Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Road to Concord

"They did not fight us like a regular army, only like savages behind trees and stone walls, and out of the woods and houses, where in the latter we killed numbers of them."
I confess, while I wanted to write something new to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, while digging through the archives to see what I had offered in years past, I did not feel I could top the one I wrote back in 2016. Though this one from 2015 was a close second.

While that April morning in 1775 was a long time ago, many of us old time New Englanders can still imagine the lobsterbacks marching down that long road, then back again, bloody and beaten. I can almost smell the powder smoke when the wind is out of the north, from Lexington, from Concord, and from that long road out of Boston leading to the bridge where a shot rang out and was heard 'round the world.

Mortem ad tyrannis. Be they foreign or home grown.

Give me liberty...

19 April, 1775 - Willie Cruikshank rested his hunting rifle on the stone wall in front of him. He could hear musket shots farther up the road, up towards Lexington where the day's events had begun. Cruikshank's militia company had hurried to this position and were just getting settled in. The day was turning hot.

Around the bend in the road Cruikshank could see dust rising above the trees. The lobsterbacks had to be close. He removed his hat and ran his sleeve over his forehead, the day was getting warmer and the run up from Menotomy had him sweating.

"Steady Willie, don't bounce around so much. Those bloody lobsterbacks might see you. Steady lads." Sergeant Sullivan muttered to the other men nearby. He liked Willie, even if he was a Scotsman, and didn't want the lad to feel singled out.

"Sully! I can sees 'em. There the bastards are!" Young McGilvary could barely contain himself as the red coated column began to come around the bend in the road.

"Be still Mac! Jesus, Mary and Joseph can't you lads be quiet?" Sergeant Sullivan's first thought was that the British looked dirty and tired. He almost felt sorry for them. Almost, but he'd had to flee Ireland on account of the English. There was no pity in his breast this day.

"Willie, you take the first shot. Aim at the fancy boy on the horse..."

Cruikshank laid his cheek against the stock of his rifle and focused on the horseman. An officer, he guessed. Soon to be a dead 'un. Willie seldom missed.

Lieutenant Anthony Williams-Beckworth of the Grenadier Company of His Majesty's Fourth Foot* slumped in his saddle. It had been a very long day. Up well before dawn, getting the men down to the boats and then across to the mainland, he had been very busy. He had wanted to leave his horse behind but Captain Adams had told him in no uncertain terms that he wanted his officers on horseback.

While it had been difficult getting the horses across, he was glad they had. He was tired, his men looked exhausted. The march back from Concord had been a passage through Hell itself. As far as he could tell, his platoon had suffered only a single casualty. Light losses to be sure, but tell that to Jackson's mother.

This was the lieutenant's first fight, his first excursion into the field, truth be told. Seeing the perpetually cheerful Jackson shot down right in front of him had nearly caused him to vomit.

Who knew there was so much blood in a man?

Corporal Wilkerson tramped wearily along next to the lieutenant's horse, The captain had taken him aside that morning and bade the corporal keep an eye on the new officer. At first he'd been annoyed at having to babysit this youngster, little bastard couldn't be more than 17. "I joined the regiment before this lad was even conceived," Wilkerson thought to himself.

At that point the experienced corporal thought he saw something just up ahead.

"Look alive lads, the damned rebels seem to be about!"

Cruikshank settled himself, a breath in, let some of it out...

When the powder in the pan flashed and the rifle kicked back into his shoulder, it was, as always, a surprise. "A good steady squeeze is the way to go laddie," as his old Da' always said.

He couldn't see shite because of the powder smoke but he didn't have time to gawp anyway, he needed to reload, and fast.

Eric Johnson Photo (Source)
Wilkerson saw the flash and then the smoke from a shot just ahead, couldn't be more than a hundred paces away. Before he could react he heard a muffled grunt and then a choking sound coming from his right. And why was he wet all of a sudden? It wasn't raining.

Lieutenant Williams-Beckworth felt as if he'd been shoved back slightly, then his hands went to his throat as suddenly he couldn't breathe right, perhaps he should loosen his cravat. But then, then, he realized that something, something...

