View Full Version : Distrubing National Event 'trend': No Skirmishers and Postage Stamp sized battlefield
08-21-2011, 08:39 AM
I attended both Manassas and Wilson's Creek.....
both had tiny battlefields for the reenactors who actually attended....
and both had negligible to zero use of skirmisher's.....
At Manassas 0, I know that a sizeable force of skirmisher's was sent out from the ford by the Union......and true enough, there may not have been a ton of skirmishing coming down to the Stone House and back up the Henry House Hill..... and at Manassas 150 there were 'some' skirmisher's out on Saturday for certain.....but just didn't seem like a lot of this was going on (at least not habitually).
I hope units do a lot of skirmish drill from now until Shiloh.....and Andtietam (hey, just made that one up Chris), and Perryville.....and then we get to see CLOUDS of skirmishers by 2013......
Would love to see skirmishers act like they are getting shot at....and Sergeant's that stopped worrying about perfect alignment and allowed the skirmish line to seek cover on their own initiative.....
08-21-2011, 09:24 AM
30th Ohio, serving as the 13th NYVI, had a skirmish line on Sunday. Skirmish line plus reserve, which relieved the initial line. The company was reformed and went into the main fight with the battalion. We made use of the minimal cover (widely spaced trees, slignt rise to the ground in front of us). Ranges were far, far too close, though, but that's the nature of a spectator battle.
I hate seeing "distrubing" trends...They can be, well, so distrubing! ;)
08-21-2011, 09:44 AM
I gather that, during the Centennial, Midwestern schools emphasized military history over other subjects, such as spelling.
I know that was the case in my own education.
Ow ow my cheek is bleeding.
08-21-2011, 01:44 PM
The disturbing trend or perhaps practice, I have witnessed first -hand, is units not conducting skirmish drill at all. Personally it's my favorite form of mock-combat/military simulation but its scarce as hen's teeth. The heck you say!
Postage-sized battlefields: Most of Manassas was a treat for spectators but at Wilson's Creek it seemed some of the combat would have been difficult for a spectator to view. It often seems that even at the smallest events, the action is far from the spectators. The latest Bentonville was almost criminal!!!! As Americans, we're spoiled with our open spaces . With Recession cutbacks perhaps we should appreciate what we have to enjoy our hobby.
all for the old flag,
Ross L. Lamoreaux
08-21-2011, 05:07 PM
Once again as of late, I'm in total agreement. The field sizes are out of our hands for the most part, since event organizers are finding it harder and harder to find adequate spaces on a budget. As for skirmish drill, Mr. Corbett is correct, units just are conducting skirmish drill anymore. I can honestly say the last time I participated with a unit conducting correct skirmish drill was at Shiloh in '06. Granted, I haven't attended the number of events I used to do, but still a fair number. As with almost all aspects of drill, skirmish drill has fallen by the wayside. Its a bad trend as far as I'm concerned.
08-21-2011, 05:16 PM
Our unit spent a bit of time on skirmish drill at Wilson's creek for the battle...however as plans often do, they changed and a skirmish line was not used. I lied---I forgot that Thursday evening we got a chance to set up a small skirmish line...but only a relatively small group got to see it.
What bugs me is the commanders at these events get so preoccupied by how straight the lines are for photo worth formations. Even in the midst of the battle dressing our lines was the number one priority. At points it got silly as we spent several minutes adjusting the troop formations as the rebels had opened fire 2 minutes earlier. A little anarchy (as always I'm sure things vary) in terms of troop movements would have been normal I'm sure.
What I also get a kick out of at smaller events with 30 reenactors on each side is the formation of small squad vs squad in two ranks 15 men long fighting in an open field. But I'm sure it's good for spectators to get an idea of how things would have worked in varying formations.
08-21-2011, 08:06 PM
You can only stuff so many sardines in the can. Same principle applies to big events on small fields. Sometimes there are too many soldiers.
