“Dag Nabbit! I jes’ can’t talk the priddy way you do Mr Russell”. Jebbediah Butplug was downcast. The arrival of Mr William Russell from the Times of London had seemed the perfect opportunity to improve his learning, but no matter how many hurricanes hardly ever happened in Hampshire, or how much rain fell upon the plains of Spain Jebbediah could not affect an accent that, in some circles, would be considered “educated”.
“Ah, now Captain, to be sure you have no need to talk any different to the way you do at present”, the newspaperman spoke reassuringly in his soft Irish brogue “you see men are measured by their deeds and not how they speak. I should wager that your men are more proud of your bravery in the face of the enemy than how you speak or dress, would you not say so?”
Jebbediah could but shrug his response and send a stream of brown tobacco juice into the fire. Recently he was certain that some of the more genteel members of the Regiment, largely gentlemen from the plantations, had commented about his rough and ready manner. He had tried with the Englishman to prettify his speech, but a cat could not, as his grandpappy had once said, become a dog.
“I beg your pardon, sir, for this intrusion”, the soft drawl of a Virginia gentleman announced the arrival of Lieutenant Justice T. Lovetrain III “but there is news from the north; news that I believe may be both auspicious and timely”.
“Is it fresh supplies? My men have been near to mutiny with their complaints of the smooth bore weapons that they are armed with. By Jiminy, some fool has been a tellin’ those boys with the old Kentucky Rifles that they should toss them away due to their lack of range and reliability. Now that’s all well and dandy when they have something to replace them with, but we have yet to get our hands on the new fangled rifled muskets that we need to stand up to them bluebellies”
“Well, sir, I do declare that we may have found ourselves a new Quartermaster, one who wears blue. Our spies in Charles Town have reported that the Yankees have just taken delivery of a consignment of Enfield Rifles. At present they are stored at their supply depot near Charles Town and are yet to be distributed”.
“L’tenant Lovetrain that sure sounds like an opportunity for us to help ourselves and git the company properly equipped. Get the men ready to move out”.
“Well done Nate, you did a fine job escorting the … ahem … most delectable Miss Angel here.” General Bouldermeir’s eyes seemed to protrude from his head as he looked over the young lady with clear relish, “She has appraised me of your bravery in crossing the river at Cedar Creek and for that I am most grateful. Miss Angel will be returning to Baltimore in a day or so after we have concluded our … um … pressing business. In the meantime I would like you to stay to hand so that you can accompany Miss Angel back to her home when that time comes. I am assigning your company to guard the new supply depot outside Charles Town so that you shall be readily available. Thank you my boy, you may now leave us.“
The General’s dismissal had been clear but polite, only becoming somewhat uncomfortable when Nathaniel Bouldermeir began to press the General, his Uncle, on the matter of the identity of his newly found cousin. What pressing business could the General have with the young lady? There was much talk of spies in the Army now that they had crossed into Virginia, although it seemed that in this the most northerly part of the State the population were for the most part loyal to the Union, he could but hope that the comely Miss Angel Delight was not a secessionist agent. It was too terrible to contemplate.
Sergeant “Dutch” Kapp nodded, “Ja, you were correct, it is rebels indeed and is some force”, he turned to beckon forward the men who were deployed back in the small wood before turning to the picket “run youngster, run and alert the Captain. Tell him the rebels they are arriving”.
A moment later a volley of musketry rattled out from the small party on the fence to the right of Sergeant Kapp’s position. The rebels could be seen moving across the open field, some heading for the woods, others moving around, clearly attempting to slip through the ring of pickets that encircled the supply depot. Sergeant Kapp’s men now added their fire and the lead rebel groups seemed to hesitate momentarily before pressing on.
“Hot diggity dog, Yankees” Jebbediah Butplug had known that sooner or later he would bump into the Union troops assigned to guard their supplies and had planned accordingly. Up ahead Enos Beckwith was moving forward in extended order to pin the enemy, behind them Lieutenant Ethau Pickens and Sergeant Red O’Malley would push out to the east, outflanking the Union held wood, Jebediah now swung his men off to the north to another wood on the crest of the ridge. He would push on and outflank the enemy on the rail fence and then push through to seize the Union supplies.
The sound of the firing alerted Captain Abner Spiderweb before the runner sent by Sergeant Kapp had reached him but the sight of the young soldier running towards his tent confirmed the direction from which the enemy were attacking. His Company were strung out all around the supply depot and the Captain was more than aware that getting any kind of coherent defence organised would be critical. Already he had sent Lieutenant Bouldermeir off to from his men up and advance into the apple orchards that were in the general area of the enemy advance. He would now attempt to form the rest of the company up and advance to support Sergeant Kapp in the woods. If only the Sergeant could hole the enemy for long enough…
The fluidity of the motion was amazing even to Captain Butplug. His men had been advancing in open order through the woods, but as they emerged they formed a firing line with both speed and precision and then unleashed a volley that ripped through the Union men along the rail fence. There was no chance of a reply, and the men in blue fled back to the woods. Behind this force came Lieutenant Lovetrain, his uniform as immaculate in battle as in the theaters of Richmond. Jebbediah smiled, he loved it when a plan came together.
