Friday, March 29, 2013

Gun store ambling.

Went out today to a going establishment: The Noonday Gun Trader.  They do a hell of a business.  Three folks working and all busy.  Many firearms in the counters and on the walls.  I like old beat-up guns so there wasn't much for me to look at.  They had a lot of plastic guns and a lot of taurus and stainless revolvers.  One old nickeled Colt Army .38 without much wear.  Mostly I looked and remembered what wonderful guns I had at home.  My friend bought 181.00 worth of .44 ammo, (two box minimum so I had to buy two for him), and was tempted by a SKAR in .308. for about 3K.  Expensive stuff.  I'm sticking with my gunbroker K22 and whatever ammo is in the stash.

  Somewhere I have a 1905 Swedish Carbine that needs a sling and some shooting.  Nearly forgot about that!

  Crazy time to be buying guns or ammo.  The government has gotten all up into our business in just about every way it can.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Point du Hoc at Normandy Beach.

Video.  Very impressive place.  If I ever go back I will take my rubber boots and flashlight.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Karl Schultz Legs out!

  At the Bayou Rifles Regional weekend.  Leg/CMP Match was today.  50 shots, no sighters from 200 offhand to 600 prone.  Lotta wind.  Karl got the 10-point LEG and finished his Distinguished Rifle!  Dan Ramsey legged out as well.  Roger Lankford and John Ilzhoeffer also got 8 points.  Congrats to everyone!

  Big news for me also was that Bailey Fairchild LEGGED out at Camp Swift last October, but we didn't know it.  Paperwork foul-up- two of the folks that we thought got points turned out to have shot too many matches that year, so they got pulled.  That moved Bailey up.

  Congrats all around!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Point du Hoc Shootout.

Staircase on one side of the Ranger Memorial at the point of Pont du Hoc.

  Like any red-blooded American I wanted to see the Normandy Invasion beaches.  We started at Pont du Hoc, where Ranger companies under Col Rudder, a Texan and A&M grad, had the task of knocking out an artillery battery that could cover beaches looking East and West.  Everyone knows this story so I won't go into it in detail.  Once on the point I was roaming into old destroyed German bunkers, looking at firing points, in and out of bomb and shell holes, ranging all over.  There are some pretty great tourist spots and a monument to the Rangers on the tip of the point but I was more interested in the off-trail bunkers.  At one point I pushed through some brush, overstepped some German barbed wire and descended a staircase into a bunker.  Like most it had several exits, four inches of water in the bottom, long-gone iron doors, an interior room that plunged into film-loading level darkness.  All of a sudden, it occurred to me, (reading accounts of the battle), that there ought to be a few bullet pockmarks around the doorways.

There were:

 Just inside the doorway on one end, on both sides, there were fan-shaped patterns of bullet and grenade shrapnel marks.  Look at them in the lower left corner.  That's the bottom of the first step.

Other side.  The passage has concrete steps coming down and is about five feet wide.

 Somebody, (obviously one of Rudder's Rangers, or several of them), fired hundreds of rounds of small arms ammunition into this doorway, tossed in grenades, et, et.  They stood just out of sight on both sides at the top of the stairs and held the triggers down.   I think the longer streaks are grenade fragments, but I'm not sure why I think that.  It must have been quite a racket plus deadly to anyone in this hallway.  The floor was under mud and gravel so I couldn't see it.  I'm sure it's pretty pocky.

  I'll have a video of Pont du Hoc up soon, including this.

  THEN it occurred to me that all the brass belonging to these bullets must be at the top of the staircase and to the right.  I looked, but thick grass and old hardened mud....I didn't see a thing.  I bet they are under there, four or five inches in.

  If you visit Pont du Hoc, take rubber boots, a good flashlight, icepick or screwdriver.  It was a cool place.  On the way back to the car I crawled, (and I mean all-four-crawling), through the thick brush and briars lining the tourist path and out into a big bare plowed field behind the point.  The brush is as thick as the accounts of the battle describe.  I felt sure I would find a 30-cal hull somewhere if I looked.  Instead the field was full of pretty good flint chips.  Neolithic.  

Omaha Beach a low tide, just at bottom of bluff.

Katie at Omaha, just near the low-tide mark.  Landing was during a rising tide.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Back from France.

Been a little quiet here because we packed up and headed to France for a few days.  Never been to Europe before so I was due, plus: Katie always looking for new experiences.

Stairway at the Hotel Voltaire.  The second floor is marked as the first.  We were on the fourth so it was the fifth.  Nice climb.

