Friday, December 19, 2014


By Rob Watson 

 The group is a Catholic men’s organization first formed by Irish Catholics in Boston in the 1880’s to provide charity to catholic widows and orphans. It has grown to an international group. When I was in college, the Catholic student club, the Newman Club, finally saved enough money to build a new building. It was unfurnished until the Knights of Columbus men of Shreveport sent a team of their officers to Ruston to determine our requirements. A doctor’s wife, associated with our little club, led them through the building, room by room, with a catalog, picking out what we needed. Those men never had a chance. Mrs. Black was smart, aggressive, and attractive… a deadly combination around men. What we got was attractive, durable, and very good quality. We got everything we needed. They spent thousand of dollars, today would be measured in tens of thousands of dollars. I was president of the Newman Club that year and had a front row seat to it all. It is probably time i worked with these guys and did some pay back.( I recently had cause to return to my old college stomping grounds. At the newer, much expanded Catholic facility there, I met some ladies who regularly visited Mrs. Black at an elder care home. I wrote a note to Mrs. Black identifying myself and expressing my thanks and admiration for her work on my behalf. These ladies promised to deliver the note for me.)

However it might be classified, manly or childish, I like the parading around in the fancy outfit and the sword. I have not gotten the hang of handling the sword yet. Today, in church, we marched down the isle and drew the swords in salute. Then we were to replace the thing and remove our hats. Every time I tried to get the sword back into its scabbard, the point snagged the fabric of my glove and would not go in. As a form saving device I held the scabbard and unsheathed sword in my left hand. I removed the hat with my right. After a few minutes I was challenged to use my left hand for another activity, while still holding the hat in my right. I put my hat on to make another stab at replacing the sword. Immediately, the boss knight on the alter, saw me and signaled to take my hat off. This time the sword made it in on the first try. The hat came off and everyone was happy.

The “Installation” pictured is for the officers who were just elected. I am in the pictures because I was a stand-in for a guy who couldn’t make it. My actual induction was part of a secret ceremony done three years ago in Kansas. That group never had a meeting, so I transferred here to the local group. There are a lot more Catholics here than in Kansas… They are active with meetings that include a nice meal, and they use their funds to do public service and charity work. The regalia ( the fancy outfit) is used for funerals and special celebrations in the church. Friday we will go to Many, LA to participate in the 25th anniversary of priesthood for one guy and 17th of another. They will feed us afterwards… another chance to get food on that outfit.

Another recent activity, pictured below, was attending the dedication ceremony for the Veterans Memorial Park. This monument has a series of plaques listing the local persons who died in the various wars our nation has fought. All of these men, pictured, are veterans of the US Military.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Serving A Civil War Cannon: Part 3

By Rob Watson

You might read the three previous posts on the Civil War In April 2013, April 2014, and May 2014, before reading this. You will find they add color to this post. April 2014 has a short video as well.

The type of cannon I have served, so far, is called a Mountain Howitzer. Previous to my Civil War experiences I was exposed to this type cannon at Fort Laramie National Historical Site and Fort Casper both in Wyoming and Fort Larned in Kansas. The Wyoming sites discussed the cannon as part of their historical presentations, usually held on Memorial Day weekends and other holidays. At Fort Larned they had live fire demonstrations for their events.

The 12 pound, Mountain Howitzer was designed as a relatively light weapon of 150 pounds (68kg) that could be disassembled and packed around by pack animals. The gun tube was made of bronze. The carriage could be taken apart and packed on animals as well. Its main feature, other than mobility, was its ability to fire standard 12 pound ammunition: canister, shrapnel, and shells. (but not solid shot) Because of the exploding nature of the shrapnel and shell ammunition, the American Indians call these cannon "the gun that shoots twice". Indian fighting in the American West was mostly Cavalry action. Because of the cumbersome nature, hauling, assembling of this cannon it was seldom carried, much less used in that regard. However cannon were used at the Sand Creek Massacre, and they might have been the mountain howitzer.