At some point the available land is too filled with soldiers that there's not much point in establishing a skirmish line. This is especially true where the opposing sides are just in view of each other. Also, if the field possesses great views for spectators - meaning, virtually flat - it probably lacks sufficient accidents of terrain to justify a skirmish line.
Think about a purpose of a skirmish line : it acts like a trip wire to protect an advancing body of troops - either in column or line of battle - from walking into a disaster. For troops halted in line of battle, in bivouac or at rest on the march, it similarly prevents surprise. If the parties in a sham battle can see each other, there are few reasons to advance a skirmish line. I suppose protecting an exposed flank, scenario or burning powder are reasons for a skirmish line. As for the trip wire concept, it's rarely justified.
The trend may not be so much about smaller battlefields as about greater concentrations of reenactors on the fields which have already been used. The 150th mega events are going to draw more people for locations than the locations typically draw. The recent Manassas being an example of innundation. The upcoming Big One at Gettysburg being a hyper example. At some point there are too many soldiers on the field to portray what may have happened on a field that size. That's the way it goes.
Hard to blame land owners and event organizers for trying to recoup their investments. They really stick their financial necks out by staging events. Then there's the time involved in staging an event. Both are much larger than Joe Reenactor imagines.
The only thing participants at big events can do is minimize their own expectations. Don't expect authenticity at the circus. This applies to all aspects of drill and tactics. If you're lucky enough to participate in a skirmish line in a belt of trees, behind the military crest of a hill or flat in a quasi-open field firing prone with sufficient distances, you're doing well.
08-21-2011, 08:23 PM
The "trip wire," is not valid point at most reenactment since they are not "surprise or encounter" engagements but set-piece scenarios. At Monocacy a few years back I witnessed Old Jube's advance with skirmishers to the forefront as it looked superbly military. The terrain was open and pretty flat. They opened fire and fell back and the gray columns deployed into line. The experience was akin to watching a first-hand account in motion. I suppose the skirmisher fell in with the lines of battle but for a few minutes, they had recreated history. Good thing about skirmishers: it don't take long to deploy, rally or reposition them.
all for the old flag,
08-21-2011, 10:28 PM
It is really funny that ya'll have gotten going on this subject, as I was contemplating this exact thing at Wilson's Creek. I am a real noob to "tactics", but I, in my reading accounts of how it happened, always appreciated the skirmishers. If I could learn the drill, I might could field some CS skirmishers at the BGA Shiloh next year. I also wanted to suggest this: Could things not be done (especially on smaller fields such as the one we were on at WC) where, if the troops were to move onto the field from respective woodlines or whatever (as at WC), could not the battle be opened by skirmishers going in advance of the main troop bodies, skirmish, and fall back? Say, maybe meeting their respective troop bodies as they enter the field? Do the skirmishers have to be a certain short distance in front of the main body? Also, can someone please educate me on the difference between skirmishers and vedettes? What manual or other information source do I need to read to learn proper skirmish drill? Were dismounted cavalry ever employed as skirmishers?
PS: I agree with Mr. Corbett: While I like to complain about descrepancies and logistics problems as much as anyone else, I do think that we contribute more to the hobby if we stick with it thru the bad times as well as the good. Also, might I be brave enough to suggest that the individual contributes to the hobby by going to more events, even ones he doesn't like. The only reasons I see to walk out on an event are compromised safety, and severe negligence on the part of the hosts.
08-21-2011, 11:36 PM
I also wanted to suggest this: Could things not be done (especially on smaller fields such as the one we were on at WC) where, if the troops were to move onto the field from respective woodlines or whatever (as at WC), could not the battle be opened by skirmishers going in advance of the main troop bodies, skirmish, and fall back? Say, maybe meeting their respective troop bodies as they enter the field? Do the skirmishers have to be a certain short distance in front of the main body? Also, can someone please educate me on the difference between skirmishers and vedettes? What manual or other information source do I need to read to learn proper skirmish drill? Were dismounted cavalry ever employed as skirmishers?