View up the Seine from the 5th floor balcony.

Windows all opened.  Rent-a-bikes.

Katie soaking it in on a bridge over the Seine.

Aux!  I'd have a hard time not hunting pickpockets for fun if I was there much.  

Guy making a bad copy of a painting in the Louvre.

Dead guy carved on stone.  This must be the equivalent of being buried with your boots on.

Chairs in a church.  The big cathedrals are full of chairs.  No pews bolted down.

Louvre art.  Minerva, I would think.

Church sacked by Vikings that rowed up the Seine.  Way back.

Paris Metro in a split second without people.

It's always day of the dead in the Paris Catacombs.  The French resistance operated out of some of the old underground quarries and tunnels.  You certainly wouldn't want to show the Germans this stuff.....just sayin.

The French.  Planking.

Folks walking into Mont St Michele after the blizzard.

Man in the rock at MStM.

MSt M, Chapel on the North shore.

French TV crew in the Saint Mere D'Eglise Musee.  Many mannequins dressed in uniforms, all with female heads.  The French solve this by magic-markering beards on them.  Only partially effective.  Nice museum though the manniquins are a little disturbing.  C47 sitting right behind me with jeeps, equipment, aircrew, paratroopers, et.  10 Thompson .45 submachine guns laid out in a row on a blanket.

Explaining large format cameras in Tarzan French to a passer-by.  French pretty wonderful all around.

Iciny.  This was a real working church.

Omaha Beach.

Blizzard conditions as MStM.

His house in Honfleur.

French Petroglyph

Katie going native.

Les Pouchard.

Honfleur anchorage.

  We started off at the Quai Hotel Voltaire, overlooking the Seine, saw some local art, rented a car and drove out to the coast for four days at Mont St. Michele, over to the Normandy Beaches, over a little more to Honfleur for a couple days, back to Paris and got delayed three days getting out.  Quite a tour.

Morning near the Irish coast.

  Nobody had ever described in detail the experience of 8-10 hours in a jet over the North Atlantic.  I was a newbie.  Going over we left Chicago pretty late and flew through the night.  Katie and I sat together next to a guy who never spoke.  I watched a movie or two, tried to read a little and suffered through the awful meals, almost-decent seat they put you in, background roar of technology and overnight catnapping.  Pretty awful.  They do the best they can and part of that was a screenshot showing where we were on a map, altitude, ground speed, outside time, miles flown, time of arrival, et, et.  It's a technological miracle but still not an experience one could recommend or describe as a "good time."  It IS a miracle in the hard-won catagory to make this kind of thing routine.  These aircraft are awfully good.  I got up and walked a few times and kept hydrated, necessitating trips to the closet-sized bathrooms.  The rear galley has an odd thrill-ride tremor to it.  Walking back was like a tour of chair-bound zombies with the saggers, the leaners, the hangers, the open-mouthed sleepers and here and there a light on over a book.  What craziness.  I was happy to see the light begin to come up as we closed in on Ireland.  It wasn't a terrible experience, just never comfortable.

  Coming back, the the daytime was better.  Since we volunteered to come back a day later on an overbooked flight, they gave us each 800.00 vouchers so we can do something like this again.

  Never saw water coming or going.  Just cloud cover from 28-38,000 feet.

  Great food.  I liked the French almost to a man.  Incredible art, cities,  public spaces, history.  Beautiful countryside.  We drove in and Tyler was having a contest painting port-a-johns.  There it is.

One of the Dr. Sneeds and an advertisement.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 13: Deguello.

Bowie Knife.

Our plan is simple. Two men up, two reloading and one extra where needed. Me, Milsap, King, Teague and Young Kellogg. Between us we have sixteen rifles, a pistol each and two shotguns. Knives and clubs. Ax. The shotguns will be held for a tight spot. Our post is a room built into the wall, catwalk on top. Wall is about nine feet in our section and in good shape more or less. Two bricked up windows.  Trees close. Irrigation ditch and river are as close as fifty feet from the wall. We've burned some of it and cut firewood. Couple of the trees are big enough to be cover.

Saturday night King was over the wall on picket. We have an open room and an alcove with our fire banked up. It's not much fire because firewood is so dear but neither have has it gone out since we came in. Anyone on picket comes back with an armful. All sleeping on bedrolls and saddles. We were rolled up. The last thing I remember was Milsap pushing the ends of the fire in. I noticed that the Mexican artillery was quiet.

