The armies of the United States and the rebellious Confederate States are on the move. But that very movement means supplies are lean and two small corps find themselves maneuvering in the same area, near the village of Thomasville, North Carolina. Rumor has it that there are several overfull warehouses in the small town and its garrison, commanded by one Colonel E. L. Lucky, has marched off to chase down some bushwackers.
General J. B. Beatty has gotten permission to move on Thomasville from Ambrose Burnside, over on the coast at New Bern. General Hill has ordered his corps to the town on his own initiative. When the evenly matched corps break camp that summer morning, they have no idea they are marching to battle.
Tom Kennedy, a sergeant with the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, wrote his wife Mollie, that morning, “Nothin but hardtack and bacon the last three days but Ole Mint says there’ll be good grub tonight care of the secesh gov’t.” Kennedy had served with the 2nd Dragoons on the frontier where he’d briefly been an orderly for Joseph Johnston.
Colonel Robert Minty led his troopers out of camp while the infantry was still rousing. They grumbled but they rode, his promise of a better dinner than their sorry breakfast a strong motivator. As the sun rose, they spied smoke curling from the chimneys of Thomasville.
Colonel Thomas Munford was likewise in the saddle early. His men didn’t even have coffee that morning. Their last meal had been two days before and they were definitely anticipating a stop at the (supposedly) friendly town. However, as Munford and his staff cantered ahead of the column Captain Norris saw a glint of sun on metal. Pausing on a small bald hill, he focused his field glasses in the distance. Unmistakable were the advancing columns of blue horsemen!
Norris spurred his mount to Munford who sent couriers thundering away to encourage Generals Field and Gregg to hurry forward the gray-clad infantry.
Minty saw the dust approaching and likewise send riders galloping back to the slow-moving foot columns. “Hurry on or dinner will be lost!”
Minty, being better mounted, deployed the 3rd Indiana in the buildings of the town west of the road and north of Deep Run. Bridges’ battery deployed on the road just north of the bridge over Deep Run, the 4th Michigan in the buildings of the town east of the road. The 7th Penn he ordered to loop to the left and attempt to force the stream and occupy a mill complex on the south bank.
Munford countered by placing Potter’s battery on his far right and pushing the 2nd Virginia into the southern half of the town. The 7th Virginia extended the line to the west along the bank while the 6th Virginia remained mounted as a reserve. Field’s brigade could be seen approaching at the double quick from the southeast.
Engagement range was a stone’s throw and all the cavalry were well-armed with breechloading carbines. Bridges’ battery was devastated in their exposed position – not a man or horse could stand with the guns which were soon abandoned. The four Rodmans would remain manned only by the dead for the rest of the fight. Two squadrons of the 4th Michigan managed to make it into a brick bank building and its surrounding brick fence. The rest of the regiment, in more exposed positions was decimated by the veterans of the 7th Virginia. Minty encouraged the Wolverines to hold firm.
Lieutenant Colonel Douglas pushed his Pennsylvanians across the stream under a hail of grapeshot from both Potter’s battery and Carrington’s newly arrived battery. Despite almost a hundred casualties the Pennsylvanians occupied the mill complex and their devastating return fire made Potter’s battery resemble Bridges’ – four pieces crewed only by the lifeless.
Now the race was on. Whichever side could get their infantry up first would be able to consolidate their position and secure Thomasville.
Brigadier General Charles Field was first on the Confederate side, arriving on the east flank and moving forward to an open rise opposite the mill. The 22nd Virginia Infantry was soon hotly engaged with Douglas’ horsemen as the rest of the brigade deployed.
General John T. Croxton’s blue brigade was first to arrive for Beatty’s boys. They arrived from the northwest and deployed tot the west of the road, pinning Munford and forcing him to deploy his oinly reserve, the 6th Virginia. The battle in the town itself, between the 4th Michigan and 3rd Indiana on the north bank and the 2nd and 7th Virginia on the south settled down to a bloody firefight.
The next half hour was critical. Thomas Negley arrived with his brigade on the east road for the Union. Douglas, seeing Field approaching with an entire brigade against his rapidly depleted single regiment, was desperate to signal Negley to hurry. Sergeant Kennedy snatched a guidon and raced up the stairs of the mill, rising three stories above the ground. On the roof he stood and waved the swallow-tailed banner energetically. Captain Dan Rickles saw the bright color dancing on the mill and pointed to Negley. “There they are boys! The cavalry holds the mill! Bread for everyone!” With three huzzahs they surged forward.
General Maxcy Gregg’s brigade and General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch’s brigade came swinging forward, Gregg slightly ahead, but they were too late. Even as their bayonets could be made out from the town, Croxton’s boys went into action. Battery B, 1st Ohio, beat off a desperate charge by the 6th Virginia, double-shotting their Napoleons, blasting away. The 74th Indiana, encouraged, surged forward on the extreme west, the excitement of their first battle overriding their terror at their first whiff of powder.
The 15th Kentucky came up to the left of the mill Douglas shouting to Rickles as he led the sweating foot soldiers, “Damn glad to see you boys!”. Field’s brigade did his best to interdict but the powder they had drawn from the depot at Fayetteville had spoiled and fully half the muskets misfired and fouled on the bad powder. Further it was found that half of Carrington’s canister rounds had only wooden balls on the sabot, a clear sabotage for profit by an unsavory contractor.
In one last effort Field pushed the 40th Virginia into the town to contest Negley, who had relieved the battered Wolverines. The veteran 104th Illinois unleashed a killing volley and the Virginians were forced back. Likewise, Croxton now pressed his advantage and a furious firefight developed with Gregg’s troops.
But it was too late for the graybellies. Beatty had taken the town and the increasing weight of their arrivals, paired with the faulty powder, left Hill with no option other than to issue the recall. It would be another hungry night for the boys in butternut and gray.
Game played using Mr. Lincoln's War in 15mm.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..