A vedette is a mounted guard, or picket.
Both Hardee's and Casey's devote sections to instruction of skirmishers.
Cavalry often were used as skirmishers, and fought dismounted, as opposed to unmounted (we don't have horses) cavalry, which were used as infantrymen.
What you initially describe was known by U.S. Grant as "feeding the fight": Skirmishers make first contact, the main body then comes up, drives in the enemy's skirmish or picket line, and engages its main line. Reserves are sent in keep up the pressure and to exploit weak points/breakthroughs. Reenactors don't like to be held back in reserve, so it usually all happens at once, instead of in depth like in the real war.
Skirmish lines, and picket lines for that matter, are usually placed in an advanced position to the main body far enough out to give ample time for it to form into line of battle/man the defences before the enemy can reach it. That can sometimes be quite some distance, but usually less than a mile out in front, and often closer.
Get yourself a copy of Hardee's or Casey's and start reading and studying. Read things more than once; it takes some time to grasp some of the concepts.
08-22-2011, 07:12 AM
If we're talking about very small battlefields, perhaps they're really too small for skirmishers to be deployed correctly. How far in front of a moving body of troops should they be? At less than 100 yards, they're pretty much pointless. I remember seeing skirmishers in front of us once as we past the Heater House at Cedar Creek. I thought "wow, that really looks cool." Then I realized "What do we need skirmishers for? The Confederates are right there." I think what we're reenacting is action that has already past the movement by skirmishers phase of the fight. Most of our engagements are at what I like to call "decisive engagement range." You and your enemy are committed toe-to-toe and the one who turns is going to get torn up. (Of course, the one who doesn't is going to be completely disordered as well.) As much as I enjoy skirmishing, I question whether it has any real value in those sorts of scenarios.
08-22-2011, 08:38 AM
Are we talking megastream? If so, I think the formula for happiness is expect nothing and be pleasantly surprised when something halfway cool happens.
As far as skirmishing being dead... I can tell you that the ONV crew at Wilson's Creek last year did a bang-up job doing skirmish demos. It was the feature of the NPS program at that event.
08-22-2011, 08:55 AM
I still think it can be done on fields such as the one at WC. In the confederate camp (where I was), the units all lined up and fell in before the battle, then moved out on to the field. Skirmishers could move out before the main body, and contact the enemy's skirmishers, engage, and the battle develops properly. It looks sooo much better than everyone marching onto the field at once, lining up, then opening up all at once.
08-22-2011, 09:44 AM
If a quality deployment of skirmishers is what you are looking for...Perryville will have it in 2012. It's already in the works! We will be sending out only the best of the best, this way the public can see how it should properly be done!
08-22-2011, 10:13 AM
At Manassas 0, I know that a sizeable force of skirmisher's was sent out from the ford by the Union......and true enough, there may not have been a ton of skirmishing coming down to the Stone House and back up the Henry House Hill..... The Regulars did some skirmishing on the left of the Federal line on Mathews Hill and Buck Hill: My battalion was advanced to the front, and took a position on the edge of a wood immediately opposite a masked battery and a large force of the secessionists posted about a house and the fences and trees around it. (Based on their location on the field, this could have been either the Robinson House or Henry House.) My three left companies were deployed as skirmishers under Captain Dodge, Eighth Infantry, and did great execution among their ranks.
But I have to agree that space is probably the main reason we don't see more skirmishing. Where have we ever had a reenactment field big enough to emulate this (from Second Bull Run)? I was ordered to place my brigade in position in the field fronting the Dogan house. The First and Second Battalions of the Fourteenth were deployed in a corn field, with the Twelfth and Fourth Infantry covering them in their rear in columns of battalions, the left of our line resting on the Warrenton turnpike. The Third was advanced to the front and right under cover of a wood, about 1,000 yards distant, where it was deployed as skirmishers.
