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Old August 31, 2008, 11:48 AM   #296
4V50 Gary
Join Date: November 2, 1998
Location: Colorado
Posts: 19,338
During the Siege of Vicksburg, some clever Yankees figured out how to dig their approach trench to the Confederate lines without being vulnerable to rifle fire. Traditionally, in digging your zig-zag approach trench, you made a huge wicker sap-roller and pushed that ahead of you. It would stop rifle bullets and you could dig in relative safety. To move it forward, you used levers to roll it and when it moved, it exposed fresh dirt for you to excavate. Instead of using a sap roller (they may not have had the materials or the levers to roll one forward may not be available), the Union soldiers got a rail car and loaded it with cotton bales. Pushing it forward slowly, it allowed them to dig their trench in perfect safety. The Confederates saw it approaching and unable to use their artillery (which was suppressed by Union marksmen), they felt hopeless and morale plummeted - until one Confederate came up with a solution.
"The moveable breastwork in front of the entrenchments became a perfect annoyance, and various plans were proposed for its destruction, only to be declared unvailable. Some of the men actually proposed a raid on it, and set it on fire, a plan which would hve been the height of madness. Finally, a happy invention suggested itself to the mind of Lt. Washburn. He thought that if he could fill the cavity of the butt of the Enfield rifle balls with some inflammable material which would ignite by being fired from the rifle, the great desideratum would be obtained. Thus, procuring turpentine and cotton, he filled the ball with the latter, thoroughly satured with the former. A rifle was loaded, and, amid the utmost curiousity and interest, fired at the hated object.

The sharp report was followed by the glittering ball, as it sped from the breastworks straight to the dark mass of cotton-bales, like the rapid flight of a firefly. Another and another blazing missile was sent on the mission of the destruction, with apparently no satisfactory results, and the attempt was abandoned amid a great disappointment. The men, save those of guard, sought repose, and all the line became comparatively quiet.

Suddenly someone exclaimed, 'I'll be damned if that thing isn't on fire!' The whole regiment was soon stirring about, like a hive of disturbed bees. Sure enough, smoke was seen issuing from the dark mass. The inventive genius of Leiutenant Washburn had proved a complete success, and the fire, which had smouldered in the dense mass of cotton, was about bursting forth.

The men seized their rifles and five companies were immediately detailed to keep up a constant and rapid fire over the top and at each end of the blazing mass to prevent the enemy from extinguishing the flames. The discovered the destruction which threatened their shelter, and made impotent attempts to extinguish the fire with dirt and honor. But as the light increased, the least exposure of their persons made the unwary foe the target of a dozen rifles, hand-led by skillful marksmen.

The regiment was in darkness, while the blazing pile brought into bold outline every man of the enemy who thoughtless exposed himself within the radius of the light.

The rifles of the regiment sang a merry tune as the brave boys poured a constant shower of bullets above and around the great point of attraction, which was soon reduced to ashes and a mass of smouldering embers. How the men cheered and taunted the foe can better be imagined than described."
This is one of the "don't try this at home, kids" unless you're prepared to put out forest fires.
Vigilantibus et non dormientibus jura subveniunt. Molon Labe!
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