The Civil War was very different. Because of the relative light weight and maneuverability, as compared to other cannon, and the more organized battles, Mountain Howitzers were used extensively. The Louisiana Second Cavalry, with its four gun battery of these cannon, saw extensive action throughout the Civil War in the Louisiana Theater: Donaldsonville (September 21-25, 1862); Georgia Landing, near Labadieville (October 27, 1862); Bayou Teche (January 14, 1863); Fort Bisland [in reserve] (April 13-14, 1863); Irish Bend (April 14, 1863); Brashear City [detachment] (June 23, 1863); Red River Campaign (March-June 1864); Henderson’s Hill (March 21, 1864); Mansfield (April 8, 1864). They fought under this version of General Richard Taylor's Flag.

Another unit with the Mountain Howitzer was N. T. N. Robinson's Battery of the Louisiana First Cavalry. Indirect records show they participated in the battle at Stone's River/ Murfreesboro  Dec. 31 1862- Jan. 2 1863. I found this record:

Robinson's Company, Horse Artillery
Stationed at Murfreesborough, Tennessee, September 1 - December 31, 1862
Stationed at Bean Station, January - February 1863
Stationed near Jacksborough, Tennessee, March 1- June 30 1863
From November 1, 1861 to May 1, 1863, this company had three howitzers, to which was added from time to time three 3-inch rifle guns, two of them being steel Parrott guns captured by one regiment, First Louisiana Cavalry, from Colonel Sanders� Abolition raiders on June 27, 1863.
The Wild Cat Cavalry Company, Captain [Obed] P. Miller, being wholly without officers, was transferred by Major General [Simon Bolivar] Buckner to Colonel Scott, commanding brigade, and by him to this company.
June 1. - At an election held for officers, in pursuance of orders from brigade Headquarters, the following were declared duly elected: N. T. N. Robinson, Captain; Winslow Robinson, Senior First Lieutenant; J. A. Turner, First Lieutenant; Charles E. Liverich, Senior Second Lieutenant; the juniors are still vacant. N. T. N. Robinson, Captain.

At the battle of Chickamauga, Louisiana First Cavalry, and Robinson's battery were attached to the command of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest. In action there, Robinson's Battery was held in reserve. There was another report that Robinson's battery opposed the Union crossing of the Tennessee River in action just prior to the battle at Lookout Mountain.

Robinson's Battery dissolved in December 1863 when Braxton Bragg reorganized his artillery units. An obituary for N. T. N. Robinson in 1909, reported he had an extensive career in public service before passing away in New Orleans.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Colonoscopy and Upper GI

By Rob Watson

I am writing this for the benefit of my nieces and nephews who share my family history, and for those who might need one of these, or are just curious. In the interests of full disclosure, you should know there is no part of this experience that is in any way pleasant, uplifting, or enlightening. But, as they say about getting old, it sure beats the alternative.

I am currently two hours into recovering from my most recent Colonoscopy and a new experience, an upper GI... something. I have a family history of colon polyps. I have experienced a few sorts of inspections down there from about the age of 14. Nothing was found in the early years. I had a sigmoidoscopy about 1991 but cannot remember any results. I began colonoscopies in 1994, with one every 3 years or so sense. They have produced both benign and precancerous polyps in every inspection, always several, sometimes many, until today.

The process begins with an initial appointment with a Gastroenterologist. Here you should experience some parts of a physical examination and extensive questioning about your health history and current health. This is mostly done by trained healthcare professionals (THP). When these have been covered, the doctor reviews them, then comes to meet you and review all that has gone before. A date is set for your 'procedure'. You are also given a set of instructions for you to prep yourself for that procedure.

Those instructions include no solid food for 24 hours before the procedure. In fact no murky liquids either, only clear liquids, with nothing red or purple. Jello is OK. For some reason, and in contrast to normal fasting, I do not recall feeling hungry during this time. In the late afternoon or evening, you will be given something to drink, which can, regardless of the choices, only be characterized as awful. If you are lucky, it will not be terrible. My current experience included stuff that was so sickly sweet it threatened to come back the way it went in, instead of going out the other end. Your last instruction will be nothing, food or drink, after midnight, not even water.

This material is designed to clean you out, literally flush all contents from mouth to anus. With numerous visits to the toilet, you will quickly begin to expel solids, the soft materials, and so forth until nearly clear liquids are produced. I was allowed to watch my first colonoscopy. My colon was as clean as the pictures on the doctors walls.