08-22-2011, 06:27 PM
As mounted cavalry we were nearly unused due to a complete lack of space. The number mounted on both sides was between 300-400 last I heard. We spent most of our time in the area between the C.S. camps and the area between the Sutlers and Federal camp. At best it seems that most bridages spent about ten minutes a day on the regular battlefield. As sad as this was command and promoters did what they could for us, but we were near usless in such as small space. Any thoughts on the 2,000 acres for Shiloh next year?
08-22-2011, 08:44 PM
Any thoughts on the 2,000 acres for Shiloh next year?
The place to ask that question is with General's Crowder (First Federal Division) and Way (Cleburne's Division), the commanders of the Blue/Gray Alliance.
Get it from the "horse's mouth", as it were.
08-22-2011, 09:41 PM
I usually hear from General Way down the chain. I just thought that someone out there might have some thoughts on the matter. Also how large if any idea the alternate Shiloh (Army of Tenn.?) would be? I know we can't project numbers or rumors but how big is that expected to be by the staff of the event? I have no idea who to even ask.
08-23-2011, 01:00 AM
Also how large if any idea the alternate Shiloh (Army of Tenn.?) would be?
For that, contact the fellow who posted about the event in the events forum. If he doesn't know, he should be able to point you to who does.
08-23-2011, 01:18 AM
Just sat here and wrote this terrific reply with a 1000 word explanation and answer to your questions. Went to post it and I had been "timed OUT"... Can't get it back for some reason...decided it was some sort of "omen". Anyway, to tired to repost but if you wish, let me know and I will repost tomorrow..
Brig. General Terry Crowder
08-23-2011, 08:00 AM
My thoughts are that if Cavalry was not present at a battle then they shouldn't be used in the scenario.....I still have crying spells anytime I think of the pistol carousels at Franklin attacking/whirling in front of infantry behind light field fortifications...
We don't dress up an play as Zouaves if not present, why do we dress up as dismounted (or mounted) cavalry if not present?
The answer might be if no dismounted cavalry was present, instead of cross dressing as dismounted cavalry, go as infantry.....
At present, there is a severe shortage of Union Infantry Privates in the hobby.....something to think about before packing a pistol dismounted or standing around a cannon all day with trucks parked in camp.....
Something to think about in these days of economic and gasoline stress......we 'try' to get all forces that show up involved.....but my opinion is don't bring 'em in the first place or let them know what their role is going to be before hand for each scenario.....
How many mounted cavalrymen did Sigel have at Wilson's Creek? (the answer is 121 of his total force of 1,118 men present)
08-23-2011, 10:02 AM
Mhan's little Book "Outpost" has great details of how to tactically handle troops and formations - not the mechanics of drill, but when and how to use skirmishers versus lines and columns. It also has a set of great "how to march" instructions from the British Light Brigade in Spain that teaches how to move soldiers long distances fast and still have them in shape to fight at the other end.
It deals with how to reduce the "accordian effect" and proper resting.
A must read, Jarnigan's reproduces it, but others carry copies. Any officer who has not read (and carry on person) these lecture notes presented to all the cadets at West Point under Mahan's teaching should have their straps cut off!
"Postage stamp" battlefields (and the adjusted 'tactics' employed therein) are something that drive me to absolute insanity.
My unit has historically attended an event (admittedly local rather than national, but still...) at a period coastal fort. One of the centerpieces of the reenactment has been a staged Confederate landing near the fort, which the Union repels via a sally port.
Without even touching on the absurdity of leaving the cozy confines of the fort for an open battle (which I can understand on the grounds of the probable questionable condition of the ramparts), the issue that disturbs me is the fact that the 'landing zone' is miniscule size of the landing zone on which infantry, artillery and dismounted cavalry ape a battle. A quick glance at Google Maps marks the size at about 400' square-- and that includes the room for the 'taters. Essentially, there is no room for maneuver, and the troops are packed in like cord wood, blazing away at each other from nearly fisticuffs range.
