Thursday, July 9, 2015
>>>> James River Watcher #4 <<<< Both of the officers smiled at this last from the young Lt., just as both were well aware that such sustenance would be the only way to maintain a watcher in such a situation for a week. The Major leaned forward in his chair and raised his finger for attention. “The next item,” he said very seriously,” is the possibility of discovery. There may well be sentries posted around the old ruin and these may be hidden. There is enough brush and trees on the property to hide a platoon of sentries, so we must proceed with that firmly in mind. The second thing is the possibility of someone hidden inside the ruin for the purpose of keeping an eye on us just as we are doing to them. However, I must admit that the lights across the river that you have reported would be of greater interest that a dark road along the river.” The Major paused at this point as if arranging the rest of what he had to say in his head. He looked at the Captain seated across the room and asked,” Do you have any further ideas to add?” The Captain turn to the Lt. and just touched the handrail on his chair. His voice was deep and serious. “Son, the season is a warm one here now as you well know, and this old building might be the ideal place for an armed deserter to seek a temporary shelter. The Reb patrols along the river road don’t seem to be much of a threat to the old ruin, but a lone deserter from either side might well be.” “Excellent point,” said the Major sitting back in his chair. After a few moments of thought, he leaned forward again, “Alright, here is what we will do. I assume that the young Lt. here is volunteering for this task, as I could not order anyone to do it.” George who found himself so excited about the coming assignment he had forgotten to talk, nodded his head vigorously and managed to squeak out a low, ”Yes Sir,” to the question. Both senior officers again smiled at the young officer’s eagerness, and then settled down to the planning. The Major continued addressing George directly,” We will use your idea of an enclosed signal lamp with a red lens to transmit information to a given point at the edge of the woods. There will be a signalman there each night to receive your message, I am assuming that you know the codes?” Again George nodded in agreement. He had spent many days memorizing the signal codes, simply out of boredom. Now this effort would be put to good use. The Major continued, ”Be very sure that you have a lateral and vertical line to the edge of the woods for the signal lamp. That will not be easy to do at night. That is very important.” Again George nodded in agreement and scribbled a few words in his notebook which he had drawn from his pocket. “You will have two armed men to escort you into the ruined building and up to the third floor to assist you to find the ‘look-out room.’ When you have determined that you can safely stay in the room for seven days, the two men will return replacing any removal of blockage or debris that was in your way up, so as to hide your presence there. You will signal once an evening all your information using the red signal light to the man waiting at the edge of the woods. If there is any discovery by an enemy guard, patrol, or deserter, you are to silence them, any way that you can, and then immediately leave the ruin, join the patrol at the edge of the woods and come immediately back here. Is that fully understood?” George looked straight at the Major and said, “Yes Sir, I fully understand.” The Major, looking back at George, said,”You are the most valuable asset of the moment. You will be provided with a large signal telescope, one which can be broken down, and packed into a bag that can be attached to a packframe. This with your rations, water, notebooks, and personal gear. Remember to go over the gear that you will need carefully. Once you are in the lookout room you will have to live with what you brought with you. That is especially true of the water supply. You should be ready by tomorrow night to go with the regular road patrol along the river. We will send a gunboat upriver just before the road patrol in case there are any who may have an interest. I think a gunboat will distract any attention that might be given to you otherwise. Do you have any questions?” Both the Captain and George shook their heads. The Major stood up and said,” Good, then the Lt. is dismissed. I need to talk with the Captain about some local maps.” George got out of his chair, somewhat stiffly, and walked slowly to the door of the headquarters building, and down the wooden steps onto the stone walkway. The cool breeze off the nearby river caused him to shiver slightly, as the extent of what he had agreed to began to fill his realization. However, the excitement and challenge of such a prospect was far and away more than any idea of caution or fear that might occur to him at the moment.
