Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Catching Totality at Dream Lake

There are tons of better photos than this online.  But this is one I took at Dream Lake about 2:37 PM yesterday.
For years my 'Dillo friends have gathered at Dream Lake located in the northwest South Carolina foothills for camping, partying, and relaxation. (You can read about some past trips here, here, and here).  So it was only natural that we should all come together when we discovered the 2017 Total Eclipse would occur there, only 5 miles from the center of the totality's path.

Some arrived on Saturday.  Jeffery and I got there on Sunday. There were about 11 of us on hand for swimming that afternoon and for the usual decadent dinner that evening. Another 9 or 10 joined us on Monday.  We were all far more fortunate than most.  We had all that wonderful isolated space to ourselves for the event.


On Sunday afternoon we all enjoyed swimming in Dream Lake.  It was over 90 degrees and the water felt very refreshing. 

Gathering in the shade of the shed at the dock.  Lots of conversation, booze, and water.
Jeffery and I arrived at Dream Lake about 12:30 on Sunday, having stopped for lunch along the way. We took the longer (distance-wise), but a bit faster (time-wise) route of heading down I-75 to Atlanta, then across to I-85 and up to South Carolina.  We would have arrived sooner but unfortunately I realized my four pair of solar glasses were not in my ditty bag.  We turned back to Twin Oaks even though we were already 35 minutes down the road.  

Jeffery took it all in stride but I was furious with myself for being so forgetful.  Only I didn't realize how forgetful I really was until we arrived back home to discover the glasses were not where I thought I had left them.   Not seeing them there instantly brought to mind where I had stashed them.  They were in my camera bag instead - which was with us all along, of course.  Ugh.

I stewed about my iffy 58 year-old memory all the way up to Dream Lake.  But soon the combination of the pastoral space, the water, the companionship and plenty of Stellas mellowed my mind. Swimming in the lake was relaxing as always.  The day was sunny and incredibly hot, so hot that the top 8-10 inches of the water felt lukewarm.  But it quickly and refreshingly cooled as you got deeper. I used my hands to push the warmer water down over my body into the cooler depths, which felt fantastic.  Soon most everyone was swimming and the temperature distinction was less pronounced as the lake got churned up.   

There was a light breeze to help keep things cool once we got out and relaxed under the dock shed. The cooler of beer we brought down from the cabin in the golf cart brought superb refreshment.  Clint had some wonderful laid-back Pat Metheny playing on the bluetooth boombox that usually accompanies his iPad on such trips.  The afternoon included the first time I had ever paddle boarded. Mark and I went out and traversed the lake together.  It was all very tranquil.
At some point in the early evening I took nap only to awaken to a marvelous dinner feast of various fruits, salads, grilled meats, and sweet corn on the cob.  It was another stupendous Cumberland Island Armadillo feast.  We ate as darkness fell. I slept nine hours afterward - a true rarity for me.

Breakfast Monday morning was prepared in the cabin.  None too soon for this bunch.

Jeffery and Bob converse over coffee.
On Monday. I had my game face on for the eclipse. No booze, just plenty of water all day as it was hotter than Sunday.  We enjoyed a wonderful eclectic breakfast featuring one of Jennifer's excellent frittatas, homemade biscuits, bacon, fruit, etc.  Everyone kind of scattered to do their own thing.  Some went swimming, some tended to work-related matters over the cabin's Wi-Fi since it was a Monday, after all.  I began checking my camera and solar glasses after I cleared out some work emails and briefly piddled with my Flipboard maintenance.

Others arrived.  Everyone relaxed under the shade of the giant trees out on the lawn on the edge of the field while awaiting totality at 2:36.  The action started way before that, of course.  And we all watched the Moon slowly traverse over the surface of the Sun starting about 1PM.  We were careful not to look too long even with the glasses.  The rule most of us agreed upon was that three total minutes of viewing was safe.  So, it was more glancing than staring at that point for me.  I tried out the view in Mark's homemade cardboard device, Bob's welding masks, and my solar glasses (whose location was now fixed in my mind's eye - it was my water bottle I kept misplacing at this point.)  Appropriately enough, Clint had a series of Pink Floyd albums playing out on the lawn.  We listened to Meddle and Wish You Were Here before Dark Side of the Moon came up.  I fully enjoyed the music and it went with my tee shirt (see photo below).

Christine and Clint relax in the yard awaiting the eclipse.

What better time for me to wear my Dark Side of the Moon tee shirt?

Mark made a handy viewer for catching the eclipse.

Bob brought a couple of welding masks which worked very well.

Traditional solar glasses were also in abundance.  We were careful to make sure they all sported the proper certification.

Jennifer was all set with her glasses.  There were dozens tiny crescent shadows of the tree filtered sun on the sheet she laid down behind her.  
Then it arrived. About 2:30 the light slowly dimmed.  My experience of it was that my depth of view was flatted and everything slowly took on a bluish hue, the colors muted. Then came the 2 and a half minutes of totality.  The cicadas and other night bugs started making themselves known.  A rooster crowed from some distant farm.  I don't recall any of us saying much to one another, we were all transfixed by the actual site of totality.  It was safe to take off the glasses and just admire the sky.  It did not get as dark as I was expecting. Only the brighter stars and Venus, Mars, and Mercury were in view, which still pretty cool in the middle of the day.  The horizon looked like any other sunset - only it was 360 degrees all around us.  

I had to remind myself to take pictures.  The Moon covering the Sun was simply stunning and transfixed me for a moment.  Those couple of minutes seemed to pass in like 20 seconds.  It was probably the most remarkable natural event I have every witnessed.  What an inspiring experience, made even more special by the gathering at the lake.

This give you some idea of the luxurious open field space we enjoyed catching the eclipse.  Certainly plenty of room for 20 people or so along with the inevitable assortment of dogs, of course. I took this photo only a few seconds before totality began.  Although you can't really tell it, the light had started to dim and the natural color slowly became muted.

