A Personal Journal of the Maryland My Maryland Campaign Event Sept 7 - 9 2012 in Boonsboro, Maryland
Boonsboro is a small provincial town in Washington County, Maryland and with a population of approximately 3,400 languishes sleepily at the foot of South Mountain. It was founded by George and William Boone and originally known as Boonsborough but the inhabitants preferred the spelling of Boonsboro. It had a very unremarkable history until the onset of the American Civil War when it became a focus of fierce fighting culminating in two major battles namely the Battle of South Mountain which immediately preceded the Battle of Sharpsburg in September 1862.
As such, it was with both immense pride and trepidation that I travelled with the 4th Texas (UK) to the United States to enrol with the 4th Texas (US) and participate in the prestigious three day 150th Anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain at the "Maryland My Maryland" Living History Campaign Event. It was listed as a Hardcore/Progressive Event that had been in the planning for many months and many re-enactors were coming from all over the United States, Europe and the UK to participate. Under no circumstances did I want to let my fellow travellers, comrades or guests down. During this event, we would not only be re-enacting the 4th Texas in battle but also exactly re-enacting the various company movements.
On arrival, I kitted up in the campaign car park and rallying point in Boonsboro, Maryland. Having already altered our Confederate uniforms and accoutrements in the UK to the exact authentic 4th Texas Adjunct specifications as required by our hosts, we were issued with our Springfield or Enfield muskets (kindly borrowed from our guests), bayonets, cartridge tins, (interesting to note that tins are obligatory in some Civil War Regiments in the US due to health and safety regulations), rounds, caps and supplementary authentic rations including dried fruit and beef jerky.
At the start, it was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise and reassuring to see other UK re-enactors in the car park preparing for the three day Event. We then fell in as Company A, The "Hardeman Rifles" and marched off and within a short distance began our Company A drill and arms inspection. As we would be fighting throughout the campaign in 2 ranks, marching in 4 ranks, and most likely traversing difficult conditions and terrain with full kit at all times, it was vital that everyone was safe and comfortable with their new comrades and particularly our new weapons. However, it became quickly apparent that we were all proficient and our excellent NCOS and Officers made the necessary small adjustments. We then met the rest of our comrades and on lining up and looking down the long ranks of Confederate troops I remarked to a new colleague what a cracking sight of regiments we had in the Confederate Army. He retorted with a strange look that those "regiments" were in fact companies B to F and this was just the 4th Texas. As Company A, he added, we would be both the right flank and lead company of the whole regiment which in itself was an awesome responsibility. Welcome to Civil War re-enacting in the States.
The 4th Texas then marched off and headed into nearby woods where we would bivouac for the night. Having arrived at our destination on a small narrow path, we were told to find a spot and settle for the night. Unfortunately I was far too slow and the only spot for the night was perched upon a tree root covered by brambles. Undeterred, I bagged the spot and unrolled my blanket roll. Following Company A wood and water details, it was a sight to see the three day regimental provisions of vast piles of apples, uncooked ears of corn and six slabs of beef on a plank at my feet. I joked that I hoped that there were no grizzly bears in the area with all that raw meat around. I was told that there were no grizzlies but plenty of brown bears and rattlers that would be attracted later on in the night! This, combined with stragglers continuing to arrive throughout the night, falling over and tripping over prostrate fellows led to an eventful night. I did manage to play cards with my new comrades and lose as well as learn how to cut and fry a chunk of beef in a small skillet in the pitch black (fortunately as I`m sure my piece fell out a couple of times!) However, by morning, every available space in the glade had been occupied. It was an amazing sight of the whole 4th Texas Adjunct encamped and sleeping in tight rows in the woods with company fires at regular intervals with soldiers talking, joking and cooking throughout the long night.
Morning soon came with reveille at 5.00am in the dark and quickly on the march again in full kit as we would not be returning. Early morning drill quickly followed with Company A drill of one hour and then full Battalion drill for another hour. Then followed a sudden and unbelievably severe thunderstorm described by a colleague as a real Southern Baptist downpour and we all received a thorough drenching. We did manage to stack arms but most of the muskets filled up with at least an inch of water so we needed to empty them and cap off numerous times before engaging the enemy who by the sounds of gunfire were nearby.
On heading towards the gunfire, we went into double quick time and before long were engaged in the Battle of Fox's Gap. As the lead company, Company A did a left flank from columns of 4 into a battle line of 2 and by the left wheel we immediately hit the Yanks and drove them through some woods. Many of the boys clearly had their dander up and ran headlong into the blue lines despite the officers and NCOs trying to maintain discipline in the long lines. We then quickly reformed into columns of four and having marched through a hedge and fence line we became involved in a massive fire-fight with a much larger whole Yankee Division across an open field. On falling back, more rain ensued and we achieved another soaking!