On arrival at the medical center you will be greeted by pleasant helpful people. My former Gastroenterologist was a bit of a sour puss but he was the exception. You need to get use to being asked why you are there. (I will mark the times with *)It seems to be a test of your mental acuity rather than some need to know on their part. In today's experience I was checked in without delay* and given one of those call devices you get at a busy restaurant. No nurse hollering your name from the door. I went in to have my records checked and reviewed*. After a short wait was called to be preped for the procedure*.

*First you are connected to a heart monitoring machine to take heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level. You are given privacy to remove all your clothes and jewelry and don one of those hospital gowns that gap open in the rear. I was given a soft and pre-warmed blanket with which to cover on a nice soft bed. (In contrast, old sour puss had me lie down on an ice cold stainless steel table. No blanket.) *An IV is established in your hand and secured with tape. *The anesthesiologist meets me and asks if I have a family history of problems with any anesthesia and asks if I have any questions for him. *A HCP comes in, calls up my history on a computer and reviews all the entries with me. Wife is brought to the room to keep me company until the surgical room is ready. After a short wait,* a HCP appears, gives Wife instruction on where to meet me in the recovery room and rolls me to the operating room. *Here, a number of HCP get busy connecting me to monitoring machines and an oxygen-through-the-nose plastic tube. The anesthesiologist appears and tells me to keep my eyes open. (others may ask you to count backwards)

After what seems like an pleasant nap, I wake up in another room with Wife beside me. In referencing past experiences, here is what I/you have missed: The doctor inserts a long black flexible device into your anus. The head of which contains a gas tube for inflating your intestine, a wire loop for capturing and removing polyps, a light, and a video camera so everyone in the room can see what is happening. The head with the camera seems to be able to swivel. It is slowly pushed inside your large intestine, looking from side to side, looking for small white spots on the intestine wall. When one is found, the wire loop reaches out and plucks it from its place. (By some means it is transported to the outside where a technician examines it for cancer, usually a few hours later in time.) At this time, one can also see the small pockets in the intestine wall called diverticulitis (losis?). When the end of the large intestine is reached, the tube is removed and one begins to expel gas at a prodigious rate, which continues for a few hours afterwards.

Here is the cautionary note. Everyone hears the Horror stories about perforated colons/bowels. One happened at the clinic where old sour puss worked, but no one ever said who did it (6 doctors worked there). This caused me a fair amount of concern when I went for my last one there. YOU are your best defense against a bad outcome. Pain, serious pain, is one of the symptoms. (old time gunfighters said shoot for the gut because the pain will paralyze your opponent) The other is copious blood from the anus.(SMALL AMOUNTS OF BLOOD WILL APPEAR IF POLYPS ARE REMOVED) You must not delay if you have these symptoms. The lady in that town died from blood loss after 6 hours.

The discomfort is not over, even now, 6 hour after the procedure. What ever they gave me has dried out my mouth and I cannot eat anything... nor am I hungry. I love french bread it tasted awful. I asked Wife to stop for my favorite candy bar. It tastes great but it sticks in the mouth like very dry peanut butter. I quit eating after two mouth fulls. The remains sits on the desk beside me now. Sherbert and sprite was OK.

On a final note, after several experiences at nearly a dozen facilities over the years, I really liked the people, the process, and the outcome at The Central Louisiana Surgical Hospital, today. ( all the necessary unpleasantness aside). My results: for the first time, no polyps found!

Sunday, September 28, 2014


By Rob Watson

Recently a close personal friend completed the process of retiring. She sold her home, moved temporarily, into an apartment, completed the paperwork for retiring with her job and set about to wait for the magic day. In the week before that day, her friends gathered to say a fond farewell then, she packed her remaining belongings. The day after retiring from a life of working, she piled into her car, drove a thousand miles, and began to settle into her new life. From the known to the unknown in three days time. Her transition reminded me of my own...

During the summer of 1989 it became clear that my boss at Small Company was getting tired of me. It was probably a combination of realities. First was my independence from his leadership style. He wanted a faithful follower. I did my own thing. I was his top sales manager. No mater how he changed the rules for what constituted top guy, I was always it. Second was the corporate atmosphere. I was the last of the early employees that did not fit the hiring criteria: 3.5 GPA, BS in Computers or engineering, and a Masters in Business.