My photos don't really do it justice.  Catching it live was exhilarating.  It was the first total eclipse any of us had witnessed.
We didn't linger very long afterwards.  There was some concern about traffic and getting back home. Jennifer and I took a route through the north Georgia mountains on the way back.  Turns out that was the right move, even though it still took us almost five hours to make the 3 and a half hour trip. Traffic was horrible in places with people descending from northeast Georgia and North Carolina onto the limited road network of the mountains.  Still, it was a scenic trip with nice views of Lake Burton and other areas. 

Meanwhile, Jeffery attempted to go back the way we came only to discover I-85 was basically a parking lot with all the folks headed back to Atlanta from South Carolina.  He bailed about halfway to take the back roads, but those were pretty crowded as well.  He arrived home about an hour and half after we did.  Mark, Eileen, Bob, Clint, Christine and the other Atlanta dwellers had to tough it out all the way into the city.  It was not the best way to experience the afterglow of the celestial event.

But it was worth it.  How fortunate we were to have totality visit a private getaway spot that we have visited for over 20 years.  Dream Lake has a lot of memories for me but this past weekend takes the cake. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Gaming The Fall of the Third Reich

This is the start of the game as set up on my gaming table.
The same at-start situation as it appears in the VASSAL computer module of the game.  Wargame tools like VASSAL, Cyberboard, and ADC allow the player to tinker with and play games on the PC.  This speeds setup, allows for multiple games to be played at the same time, and, in my case, allows me to setup "monster" sized games larger than the space of my gaming table allows.
Off and on since April I have been playing Fall of the Third Reich (FOTR), a new wargame release by Compass Games. The demise of Nazi Germany has always been a special interest of mine in terms of history and I have explored it before with games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich and End of the Iron Dream.  FOTR is a Ted Raicer design. I have enjoyed Ted's games for many years, most recently The Dark Valley, a strategic East Front game.  I have acknowledged my affinity for the history and simulation of the Eastern Front previously.

FOTR begins in July 1943 with the failed German offensive at Kursk and the Allied invasion of Sicily. The game emphasizes better than most the gradual strategic degrading of the German ability to wage war both in terms of the Allied strategic bombing campaign and in terms of the overall diminishing quality of German troops.  Conversely, it also shows the erupting prowess of the massive Soviet army as well as the complexity of Allied decision-making as to where and when to invade Hitler's European empire after their success in North Africa.
The at-start situation around Kursk as set up on my gaming table.

The same set up as seen in the VASSAL module.
Historically, the Soviets (Stalin in particular) were sharply critical of the US-Commonwealth efforts (or lack thereof, from their perspective) to invade Europe and take some of the pressure off of Soviet forces.  FOTR shows from the beginning why the Reds had this attitude.  The Soviets have 59 armies poised against 45 mostly variable strength German corps augmented by some stronger panzer divisions. On the western Allied side of the ledger there is nothing.  Not a single US-Commonwealth unit begins the game on the map. 

The Germans have many possible invasion routes to take into account, however.  There 11 other German units devoted to the defense of France, for example.  A few more are scattered through the Mediterranean and the Balkans.  It is one of the strengths of this game that it affords the player a great opportunity to consider the options for invasion. Historically, the Allies chose Sicily and then Italy.  But an invasion of Greece is also a possibility - as is forgetting the Mediterranean entirely and concentrating on an early invasion of France.

There are pluses and minuses to each possibility and this game represents the strategic variations (and consequences) very well.  In my play, however, I chose to take the historic route and invade Sicily.  Even with that operation the Allies only place four divisions on the map with some support units; minuscule compared with the vast forces slugging it out in the East (which is why Stalin was so displeased that a more major effort in France was delayed for another year).  Still, it's a start and invading Sicily has a couple of rapid advantages.


The Allied invasion of Sicily on my gaming table.
The same situation in VASSAL.  Note that the Beach Head Markers enable the Allied troops to conduct invasions as well as supply those troops in the early stages of an invasion.  Prior to game turn six these markers can supply 2 corps each as well as the supporting paratroop units.  Also note that the US and Commonwealth troops cannot stack or attack together except in the case of supporting paratroop units.  In this case the US 81st Airborne is needed to support the British invasion of Syracuse.


First of all, the fall of Sicily is a fairly easy operation and it triggers knocking Italy out of the war.  In game terms this means that all the Italian units are immediately removed from the map, which leaves the Balkans and southern France almost completely unguarded.  Additionally, when Italy surrenders, Yugoslavia receives three more partisan "armies" that can further destabilize the region and threaten the strategically important city of Belgrade.   All of this has the added impact of forcing Germany's scarce and weakened resources to cover Italy and the Balkans (along with weaker pro-Axis armies in Hungary and Bulgaria), taking those units away from fighting against Russia and garrisoning France.   This is one of the best games I have played that fully represents the complex situation in the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

So why not just invade France in 1943 instead? Well, first of all that does nothing to boot Italy and its Balkans garrison troops out of the war.  These units stay and fight.  Secondly, the invasion mechanics in the game require the placement of Beach Head Markers to designate any US or Commonwealth invasion hex.  All such troops are located in either the Mediterranean or the England Holding Box, a reserve for units not yet in play. When the game starts there are no Beach Head Markers in the England Box.  Certainly, these can be transferred from the Mediterranean to England during the appropriate phase of the game turn and this would allow for an invasion of France the next turn.  But, importantly, once a game marker or combat unit is transferred to England it can never be transferred back to the Mediterranean. The game only allows a one-way exchange.  Allied reinforcements must be sent to the Mediterranean with their initial placement if they wish to fight in that theater.

There is an additional Allied Beach Head Marker that arrives later in the game that would allow for an invasion in the Mediterranean (southern France historically) but it will not have the punch that the two markers can supply at the beginning of the game.  Ted Racier does an excellent job of allowing the Allied player to decide which route to take, but each choice comes with consequences.  In brief, the prudent thing is to use the additional invasion capability already in place against Italy, knock it out of the war, and then transfer the Beach Head Markers to England for a 1944 invasion of France.

Meanwhile, in the East the war is going full-tilt. The game reflects the magnitude of the Eastern Front compared to operations in the West.  It is a bloody slug-fest.  The German's launch their last offensive at Kursk, which has very little chance of succeeding.  I replayed this little portion of the first turn over and over to get the game's combat mechanics down.  The best I was ever able to do was knock out twice as many Soviet units as German ones.  But that isn't nearly enough.  During their phase of Turn One the Soviets begin a series of attacks up and down the line, except for in along the Ukraine. 