I woke up to a start in the moonlight. The fire was down to coals. Someone was yelling in the plaza and I could hear men beyond the wall on the North. Rifle shots began to crackle, then volley. We were all on our feet and Milsap and Teague were up the log looking over the wall. Milsap turned and looked down at me and said, "shotguns."

Kellogg and I started passing up rifles. Milsap and Teague fired in turns. I took a mouthful of rifle balls and started reloading. Powderhorn, ramrod, patch. I could hear Mexicans crying out below the wall and men running. Our cannons went on the North wall and then the big 18-pounder on the corner. Mexican rockets lit up the sky. One fell in front of the chapel into a haze of gunsmoke from the Tennesseans and you could see them firing over the parapet. Their cannons lit up the cloud in a big flash.

We fell behind on the loading. A ladder rattled against the top of the wall. Teague ran down the catwalk, pulled his pistol and shot. Another ladder rattled up and fell off sideways. I could hear chopping at the bricked windows.

Teague waited at the top of the next ladder, pushed a bayoneted musket aside and threw the man by a jacket lapel down on us. It was the first Mexican I had seen. His throat was cut and he staggered to his feet, both hands at his wet neck. He smelled like a hard-ridden horse of blood and sweat and salt. Kellogg's eyes were big but I ignored the Mexican and he fell by the fire. There was cursing in Spanish and yelling outside and a volley that showered us all in rock chips and dust. Teague fell on the roof and got back up, slowly, hat gone.

The bricks in the window began to kick in. I tossed the last rifle up to Milsap and picked up the ax. Half the window was clear and a hand appeared on the sill. I ruined it with a hack. Musket fire began to flash and pop but Kellogg and I were against the wall. A man came crawling through. I was surprised he had his tall hat on. I gave him the ax with both hands and he fell on our side. Another man. Kellogg shot him in the ear with his pistol, so close that I though he shot me. A bayonet, searching. A volley. A thrown ax. More bricks fell. Kellog threw a brick back out. Beyond the window, men growled like dogs.

Two Mexicans jumped from the top of the wall muskets in hand. I shot one with my pistol before he got to his feet. Two men came through the window squeezed together. I cleaved the closest with the ax and hung up the other long enough to smash his head with a second stroke. Someone pushed them in but the window stayed empty. It was suddenly quiet. The soldato pointed his musket at me, then Kellogg, then me, backed away. There was a barfight on the roof with logs creaking and dust sifting down but I didn't have time to look. More of our cannons down near the chapel went and riflery crackled and popped. I suddenly thought about King out past the wall.

The moonlight and dawn light were just about even.

Milsap yelled from above, "They're over the North wall!" We turned and saw our boys falling back, the North end filling up with massed men. Not us. A shot came through the window and young Kellogg dropped. Milsap and I caught him up. The Long Barracks. His head hung and I think he was gone but we went for it anyway dragging him by his deerskin shirt and belt for the sake of his young wife. I snatched up a rifle and tucked the ax under my arm. We ran right past the Parson's hat rolling in the dust.

We didn't make it. Milsap caught a ball in the leg and we went down in a tangle. When I rolled out of it I was in a crowd of soldiers. I axed a man, clubbed another, stuck a knife in a third and had to chase him for it, was clubbed, maybe shot. I felt burned from behind. Probably a bayonet. I tripped over a body and fell with my blade under me and thought I'll just rest a second, catch my breath. Over me men staggered and fought. A soldier fell, close. If he moved I was going to stick him. I reached out and got a handful of his hair. Somehow, I could see myself from above in the light of a rocket and started thinking about walking under that white tree up off the North Wall. The cannons went and men cursed and wept but I really didn't care. The tree was so white and shining, shining in the moonlight and dawn and I just went up there walked toward it in the morning light.

  In the end, they started throwing the dead in the river.  Burning the Texicans wasn't easy but it was a small job compared to the Mexican casualties.  The General Staff had declared that the townspeople should be commandeered to bury them in the camposanto but that effort quickly broke down.  There simply were too many.

  The river clogged with bodies, but it was downstream and the Army was packing up to campaign west, concerned with finishing the war and going home.

  Mexican units were up and moving after midnight, with noise discipline enforced.  Most soldiers were already stationed in their general assault area so there weren't any long distance moves.  The plan was to attack in columns, with reserves waiting and cavalry behind.  The assault force, in place, lay on the chilly ground and tried to get some sleep.  

  Inside the fort the garrison was sleeping, protected by pickets outside the wall and the officer on watch.  There was no particular reason to anticipate a Mexican attack.