Maybe I'm a little crazed, but I find the scenario to be unsafe due to proximity, and presenting a horrifically inaccurate version of history to the 'taters.
Personally, I won't attend events there any more that have a battle component. It's just too much a farce. It's a shame, since the site would be magnificent for a living history without a battle element.
Just my two cents, and worth every bit you paid for 'em.
09-06-2011, 11:14 AM
Actually, the field at the reenactment was about 1/2 scale of the original. That is, removing the swale between Matthew's and Henry Hills and the pike.
We had a mere fraction of the troops present at the original battle.
Yes, I paced both the reeactment site and the original battlefield.
It kind of puts it into perspective how crowded the field actually was during the original battle. There was only space for one Federal regiment between the visitor's center and Henry House. Hence, why they were fed into the fight one at a time. Jackson's men had to be stacked eight deep!
When the 33rd Va turned Griffin's guns, they only had a field of fire of less than 100 feet before the hill dropped off and concealed the Federal line.
For our numbers we fielded at the reenactment, the land allocated was too big- not too small. We just tried to do too much at the same time.
09-06-2011, 03:04 PM
I created the following image using google maps to compare the size of the 150th reenactment site to the active parts of the actual battlefield portrayed. The red box is the battlefield area used at the reenactment site, approximately 500 meters by 500 meters. The blue polygon is my estimation of the active areas of the First Bull Run / Manassas Battlefied that elements of the reenactment attempted to portray, approximately 1200 meters wide by 2500 meters long.
I would say the reenactment battlefield was 1/8 or charitablly 1/6 the size of the actual battlefield. The reenactment site lacked the truely significant terrain differential on the real battlefield, however the sparse line of trees made due as a dividing line between the 'Matthews Hill' and the 'Henry House Hill' pieces of the scenario.
Was it a 'postage size' battlefield? No I think it was a good size for numbers involved and for what we were attempting to do. I believe most reenactors get too hung up on 'trigger-time' or 'burning powder' (those are my terms) and pay too little attention to learning what particualar units did or experienced during a battle. If they modified their focus some, I believe more groups and individual would say they 'enjoyed' participating in a particular event vice the numbers who profess displeasure loudly because of their ignorance of the historical record and what the event organizers where trying to do.
I had a good time at the 150th First Bull Run / Manassas Reenactment. The dimensions of the battlefield size did not negatively impact it for me. The particular company (Color Company and Color Guard of the 69th NYSM) we were allowed and honored to portray attempted to follow the historical record as closely as the scenario allowed and on both days we had a great time recreating a small part of history for ours and the public's enjoyment.
09-06-2011, 03:34 PM
I watched a unit practicing skirmish drills at WC in the middle of the Confederate camp one morning. Takes a little practice but helps keep the pressure on either advancing or retreating. A version is still taught in the modern army in a tactical withdrawl. I know it doesn't make sense when the distances are so short but it does show the audience the tactics used on a larger battlefield.
Ross L. Lamoreaux
09-06-2011, 03:37 PM
Pete, excellent breakdown of the battlefield size. I've often wondered at various reenactments through the years just how "our" sized fields compared to the real ones, and this provided an "ah ha" moment. Thanks
09-06-2011, 06:05 PM
Great map setup Pete.
I agree with you on most of your post. Ya the area was small to me for the amount of troops there.
I did feel that the war the battle went on Sat had nothing to do with what realy happened. But saying that I did have a great time. I wish I could hav ebeen there for Sunday but as you know a severe eye problem almost blinded me for a while. The other one in the 79th NY said sunday was a lot better battle.
09-06-2011, 09:14 PM
I commend Scot Buffington and Peter Berezuk for their intellectual and military efforts. Too often recreations of battles are criticized by those who speak without knowledge. Battles did have lulls and periods of crowding, negative visiblilty etc. This is an example of history trumps hobby.
all for the old flag,
09-06-2011, 09:56 PM
I totally stand corrected!