The game system fixes the number of replacements such that Germany gets a decent amount  in 1943 but they are still not enough to cover all their needs.  Gradually, the number of losses far exceeds the replacements and the once-vaunted Wehrmacht is forced to defend long stretches of the front lines with fewer, weaker troops.  The combat results in the game are such that it benefits the Soviets to attack at even "bad" odds of, say, 1-2. They will lose a lot of units this way but, each time, they also kill a German unit or two.  Over the course of the game this adds up, with the Soviets able to replace most of their losses and the Germans eventually unable to replace theirs.

This is due to two factors.  First, as just mentioned, low-odds attacks can still cause casualties upon the defender.  You do enough of them (ie. all along the eastern front and in conjunction with better odds attacks for offensive breakthroughs) you will kill off bunches of Germans. Secondly, the Allied Strategic Bombing campaign comes into play.  The game simulates bombing against German factories, oil refineries, strategic transportation, and carpet bombing to blow holes in a staunch German defensive line.  Each of these has a different effect on the Germans.

The success of factory bombing directly impacts the number of replacements the German will receive each turn.  Hitting oil refineries lessens Germany's command and control capabilities, making movement in combat more difficult (see below). Transit bombing cuts down on the vital German ability to transfer units from one sector of the game map to another, thereby limiting their ability to effectively react as the situation changes in the East, the Mediterranean, and the West.

The German Luftwaffe is available to defend against the Allied bombing efforts.  It also has the ability to assist with combat support, adding attack or defense factors to improve odds of combat success. This can be a very effective weapon in German counterattacks or in the critical defense of key positions.  There are only three Luftwaffe counters in play, however.  So resources are naturally limited.  At the beginning of the game, all three air counters are available. One must always be placed in the “defense of the Reich” box. The other two can be used for support in any of the given theaters of the game - East, West, Mediterranean, or the Balkans.  As the game plays on, however, the Germans will lose Luftwaffe units in defense against Allied bombing.  They can rebuild these lost units but they are very expensive and the needs for replacement must be weighed against replacing losses of panzers and infantry.  In my own play, I did not replace any of the Luftwaffe units until they were all eliminated and even then I only rebuilt one of them for the "general defense" of the Reich.  Combat support by air is one of the first things the German player will lose as the game ventures into 1944.  Again, this is completely in sync with what happened historically.

Command and control is also nicely simulated in FOTR game play for the German and Soviet sides. For the US-Commonwealth units it is more a matter of logistics than anything else.  The game has a straightforward, realistic way of handling the difficulties of Allied troops getting enough supplies to be effective in the West (more on this in a moment).  On the German and Russian side it is not so much a question of logistics as command control of what units can do.  For example, the German and Soviet sides operate under certain restrictions of movement and capability.  For the most part, they cannot retreat when they are adjacent to enemy units.  But, if the units are within range of a command marker then they are allowed greater freedom to withdraw or even mount a counterattack. 

The Soviet side depends upon control of specific cities in order to use their command markers.  At the start of the game they do not control a city in the Ukraine and therefore, cannot attack there. Instead, they must first capture Kharkov in order to project control into that region of the map.  This mimics history.  The Soviets launched a major offensive against Kharkov but some bad rolls of the dice and a stubborn German defense prevented the fall of that city until Turn Three in the game.  After that the thin German line in the Ukraine was suddenly in danger of being overwhelmed. The Germans had to use a command marker to disengage the forces in favor of better defensive terrain.  In the north, a Soviet attack out of Leningrad met with immediate success and the Germans had holes throughout their front line with limited command ability to conduct prudent withdrawals and mount effective counterattacks; although in 1943 the German panzers are still a potent force for giving opponents a bloody nose.

Simultaneously, the Allies invaded Italy on Turn Two and started moving up "the boot."  The Italians dissolved when Sicily fell and the Germans were left alone defending against a possible invasion in the Balkans, protecting Italy, and staving off the Russian juggernaut.  The US-Commonwealth landed more troops with multiple objectives, not the least of which was the capture of the strategic air base at Foggia - which triggers the availability of the US 15th Air Force.  This amps up the strategic bombing efforts (which is yet another reason to take the historic route and invade Italy).


Here is the situation in Italy and the Balkans at the beginning of Game Turn 6.  The Germans have stubbornly held Rome but the front line is greatly elongated and weak in some points.  Note the SHAEF Marker at Naples, a large port facility which can throw supply 5x the normal range.  This means the SHAEF "3" can project supply out up to 15 hexes from the port.  Meanwhile in Yugoslavia, the four partisan armies are threatening Belgrade and other areas.
While in my play the Germans managed to hang on to Rome through the beginning of 1944, they lost a large chunk of Italy along the eastern half of the Italian peninsula.  This made the front longer than it was historically, which required a few more Germans to defend the lines when they might be better deployed in the swirling mess of the eastern front.  But, it also poses an issue for the Allies. Rome is a victory point city and by denying it to the Allies the Germans manage to place a greater sense of urgency on the Allies as Rome is one of the cities they must capture in order to win the game. The Soviets preformed basically as expected, capturing all victory point cities in the east except for Minsk and Tallinn.

The Allied units are fairly brittle in this game. While most German units can handle two-step losses before they are eliminated (the flip side is of reduced strength), the Soviet units have only one step.  The western Allied units have two-steps but their flip side usually offers no offensive capability, only defensive strength.  This gives the Germans every reason to counterattack as much as possible since the allies will have to use replacement points with every casualty in order to regain their offensive capability.

Meanwhile, neither side can completely forget the situation in Yugoslavia.  Albeit small in the grand scheme of things, this is one of my favorite aspects of FOTR because it depicts operations largely ignored in wargaming.  The guerrilla warfare in Yugoslavia pinned down several German divisions charged with anti-partisan actions when they could have been more gainfully employed on other fronts. The possibility of the fall of Belgrade is motivation for both sides to stay attentive here.  In game terms, when the Italians surrender that triggers 3 additional Yugoslavian "armies" to reinforce the one that starts on the map.  These four units are sufficient to wreak havoc on this part of the map, mounting periodic threats that simply won't allow the Germans to move their precious infantry and mountain troops to Italy or Russia.  So aggressive play by the Allied or Soviet player is another dimension of the game.


