Thursday, June 10, 2004

I had intentions of trying to write a bit last night about Brandy Station and my adventures with Chuck yesterday, but time got away from me so I decided to go to bed instead. I figured I'd done enough damage for one day.

However, I will talk a little bit about our travels yesterday.

First off, y'gotta know Chuck. He's an interesting bird. The Bride once described him as a seventy-year-old juvenile delinquent. That's a pretty fair description. He's the son of a circuit riding Methodist preacher, a native Texan and a smart S.O.B., especially when it comes to money matters. If I ever hit the lottery, he's my first phone call.

Chuck had some kin in from Texas, they are in the process of researching a rather colorful ancestor. He got ran out of Alabama after the war (something about a young lady) went to Texas, was a Ranger briefly, City Marshall at some little Podunk town (involved in a least one shootout, again involving a young lady), then disappeared.

But what they were interested in yesterday was Chickamauga.

Chuck's Great-Grandfather enlisted in the 41st Alabama when the war began, Company I if I remember correctly, raised over around Florence, Alabama.

The 41st was part of Helm's Brigade at the time of Chickamauga, of Breckinridge's Division. They fought on the northern end of the field against Thomas's Fourteenth Corps. I talked to Jim Ogden before we went out there and he told me where a couple of markers for Helm's Brigade were located, so we set off in search of the ground where their Great-Grandfather had fought.

Brigadier General Benjamin Hardin Helm

We found the first marker without too much difficulty and I attempted to to explain what was going on in this part of the field.

Helm's Brigade stood toe to toe with King's Brigade of Regulars, who were entrenched behind some rude field fortifications. Helm was killed rallying his men for another charge in the low ground in front of the union line. The ground is slightly rolling and thick with trees and brush.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to try to stay in formation and advance through the woods... uphill, against an entrenched foe with smoke hanging in the trees like a heavy fog, smoke so thick you can barely see a few feet with the din of thousands of muskets firing along with hundreds of cannon... if Dante were there, he would indeed think he'd stepped into the Inferno.

This ground is different. It's not open like Gettysburg. This was a soldiers battle, not a General's.

The only thing I can think of that would've been worse would be some of the savage hand-to-hand fighting in Virginia in the summer of '64.

Chickamauga normally conjures images of the second days fighting... Longstreet's breakthrough, Wilder's Brigade mowing down Confederates by the hundreds with their Spencers, Hood losing his leg or Bragg's failure to pursue his beaten foe. The first day was pretty much a draw... so everyone remembers the second day, but the Army of Tennessee did some of the hardest fighting of the war the first day a Chickamauga.