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Perry Cuskey

Hike #1 - Dawn Patrol

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The great thing about the Dawn Patrol is also the bad thing - it starts at 5:00 in the morning. Why on earth would anyone want to drag out of bed and go on a hike at 5:00 a.m.? There are several reasons actually, some of which revolve around being out in the park at sunrise. In my opinion, everyone should experience a battlefield park at sunrise and/or sunset at least once, if you get the chance. 

If you absolutely positively can't make yourself get up for a sunrise, then at least make it out in the park at sunset. You don't even have to get up early for that - or at least most of you won't :) - and it's just as worthwhile. The only drawback is that, unlike a sunrise, once the sunset is over it's usually time to leave the park.

Another reason for stumbing out of bed to go on a hike that starts while it's still too dark to see is what you'll learn while you're out there. Your hike leader will be an expert on the subject, and fill you in on details you may not have known about. Plus, just the experience of being out there at the same time the battle started - and on the same ground - can keep your attention.

And finally, you get to meet other really nice folks who are just as nuts as you are for getting up this early in the morning. And just as dedicated to learning. Plus, you get to irritate all the people on the remaining hikes who weren't on this one by constantly talking about how great it was, and how they missed out. Come to think of it, this might be the best reason of all. Especially if, like me, you have an evil side.

Getting Misty

By the time I left my campsite south of Savannah I was running a little late for the first hike, but not too badly. I figured I'd still get to the visitors center close to five, or at least that's what I thought until I made it to the bridge over the Tennessee River. That's when I hit the fog bank. In nothing flat, visibility went from just fine to oh-my-gosh.

Not wanting to hit anything I didn't absolutely have to, I slowed down to about the same speed as Halleck moving toward Corinth. The fog cleared up shortly after I cleared the bridge, but then reappeared when I was crossing Snake Creek, just north of the park. This time it didn't completely go away. By the time I made it to the park entrance, it was clear that the fog would literally be hanging around for a while.

As the morning wore on, the presence of this low-hanging mist turned the already quiet, haunting park into something almost otherwordly. It had a practial side as well, that related to learning about the battle. But mostly, it was simply another addition to an already beautiful park.

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By the time I made it to the visitors center, most of the folks taking part on this first hike were already there. I'd rough-guess the total as around 40 or so. A good crowd for the pre-dawn Dawn Patrol. I said hello to Bjorn, met up with Mona, and ran into Steve, one of my hiking partners from last year. None of them ran screaming when they saw me, which is always a good thing. Especially the way I normally like so early in the day.

After about 20 minutes or so we divided into two groups - the first group would re-trace Peabody's morning patrol down Reconnoitering Road to Fraley Field; the second group would head down to Ed Shaw's and walk in to Fraley Field from the south, re-creating Hardcastle's Confederate picket line that encountered the Union patrol.

Hike History

Being a loyal Peabody guy, I decided to join the morning patrol for the second straight year. Our hike leader on the trail this time would be former park ranger Bjorn Skaptason, last year's Confederate leader on the first hike. This year he's deserting to the Yankees and joining up with Peabody. Despite suffering the loss of such a valuable leader, the Rebs will be in good hands on their end of the hike, as they will be rallied to the colors by Dr. Jeff Gentsch, an expert on the geography of Shiloh.

Around 5:30 we head out the door and down the road to our respective rendezvous. As the Yankee half of our group arrives at tour stop 10, we gather in the dark around Bjorn to hear the story of how this patrol that we're about to re-create came to be. We also learn that there is a backstory to the existance of what is probably the battle anniversary's most famous hike.

As Bjorn tells us, the story dates back to the release of Confederates in the Attic, a somewhat controversial book that came out in the late 1990's. This isn't the place for a commentary on that book one way or the other, but suffice to say if you are of the Confederate persuasion you probably won't like it. But the book contains some great stories related to reenacting and reenactors, and other folks with a serious interest in the war.

One of the stories told how, on the anniversary of the battle of Shiloh, you could often run into other folks out in the park very early in the morning, often before the sun was even up. This was apparently news to some of the park rangers, who decided that if people were interested enough in the battle to be out in the park that early on the anniversary, they ought to be out there with them. From there evolved the idea of the Dawn Patrol, and from there evolved the idea of the anniversary hikes each year. So even if you don't like Tony Horwitz or his book, you should still thank him for helping to bring about these wonderful learning opportunities called the anniversary hikes.

After hearing about the history behind the hikes, and the history behind the original patrol itself, it's time for us to head off down the road toward, to paraphrase Wiley Sword, our own little rendezvous with destiny.