As part of my exit strategy, I convinced the boss to let me do The Road Show that fall… introducing our new products by traveling from city to city giving four hour training sessions on their use. Wife and I left in August and returned the first of December… 18,000 miles… 56 cities… 116 presentations. On my return, the boss had picked my replacement, a fresh faced college hire with no experience. (In the following 6 months, sales in my territories dropped from $1.2 million per month to $400k per month.) I resigned my position and took vacation until my date of resignation.

A business associate from Medium State was starting his own electronics company and consented to my buying into the enterprise and being his sales manager. Plan A was for me to bring in a pile of money and we would get rich together. All I had to do was leave everything behind and move to the new location.

I had joined a hunting lease in Big State and spent some of my vacation chasing deer over the several square miles of the place. It was a Christmas Tree shaped plateau rising a hundred feet or so above the surrounding plain. There was a high point on the top, near one end. From this point, one could see many miles in all direction. The illusion was that one could see the whole of Big State. On the last day of hunting, a couple of days before my permanent move to Medium State, I climbed to this high point to say my good byes to my home of 20 years.

As I sat there, I tried to remember each of my friends, the things we had done, the places we had been. I silently said adios to each. I strove to remember the people with whom I had worked, the companies, the customers, the trade shows, the training classes… I smiled. I remembered. I cried. Then, I let it all drift into the past. I stood, pointed my rifle into the air and fired. I imagined the sound waves traveling outward and putting the period on my life there. As I walked down the plateau I was at peace, filled with thoughts, plans, and hopes for the future.

I drove home, packed my car, kissed Wife and sped off into my unknown. Along the road to Medium State there is a high point, not far inside the state line. From there, on a clear day, as that one was, one can look out and see more than a hundred miles across the state. I stopped at this lookout point and welcomed myself to my future. I stood there and dreamed dreams of learning new things, new adventures, new people, and success. My soul was at peace and my expectations soared as I drove on.

I would wish, for all of my friends as they dive into retirement, the peace, the joy, and the 'Great Expectations' I felt as I drove into my future in those days.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Long Shot

By Rob Watson

If you are a sensitive person and are upset by reports of harm to animals, You will not want to continue reading this account of a hunting trip.

One of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, has a line that goes something like this: "When all the cosmic tumblers fall into place, anything is possible." This essay describes just such an event.

I have always had an attraction to nice things. I also have an aversion to spending the money to acquire nice things. So, several years back I came across a very nice Browning semiautomatic rifle. Apparently the previous owner could not hit the side of a barn with it. I got it at a good price and convinced myself I knew enough about firearms to make it shoot well.

As you may know, Different types of ammunition shot to different points of impact in any one rifle. I took my new toy and several different loads to the range to see what load it might "like". The best I could do was to get all the hits inside a 5" (13cm) circle at 100 yards (91m)... not good.

A few days later, I was reading a rather old reloading manual. In the caliber of my BAR, it had a very fast load for a rather small bullet. This load was very different from the others I had tried so I made up a dozen or so. Then Off to the range. (Just so you know, the odds of finding a quality load in one effort are incredibly high against. In some rifles, one never finds an exceptional Load.)

After sighting in the load I fired a test group. It came in near an inch (2.5cm). Inspired to make a serious effort at shooting the smallest group possible, I hunkered down with sandbags, controlled breathing, slow trigger pull, and most of the other things required to make accurate shots. The result was under 1/2 inch (about 1 cm). A continued serious effort showed this to be repeatable. A beautiful rifle with extreme accuracy and my little ole pea pickin' heart went "pitter, pat, pitter pat".

About the same time I came across a unique range finding telescopic sight. Most range finders focus on a crude estimate of the distance from you to an average size deer. Bullet drop and windage are left for the shooter to guestimate. This new scope took windage and bullet drop into account when giving point of aim for the range of the shot.

The next cosmic tumbler to fall into place was a stable shooting platform that one can easily carry into the field. I encountered a salesman with an interesting device: foldable shooting sticks. They were thin aluminum tubes held together with the thinest bungy cords. Slip joints allowed the tubes to be pulled apart and folded. Releasing the tubes and shaking them caused them to snap back together in useable condition. If you are a camper with relatively new tentage, you know exactly what I mean.