The overall map situation at the beginning of Turn 6.  As you can see, the Soviets have made solid advances in the East and the German line is near the breaking point, without any reserves.
By mid-1944, the inability of the Germans to replace units manifests exponentially due the greater numbers being killed and the strategic bombing of factories.  It is also high-time for the US-Commonwealth invasion of France, the threat of which has been tying down a lot of German units since the start of the game.  The situation in France is interesting.  The Germans have built the so-called Atlantic Wall along to coast. This serves to somewhat limit the Allied invasion choices. But, more importantly, the forts prevent the Allied forces from using various ports along the French coast for supply purposes.  They must attack and take each fort, which is time consuming and potentially bloody. 


D-Day in game terms.  The Beach Head Markers have now been transferred from the Mediterranean to England and they can now support 3 corps each.  The respective invasion groups are supported by two airborne divisions each and there is a Mulberry Marker available which will thrown allied supply 3x. When combined next turn with a SHAEF "4" marker it will extend the supply range from the beach out 12 hexes, effectively taking the allies to the German border.  This is not far enough to enter Germany itself, however.  To do that the Allied player must capture another port closer to Germany.  Antwerp is another large European port on the right edge of this screen shot.  The "x5" marked on the map means it can throw supply 5 times the SHAEF marker number, which is plenty to invade the Reich proper.  Also of interest are the Allied FUSAG markers.  These represent the active misdirection conducted by the Allied forces regarding a possible second, larger invasion - creating the impression that, wherever the Allies invade, it is a decoy to the "main" invasion.  That is what happened historically.  German units placed under the FUSAG Markers cannot move until an Allied unit moves within two hexes of them. They are essentially frozen in place, preventing them from reinforcing the invasion area.   
Now is a good time to talk about supply as simulated in FOTR.  As I mentioned, whereas command and control is a major consideration on the German and Soviet side of the equation, the US-Commonwealth have no such issues. Instead their operations are limited more by supply considerations due to the fact that they do not possess sources of supply or industry on continental Europe.  Every bullet or gallon of gas or ration of food must be shipped to Italy or France or wherever.  This necessitates port cities or, in a special case, the construction of an artificial port.

Not every coastal hex in the game can invaded. There are nine possible invasion hexes in France. As with the Kursk operation in the East, I replayed the invasion of France multiple times, testing all variations.  The Atlantic Wall comes into play either directly or indirectly in almost all of them. The Germans can move units to the possible invasion zones and make things more difficult for the Allied forces. But a couple of things work in the Allied favor.  First, the Beach Head Markers support 3 allied corps each in 1944 whereas only 2 were supported in 1943 (another reason to delay the invasion of France).  They also get special combat bonuses when invading under the range of Allied air power and augmented by paratroop divisions, which really can make the difference between a successful invasion and a bloody, almost failed one.

In the end I chose once again to play historically and invade in Normandy.  The Beach Head Markers have a very limited supply range, although they can be augmented by special Allied SHAEF markers which sort of function like command and control markers do for the Germans and the Soviets.  The placement of the one and only Mulberry Marker projects supply across France to the edge of the German border.  This makes the Atlantic Wall somewhat superfluous.  Most of the fortified port cities can be by-passed (as they were historically).

Once landed on Normandy, it usually only takes a couple of terms to drive the Germans back toward their fortified line on the German border.  But the Allies need to capture a second port (Antwerp is the best case) in order to project supply further into the Reich for attacking Germany proper. Meanwhile, in the East the thinned out German line can no longer withstand a concentrated Soviet onslaught.  The Germans basically attempt to withdraw to defensible positions, inflicting an occasional punch in the Russian nose which stings but is irrelevant to the overall momentum of the East.  The Soviets are literally unstoppable by this time, as they can afford to replace the large casualties the Germans inflict upon them whereas the German line just gets increasingly thinner, the ability to replace troops is diminished by the persistent allied bombing of factories.

FOTR is a fun strategic overview of the last half of World War Two in Europe.  It is well-made, has a lot of interesting game mechanics that accurately reflect the dynamic historical situation, and it is a relatively quick play, allowing for multiple run-throughs and what-if explorations.  It is an entertaining way for me to pass hours of summer heat comfortably indoors this year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Confederate Ancestor's War Story

Someone named A.B. Poole applied for Sampson's Confederate pension in 1904. My ancestor could not read or write.  On this document Poole claims to have known Sampson for "about fifty years".  His first date of service is given as "Oct. 1861. Charleston S.C. Co. D 1st S.C. Bat. Afterwards part of 27th Reg. S.C. Vol." At this point Poole writes "I was there."  He comments that "we messed together" in reference to Sampson, for "nearly four years".  Asked when and where Sampson surrendered Poole wrote: "1865 near Wilmington N. C. at a little creek, called 'Town Creek', I believe."  Poole states that he surrendered with Sampson.
Years ago, maybe decades now, I visited the regional library and researched through microfiche to find my Confederate ancestor's Pension records. The records date from the years 1904 – 1907 and contain various details of my ancestor, including his dates of service and the units in which he primarily served during the Civil War.  This, along with other resources gathered through the years, allows me to put together a summary of his experience during the war.

My Confederate ancestor and triple-great grandfather, Sampson, was born in 1828. According to his pension records he began his service in the Southern army in October 1861. So he was 33 years old when he volunteered, not a young man by the standards of his day. He married in 1850 and had five children over the course of the next eight years.  Why he volunteered for military service at that age with children ranging from 10 years down to the age of 3 is a mystery.

I have little information to go on other than eventually he became part of Company D of the Charleston Battalion. Patrick Brennan indicates that the Battalion was formed in April 1862 (page 20) from various independent companies of troops in the Charleston area.  Company D was formed from a unit known as the Sumter Guards.  So, it is possible Sampson was part of the regular rotation of troops to garrison Fort Sumter in the early months of the war.  But, for reasons given below, I tend to think he was not a native of Charleston and joined (or was assigned to) the Battalion later.  If he was not a part of the Sumter Guards in 1861 then I have no idea where he enlisted in October of that year. Immediately after the war he lived in the area Spartanburg, SC.  Perhaps he volunteered there. All that is certain it is that it was somewhere in South Carolina. (Sampson moved to the property now in my dad's name a few years after the war. He built the house that became my grandparents house, probably in the 1880's.)