As the lieutenant slid to the road, his world went dark.


Wilkerson turned just as the lieutenant began to slide from his horse, his waistcoat was soaked in blood, his horse's neck was soaked in blood. My Lord, my lieutenant's been shot, what will the captain say?

As he reached for the lieutenant he felt his arm swatted away, as if the lieutenant didn't want to be touched. Odd though, the lieutenant has both hands to his throat, how did he...

Wilkerson stared in some puzzlement at his shattered right forearm. Then he realized, he too had been hit.


The other non-commissioned officers had no time to assist the corporal or his lieutenant, the rebel fire was coming in thick and fast.

"Form up you bastards!"

"Present your firelocks! Fire! Fire at will!"

Eric Johnson Photo (Source)
But the rebels were already melting into the trees. A small group of fusiliers began to jump over the wall to pursue but were ordered back onto the road.

"Retreat, fall back lads, keep your intervals. Steady lads, steady!"

As night fell Corporal Wilkerson regained conscientiousness. His arm was on fire and his throat was parched. In the wan light of the moon he realized that he was alone on the field, his mates had left him for dead.

Struggling to his feet, he looked about for his musket. There, under that body. Rolling the dead man off, he began to lift his weapon out from under the corpse, then the moonlight fell on the man's face enough to recognize him.

Wilkerson sank back to the ground with a sob. The dead man was his lieutenant. The boy he was responsible for. Damned infernal rebels, they will pay.


Two months later, less two days, the rebel who had slain the young lieutenant, Private Willie Cruikshank did pay. He lost his life at the end of a British bayonet as he tried to flee from a bloody hill just outside Charlestown. A hill known as Breed's Hill, where the battle to be remembered in later years as The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought.

Corporal John Wilkerson was there as well, his wounded right arm just beginning to feel right again. The corporal had gone up that hill two and a half times, he'd been forced back twice. Angry, wanting revenge for his dead lieutenant, wanting revenge for the humiliation of the retreat from Concord. So many good lads lost that day.

But as the sun set on another bloody day of this young revolution, Corporal Wilkerson's war was over. As was his life.

He and 206 other British infantrymen lay dead upon the bloody slope. Nineteen officers had also perished. 828 other men of the Royal Army had been wounded, some would die of those wounds.

135 of the rebels had perished (20 after being captured). A further 305 had been wounded. So yes, the rebels had "paid" for Concord and Lexington. But the bill to the British Crown was far too steep. Any further victories such as this and His Majesty's army in the Colonies would be bled white.


Though Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "Concord Hymn" was written to commemorate the events of 19 April 1775, the "shot heard round the world" refers to the first shots fired by the Colonial militia at the North Bridge outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

That shot had actually been fired earlier in the day, at Lexington green. To this day, no one knows who fired that first shot. The British soldiers present deny having fired, given the strict discipline of the British, I believe they did not fire first.

The British did not mention seeing those militia gathered on the green firing the shot either. Perhaps it was someone coming late onto the scene, who saw the militia standing as the British officer in command demanded they lay down their arms and disperse.

Perhaps that individual, in rage or in frustration, loosed that first shot. Which caused the redcoats to loose a volley on the men to their front. Of whom eight perished and ten were wounded. Some in sight of their homes.

Who fired that "shot heard round the world" that day? Who knows?

A long, bloody revolution followed but in the end, a new Nation was born.


By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

"Concord Hymn" - Ralph Waldo Emerson**

* The 4th Foot is recorded as having been present in this source.
** Source for the Concord Hymn

The original, with comments.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Speaking of Safety...

Black Powder
In regards to yesterday's safety bulletin and Juvat's appointment as Cooking Safety Officer, occasional reader RHT447 had this tale to relate:
RHT447April 17, 2018 at 1:39 PM
I recall a particular day in my youth during which the above mentioned safety gear would have been of some benefit. I was in college at the time (post Army hitch) and had packed all my gear and tools over to a friends house so we could cast some bullets. During the course of the day, one of my lead ingots got wet (which I knew). I set it aside, but then got distracted, and when the lead pot got low, sure enough in it went. The reaction is referred to as a steam explosion, and was instantaneous. It was over before I realized what had happened. It sounded like a short, muffled fart. 
Fortunately, I have worn glasses since the second grade. I was also deliberately wearing long sleeves and leather work gloves with gauntlets. There were several splotches of lead on my shirt and left sleeve, but the one that really got my attention was the one completely covering the right lens of my glasses. I got lucky that day. The only scar I still carry is on the inside of my left wrist where a small blob of molten metal went through the gap in the button cuff.