The map you provided is fantastic, and I agree with your assessment. It details this far more than my poor attempt. I was way off.
Then again, we had a fraction of the troops who were originally there. I think we were darn near right in proportion.
On the scale we did it, I think that it was spot on. Walking the real battlefield makes one realize how extremely crowded it was. Sure we could have improved the overall battle by feeding in and out units. I think that the organizers were more concerned with offering trigger time than getting units off the field when they should have left. Or, use the entire property for Matthews Hill one day and Henry House for Sunday.
I am just glad that I was there. I had the great honor of reenacting beside some of the BEST federal reenactors in the hobby.
And we stayed to do it again on Sunday.......
No kewl kids with us!!
09-06-2011, 11:06 PM
A number of people have touched on a major issue at spectator battles, the spectators! Event organizers have to develop scenarios that the spectators can both see and hopefully understand. Finding a piece of land with the necessary viewscapes for the spectators, that also includes the correct period topography is no easy thing. Oh yeah, that land also has to be big enough for camping, sutlers, and parking for both the reenactors and spectators. And last, but not least, the property has to be located on a major road with easy access to the site. God forbid that anybody would have to wait an hour or two to get off site at the end of the event.
I would suggest that those of you who are upset about the size of reenactment battlefields start scouting around for alternate locations. You might also like to get involved with negotiating with the folks who own that property you find. They might not be interested in having a few thousand guests for the weekend.
09-07-2011, 09:50 AM
I totally stand corrected!
The map you provided is fantastic, and I agree with your assessment. It details this far more than my poor attempt. I was way off.
My Brave Colonel, it was not my intention to 'correct' you. Just to clarify the situation for all. I would say if you considered only the Henry House Hill portion of the battlefield we were closer to scale, say 1/4.
You do bring out the related point which only event organizers can truthfully answer... what was the ration of actual soldiers engaged in 1861 to the reenactors on the field each day. I will agree from my Company Commander's perspective that the numbers on the field 'worked' for the size of the field.
In the end from my view to the right of the colors, the scenario while not 'prefection' did give those on the field a taste of what fighting, manuevering and waiting on that field must have been like (minus the threat of bodily harm from lead and iron projectiles). I did get to lay down for a few minutes on the field while we allowed Griffith's Battery to do their work to add that perspective to my memory. After all the air was 'filled with lead'.
Yes, you needed to squint your eyes a little to avoid seeing the shade tents in the background or the powerlines. But those experiences on that field were some of the best I've had in the hobby.
Thanks for the kinds words on my topographical AAR everyone, I am glad to be of service.
09-12-2011, 11:39 AM
Though it was a tiny field, skirmishers were used this weekend at the Carnifax Ferry event. As was the real history the 23rd Ohio deployed as skirimishers during one of the three assults on the Confederate breast works. The crowd loved it. It is a fun drill to do as a reenactor, takes a bit of teamwork and communication skills, and is not hard to learn. Loading in kneeling and prone positions is a new trick for some of our gents, but aren't we trying to learn how they did it? Used properly it is a real crowd/reanactor pleaser. I love hearing that order "On the XXXX dploy company as skirmishers!".
09-12-2011, 04:26 PM
We focus on Skirmishing a LOT. The work on the basics of course but every single one of my NCOs and Enlisted know proper skirmish order, granted we don't have enough for a reserve and the like, but it's enough (20-30) to cover an advance or retreat of a main body when needed. We enjoy it and prefer doing that than fighting in line like Archaic blind robots marching to the slaughter.
We are looking forward to the '62 anniv. next year for certain and an increase (hopefully) of Skirmisher use!
Stay safe, keep your powder dry, & have a great rest of the season!
1st Sgt. Bleacher
45th P.V.I. Co.K
Powered by vBulletin™ Version 4.1.3 Copyright © 2013 vBulletin Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.