Monthly Archives: March 2013

Prelude to Vicksburg

By the time war broke out between the States, the Menace held virtually unhindered control of France and had strewn themselves throughout Prussia and the British Empire. It was quite a feat, but nowhere near the level of infiltration the Menace needed to ensure the complete success of Hroovitnir’s Fenrisheim. To secure a sweeping victory, they needed to repeat the French plan in the entirety of the Western world. When they had achieved that, they could easily wipe out modern civilizations and their weaponry and essentially treat the more destitute nations as cattle ranches. Luckily, Vicksburg impeded their plan. I’ve also reached a point where I can speak with a little more firsthand knowledge.

My father was a lawyer in Connecticut and a very vocal abolitionist. I tended to agree with his arguments, but I wasn’t much for the political world. I’m still not, and I probably never will be. As a youngster, I took up both of my father’s professions; law and furniture construction. I deeply loved the act of manipulating solid chunks of wood and transforming them into functional objects. The satisfaction that comes from creating is parallel to none other. Law, on the other hand, has no reward like that. Successfully defending an innocent man may give you the feeling that you’re actually doing something – that’s the reason I got into law – but it rarely happens. Lawyers seem to be plagued with political matters and small claims issues that just aren’t important in the long run. I decided that if I couldn’t help people who needed it, there was no place for me in the world of law. I left to concentrate on building furniture, enjoying women, and hunting in the wilds of Connecticut with my dog, Yorick.

I always had a natural skill for pass-times that required hand/eye coordination – like shooting, throwing, and billiards – and it was no secret that I was an abolitionist at heart, even though I hated politics. It was natural, then, that some of the abolitionist leaders in New England who were preparing (or even praying) for war came to ask me to join their militia in 1860. I have no doubt that these same men were part of the group who funded John Brown’s attacks. I declined in hopes that the crisis between the North and South might end without bloodshed. I told them the whole thing would be over in one year with slavery abolished on paper, but slave states having ten to fifteen years to make the transition to using waged workers.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I also lost quite a bit of money on bets I had placed about the political climate. I’ve also realized while writing this that I have very bad luck with bets. That’s something I should keep in mind, as Phoenix seems to be a very gambling-friendly place. The same political big shots came to me again in February of 1861 just after the secessionist states had formed the Confederacy. This time, I agreed to join. They had also partnered with John C. Fremont, who had recently returned to New York. Fremont talked tactical sense into the moneyed war hawks and, instead of supporting another ineffectual fanatic like Brown, the group put together a small company of sharpshooters.

We were relocated from our home states to the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York. As I demonstrated the most skill with a rifle, Fremont put me in charge of sharpshooting drills. From his time as Military Governor of California, Fremont knew a Mexican colonel that had defected to the United States who was an expert in camouflage and guerilla warfare. Colonel de Vaca was in charge of all non-marksmanship training. By the time the Confederacy had attacked Fort Sumter in April, de Vaca had taught us all how to enter and exit enemy territory unnoticed and how to protect ourselves in close quarters with minimal noise. By July, we were a fully functional unit, but Union Army command was wary to make use of our unorthodox nature. After several Confederate victories, Fremont was able to secure our deployment to Virginia, where we saw our first combat near Carnifax Ferry.

Our orders were to rendezvous with Colonel Tyler’s 7th Ohio Infantry in western Virginia. Their operating base would double as ours and from it, we would move southeast to observe Confederate troop placements and strength. Our secondary objective was to assassinate any officer of general grade or above to disrupt leadership and reduce morale. We arrived in midday and planned to set out the next morning. While we set up a temporary night camp, a Confederate regiment attacked from the direction of the river, an area which Tyler told us was free of Rebs. Initially, we retreated with the 7th, but cut off diagonally during the short chase. Under de Vaca’s orders, we circled back to the houses and farmland the Confederates had occupied just north of Carnifax.

One reason our operating base was with the small 7th Infantry was because it was a key position in the line of communication between a larger Union force to the south and area command under General Rosecrans in the north. That way, if our scouting runs were successful, we wouldn’t have to travel backwards to find a communication hub. The surprise attack had effectively blocked communication, so we set up camp behind enemy lines and sent two man teams between Union forces when we could, but that came at a price. Keeping our heads down and relaying messages under the noses of the Rebels meant that we couldn’t take out the general in command, who just happened to be John Floyd, the former Secretary of War under Buchanan. Luckily, he turned out to have some inefficient and very exploitable ideas about entrenching an army.

About fifteen days into our time behind the Confederate line, Colonel de Vaca and Lieutenant Hicks brought back a request from Rosecrans that we be ready to move at a moment’s notice. He was moving south and would attack en masse for a brief period that would be our cover to move back to the Union side of the line. I say a request because our unit was under the sole command of General Fremont and President Lincoln. In their absence, Colonel de Vaca had complete authority which could not be countermanded by any general.

Rosecrans attacked in midday with a wild charge from the forest that left the Rebs on unsure footing. As we ran toward the western flank of the Confederate line to join our comrades in arms, it looked like the battle might be won with Rosecrans’ initial charge alone. Once the Confederate artillerymen overcame their shock and began firing, though, the wave had to pull back to regroup. While the Confederates awaited a renewed Union charge, our unit of twelve split into three groups and moved toward different artillery batteries. Each man in the shooting quad would set up a shot and then take that shot one at a time, in order of rank. As soon as a shot was off, the shooter would run to find a new position and be ready to fire again when it was his turn. In this way, we were able to avoid being pinpointed by Confederate sharpshooters and skirmishers by our muzzle flash and powder clouds. By the time Rosecrans ordered his second attack, the effectiveness of the Confederate artillery had been reduced greatly. Floyd had entrenched his troops with their backs to a river, which left no room for strategic falling back or flat-out cutting and running. When Rosecrans overwhelmed the Confederate defenses, they had nowhere to go. Most of the survivors surrendered; only one small horse-mounted party was able to break for a soft spot in the line and ride back to hard Confederate territory.

Our ability to hide out behind enemy lines for three weeks and strike without being seen earned us the name Fremont’s Phantasms from fellow Union regiments. I’m sure the Confederates also came up with some creative epithets for us. After Carnifax, Fremont told us that some of the tactics we were trained in and encouraged to use wouldn’t be viewed as “sporting” by the military brass on both sides of the war. In all future missions, we were not to don the uniform nor insignia of the Union Army. We adopted a uniform of emerald green with white overclothes for the winter months and a likeness of a phantasm as our crest.

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