>>>> James River Watcher #3 <<<< The following afternoon just after the dinner meal had been completed, A private appeared at George’s Tent with a summons to meet with the Captain and Major (Chief Engineer). George was more prepared this time having spent a good part of the night going over his observations at the old ruined house, and some possibilities for the Rebel lights across the river. George was convinced that the Rebs had some plans for the river, and that those plans were definitely something that he and his superiors would be interested in. At his arrival at the Major’s tent he found the tent flaps wide open and both the Captain and the Major were seated in camp chairs in the shadow of the canvas. An empty camp chair faced both of the officers, and as soon as he reached the front of the tent, the Major called out,” Come on in and have a seat.” George responded with a thank-you and took his seat with his notes and sketches on his lap. “Captain Johnson tells me that you have a couple of ideas that you want to go over with us,” said Major Keeley. “The sketches that you have drawn and the notes you made about your observations, look pretty good, but the good Captain has asked some searching questions and I would like to hear what your responses to them, are and why you are concerned about what the Rebs are doing.” “Major, I am very hopeful that the room on the third floor of the ruin would be an excellent lookout place to keep an eye on the Reb activity across the river, however the question would be the means of getting to the room. That will have to be looked at carefully. My idea was that whoever the look-out is to be, that he would have to stay in the room for about a week at least with night observations through a signal scope to determine what the Rebs are up to. His observations could be relayed to a messenger hidden at the edge of the woods with a directed red signal lamp. If the Reb cavalry patrol along the road is to be a regular thing, that would point to the fact that the activity that the Rebs are onto would be important for us to know. In that case the messenger at the edge of the woods would have to be well camouflaged and hidden. As to what it is that the rebs are planning, my guess would be that they will be erecting a new set of barriers in the river similar to the ones near Drewery’s Bluff, or perhaps they have the equipment and technology to actually lay a torpedo field in the river hidden from any shipping by being submerged.” When George finished speaking Captain Johnson looked at the Major to see what was next to be discussed. Major Keeley stirred in his chair a bit, and then said,”Well, son your guess as to what the Reb Project is as good as the Captain’s and mine. We came up with the same possibility. However, if they are simply trying to raise an old hull to repair and put in their gun-boat fleet, I am not sure if that merits the risk that the look-out will be running to make that determination. What about food and water for the week that the look-out would be there?” George thought for a moment, and replied, “A pocket full of hardtack and jerky with a couple of large canteens of water should be enough for that period of time. Perhaps a heavy coat if the nights got a little chilly.
>>>> James River Watcher #2 <<<< It was just after lunch, and George was approaching the Engineering Captain’s tent. He had asked to speak to the Captain, and he had ready his plan for the old broken building that he had seen last night. He knew that there was something to be gained from using that old pile of rubble, and he hoped that his plan would reveal what that something might be. However, first things first, he had to convince the Captain of his plan. George scratched at the canvas wall and a response from within bade him to enter. It was a bit cooler inside the tent as the rear wall was raised slightly from the ground allowing a small breeze to circulate. The Captain turned from his folding desk, heavy with papers and maps, and said,” Well, what can I do for you Lt.? George swallowed uncomfortably and thrust forward his plan that he had worked up during the night. He began to explain what he had seen at the old house ruin and his ideas about how his plan might be of some value based on what he had seen. The Captain quickly read through the plan as George had laid it out in words, and then studied the sketch map that George had supplied. The Captain looked up from the papers and asked George, “ So, what makes you think that there is anything important going on across the river?” The young Lt. replied quickly,” Well first, the numerous lights across the river indicate at some kind of activity in or near the water. Second, the heavy patrol on this side of the river along the roadway that I was mapping. There is a possibility that the Rebs may be setting up some sort of barricade or trap in the river!” In his anxiety, to get his ideas across, George had forgotten his concern of the Captain’s seniority and was eagerly leaning forward to make his points. The Captain, stroking his beard and looking hard at the sketch map, answered quietly, “Your observations are interesting and may be accurate to an extent. How do you propose to gain any further information on these observations?” George had been waiting for this question, and had worked out a rather sophisticated answer to the question, but he found himself simply blurting out, “Well, sir, I had planned to take a telescope and go up in the old ruin to see what was going on!” At the Captain’s frown, George realized that perhaps he had not covered all the items and questions that would arise from such an admission. The Captain’s next words confirmed his fears, “ Lt. while such is a novel idea, perhaps a few questions might be in order: First, can you get up to the room that you have drawn in your diagram, and is it in such a shape as it would need be to work there? Furthermore, how would you get any reports back to me? Moreover, have the Rebs posted any sort of guards or sentries around or near, the old building? If so, what do we do about that, while keeping a secret in the building itself? Fourth, movement into and out of the old building on a routine basis would reveal passage into and out of the old building which would be very suspicious to any Reb that might be looking for such.” The Captain looked to George for some answers to the questions. George hesitated for a moment, and then replied,” I had planned to stay in the tower, for at least five days. My reports to you would be with a directed light blinker, and my staying in the old building would solve the concern of creating a pathway back and forth. I was assuming that the room that I sketched would be in good shape since that whole side of the original structure was not touched by the artillery barrage that brought the other parts of the building down.” The Captain nodded his had at this explanation and made a few notes on the plan sheets that George had provided. “Well, Lt.,” he said, looking up from the paper on his knee, “ the idea has merit, I must say. I will be pleased to bring this to the Major. It will be up to him to approve or disapprove. I will bring this to him today, so be ready to discuss all this with the Major later today. I suspect that he will have some questions, and hopefully you will have the answers. Dismissed, and as I said your idea has merit.” (To be continued) Respectfully; Jim Mathews
