Tuesday, July 22, 2008

To Build a Barricade

I had talked earlier about my hairbrained idea to build a small section of defensive works around the Kelly Field salient (now Battleline Road) here at Chickamauga. Well, we had our experiment this weekend and between myself and former park ranger Lindsey Brown and our own Lee White on Sunday we threw together about fifteen yards of usable, knee high works.

We learned a few valuable lessons in the process, too. One: the size of the logs represented in monuments like the 33rd OH and the 16th US is more or less correct. I had thought we would be able to build with bigger logs, but smaller ones stacked better. Two: we read about the many fence rails that were used in the process, and we found that the six we pulled off of one of the battlefield's recreated fence lines were some of our most valuable pieces. Being flat and straight helps greatlyWe when stacking. Three: cedar is one of the greatest woods known to mankind. Like the soldiers who suffered for want of tools (except for artillerymen), we had to stick to using deadfall. Most of the downed trees in the forest around us were rotted through and therefore useless. The cedars, however, were always solid, and even when rotten on the outside retained a solid core that was both hard and light. The best part about all this was, the area we were building had been a giant cedar glade at the time of the battle, and so it is likely that cedar would have been a key feature of the original works.

Five: Knee high is plenty. I had always assumed that the works were roughly knee high, and once we got to the point where we felt secure in the lines, we found that they were almost exactly that. This gives ample room to load protected and then raise up on a knee to fire. I don't think the fighting was done exclusively from the prone or the kneeling position but a combination of both for maximum protection. Six: This could be done quickly. With two men working about half the day on Saturday and three on Sunday (we were out for full days but were talking to visitors constantly which interrupted our work) we figure there are somewhere around 12-15 man hours in this stretch of line. Given that the U.S. troops had in the neighborhood of 3 hours from sunup to Confederate attacks to build, then I expect that their line would have been as solid as our own. I feel for the fellows, though, shaking off the frosty morning cold, dragging logs forward and piling them up with skirmishing going on constantly in the front. Becoming completely exhausted before having to fight all day on little food and next to no water must have been beyond misery. Unfortunately for Scribner's guys around where we were building, they would have fought all day only to have their flank rolled up by the final Confederate assault. Their works held all day, but overwhelming Confederate numbers (fun to use that argument against the Lost Causers) sentenced a good many of them (eventually) to Andersonville for their efforts.

The best -- and most rewarding -- part of the weekend was the response we got from visitors. From the gentleman whose ancestor was in the 38th Indiana (the right of Scribner's line in view of where we were building) to the two little boys who asked some very insightful questions about soldiers and their kit, begged their mom to let them build works in the back yard, and braved sharing our hardtack, everyone that we talked to seemed interested. The story of the changing face of warfare, of moving from the Napoleonic (whichever one you mean) battlefield to the 1864 campaigns and WWI is one that is often told by rangers at Chickamauga. Now we have some tangible resources to help us tell that story. I close with a video of the finished product in operation starring yours truly and filmed by our own Mr. White.

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