“Fire!” The volley was less than impressive as his men were almost still rushing forward as they fired, but it had its desired effect; up ahead the rebels hesitated in their advance, surprised by the unexpected volley for long enough to allow Lieutenant Bouldermeir’s men to rush into the orchards and find cover. The Lieutenant could see that a Rebel force on the ridge was driving off a body of Union riflemen and that more rebels were moving up in support of this attack. He knew that had he been a minute later the rebels would have been in among the supplies, only his arrival with less than twenty men stood between the enemy and the supplies. He moved forward, posting his men among the trees from where they could fire on the Rebel line.
“Gol’durned Yankees! Where in Sam Hill did those pesky varmints come from?” Jebbediah Butplug’s complacency was now shattered as his men, formed up and in the open were subjected to enfilading fire that tore through their ranks. “Right wheel! Bring the line round to face off these critters”.
“Nice shooting boys” ‘Dutch’ Kapp hadn’t enjoyed himself so much since Schleswig back in ‘48 when he had worn the King of Prussia’s uniform. Now he moved through the wood offering words of encouragement to his men and directing their fire. On the open slope below the rebels, despite their numbers, were suffering.
“Hold there you men, not one step further” Captain Spiderweb could see the stragglers falling back through the trees, leaderless men whose only thought was to save their own hides. The Captain now sent forward the men that he had brought with him to engage the enemy on the ridge, while he set about rallying and reforming the men who had retired earlier.
The first that Captain Jebbediah Butplug knew of the fresh Union reinforcements was a volley that hit his force in the flank. Having turned to deal with the Yankees in the orchard he now had the woods on his flank, and Captain Spiderweb’s reinforcements were able to catch the rebels in a devastating crossfire.
“Shoot! Fall back boys, rally on the woods” Jebbediah was enough of a soldier to know when he was licked. The Yankees in the woods and the orchard now had upwards of fifty men in a rough crescent around him and their firepower was simply too much for him to continue his advance. His plan had been to get in close with his smoothbore muskets and let the enemy have a dose of buck and ball, but now, pushed back, the rifled Enfields of the Union troops were taking their toll. Now, retiring back up the hill, it was a Union bullet that struck down the Confederate Captain. Lieutenant Lovetrain ran forward, seizing the elderly Captain by the belt and hauling him the final few yards into the cover of the wood. “Dag nabbit, I’ve been shot in the ass! Those no good varmints jes’ don’t fight fair”.
“Sergeant O’Malley, it strikes me that there are two kinds of men on this slope, those who are dead and those who are about to die. So let us form the men up and get the Hell out of here.”
The small Irishman looked at Lieutenant Pickens with horror writ clear upon his face. “What, retire?”
“Tarnation no, Sergeant, I am not about to retire. These boys are in no state to advance strung out like a flock of lost sheep. Git these men in line, give the Yankees a volley and then let us raise a cheer for the Bonnie Blue Flag and show these blue-bellies some Rebel steel!”
It was a ragged line, but the volley felled the large blonde Sergeant that Pickens could see moving among the Union troops on the edge of the wood. The yell that rose up from what seemed the very soul of the southrons who had suffered on that slope was enough to send a chill into any northern heart, leaping forward the men came on in a wave that swept the edge of the wood clear of Yankees. Lieutenant Pickens held his men in check, now rallying them, reorganising the small disparate groups into a solid line before resuming the advance onto the flank of the Union troops in the wood. A crashing volley rang out, men in blue falling, others now running.
Captain Spiderweb stepped forward “Hold there you men, not one step further” but this time his words were not enough to stem the tide of men that were falling back. The road to the supplies was open, the rebel tide was in full flood.
—“I give you the honour of the day sir” William Russell raised his glass towards the elderly man lying face down in the field hospital. “My readers back in England will hear of your exploits sir, of your great guile and audacity, to supply your men with Enfield Rifles from the stores of the enemy will amuse them greatly”.
Jebbediah was not so sure, he could imagine the headline already – Butplug’s Butt Plugged.
Another playtest of ACW Sharp Practice and a really fun game. At last Jebbediah has equipped his force with modern rifles (which should please some people!) but he has paid a price in blood. More importantly we got to see the Rebels using their smoothbore muskets to good effect, large formations firing buck and ball at close range are hard hitters. From a rule writing perspective we are finding that the system is pretty much complete now, the Bonus Deck is adding a lot to the game, players are using their card hand to best effect now, Pickens’ charge was aided by the timely playing of the “Stonewall” card to rally the men into good order followed by a “Crashing Volley” card and a “Rebel Yell” card that allowed them to make their attack with maximum effect. “Dutch” Kapp was saved by “The Good Book” card.
More fun in the valley next week when, we hope, Lieutenant Bouldermeir will discover more about the lovely Miss Angel Delight.