Hunting Pronghorns in Wyoming presents some interesting challenges. When the population of the animals gets above a certain level, one could get an out-of-state permit for a relatively inexpensive $25. Permit in hand, finding the game is exceedingly easy. The wide open treeless terrain allows seeing the pronghorns for miles. Getting within half a mile is the real problem, because they can see you at two miles way better than you can see them. My observations cause me to expect them to start looking for an escape route when I get about 600 yards away.

My gunsmith and I received permission to hunt from a sheep rancher. "You can go down that road over there. I own both sides for about 10 miles.". The place we decided to hunt was a fenced triangle, about 2 miles (3km) on a side. Gunsmith started at one point of the long side of the triangle and I drove to the other. The plan was to walk toward the center of the area from these spots. Pronghorn will see a hunter and walk away from him if they are not cornered. (If you shoot a pronghorn that has been running, the meat will taste awful.) Presumably if they walk away from one of us, they will walk toward the other.

I had slowly strolled a good distance when I saw two animals on a hilltop a fair distance away. I also saw Gunsmith on another hilltop even further away and off to my right. I judged the shot to be very long, if I tried to make it. The air was still but a large cloud bank was rolling toward us from a few miles away. It would only be a few minutes before all hunting would be done for the day.

I set all my stuff down and sat down. With the range finder in my scope, I determined the Pronghorn to be 600 yards away. For the most part I do not favor long shots. There are to many variables and the chance to injure the animal without killing it. My rationale for hunting was considering how an animal might otherwise die... hit by car, starvation, disease, predators, a lingering death from a poorly placed bullet... or a quick death from a correctly placed shot.

I had an accurate rifle, a very good scope, a steady rest and very little time to work for something better. To myself I say "I can hit a prairie dog at 200 yards, a pronghorn at 600 should be easier." I decided to try.

I settled into my sitting position, found the animal in the scope, took careful aim, did the breathing thing and fired. After about 2 seconds the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back to me. The target took a few steps and stopped. Afraid that I had not made a killing shot, I repeated the process. Again the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back. And, this time, the pronghorn dropped to the ground.

Pronghorns are beautiful animals. For a few minutes after a kill I am rather sad, then thinking of my rationale, I move on to the really messy part of hunting. On close examination, I found the two bullet holes. Both were in the heart-lung area, 5 inches apart. Two shots, 600 yards (540m) hitting 5 inches (12 cm) apart. Not bad for a small town boy.

The real story here is to watch Gunsmith tell it. He stands with his feet spread apart and closes his hands and brings them to his eyes to simulate binoculars. Then he swings his body broadly from left to right, simulating looking at two widely separated points in the distance. As he swings repeatedly back and forth he says, with feeling, "He can't make that shot! He can't make that shot! Bang! Whap! He made that shot! Bang! Whap! Well, I'll be a ... He made that shot twice!!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Serving a Civil War Cannon: Part 2

By Rob Watson

If you have not already, you might want to go back and read my previous posts on the US Civil War. The first (Civil War Battle Re-enactment: Pleasant Hill, Mansfield) was written a year ago and the second (Serving a Civil War Cannon) was written the first of this month (April 2014).

I was slow in contacting the folks that keep the Battery organized and was fortunate to encounter one at the "Cowboy" shoot at the local gun range. He informed me the Battery was going to participate in the re-enactment of the Mansfield battle this week end.

"Now wait a minute" you say. "wasn't that held the first weekend in April?" Well, yes that is so. The town of Pleasant Hill holds an annual re-enactment of the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. More specifically, the folks who are descendants of the original towns people, and owners of the land on which the battle of Pleasant Hill was fought, have organized that re-enactment annually.

The re-enactment held this weekend was organized by the Great State of Louisiana and is held on the ground of the original battlefield of the Mansfield fight every ten years. This is also the location of the Louisiana State Park and Museum for the Mansfield Battle. (This ground was originally purchased by local citizens and efforts continue to acquire and preserve more of that battlefield.) Also participating, were the National Park Rangers from the Creole National Historical Monuments around the city of Natchitoches, LA. It should be noted that security for the event was provided by the the Desoto Parish Sheriff's dept and the Louisiana State Police. (these people should also get credit for providing security at the Pleasant Hill event earlier)

During the intervening three weeks I have read more about the position I served on Gabriel's Horn. My first position was at the forward left of the gun. It is called the number two position. My primary duty is to clear the barrel of debris after the shot is fired. I even learned what the number three gunner was shouting at me before I used the corkscrew like device (called an implement) to clear the barrel: "Primer hole clear, Primer hole covered" and why: to insure that sparks do not get back into the chamber where the powder charge will be placed.