Regardless, Sampson was part of the Battalion by the time it was ordered to James Island to assume the section of Charleston's defenses there.  After weeks of picket duty the Battalion saw its first action at Sol Legare Island on June 3, 1862, when it engaged in heavy skirmishing with Union troops who were probing the island's defenses.  On June 16 the Battalion was involved in repulsing a concerted Federal attack on the Tower Battery near Secessionville.  A member of the Battalion's Company C wrote of this encounter: “On Monday morning early they attempted to take our battery by storm, three times they rushed upon us, and at one time actually made a lodgment in our battery but we drove him back at the point of bayonet.” (Brennan, page 272) 

But war is mostly monotony for a soldier; months of picket duty, guarding prisoners, policing docks, roads, fortifications, one lousy army meal after another.  The next battle my ancestor took part in was at Battery Wagner on July 18, 1863, more than a year after Secessionville.  This, however, started out as a different sort of attack.  The mass of the Union navy, in its highest concentration ever up to that point, hammered the battery for days, saving its most concentrated bombardment for this date. My ancestor got to experience thousands of explosions from large naval guns in just a few hours, apparently recklessly.

“The bombardment demolished the wooden quarters on the parade ground, driving all except the Charleston Battalion and the gun detachments into the bombproof.  Some of the Charleston Battalion found refuge in rice caskets sunk into the sand outside the battery, which provided some safety from the shower of shells. Part of the battalion remained in the work along with the artillerymen, crouched behind the parapet.  At first, the artillerymen attempted to return fire, but the shelling's intensity soon forced them to cover their cannons with sandbags.  The only reply against the land batteries came from the garrison's lone mortar, which fired one round every hour.” (Wise, page 95)

“Words fail to convey an adequate idea of the fury of this bombardment.  It transcended all exhibitions of like character encountered during the war.  It seemed impossible that anything could withstand it. More than one hundred guns of the heaviest caliber were roaring, flashing and thundering together.  Before the Federal batteries had gotten the exact range of the work, the smoke of the bursting shells, brightened by the sun, was converted into smoke wreathes and spirals which curved and eddyed in every direction; then as the fire was delivered with greater precision, the scene was appalling and awe inspiring beyond expression, and the spectacle to the lookers on was one of surpassing sublimity and grandeur.  In the language of Gen. Gilmore, 'the whole island smoked like a furnace and shook from an earthquake.' For eleven long hours the air was filled with every description of shot and shell that the magazines could supply. The light of day was almost obscured by the now darkening and sulphurous smoke which hung over the island like a funeral pall.  Still later in the afternoon as the darkness gathered and deepened did the lightnings of war increase in the vividness of their lurid and intolerable crimson which flashed through the rolling clouds of smoke and illumined the Fort from bastion to bastion with a scorching glare; clouds of sand were constantly blown into the air from bursting shells; the waters of the sea were lashed into white foam and thrown upwards in glistening columns by exploding bombs, while white sheets of spray inundated the parapet, and 'Wagner.' dripping with salt wayer, shook like a ship in the grasp of a storm.” (Twiggs, North & South Magazine, Issue #4, April 1998, page 51) Imagine Sampson being there and experiencing this horrific moment!

Then, as the day ended, the navy stopped firing. What happened next would become the climax of the film Glory. About 6,000 Union soldiers worked their way toward the Battery which was garrisoned by about 1,300 Confederates counting Sampson. As darkness fell, the 54th Massachusetts [Colored] Infantry attacked the Battery's fortified walls in a historic moment.  The black troops were repulsed losing half their men.  Yet the Battery suffered other attacks from regular Union infantry regiments, some managing to actually enter the fort before finally being defeated.  The attack on Battery Wagner cost the Federals about 1,500 casualties. This was, by far, the bloodiest day thus far in my ancestor's life. But things would get worse as the war wore on, and one of his pension records mentions a “gunshot wound in both legs.” From the intensity of the fighting that might have happened at Battery Wagner – or it might have happened in any of his future battles.  Or perhaps he was wounded twice, once in each leg, in separate battles. There is no way of knowing for sure.


"...and served 3 years in Company D of 27th Regiment of S.C. Vols; that his physical condition is as follows: Gun shot wound in Both Leggs."

After the battle at Battery Wagner the Charleston Battalion was ordered to encamp near the city for rest and recuperation.  In mid-1863 Charleston was only about three-quarters of its size in 1860.  Only recently, the lower quarter of the city toward the harbor and the sea began to be shelled daily to the maximum range of the biggest Union guns at sea. (It would be shelled for 545 continuous days, an unheard of travesty today - shelling civilians. Everyone was evacuated, of course, and, while there was great destruction, almost no one died as a result of the naval guns, only homes and churches and businesses were burned out.  Much of it had also burned in The Great Charleston Fire, which Sampson almost certainly knew about.) 

Upper Charleston, however, remained a vibrant city with as robust an Antebellum life as could be found anywhere in the south. I'm sure Sampson enjoyed these weeks during his service.  It strikes me as interesting that he could not write home because he did not know how.  I doubt his wife could have read what was written either.  Perhaps, given the fact that he knew the Battalion would be stationed in Charleston, his wife and children were somewhere nearby and could visit him off duty. I can only be conjectural about his family life during the war.

By September the Battalion was on garrison duty again, this time at Fort Sumter itself, usually rotating companies of troops for a week or two in the fort.  The Union soon attacked my ancestor's position again, this time with a daring sea invasion, for which the entire Battalion was moved into Sumter.  “Admiral Dahlgren assembled 500 sailors and marines of the fleet.  On the night of September 8-9, 1863, they were put in small boats, towed within 400 yards of the fort, and cast loose. They rowed toward Sumter, unaware that they were under constant surveillance.  Instead of only a 'corporal's guard' opposing them, they were soon to find Major Elliott and the Charleston Battalion, 320 strong and anxious for a fight.