RHT447's tale of woe reminded me of a personal tale where things might have gone south in a real big hurry had luck and Divine Providence not taken a hand in matters.

There I was...*

Back in my days as a callow youth, civilian, handyman by trade, and itinerant Civil War reenactor, I was around that substance in the opening photo quite a bit. Wasn't all that rare to have a can of the stuff stowed at my abode for to go playing with fire sticks like these -

Civil War reenactors fire a volley during a musket firing demonstration.
Retired Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Don Reimert, a historical interpreter, fires a flintlock musket during a demonstration.
I've had the pleasure of firing a Civil War rifle, a Civil War cannon, and various and sundry weapons of the flintlock variety.

RHT447's story reminded me of times when my brethren and I would cast lead bullets for our trusty rifled muskets and head on out to the farm belonging to the father of one of our merry band for to discharge said firearms out in the wilderness far from prying neighbors and the worried glances of the local constabulary.

Sometimes we'd make up cartridges before heading on down to the farm, sometimes we'd wait until we got there. Depended on our mood and the availability of a good place to melt lead and cast bullets. (For some reason I remember casting bullets from pewter as well as lead, sometimes pewter was easier to come by. And no, it's not because I'm so old that I was around when King George III placed on embargo on lead to keep it from us Colonials. Old NFO on the other hand? You'd have to ask him...)

Anyhoo, we decided on this one occasion to head on out to the farm, make bullets and cartridges out there on a rather fine day in summer in the Green Mountain State...

Wait, what? What do I mean by cartridge? Well, they weren't shiny and they weren't made of brass, they looked rather like this...

Minié ball on the right, powder on the left, and...

Wait, what? Minié ball? What the heck is a Minié ball Sarge? Well, it ain't a mini-ball (little ball), nope, it's named after the French fella who invented it, Claude-Étienne Minié, and it was a nasty little feller who left big holes in the folks it hit.

Assortment of Minié balls.
But yes, I digress.

We had our rifled muskets (my own weapon of choice was an original SN&WTC rifled musket in .58 caliber), a couple of cans of powder, and a sufficient quantity of lead (and paper) to fix up some cartridges for our fire sticks.

Lead was melted and molded into the shape shown above (no incidents of the type RHT447 describes above occurred), powder was measured into paper, Minié balls were added to the mix and we wrapped it all up into immediately usable form. That is, the cartridges weren't nearly as fancy as those shown above and would have fallen apart after a couple of miles on the march in a cartridge box. But we weren't marching anywhere and the cartridges just needed to stay in one piece long enough to load and fire.

Fun times ensued as we expended our on-hand ammunition stock. A decision was made to hang out until the wee hours and perhaps sit around a campfire and imbibe beverages made from hops and barley. No, no, dinna fash yersel', the weapons were put away, we knew better than to mix firearms and strong drink. We were young and pretty stupid, but we weren't that stupid. Mostly.

Anyhoo. The night wore on, the campfire was cozy, the beer was cold(ish) and we had much fun lying to each other about what fine Civil War soldiers we would have made. Almost made me long for a bit o' hard tack now that I think back on it.

Things were wonderful, things were fine, until someone posed the question, "How much powder do we have left? We can camp here tonight, make some more cartridges in the morning, shoot some more, and then go to breakfast. Wouldn't that be special?"

Why yes, yes it would we all agreed. So we turned to the one non-drinker in our tribe and said, "Say Johnny, have a peek and see how much powder we have left."

Now the two cans of powder, still in the manufacturer's authorized metal containers had been dumped into a big coffee can with a plastic lid for easy access while making cartridges (we had a wee spoon thingie for measuring the powder, easier to dip into a big can than pour from a small can). Our Johnny went to collect the can and hefted it to see how much was within, he spoke, "Doesn't feel like much, but I can't really see it. Hold on a minute."