Just like last year I quickly fall behind - speed isn't my strong point when it comes to walking or hiking - but Bjorn pauses briefly as we reach the marker for Peabody's first defensive line, a few hundred yards down the road. He points out that as we pass this area, we are moving beyond the picket line and are now out beyond our own lines. There is nothing between us and any waiting Confederate soldiers but the darkness. And the mist still hanging in the air.

Just as happened last year, we arrive at the intersection with the Main Corinth Road, and pause for a bit as Bjorn fills us in on what took place here on the morning of the battle. In 1862, after a brief encounter with mounted Confederate pickets who scattered after firing a few warning shots, the original dawn patrol spread into a skirmish line and, under the command of Major James Powell of the 25th Missouri, slowly advanced across the Corinth Road, down the trail leading to Fraley Field.

Where are they?

In 2008, we will not be spreading out into skirmish formation, but we will be following the same path taken by that original patrol 146 years ago this morning. Under the command of Major Kansas Jayhawk Fan Bjorn Skaptason, we file down the muddy, squishy path toward the mist-filled clearing known as Fraley Field.

As we emerge into the field, the first thing just about everyone notices is...the fog. It envelops everything in sight. Or rather, everything not in sight. Last year at this time, as we entered the field, we could dimly make out the "enemy" skirmish line across the way, perhaps 100 yards or so in the distance. Today, if any such line exists, it is hidden off in the mist, like some mystery waiting to be uncovered. About the only thing we can see at this point is each other. Not even the road behind us is visible from the field.

Since we are a combat patrol and have been ordered to seek out the enemy, there is only one thing to do. We advance across the field, in search of our opponents. After a wet, mucky trek across the soggy ground, we finally encounter the enemy, belatedly advancing to the attack.

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We have been as hidden to them as they have been to us. Had these conditions existed on the morning of the battle, it's doubtful the Union patrol and the Confederate pickets would have seen each other until they were almost standing side-by-side. Someone mentions the "fog of war," which seems appropirate enough. Both Bjorn and Jeff take the opportunity to point out that while no fog existed during the actual battle, the smoke from al the small-arms and cannon-fire would have made the battlefield difficult to see across in many cases. Much like what we are experiencing on this misty morning. It is the first valuable lesson on a day that will have a great many more.

Annihilate the Enemy

In contrast to last year when everyone was bundled up all weekend, the weather this time is going to be very nice. Warm and sunny for just about the entire weekend. In fact, at times it almost feels too warm. Not that I would complain after last year. But on this first hike of the day, the temperature is very similar to last year's Dawn Patrol. Slightly chilly, but nothing bad.

As we stand around in Fraley Field, Bjorn and Jeff take turns talking about the experience of the soldiers out here in the very same field, on that awful morning so many years ago. One thing they bring up is the minor controversy over exactly when it was that the battle started. The most commonly accepted time is 4:55 a.m., but there are accounts that list the start time as being much later. As Bjorn tells us, there really was no such thing as a standardized time in the 1860's. Basically, the correct time was whatever it said on your pocketwatch. This can be a hard concept to grasp in our modern-day, time-obsessed world. But it's just one of the ways in which we must realize that the world we are here to study this weekend was not identical to our own. We are told that, when visiting the park on the anniversary, the rangers believe that 5:55 a.m is the closest lighting conditions to what they were when the battle began in April of 1862.

They also hit on a point that they will return to again and again - the fact that this attack on the part of the Confederate army is not simply an attempt to capture Pittsburg Landing - it is meant to be a battle of annihilation. The goal is not the landing. The goal is the destruction of Grant's army.

It is a point worth remembering. One of those things that is so obvious it can be easily overlooked. When learning about the battle, we find that much emphasis is often placed on the original Confederate plan of attack, and how they intended to sweep Grant's army away from Pittsburg Landing. This plan soon went awry, as we also hear, but one of the things that perhaps stays with us from the original plan is that part about Pittsburg Landing. How the Confederates hoped to drive Grant's army away from the landing.

But as we hear on this hike, and others during the weekend, capturing the landing was simply a means to an end. Cutting off the Yankee troops from the landing would rob them of their best escape route, deny them their supplies and ammunition, and cut them off from reinforcements from across the river. All of this would aid in accomplishing the overall goal - destroy the Union army, or force it to surrender. That was the goal. The purpose behind this attack.

Seay Field

From Fraley Field the now united group turns and marches back down the path to the Corinth Road. Our destination this time is Seay Field, just through the woods in the direction of the Union camps. Bjorn now tells us about the approach of the Confederate army as they began their advance. 