“The point of the landing was to be on the southeastern and southern face.   There was some confusion among a few of the boats, but the rest came in as planned.  Major Elliott ordered that fire be withheld until the boats were only a few yards away, when they were met with by a withering blast. Continuing gallantly on, the sailors affected a landing and sought entrance to the fort.  When they stepped ashore, they were met by a deluge of hand grenades, fireballs, brickbats and other objects, in addition to increasingly heavy fire.  The gunboat Chicora, anchored nearby, opened up on them, as did the guns from Moultrie and Johnson, which had been sighted in for just such an occurrence. Finding it impossible to scale the walls, the sailors took shelter in its recesses, but even the select men of Admiral Dahlgren's fleet could not hold out under such devastating fire....The garrison sustained no casualties, but the assaulting forces suffered a loss of 127 in killed, wounded, and prisoners, according to Elliott's report.” (Burton, pp. 195-196) 


Conrad Wise Chapman was stationed in Charleston, SC at the same time as my ancestor.  He completed this famous war painting on October 23, 1863, during the time the Charleston Battalion was maintaining the garrison.  So, there is literally about a 1 in 300 chance that the sentry in this painting is Sampson.  I have stood on Fort Sumter myself and been amazed how much this perspective remains unchanged today.  In the distance you can see the blockading ships and gunboats of the US Navy.  Whether it is Sampson or not is not really what's interesting.  For me, the most interesting part of this is that I am seeing what Sampson must have seen on several occasions throughout 1862-1863.  The Confederate flag is the Second National which was flown beginning in May 1863.
Soon after this the Charleston Battalion was combined with the 1st South Carolina Battalion Sharpshooters to form the 27th South Carolina Infantry Regiment.  The newly formed regiment was placed in the brigade of Brigadier General Johnson Hagood.  The regiment continued to supply companies of troops to Fort Sumter among other garrison assignments.  I have no way of knowing precisely where my ancestor may have served during this time, other than he must have rotated over to the fort at least 2-3 times and in between likely garrisoned the city's docks and roads.  This stopped in December 1963 and Sampson likely spent Christmas on furlough in Charleston or nearby, possibly with his family.

Going into 1864, the 27th South Carolina and the other regiments and battalions that made up Hagood's Brigade were withdrawn from front line duty and encamped on James Island.  There they were reequipped with Enfield rifles, issued new uniforms and drilled constantly.  In this manner the brigade, most of its components already experienced in battle behind fortifications, became a fully dressed and trained infantry unit, mastering all the expected maneuvers of linear combat formations on a field of battle. This affords us an opportunity to follow Sampson and the 27th South Carolina through the eyes of General Johnson Hagood, as revealed in his memoirs. 

Hagood refers to the 27th as "especially claimed by Charlestonians are their regiment" and indicates that all officers of the regiment were citizens of Charleston.  He also characterizes the regiment as being more literate and educated than typical Confederate regiments, reflecting the fact that the people of Charleston were more sophisticated in general than most of the southern population.   According to Hagood, this made the regiment more difficult to handle compared with others due to the reasoned independence of the men.  Commanders of great prowess and respect were necessary to lead it. Such a commander was Colonel P. C. Gaillard, who had managed the Charleston Battalion from the beginning.


This makes my ancestor's involvement with this regiment even more puzzling.  Since he was uneducated and illiterate, how did he come to be part of this educated and cultured unit?  Some clue is found when Hagood mentions that "...it received recruits from the country..." Which leads me believe that, while Sampson was uneducated, he possessed some particular qualities admirable to the commanders of the Battalion. Perhaps he was especially competent in drill.  Or maybe he was a superior shot.  He could have been a tradesman, able to repair the Battalion's arms and equipment. (His son, my great-great-grandfather, worked leather and made plows as indicated on some old ledgers from his business that I have in my possession.  It is very possible that Sampson taught him these things.) It seems that something must have distinguished him; which is a more likely explanation than assuming he was ever in the Sumter Guard.


In late 1863, Confederate troops began shipping out of Charleston by rail to Wilmington, NC and then on to Petersburg and Richmond, VA to reinforce General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which was hard-pressed by General U.S. Grant's Overland Campaign. Hagood's troops remained in Charleston until April 28, 1864 when they began the same rail trip northward.


As fate would have it, just as the entire brigade was assembled at Petersburg, Virginia on May 7, it was immediately thrown into action at Walthall Junction against General Benjamin Butler who was attempting to strike out of Bermuda Hundred and cut the rail lines supplying Lee's army.  According to Hagood, my ancestor's regiment led the way forward and soon the entire brigade was engulfed in an attack against Butler's superior numbers – 2,600 against about 8,000, though Butler had 22,000 more men at his disposal.  The vigorous attack surprised Butler and, although Union troops succeeded in temporarily capturing a stretch of railroad, they were driven back fearing that the Confederate force was much larger than it really was.  Hagood's casualties were surprisingly light considering he was the aggressor, reflecting great timidity on the part of Butler's troops.


This was a small battle compared with the massive clashes Lee fought during this same time at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, but the implications were nevertheless large. Lee's rail lines were secured and, more importantly, Petersburg itself was saved.  A week later Sampson found himself entrenched near Petersburg at Fort Stevens, where he was involved in repelling probing attacks. His endless drill practice the previous autumn came in handy as Hagood's brigade was involved in some complex maneuvers to adjust to Union efforts to reach beyond the extent of the Confederate defenses and hit the southerners in their flank.

Hagood was attached to General Robert Hoke's Division: 

"Hagood merely spoke with Hoke of the tactical execution of the order and proceeded to obey it. He kept the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-first regiments, which were nearest the pike, in position, to give a fire down it, and, pivoting on the right company of the Seventh battalion, moved out the Seventh battalion and the Eleventh and Twenty-seventh regiments. This was done in line, and each regiment swung round by the movement technically known as 'change direction,' thus advancing en echelon to their new position. The distance between our outer line now reoccupied by us and the enemy's line of breastworks, on the edge of the woods, was not over two hundred yards.


