail on his way in. They were good troops. A few months earlier the federal government hadn't even wanted his Pennsylvania Volunteers; the state had already filled its quota of men. That changed after Bull Run. Fortunately, Pennsylvania had seen fit to equip his outfit anyway, so they were ready when the call finally came. He could be proud of his state's response to the crisis. So many Pennsylvanians had volunteered that they even had a brigade serving as the First California, currently under command of Senator Baker and part of Stone's Division, stationed not far away from this very spot.
McCall entered his tent. "Make sure there's plenty of coffee brewing," he told his adjutant. "We're entertaining visitors tonight." "Already started, sir," came the reply.
It had been a long day. He'd received orders that morning from General McClellan to march his division westward from his Langley area headquarters and survey the area. Combat wasn't expected, and thus far hadn't been found. All along the line the secessionists appeared to be pulling back - they'd even abandoned Leesburg. At least, that's what McClellan had assured McCall at their morning meeting. As the Pennsylvanians passed through Dranesville this day residents there gave the same report - that Evan's Division had left Leesburg for Manassas earlier that week. It was good to know, but McCall was not to go that far forward on this mission; his brief expedition would confirm their absence from this vicinity and also give his men much needed practice in movement through enemy territory. And while his purpose wasn't to hold the ground, the survey was essential and more than cursory. Once completed they'd have up to date maps of a region expected to be either a future battlefield or the route to one.
The sound of horses drew him back outside to greet his guests. "Gentlemen," he announced as they dismounted, "we are honored by your visit." The captains saluted and dusted themselves off a bit before following him back into the tent. "General McClellan sends his regards, sir," said Colburn. "He was somewhat surprised to find you weren't in Dranesville."
McCall paused a moment, rapidly collecting his thoughts, as Colburn added "He sent us on to locate you."
"There wasn't enough water there to encamp this number of men," McCall stated. He had nearly 5,000 just about finished setting up camp in the immediate vicinity, and that many again not far away. "I take it the General requires me in Dranesville?" It was a very few miles back, a brief ride. At a nod from Colburn he gave orders to his adjutant to have his horse made ready, the younger officer quickly departed the tent. "We should have coffee ready shortly," McCall told his guests. "If you gentlemen believe we have time for a cup before we go."
"Sir," Colburn replied, and there was a bit of hesitation in his voice, "General McClellan's advice is that if you believe your position here is not a strong one you should pull back and establish camp at Dranesville."
"We're secure here," McCall explained. "I don't believe there are more than a handful of rebel soldiers in the area. Scouts, not even pickets. My scouts encountered very few in their preliminary reconnaissance - and you might see a riderless horse or two during your travels as a result. But this is good ground and I've enough men here to defend it."
"Very good sir," Colburn replied. "But to be clear, General McClellan wants you to understand that if you believe your position here is not a strong one you should return to Dranesville and establish camp there."
"I understand, Captain," said McCall - and certainly he was beginning to... "I'll reassure the General on the appropriateness of this site when we speak tonight." He kept his eyes locked with Colburn's, who remained silent a moment, looking uncomfortable, until the Count of Paris cleared his throat. "General," Colburn said quietly, a note of sympathy in his voice, "the Commanding General would be better satisfied if you and your men returned to Dranesville."
It was going to be a very long night.
His adjutant returned. "Coffee's ready, General."
(Part two is here...)
Report of the United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Vol 2, pages 257-264, Testimony of Brigadier General George A. McCall.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 19, 2011 11:49 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