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Major Powell, spotting the overwhelming line of Rebels stretching far beyond his flanks, wisely took his small patrol and pulled out. His assignment of uncovering the enemy had been accomplished.

As Powell and his men retreated along what is now Reconnoitering Road, they encountered a reinforcing column sent out by Peabody, under command of Colonel David Moore of the 21st Missouri. Not believing Powell's claims of a large enemy force in their front, Moore took the entire column and swung back around, intending to drive off what he apparently believed was only a small enemy patrol. About the time they made it back to Seay Field, they were fired on by a nearby line of Rebels. Moore was hit in the leg, shattering the bone, and Captain Edward Saxe and Sgt. John Williams of the 16th Wisconsin were both killed. Saxe thus had the dubious honor of being the first Union officer killed at Shiloh. Sgt. Williams isn't as well remembered, but perhaps he should be.

With Moore out of the fight, Powell took his original command and headed back to the safety of his own lines. Lt. Colonel Humphrey Woodyard of the 21st Missouri assumed command of the troops that remained in Seay Field, and formed a line of battle on a low ridge.

Like Peabody, Woodyard is someone who does not garner a lot of attention, but he probably should. His temporary stand in Seay Field and the nearby woods helped delay the Confederate advance, and bought more valuable time for the rest of the Union army. 

As we are told, the presence of Woodyard and his men in Seay Field will cause the entire Confederate advance to come to a halt, until this small line of enemy troops can be cleared out. The Rebel army is trying to maintain formation, and maintain contact between their respective brigades and regiments. It is therefore deemded necessary, if one part of the line moves too far in advance, or another part falls behind, to stop until the ranks can be closed up once more.

Woodyard's men, outnumbered and alone in Seay Field, thus cause the first of many delays in the Confederate advance. It will be a vital and recurring theme of the battle, and of our learning experience this weekend.

Watch out for the Field Swale

After a time, the Confederate line began to outflank Woodyard's position, forcing him to fall back toward the woods to his rear. He and his men will take up a new position once inside the wood line, and attempt to further delay the Rebel advance. For us, there is no delay - it is time to move through the mist to the other side of Seay Field, to the location of Woodyard's first battle line, where we will learn a new term from Dr. Jeff Gentsch - field swale.

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As anyone who has been there knows, the ground around the park at Shiloh will never be described as level or smooth. With very few exceptions, it is anything but. This fact, as we will learn during the course of the weekend, played a major role in shaping the course of the battle that took place here. The first lesson on that subject comes here in Seay Field, as Jeff points out the small ridge where Woodyard and his men made their first stand.

As Jeff informs us, in a battle, soldiers will almost instinctively seek out any kind of protection they can find, even if it is only a small ridge or depression. Anything that will help protect them from flying bullets and exploding shells. The almost imperceptiable ridge where Woodyard and his men formed their line in Seay Field does not appear to offer much in the way of protection. But, it could have been somewhat larger at the time. And even if not, again, even the slightest protection is better than standing out in the open and getting shot at.

This is also where we first hear about field swale - something that many of us will become adept at spotting before the weekend is out, thanks to Jeff and Bjorn. Field swale, as it is described to us, is simply any low depression, or series of depressions, in an open area. There will be numerous examples encountered over the next two days, many of which helped influence tactics and/or decisions during the battle.

And this, as we learn from Jeff, is representative of how and why Shiloh should be considered a modern battle. The shoulder-to-shoulder formations of the past, that the soldiers entering this battle had been taught, and that are best suited to the open plains of a European battlefield, will simply not work in the heavily wooded, ravine-cut landscape that surrounds Pittsburg Landing. To successfully fight - and survive - on this landscape, the soldiers and their commanders will be forced to immprovise on the fly. To learn about and adapt, in the middle of a major battle,  to new conditiions that they have not been trained to deal with. It is an incredibly difficult handicap, yet one that the men in both armies had to come to terms with almost immediately. During the course of the weekend, we will repeatedly learn how this came into play.

After an informative hour in Fraley and Seay fields, the first hike of the day draws to a close. Rebel skirmishers and Yankee patrolers head off in opposite directions,  bound for more hikes, more great lessons, and more experiences. Next on the list is the Henry Morton Stanely adventure that Dan has told us about, after which we will join Dr. Gentsch by Shiloh Church, and fall in with Patrick Cleburne as he navigates the "morass" around Shiloh Branch.

Perry

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Thanks Dan. But what happened to my pictures? I uploaded four pictures to go with the post, and I don't see them now. Am I the only one, or does anyone else see them?

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