"The Eleventh regiment, advancing firing, was steadily approaching its position on the new line, and the Twenty-seventh, coming on upon the extreme left, struck the breastworks on the edge of the woods and drove the enemy from them at the point of impact, notwithstanding the rush of its charge was impeded by wire Entanglements just in front of the works. The increased fierceness of the enemy's fire brought the movement to a halt, the enemy assaying to charge, and failing. The position was obstinately held for a short time to permit relief by Ransom's approach, when General Hagood, standing behind the Seventh battalion, saw the Twenty-seventh regiment coming back, and ordered the Eleventh regiment and Seventh battalion back behind the outer entrenchments." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 4340-4355). Kindle Edition.


Hagood reported his brigade of 2,235 troops lost 433 casualties in this fight.  So, Sampson saw a great deal of fighting and bloodshed in his first week of action in Virginia. Things quieted down over the next two weeks and my ancestor, if he was not among the wounded, remained in the trenches around Petersburg. On May 31, Hagood was ordered out of the trenches, north to Richmond, as Grant was pressing the Confederate capital in a bid to end the war. Here Sampson participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor, the largest battle of his military career. 


Hagood's portion of the Confederate line was probed but not seriously attacked.  Only heavy skirmishing occurred there. Still the brigade suffered about 120 casualties.  This was minuscule compared to the main attack that took place practically within a stone's throw north of my ancestor's position.  It was there that nearly 7,000 Federal troops were gunned down in 10 minutes in what was, given the brief time frame in which it happened, the bloodiest single assault of the Civil War.  The remarkable thing is that, although this happened close to Sampson's position, he was likely unaware of magnitude of it at the time.


"This was the battle of Cold Harbor, and it may sound incredible, but it is nevertheless strictly true, that the writer of these Memoirs, situated near the center of the line along which this murderous repulse was given, and awake and vigilant of the progress of events, was not aware at the time of any serious assault having been given. As before mentioned, the firing of skirmishers in front of Hunton and Hagood had not intermitted during the night; there was no line of battle assault upon their immediate front, simply an increased pressure of skirmishers, and the roar of musketry on his right and left was so quickly over, and apparently so little commensurate with such slaughter, that it is difficult even now for him to realize that it was all done in so short a time. The explanation lies in the characteristics of a direct assault upon earthworks, defended by men who have confidence in themselves, the silent rush of the assailing party, and the rapid but deliberate and deadly fire from the assailed." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 4567-4574). Kindle Edition.


There was no rest for the brigade following Cold Harbor.  A new threat was posed to Petersburg. Hagood's brigade force marched back to the trenches of that city.  Another large Union force soon assailed the trenches on June 18th and was repulsed by my ancestor's unit with a loss of 220 more men. By now the brigade was down to about half its strength, so it is very possible that Sampson's "gunshot wound in both legs" occurred during his first weeks in Virginia.  But, again, this is purely conjectural.


At this point things settled down to simple trench warfare, a premonition of what World War One would be like, making the American Civil War the world's first "modern" war. This went on for weeks throughout the heat of August.  Hagood describes the conditions in detail: "The trenches themselves were filthy, and though policing was rigidly enforced, yet it was almost impossible to keep down the constant accumulation. Vermin abounded, and diseases of various kinds showed themselves. The digestive organs of the men became impaired by the rations issued and the manner in which they were prepared. Diarrhea and dysentery were universal; the legs and feet of the men swelled until they could not wear their shoes; the filth of their persons from the scarcity of water was terrible; and they presented the appearance rather of inmates of a miserably conducted poor house than of soldiers of an army. But all of this was endured; and although among the meaner class desertions occurred and even self-mutilation was resorted to in order to escape this horrid nightmare that brooded upon spirits not highly enough tempered to endure it, yet the great majority of the men stood all their sufferings with unflinching endurance, and never yielded 'till disease drove them to the field infirmary." Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5050-5057). Kindle Edition.


It is doubtful that Sampson escaped this time in Virginia without wound or illness.  When the brigade emerged from the trenches to participate in the Battle of Weldon Road it numbered only 700 men.  Perhaps my ancestor was in an infirmary by this time.  Or perhaps he had recovered and participated in this action. Either way, these were difficult days for him and his suffering and witness of greater suffering all around him was likely only surpassed by his bravery.  300 of the 700 who went into battle that day were killed or wounded, reflecting intense and desperate fighting. 


In September the brigade was again pulled out of the line for recuperation.  Soon after, the unit was reviewed by General Lee. Although Lee inspected the fortifications at Charleston in 1861, it is doubtful Sampson would have seen or have known who Lee was since all of his fame resided in the future at that time.  By 1864 every Confederate soldier knew Lee and glorified him.  If my ancestor was healthy he would have been present at this moment described by General Hagood:

"About the 15th of September, the other brigades of Hoke's division were relieved from the trenches and placed in reserve on the Petersburg side of the Appomattox. And on the 26th, General Lee reviewed the division, which was concentrated for the purpose for that evening. This was the only review or other military display witnessed by the writer during the campaign of '64. It was made a gala occasion by the citizens of the beleaguered town, large numbers attending. The ladies were out in full force, and many were on horseback. General A. P. Hill rode on the staff of the commanding general upon a very graceful and beautiful silver grey; and horse and rider showed gallantly. General Lee reviewed the troops rapidly and seemed bored by the ceremonial and glad to be through with it. He was in full uniform, with a quantity of yellow sash around his waist, and did not look like himself. Even his horse looked as if he thought it was all foolishness."  Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5314-5321). Kindle Edition.


Soon after this, Hagood again marched his men northward to Richmond and saw trench duty there. But they participated in no major battles at this time.  If he was sick or wounded my ancestor would have recovered by December 1864, for this is when Hagood's brigade boarded a rickety Confederate train to travel south again.  This time they were ordered to Wilmington, North Carolina where the intent was for them to reinforce the garrison at Fort Fisher which protected the Confederacy's last remaining port city.  Without Wilmington the blockade runners would have no port left in the South with which to bring in badly needed equipment and supplies.