After retiring, cleaning arms and having what was left of our vittles, we headed off into the night again and this time the Regiment camped along a snake rail fence by the Cornfield where we would attack the Yanks in the early morning. The night was much colder and the fires were limited due to the lack of dry wood and the inability to collect any in the dark. Yet again, it was up early with reveille in the dark at 5.00am and we marched to a small field in waist high foliage and weeds next to the Cornfield. Each soldier then lined up and collected their daily ration of a half a pound of white flour each. Having noticed my quizzical look, I was abruptly informed by the Quartermaster that it was all General John Bell Hood could find us. Having asked my thanks to be passed onto the General, I mixed it with water to form a dough before managing to burn it over a fire on the end of a stick. I had no time to mourn the loss of my "suicide cake" as the bugle sounded.
Company A quickly formed up and marched out with the rest of the 4th Texas and approached the edge of the Cornfield in a column of companies and passed by the artillery who gave us a massive cheer. Following a left wheel by the entire 4th Texas, we faced the Cornfield and told to kneel. The Cornfield was shrouded in mist and already alive with constant gunfire and cannon and musket flashes. As I sweated and took my breath, a haunting noise suddenly emanated above the constant gunfire and screams of wounded men. To my amazement, a lone Confederate soldier suddenly appeared through the fog and smoke and whilst running along the whole Regiment played a tune for us on his fiddle. The hair on my neck bristled at such an awesome site and sound and I screamed the rebel yell along with the rest of the Regiment as we were suddenly ordered in.
Our Confederate Lt Colonel Thomas "Skip" Owens then told us to stand and get ready to head straight into this maelstrom. I was awestruck and very nervous. Suddenly, the bugles went and we were ordered to go straight in at the double quick time but always wheeling to the left. Visibility was no more that 5 yards! With mud all over, wounded and dying blue and grey bodies all over and corn stalks ripping your clothing, passing through and keeping formation was both frightening and difficult. Fortunately, our NCOs and Officers found a snake rail fence in the middle on which we all formed up behind. The battle quickly ensued and Companies A and F on the right flank realistically re-enacted their run along the whole of the 4th Texas Regiment in the mistaken belief that a Yankee Flag had signified a flanking movement when in fact it was a captured flag. The rest of the 4th Texas screamed at us to turn and fight and called us cowards but we were too frightened. This, with the sights and screams of both Yankee and Rebel wounded men pouring out of the mist, was surreal and a memory that will always remain with me.
We then all returned to recuperate to a temporary camp before participating in the full re-enactment of Up Comes AP Hill. The depleted 4th Texas Regiment marched on first and coming over a ridge sighted another Yankee division. After firing a couple of volleys with some of the boys breaking and retreating, the 4th Texas pulled back and allowed the whole of the Army of Northern Virginia to move up. The re-enactment sadly finished early due to 3 injuries but fortunately no-one was hurt seriously.
After the Campaign, we stayed on the site and in the early evening then visited the Sharpsburg battlefield with superb commentary from our hosts in the 4th Texas including The Dunker Church, The Cornfield, Texas Monument, the Bloody Lane (and Observation Tower) and Burnside Bridge.
A moving end to a memorable event.
None of this would have occurred without my close comrades and friends in the 4th Texas Regiment (UK) namely Wayne Thomas, Rob "Fletch" Fletcher and John Dale. We would all like to thank our most generous and kind hosts, the members of the superb 4th Texas Regiment (US) and particularly Captain Ron Lauser, Lieutenant Joe Lutsky, First Sergeant Russ Jones and Sharon Jackson. Thank you all so very much.
Historical Notes regarding The Cornfield on 17 September 1862.
1) On 17 September 1862, the soldiers of the 4th Texas were issued with a pound of white flour prior to entering the fray at the Cornfield at Sharpsburg.
2) On 17 September 1862, Companies A and F of the 4th Texas did run along the ranks of the rest of the regiment in the mistaken belief that they had been flanked in the Cornfield.
3) On 17 September 1862, as the 3rd Arkansas prepared to enter the fray at the Battle of Sharpsburg, a Confederate soldier in the ranks asked his Colonel if he could play the boys into the fight on his fiddle. The Colonel replied that he could provided he only played "Granny Will Your Dog Bite". This was the Colonel`s favourite square dance tune. The fiddler obliged and so "Granny Does Your Dog Bite" which I heard during this Campaign Event WAS actually played at the Battle Of Sharpsburg. We are all deeply indebted to Lars, a fine fiddler in the Liberty Rifles Authentic Campaign Re-Enactment Group, for allowing us to experience this unforgettable moment.
4) On 17 September 1862, during the bloodiest day of the entire American Civil War, the Texas Brigade lost 560 out of 854 men in arms. When asked by General Robert E Lee where his splendid Division was General John Bell Hood replied "They are lying on the field where you sent them Sir, but few have straggled. My Division has almost been wiped out." The 4th Texas lost 107 out of 200 (54%) on that fateful day.
5) On 17 September 1862, Confederate Private Henry Travis, Company H, 4th Texas was involved in the fights at the Battles of South Mountain and Sharpsburg. He wrote a few days later to his sister of his experiences. "There has been a heap of hard fighting down here. The Texas Brigade has been cut up pretty bad. The Texas Brigade has got a brave name here for fighting. It will not do it any good if it gets in another fight or two, for it will all be killed. The Texas Boys goes ahead in the fight".
Article by Stewart "Goober" Douglas
The above article first appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Winter 2013