There were a number of changes in procedures from Gabriel's Horn and the gun I served today. Previously, the gun captain required that I use my  implement to clear the barrel whenever the command "Service the Gun" was given. Today, if this operation had previously been done, I was not to repeat it. The other big change was brought on by government regulation, because we are on government land.

Previously, we mustered at the gun an hour before the re-enactment was to start. We also practiced loading and firing the gun. (and I got my initial instruction on serving the gun). By government regulation, today we mustered at the gun some four hours before the re-enactment. A state park ranger asked me if I was familiar with my duties, and I answered "well mostly, but I would like to review them." then he asked if I was familiar with the failed primer drill. "No."

Here the unit commander, I shall call him Richard, carefully and patiently helped me through a review of my previous instruction and oversaw a few practice drills. Then he demonstrated the "Failed Primer" drill. (In real life, and in re-enactments, this is actually a dangerous situation and this green apple newbe was learning how to make things safe... and how to be the primary actor in making things safe.) It goes like this...

When the number 4 gunner pulls the lanyard the gun usually fires. If the primer fails, there is a good possibility that fire has been applied to the powder charge but for some reason the charge has not ignited. In the drill, each member of the gun crew, except me the number two man, turns his back to the gun and performs his duties in the drill as best he can from that position, The number two man gets to step away from the gun about three paces. After a time delay of three minutes (to allow the sparks to initiate the charge or, hopefully, to burn out) Number two lays down his  implement, turns his back to the gun and backs up to it but avoids touching the carriage. If any part of the primer remains above primer hole he receives pliers from the powder monkey and attempts to remove the primer. Then he receives a pick (a heavy wire device) from number 3 and pokes down into the primer hole. If there is still fire in the remaining primer parts, the gun will discharge. (which is why one does not touch the carriage)If the gun has still not gone off, the number four man gives number two (me) a new primer which I insert in the primer hole and secure the lanyard until he resumes his normal position. The gun captain reports the gun "ready" and each member of the gun crew returns to his "ready" position. Hopefully, the gun fires on the next "fire" command.

Now, with the ranger watching, the gun crew goes through a complete load and fire drill, or two. Then we did a couple of "Failed Primer" drills. If the ranger is satisfied each gun crew member knows his part, we are officially "Certified". The whole process of certification takes place whenever an event is held on government property.

As reported previously, units are often required to fight for the Union side for lack of true, low life, Yankees. My gun crew was so required for this event. I borrowed a blue coat for the certification drills then went to the sutlers tent to buy my own blue coat. (Fortunately, the Union and Rebel artillery uniforms are similar enough that all I had to change from my Confederate one was to change the coat.) Wife bought her first re-enactment garment, a period sun bonnet. Later I came back and bought a canteen.

Afterwards, Wife and I went over to the Visitor Center and Museum. The museum was rather interesting in that, along with maps, descriptions, and artifacts from the battle, there were numerous quotations from battle participants from both sides, for each of the displays on the phases of the battle. The Louisiana Lt. Governor came to make a presentation. Wife was too far from the man to understand what he was saying. I stayed inside the museum to finish going over the exhibits. An extended golf cart was available to transport folks between the re-enactment site and the museum. We took that back.

I sought  out the camp of the Battery and joined them in the usual discussions... Politics, people, jokes, and previous re-enactments. Richard turned the conversations to questions which I might have. I had several and he was efficient in answering them. My gun captain appeared with a Scottish hat (not a tam) and I asked if he had his kilt yet. He reported his was on order and intended to wear it at the next event. He was the same young man who had served, with me, on Gabriel's Horn. On the second day of this re-enactment he showed up without the hat. Someone commented on that and another replied they were glad he had not worn his new dress.

When it was time to muster at the guns, Richard insisted on a respectful delay (Possibly preferring the man made shade of the camps tent to wandering around in Mother Natures warm sun in a heavy wool, Union uniform.) Then we all collected and donned our heavy wool Union uniforms and meandered over to the gun positions.