It was not an easy journey for my weary Confederate ancestor.  "The troops were saturated with the freezing rain on the march to Richmond, and they were loaded on freight cars without seats or fires—the men so crowded as to preclude individual motion. The rain began to be accompanied by a high wind, and lying motionless in their wet garments, the men were whistled along on the train the balance of the day and all night. At daylight, we arrived at Danville. The suffering was intense."  Hagood, Johnson. Johnson Hagood's Memoirs of the War of Secession (Kindle Locations 5484-5486). Kindle Edition.


By January 4, 1865, Sampson was encamped outside Wilmington, awaiting orders.  Ten days later all of Hagood's brigade except for the 27th South Carolina boarded transports to reinforce Fort Fisher.  My ancestor got a reprieve and remained in camp.  Meanwhile, three transports attempted to land four regiments of Confederate troops at Fort Fisher.  Two of the craft ran aground and only one vessel was able to land a regiment, return, depart again with another regiment.  Those two regiments were added to garrison which was soon subjected to a tremendous Union naval bombardment of about 50,000 rounds, far surpassing the shelling of Battery Wagner almost two years previously. 


Fort Fisher fell and the remains of those two regiments were captured along with the rest of the garrison.  Being in camp above Wilmington, 15 miles away or so, Sampson did not experience any of this beyond the distant rumble of the naval guns. Perhaps he found the sound foreboding.  Perhaps it bothered him little after all he had been through and witnessed.  It sounded like a lot of guns, but for him it was far away.


The fall of Fort Fisher created an calamity for Wilmington and the Southern Confederacy as a whole.  Strategically speaking, the long effort by the Union to completely blockade the south was complete.  No blockade runners could now enter any southern port.  But more operationally speaking, the Confederates needed to implement new plans for the defense of Wilmington and the interior of the south while Lee's army continued trench warfare around Petersburg.


Fort Anderson was the next major work up the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher.  At some point in January 1865, Sampson's regiment was ordered to man the fort, make it ready for siege operations and to fire the fort's artillery upon any Union naval vessels that ventured up the river toward Wilmington. My ancestor spent a month at the fort in relative quiet, preparing the works and scouting. It was not until mid-February that Federal forces began to cautiously advance toward the port city, infantry and gunboats working in conjunction.


General Hagood personally commanded at Fort Anderson, turning the remains of his brigade over to Colonel Charles H. Simonton. With the loss of two regiments at Fort Fisher only 925 men were left in Sampson's brigade.  Reinforcements from units elsewhere around Wilmington, brought Hagood's effective force up to about 2,300. But this was still no match for the 6,000 or so Union troops supported by a large number of gunboats from the river.  Ultimately, however, there was little fighting at Fort Anderson except for the Federal gunboats bombarding the fort and the fort's guns firing back as best they could.  With a superior number of infantry the Federals simply outflanked the fort, forcing the Confederates to retreat toward Wilmington.



"Town Creek"
The next line of defense was along Town Creek. Here the land was mostly marsh and woods, and heavy skirmishing took place beginning February 19.  Once again, the Union troops attempted to outflank the Confederate position.  “Simonton hurriedly deployed his troops to check the enemy's advance, placing the 27th South Carolina in line of battle on the right side of Cowan's Road, the 11th South Carolina to the left, and Lieutenant Rankin's artillery on the lane.” (Fonvielle, page 402)

“A quick reconnaissance convinced Hagood that Cox had managed to outflank him again, just as he had at Fort Anderson.  The Federals were now in control of the mouth of Town Creek and, with naval support, could fling their entire force across the stream at any time....Hagood redeployed the 27th South Carolina to the left of Cowan's Road and personally lead the 11th South Carolina back to the Telegraph Road, positioning it slightly south of the intersection with Cowan's.  After establishing this new line, Hagood returned to Simonton's position, where that officer was trying to keep his small force of some 450 soldiers from disintegrating under the mounting pressure of the oncoming Union tide.” (page 403)

Sampson held his ground until ordered to retreat again, as Simonton attempted to offer resistance in stages without being completely surrounded.  But now some 3,000 Federal troops bore down upon his small command, capturing many of the Confederate skirmishers.  “Even so, Simonton's men stood their ground until overpowered in hand-to-hand combat with Cox's veteran troops. 'There was no running in these rebels,' one Union soldier marveled, 'they held their ragged works until the guns were snatched out of their hands.' ...Despite the close quarter fighting, most of the Confederates survived the battle and were taken prisoner.  In all, Cox's troops captured 375 officers and men, including Colonel Simonton, who personally surrendered his command to General Cox.” (page 409)

In all likelihood, as confirmed by the statement given in his Pension records, Sampson was among these 375 ragged and war weary prisoners.  It was February 20, 1865 and the war was over for my ancestor.  He remained imprisoned until May 1, 1865. How he got back to South Carolina was the same way as with most paroled Confederate soldiers.  There were no trains, there were no coaches, or wagons, the South was devastated beyond recognition. He walked.  Most likely the Union troops, with bountiful provisions, gave him some rations to tide him over and he walked back to his wife and children in South Carolina.

As this post attests, Sampson had some incredible experiences during the war even though most of his fighting took place as a sideshow to the major military campaigns in Virginia, along the Mississippi, in Tennessee and Georgia. The fantastic attack on Battery Wagner, his service on Fort Sumter during its marine assault, the timely attack at Walthall Junction that initially saved Petersburg, and his presence at the bloodbath of Cold Harbor all followed him until his death in 1910.  He was lucky to have survived it all without being killed. He was illiterate, undoubtedly bigoted, and most likely of shallow cultural capacity, yet it is with no small pride that I offer what I have been able to determine about his service in what remains this nation's bloodiest war.  
Sampson's "x" marks his signature.  He was uneducated. He made this mark in 1906.  It is my only source of direct connection with him.
Sampson's headstone in a local cemetery about 3 miles from my house.  He died in 1910.
Still faintly evident, though fading with time, is the United Daughters of the Confederacy symbol above his name on the marker.  Obviously engraved there because of Sampson's military service to the South in the War Between the States.
Finally, this is a United Daughters of the Confederacy medal probably worn during appropriate commemorations by Sampson's daughter, my great-great-grandmother. At the bottom the medal reads "To the U.C.V." which stands for United Confederate Veterans.  The medal matches the faded symbol on the headstone. I found this years ago in the bottom of my great-grandmother's trunk in her bedroom.