Do you know what doesn't play nicely with black powder? This sort of thing...

Well, it was dark, Johnny thought that a short trip to the fireside would do no harm. When he arrived, some of us were no longer paying attention to him, engrossed in our beer drinking activities we were, so weren't really watching what Johnny was doing.

Now back then coffee cans were big tin cans, sort of, once you opened them, by opening one end completely, you sealed the can with the translucent lid which came with it from the store. Note what I said there, "translucent lid."

So Johnny popped the lid, couldn't really see through it, and tipped the can towards the light. You know, the fire light. From the campfire, which had a number of pine logs in it. Now pine logs, especially the fresh variety, have pitch in them, pine pitch. A sticky, gooey substance which makes delightful pops and sparks when burning.

Did you get that? Sparks.

So as Johnny tipped the can to the light, one of the logs decided that it would be simply wonderful to pop and shoot sparks aloft into the night sky.

Not all of the sparks went aloft, one found it's way someplace it should not have been.


Bright lights, loud noises, Johnny screaming, "I'm blind! I'm blind!" Which was true in a very temporary way. He quickly regained the use of his eyes and wondered immediately why the rest of us were laughing hysterically, like a group of loons, crazed, besotted loons.

Well, the powder was all gone, as were Johnny's eyebrows, eyelashes, and quite a bit of the hair in the area of his forehead. He looked rather like this...

Bit more hair on the sides though than this chap.

Gunpowder and fire, not a good mix outside of the chamber of a fire stick.

Johnny didn't find it all that amusing, like he said, "I could've been blinded for life, that could have blown my head off!"

Well, yes, he was right. But he did look funny and like I said, we were callow.

There are times I wonder how I survived long enough to join the Air Force.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Chant du Départ Safety Bulletin, 15APR18

New USAF Mandatory Food Preparation Gear
171200Z APR

In light of the Class D Mishap which occurred over the weekend at Rancho Juvat, in which the second-in-command of Rancho Juvat injured his throttle paw by grasping a hot pan handle (and NOT a hot panhandler, there's a difference) I have ordered a 24 hour safety standdown for Tuesday, the 17th of April 2018 here at The Chant.

During this standdown all personnel will review the relevant safety directives for their service (civilians to review the relevant OSHA safety directives) and to abstain from all hazardous activities. If there's anybody watching.

Safety standdown will commence at 1200 Zulu, 17 April and will continue until 1200 Zulu, 18 April.

In addition, Juvat will be required to requalify in Hot Pot Handling, Course 75-Bravo.

As Juvat was clad in his hard head hat and was wearing his standard Chant issued reflective gear (see next photo), no disciplinary action is required. (The pain of the burnt hand being considered punishment enough. Probably more than enough.)

Chant du Départ Engrenage Réfléchissant Obligatoire
Juvat is hereby appointed Cooking Safety Officer (CSO) here at The Chant as an additional duty. I am confident that he will shine in that position.


Monday, April 16, 2018

R.I.P. Gunny

GySgt R. Lee Ermey
March 24, 1944 – April 15, 2018
First thing every morning I hit the folks on the sidebar.

Sometimes you see something that just wrecks the whole day.

Don't remember where I saw it first, but a bunch of my favorite bloggers had the report.

R. Lee Ermey - gone at the young age of 74. Complications from pneumonia...

Well, that just sucks.

Yup, Gunny Ermey has entered the clearing at the end of the path.

Damn, but I enjoyed his acting and his outlook on life. Gonna miss that Marine.

Semper Fi.


A new Study in Thermodynamics

A new study conducted by Jerome Ulysses Virgil Andrew Thomas at the prestigious research facility known as Ranco Juvat Saturday evening.

Meticulously controlling for outside variables, a stainless steel pan containing chicken, artichoke hearts, onions, white wine,  lemon juice and assorted herbs and spices was heated to 420 decrees F and kept there for 30 minutes, 'til said ingredients were "done".