In striving for authenticity, the script called for the Rebel forces to overrun our position and capture our guns, as was done in the actual battle.  We gunners discussed who should runaway and who would fall dead. This was not necessary. Apparently in giving instruction to the rebel forces, it was stressed, for safety reasons, not to approach the guns closer than 50 yards until they stopped firing. When the rebel lines approached the 50 yard marker, we secured the guns and backed away from them. Presumably, overcome with an excess of caution, the Confederates never charged. The dead all got up and the whole units presented themselves to the audience. They then fired a salute to the crowd. This error in procedure was repeated on Sunday as well.

After the re-enactment on Saturday, Wife and I wandered back to the museum and took in the video presentation on the battle. Later a Belgian scholar, founder of a Belgian American Civil War Society, made a very interesting presentation on the life of a Frenchman who commanded one of the Confederate divisions during the battle... Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac.
Presumably Prince Polignac was quite proud of his involvement in the victory at Mansfield as he named his son Victor Mansfield.

One of the interesting things I encountered in these re-enactment adventures is the number of Louisiana residents that had relatives in that war. A couple we met, claimed a captain in the Mansfield battle was their relative so we invited them to come along and see the activities. They stayed and went through the museum afterwards. They invited us to their home for hamburgers grilled over a charcoal fire. A very pleasant evening was had by all.

I was pleased to learn the Battery had a rule against doing re-enactments in the heat of the summer. Our next event will be in East Texas in September. It is not clear what battle will be re-enacted in Northeast Texas... as the battle of Mansfield "saved Texas for the Confederacy" and no union soldiers, under arms, ever set foot in that state. (However there was a large prisoner of war facility near Tyler)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Serving a Civil War Cannon

By Rob Watson

This week is the 150 anniversary of the American Civil War battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill In the State of Louisiana. The fight at Pleasant Hill was the largest battle, based on troops involved, ever fought west of the Mississippi River. It is being celebrated in the town of Pleasant Hill, on the actual ground of the original battle, with a re-enactment of the original battle. You should read my posts about the reenactment of last year before reading this post.

Anyone who has ever been in real combat will surely find this silly, but to me, serving a replica Confederate Civil War cannon was as exciting as anything I have done in many years. Here is my story. A video at the end (if i can get it in) will make some things more clear.

My original plan for the day was to attend the re-enactment and associated festivities and write a post for my blog. In executing that plan, Wife and I drove to Pleasant Hill early in the morning. We ate breakfast at the American Legion, with the choices of a Rebel Breakfast Of eggs, bacon, grits, and two very good biscuits. Then we went to a suttler's tent. I bought parts of a new Confederate artillery mans uniform.

I found some folks that I had been invited, last year, to visit at the battle re-enactment campground. I boldly walked into their Primitive camp where all the equipment and materials were of the Civil War period. I told them I had purchased a Civil War artillery uniform and asked if I might serve one of their cannon during the days events. One of the older members of the group asked one of the gun captains nearby if he could use some help. The gun captain replied that he was one man short and said he would be pleased to have me. I stayed in camp for a while socializing. One of the men in the group was from my home town and graduated from my same high school. They talked of rules and events and told old "war" stories. I asked what time we "mustered" before the battle then went off to eat lunch and dress in my new uniform.

The Battery is a formalized organization. To be a member, one must attend three events (re-enactments) in a year, then at the annual meeting the group votes on whether the prospect will be accepted  into the group as a member. After that one pays his dues and participates in as many activities as he wishes.

My first position of the day was forward of the gun carrage and to the left of the gun tube. On the command "Load" the position #3 shouted " " (I don't actually know what she said, but it was her only command and after it I was to do my first thing) then I was to take a cork screw looking device and clear any remains of the previous shot from the barrel. I then took the cartridge from the powder monkey and placed it in the muzzle of the cannon. (Hold the cartridge in the left hand, Thumb on the round end, move it down under the barrel then up to the bore. Exposing only my thumb, slide the cartridge into the muzzle. The other guy rammed the cartridge down the barrel and seated it with a couple of firm jabs with his swab/ram tool. The two of us then faced each other, took one step to the side(away from the gun), one step backwards (to clear the carrage), then one giant step to the side, toward the rear of the position. We then leaned further to the rear, face turned, and covered the ear toward the cannon with our free hand. The gun captain reported the cannon ready. The officers commanding the battery then gave a series of commands directing the order of fire for the battery. After the cannon fired, I was to face forward (down range) and wait for the next command.

