A Report on the Action…
By Mark Tully
I had a neat experience the weekend after the Fredonia event and thought the rest
of you might enjoy reading about something a little different from the norm.
Several members of the NWTA’s 55th Foot responded to an advertisement in Smoke and Fire that requested additional participants for a tactical event in southeastern Minnesota. The event hosts, a group of Minnesota-based longhunter-types, were very excited about the idea of chasing through the woods after a bunch of redcoats and so welcomed us with open arms. They were in for a bit of a shock, however (as the account that follows below will attest).
The rules were painfully simple—blank charges only (no rammers or wadding) and the first team to receive fire had their position compromised and therefore “lost” the scenario. Any additional shooting and skirmishing would be at the discretion of the participants and the outcome would be discussed at a debriefing session after each scenario.
This seemed the perfect opportunity to practice skirmish tactics and patrolling as the 55th, 3rd New York, Guards and folks from a few other units had just practiced (after hours) at the Fredonia event a week earlier, so we accepted the challenge and arranged to meet at the proposed time and place (a 1,000 acre tract of public woods along the Root River in Minnesota).
What follows is an edited version of my “official” report of the weekend of September 9th, 2000, as it was presented to the rest of my unit, the 55th Foot, after the weekend. I hope you enjoy reading about this action at least half as much as we enjoyed participating in it!
Our patrol soon ascended a steep ridge, which, due to the fatigues incurred in working our way up the slope, caused our little column to become strung out along the trail at the top of the ridge. This proved to be fortunate, however, for as Mr. Johnson reached a bend that marked the start of our descent he espied one of the dreaded shirtmen in a posture of ambush—only facing in the direction we WOULD have come from had we chosen the shorter path at the beginning of our patrol.
Johnson immediately fired on him, killing the man (who later proved to be their leader) on the spot and, under the Articles of War as agreed to for the weekend, secured a quick victory for the redcoats.
However, the noise of Mr. Johnson’s fire aroused the other shirtmen who, as we later discovered, were encamped but a short
distance away from this very spot, and they began to descend on us from all quarters like angry yellow jackets. Acting corporal Briggs instantly deployed us in a skirmish line on both sides of the road, and Pvts. Tully and Holmes found themselves pinned down on the left in the midst of several of the rebels. Acting corporal Briggs tried to form the troops on the road for a formal assault, but Pvt. Tully, being in a somewhat advanced position and surrounded by rebels, was unable to comply and instead chose to hold his
position thereby securing the flank.
Private Briggs, spotting a cluster of shirtmen and believing he knew the approximate location of their camp, proceeded to route the devils, assisted by Pvts. Holmes and Knutson and Mr. Johnson, in several smart actions on the far right. At one point our gallant troops found a rebel attempting to hide behind a tree and fired a formal volley on him. The rebel, supposing our muskets all empty and himself safe, carelessly exposed himself with the likely intention of picking off one or more of our men, but Pvt. Briggs, who had prudently not discharged his piece with the others, promptly put a ball between the fellow’s eyes.
Meanwhile, on the left, Pvt. Tully (by now his coat and hat riddled with holes) had felled three of the damned rebels himself and would have done even more execution had he not experienced problems with his firelock and found it necessary to fall back on Herr Schmid (who had been occupying a very advantageous post behind a low bank on the edge of the road where it cut through the very top of the hill). Though a strong position it was also vulnerable to the rear, so Pvt. Tully, after repairing his firelock as well as possible in the situation, gave covering fire as Mr. Schmid displayed remarkable skill with his Jaeger rifle in picking off countless numbers of the enemy.
Many of the shirtmen were apparently only wounded as the same men kept reappearing over and over again in various locations. Both Mr. Schmid and Mr. Tully agreed that the rugged frontiersmen were not of a high enough mental faculty to know when they were dead, so both started calling their shots (“HEY, yeah YOU in the blue head scarf!” BANG! gotcha!”) to ensure the accuracy of their fire.
All told, this skirmish lasted some 30-45 minutes and as the smoke cleared it was discovered that, aside from the unfortunate death of acting corporal Briggs and a minor wounds incurred by the others, the redcoats had prevailed. The field was littered with the enemy’s dead and their commander (who had been killed at the outset—but was feeling much better now) called in the remainder of his men who were immediately put in chains and interrogated at length.
But the day was not yet at an end!
After securing the prisoners and enjoying a brief noon repast and recounting of our adventures in our camp, we were ordered out on a second patrol to try to ambush any additional rebels who might be lurking in the area.