Said pan was then removed to the stovetop to cool while fettuccine was plated.  When that step was completed, our noble researcher grabbed the handle of the pan with his left hand to begin the final plating of the meal.

At that "Ah HA!" ( or some other exclamation) moment, our noble researcher discovered that stainless steel is an excellent retainer of heat, while at the same time it also conducts said heat to said hand expeditiously.  He also discovered that, while the pan had undoubtedly cooled somewhat. it had not cooled enough to avoid second degree burns on the palm and fingers.

Giddy with the scientific breakthrough, our researcher, and his observer, raced off to share news of the experiment with other members of the scientific community. Thankfully, his opportunity to present his finding was quickly arraigned and suitable study of the effect was performed.

Our brilliant researcher was toasted with a Cocktail administered through a tube, at which point he decided to take a nap.

When the festivities broke up around 11, our researcher, being overwhelmed by the adulation afforded him, elected to let his beloved observer drive him back to the research center.

During said excursion, she was pulled over by a deputy sheriff, for not giving enough clearance to one of his brother officers at  traffic stop. Using prudence in approaching our vehicle, he came up on our researcher's side of the vehicle. upon seeing signs of recognition our researcher had received for his brilliance, he took pity on the observer and let the intrepid duo continue on their way with a warning.

Three observations.
 1) Mother Bear,  burns hurt!
2) Morphine produces STRANGE dreams.
3) Typing one handed is a PITA! My apologies for all spelling capitalization and punctuation errors.
Dr. Mushka examines the patient

It's just  a  flesh wound!

So my planned post will have to wait, or as Suldog says "Soon, with more better stuff."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Or Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor

Declaration of Independence - John Trumbull
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

While in the midst of preparing my tax returns this weekend, I had a thought regarding those taxes.

I don't mind paying taxes. Is the money I pay in always spent wisely? Of course not. Are they in fact necessary? I think so.

Roads, railways, airports, seaports, and the like do not pay for themselves. Police and fire departments are necessary and not cheap. A military composed of people willing to lay down their lives for their country is a pearl of great price.

While I don't enjoy sitting down and preparing all the various forms that the government needs in order for them to take a part of my wages, I consider it a duty. A rather time-consuming duty as the tax deadline of Tuesday the 17th of April approaches. I'm far too cheap to pay someone to do something I can certainly figure out on my own. It's also interesting to see what, if anything, is different from the year before.

For various reasons, I never saw the HBO miniseries John Adams when it first came out back in 2008. I tried watching it last year, got partway through the first episode and couldn't continue. It wasn't what I was expecting.

Now I'm back to watching it and just finished the second episode, which includes the debate leading up to and the eventual vote to approve the Declaration of Independence. It was very well done. I don't mind saying that I was moved to tears at the end of the episode when the Declaration was being read.

I love my country and I don't care who knows it. We have our flaws and our problems but nothing that cannot be fixed if we all pull together.

Back in July of 1776, fifty-six men put ink to paper and signed the Declaration of Independence. They could have, if captured by the British, been tried, and most assuredly convicted for treason. They would have been put to death, hanged, as traitors.

When those men signed their names, the words "we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" were not just parts of a pretty phrase, they were meant to be taken quite literally.

Each time we do our duty as American citizens, we honor the sacrifices of those who went before. Even something as mundane as filling out Form 1040.

Now I need to go finish up my taxes.

One of the two certainties of life...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Explosion at Sea

Deepwater Horizon after the explosion.
This happened in April of 2010, I remember the events surrounding Deepwater Horizon, but life had me pretty preoccupied at the time. I'd just lost my Dad and I was working 100 miles from home on a "one year" assignment that would last two years, eight months and sixteen days. Yeah, I was counting.

Last (Friday) night I watched the movie Deepwater Horizon. Very emotional, very well made, very gripping. I think Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg are an excellent film making team. They did Lone SurvivorDeepwater Horizon, and one I watched a couple of weeks ago, Patriots Day. All gut-wrenching movies, all of which, in my opinion, showcase everything which is right about the American people. Hard working and, when it's called for, heroic.

It's playing on HBO now. Seek it out, watch it.

God is not done with us yet.