James River Watcher #1 On a high hill over the James River sits an old stone set of buildings grey in the late evening fog as it wafted up from the river below. The old stones told a long story of the original glory of being a home and later business area of a successful southern business man. When he died a widower in the late ‘1840s’, his four children, as could be expected, quarreled over the mansion buildings, and it was finally settled and purchased by a medical company and organized as a home for older people with enough money to pay for the care needed in the older years. The building was taken over in 1861 as a possible fort and was temporarily armed with six artillery pieces behind a dirt and stone battery, as a defense against any Union gunboats which might venture up the river toward Richmond, the capitol of the new Confederacy. Eventually the hidden battery was discovered, and Union naval gunboats and two ironclads bombarded both the battery and the stone buildings behind them. What was not blown apart was burned later, and the only remaining part of the original structure is a spur of one of the stone buildings which overlook the river. The structure is about three stories high and one of the windows which face the river looks to be in pretty fair shape as it stares blindly out over the river valley below. George “Knight” Peterson was having a bit of trouble with his horse. His usual mount had a problem with his hoof and the soldier in the army livery stable suggested that he use a new mount for this patrol. With him rode four cavalry privates and a corpora; to keep and eye on him as he mapped the road along the James River which led directly into enemy territory. The purpose of this patrol was to advance the field maps to the degree that a planned movement could be made following this road together with a naval gunboat escort. However, first the necessary map must be made up and before that to straighten out the horse he was riding. George was fairly new to the Topog Engineers. He had always had a love of drawing since he was a child, and later having gone to school got into mapping quite by accident his skill with pen, ink and a paint brush was soon recognized and he was visited by a senior officer from the Topogs and offered a commission. Now George was not a political person, but his feelings were fixed on the Union where his father and grandfather had both served in the engineers, and where George suspected the visit by an army officer and the offer of a commission had come from. His horse finally satisfied as to the special saddle arrangement he and his escort moved ahead down the river road. The trees at this point overgrew the road, and the road was bathed in a deep darkness. Lights on the other side of the river gave indication that something was going on with the Rebs on the other side of the river. He wanted to get a closer look but the trees and brush along the river side blocked a clear view. He and his escort was several miles deep into Reb territory at this point and he well knew that he must have a care. Suddenly, there loomed ahead of him the wreckage of an old stone bridge, that had at one time spanned a small creek which crossed the road and emptied into the James River. As George began his sketching of the broken bridge and creek at the river road, the cavalrymen who were with him waded into the stream to test it’s depth and strength, and to inspect the far bank of the creek which was completely dark. The corporal appeared at his side and in a hoarse whisper said,” Lieutenant, there is a trail across the creek that looks like it winds up the hill side. Do you want to to send one of the boys up to check it our?” George thought for a minute and then murmured to the corporal, “Yes, have him go as far as the tree cover and report what he sees.” The clattering of horseshoes on stone and splashing of water announced the trooper was on his way to check out the trail. In a few minutes he returned and riding up to George he said in a low voice,” Gee, Lieutenant, there a big old ruined stone house up on the hill there. It looks like it has been hit pretty bad and then burned, but there is one corner that is sticking up and looking over the river.” George thought for a minute. He was almost out of time before starting back to the Union lines but he was curious to see the building that the trooper described. “Let’s take a look,” George said to the Corporal, then we’ll head back to camp.” The corporal nodded silently and led the way across the creek and up the trail. In a few minutes they were at the edge of the tree line, and there before them was the ruined mansion. The southwest corner of the building still stood, stark in the moonlight, and across the river the lights serious was going on. George began to have an idea about the scene and perhaps how to use this ruined old building when the trooper who had followed them up the trail, rode up abruptly and said, “Sir, there is a big Reb patrol coming up the road. They look pretty big.” The corporal said, “It’s time to leave Lieutenant, we can go back along the tree line and cross the creek further up the canyon.” George put away his thoughts for the moment, and said, “Lead the way Corporal.” The five men moved silently and swiftly in the shadow of the trees back toward the Union Lines. George was thinking again, about how he could use that old building. It might take some doing, but the information could be important. He would have to devise a plan for the Captain. He turned and gave his attention to getting back to the Union Lines. Tomorrow was another day for planning. (To be continued)