Acting corporal Briggs bestowed command of the detachment onto Pvt. Tully who, not anticipating such an honor, found himself unprepared for such a task. In an attempt to gain time to develop his plan it was suggested by former acting corporal Briggs (who had recovered from his earlier death) to set up a chain of sentries in the woods on the right and left of the central path to protect our camp and try to detect movement. The sentries thus deployed, Briggs volunteered to scout further down the path to look for any rebel activity, and immediately returned with a hole piercing the very center of his hat. Though we all mourned our second loss of Briggs, the rebels, having compromised their position by giving fire, had arguably already lost under the prescribed rules of engagement.
Briggs (feeling much better) next took a post on the far right, where he almost at once discovered the rebel leader (who had also recovered from his previous death) attempting to gain a position in our rear by skirting the right of our line. The brave former acting
corporal Briggs shot the man on the spot but, failing to realize the rebel was in the company of another scoundrel, was himself once again killed and therefore graciously took himself out of the action.
Soon there was activity all along our front as the rebels probed for a weakness in our lines. Private Knutson, in assuming a ridiculously exposed position closest to the trail, provided that weakness and was picked off twice by an enterprising young lad while at least two others closed in on his position. Pvt. Tully, who had secreted himself on what was now the right of the line (due to Briggs being killed), patiently laid in ambush as the young rebel tried to gain a better position to kill Pvt. Knutson yet again. This brash young fellow, (he couldn’t have been a day over 14) taking up a position in full view and just yards away from Pvt. Tully’s post, called out tauntingly “Hey, I already shot you twice, I can’t waste all of my shots on just one guy!“ At which point Pvt. Tully leapt up cried “YES, but there are TWO of us!” and shot the startled lad through the left breast, killing him instantly while he was reloading for another crack at Knutson.
A second rebel (who was later proved to be a young maid—the daughter of the rebel chief) was also moving in on Pvt. Neuman’s position and, not having observed Pvt. Tully’s magnificent ambush, also stepped into the cold, steel jaws of the trap he had laid. On this occasion the rebel was so focussed on stealing up on Pvt. Knutson that Pvt. Tully had to whistle to get her attention before shooting her dead (the startled look on a young rebel vermin’s face—when viewed over the front sight of a musket barrel—is truly something to behold)!
As the right was now secure, with the deceased former acting corporal Briggs chatting contentedly with several dead rebels, Pvt. Tully (displaying remarkable agility in the woods) scurried along the front to see how his left was doing.
There he found a sad sight, for Mr. Johnson had been gut-shot and was slowly expiring in agony, while Herr Schmid and his fine Jäger rifle, was mortally wounded but refused to be dead, standing defiantly and jeering at lone shirtman skulking behind a pine tree. Upon questioning Herr Schmid it was learned that this rebel was the same man who had earlier unceremoniously killed our beloved acting corporal Briggs.
Meanwhile, Private Holmes had found a very solid position and had secured the rear and left of the line, which two rebels had unsuccessfully been attempting to compromise. Confident that both his flanks were adequately secure the brave and gallant Pvt. Tully once again sprang up and charged forward alone to revenge the deaths of Briggs, Knutson and the mortally wounded Schmid and Johnson. The rebel had taken up a very strong position—lying prone behind a low breastwork formed by the exposed root of a tree. Seeing Pvt. Tully dashing at him through the woods the shirtman took a cool and deliberate aim on the brave and fearless private’s head.
(I will now pause to allow the reader to absorb the gravity of this horrible situation).
However, all of his keen attention being completely focused on his objective, private Tully, upon seeing the rebel lower his piece, instantly springing to his right, leaping over a log, changing direction (twice) in mid-air, dashing between two trees without breaking his stride, his hair flowing behind him like flames (all in slow motion—think Daniel Day Lewis), effectively turned the very same tree that had provided cover for the conniving shirtman into a deathtrap.
Unable to fire from a prone position as the tree now blocked his intended target, the rebel was forced to recover his piece and roll around to the other side of the tree, where he fully expected to again find his target.
Unfortunately, the gallant Pvt. Tully, being more fleet of foot than his somewhat bloated outward appearance would suggest, had already gained this very same objective and the rebel met with cold steel as he was bayoneted in the belly and left as provender for the crows.
All told, in this single skirmish, all but two of the rebels had been killed (three of them by the gallant and certainly due for promotion Pvt. Tully, who received not a scratch in return) and Private Holmes had these last two so thoroughly pinned down that they quickly offered their surrendered.
After this skirmish we interrogated the prisoners at some length. Our powder being low and the enemy bowing to our superior skill and knowledge of military tactics it was decided to call a truce and no further action ensued on Saturday nor Sunday last.
Having secured the rebel’s word that they would not engage in further activities for the remainder of the current year, we gave them their parole.
And so, I am happy to report that the vast frontier west of the Great River is now secure and promises to remain so at least until next Spring.
(Who didn’t embellish the above story to play up his own acts of heroism one bit—despite some appearances to the contrary)