One might be another "load" command or a "service the gun" command. For the "service..." command my action was to clear the barrel as before. The guy with the swab/ram dipped it in a bucket of water and scrubbed the barrel several times. He then tipped the barrel down and let the water run out. The #3 position used a brass brush to scrub the initiator hole. When these were all done, the gun captain reported the gun serviced and each crew member resumed his "ready" position.

Just so you know, I watched a demonstration of this process once, three or four years ago at Ft Larned in Kansas. Yesterday, they did a run through of this process for me, exactly once, before going to live fire with live cartridges. My only advantage was that I recognized that almost every motion I made was for safety, and I recognized the reason for each move. During the live firing both the man with the swab/ram and the gun captain watched me closely and instantly corrected any deviation from the prescribed move. Everyone involved was quite serious about safety. A minor dustup occurred when a person who did not belong, entered the area of the battery. Only when the load/fire sequence and the service sequence had been properly executed, did the atmosphere relax to a casual but cautious one. (Usually lighthearted comments about events around us)

Our cartridge was made up of 5 1/2 ounces (156g) of black powder and one cup of flour (250ml). This was then wrapped in a few layers of heavy aluminum foil. (when the gun fired, the smoke was blown back into our face by the wind. Ours smelled like burned chicken feathers) The forward end of the cartridge was rounded and the rear was flat. These were assembled before hand and packed in steel surplus ammunition cans. Back in camp, these were transferred to a "Ready Box" and carried to the firing position. Due to the nature of this, possibly the flour, Gabrial's Horn, (the name Of our gun) was quite a bit louder than others. One of those others was so weak as to cause a gun crew member to comment "My daughter farts louder than that". To which another crew member was heard to agree.

One gun failed to fire after being loaded. Apparently the initiator failed. This caused a moderate disturbance among all the gun crews in the line. I did not look, thinking if anything did explode, it would be better to be hit in the back than in the face. After several minutes that gun was made safe and action resumed.

One of the gun tubes was from an actual Civil War cannon. (The carriage was of modern materials) I was told, the owner of that gun specifically stated it could never be used on the Union side and be serviced by anyone other than men in gray. (it is common at reenactments for troops and cannon to swap sides when there are too few Union participants. Many of the serious re-enactors have both uniforms. I could be in the Union Artillery if I spent another $100 for a blue Jacket, otherwise the artillery uniforms are the same)

As an added feature, this reenactment included a "Night Fire" where troops and cannon did their thing after dark. In history, part of the Mansfield battle, the re-enactment done this day, did actually take place after dark. Also thrown in were some regular fireworks. Gabrial's Horn and crew were in the night action. This time I asked to be the powder monkey. I stood beside the ready box. A cartridge was placed in my leather pouch by another crew member. I then held the pouch closed until the commands "load" then "charge". My duty was to rush forward with the cartridge to the loader and hold open the pouch. Then I was to hurry back to the ready box. I was warned to be on the lookout for people with lighted smoking materials and to chase them off if discovered.

The man in charge of the ready box had also brought along some additional steel wool. Because fine steel wool ignites easily, it was placed in front of the cartridge. When the gun is fired the steel wool adds considerable sparks to the muzzle flash. In one case the gun was fired into a fair breese. The sparks spread into a 15 foot (3m) circle and blew back toward the gun and crew in spectacular fashion. The sparks all burned out before getting to me and the ready box full of powder charges. There was really very little danger as the cartridges were wrapped in layers of aluminum foil and secured in a closed steel box.

On one of the firings, something flew out of our gun, burning, and continued to burn for several seconds after hitting the ground out 100 ft (30m) in front of us. This caused some chatter and comment among the gun crews and officers on the line. One being "You sure learn a lot about your gun when firing it at night." (This would not have been visible in daylight.)

To end the night in a very pleasing(and honored) fashion I was given the chance to actually fire the last round. I was given instructions on how to stand and how to pull the lanyard. To the surprise of the onlookers, the gun fired... Apparently first timers never pull the lanyard hard enough. The honor, I was told, was I am the only newby to be allowed to fire the gun on my first event with the Battery.

And, a excellent time was had by all.