  A 5:00 the units got on their feet and got in line.  At 5:30 rockets from the river battery signaled the start of the assault.  One of the Northern columns began cheering when they passed the battery where El Presidente was observing and the defenders were alerted.  The Texican pickets simply vanished.

  Inside the fort the alarm was sounded and men struggled to their posts to find ladders rising from the enemy below the walls.  The cannons were touched off and shotguns and rifles began to bark.  The weak point- Crockett's low palisade next to the Chapel, stopped the South attack cold.   That attack shifts to the west and uses a stone house near the 18-pounder on the corner for cover.  The other columns scattered and began to stall in the face of grapeshot and small arms fire.  Each defender has several rifles at hand loaded.  Townfolks say the firing sounds like firecrackers.  Santa Anna sends in the reserves.  The reserves seemed to have fired into assault waves in front of them.  One of those things.

  The Mexican officers kept at it and began to make some headway.  Travis falls at his post on the North wall.  Enough defenders fell that cannons couldn't be reloaded and gaps appeared in the thin lines.  Cazadors with crowbars and axes chopped through shuttered windows and crumbling adobe.  Massed troops finally pushed through the shattered North wall.  

  There was no rebel reserve to be committed or contain intrusions.  The Texicans fought from the walls and then fell back into the convent, chapel and Long Barracks or held out in rooms along the walls.  As Santa Anna's men flooded in some defenders tried to escape in the pre-dawn and were killed by cavalry in the open.  Mexican gunners turned unspiked cannons on the Long Barracks.  Bowie was killed in his room.  The last place to fall was the chapel where Bonham and Dickenson held out with the women and children.  Cannon breached the door and the chapel fell.

  Santa Anna tried to enter the fortress at 9:00 but was driven out by riflefire.  He later gave a speech to the victorious troops from an elevated battery in one end of the plaza.

At least one cat was shot by Mexican troops.

  Susanna Dickenson and her child survived with other women and Travis' slave Joe.  The captured Mexican soldier Brigido Guerro lived.  Some captured Texicans seem to have been executed.  At least one man was credited with escaping.

Update:  Mexican army counts 180 defenders dead.

Update II:  Bowie's nurse Madame Candaleria is among the survivors.

Update III: As the most famous National figure at the battle, Crockett is reported dead in front of the Chapel, at a post on the West Wall, captured and executed, escaped, fallen in the Chapel with the last of the defenders.  Santa Ana has three different people confirm the bodies of Crockett, Travis and Bowie.
Update IV: A defender is found hiding under the river bridge by a woman washing clothes.  He is shot.  Another report has a man named Warner as the last survior.  No "Warner" on any list of defenders.  One of those things.

Update V:  Survivors are questioned by Santa Anna at the Musquiz house in town.  The women are given blankets and two Mexican silver dollars and set free.  Susana Dickinson and Joe ride mules out the Gonzalez road.

Update VI:  Esparza falls in the Chapel during the last fighting.  His brother-in-law, a Mexican officer, brings out his wife and children and recovers his body for burial in the family plot.

Update VII: Last night was a full Moon over cloud cover.  Haley's Comet visible throughout the battle.

Daily Deercam: Little Bucks.

Still got antlers on their heads.  About time to be dropping.

This is what happened to the last corn.

Nice little cautious doe with a shadow.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 12: A Line and a Tree.

They ain't coming. Bonham rode in two days ago with the news. We can quit straining our eyes for news to the Southwest. Every post is talking it over. Nobody understands why they aren't coming and the little knots of men are trying to decide what to do. Stay or try to get out.

I've noticed fellows going down to the pen to look at their horse and gear. Maybe we will all make a run for it. Galls everyone, for true. I'd like to hear a good reason, one of these days, for leaving us down here.

Word spreads that Travis wants to talk to the fort at dusk. We leave a man at each post and walk down the end of the Long Barracks near the chapel to an area that the Mexican cannons don't reach.

We've never been all together in one place before. The Greys and the Tennesseans. The fresh bunch from Gonzales scattered around. The locals from town. Teague and King and the Parson. Crockett. Travis. The Chapel bunch and the top of the Long Barracks boys. Bowie wrapped in a blanket in a chair with the Brujita Candaleria behind him. Dickinson. Bonham. Archer. Milsap. Everyone has his rifle. Lots of handshaking and talk.

Gives you a little shiver. I'm proud to stand among these rough armed folk. They came up here with flags a-waving but so far, we've turned them back.

We crowd a little closer and Travis lays it out. Fannin isn't coming. He doesn't know why. That doesn't mean nobody is coming and we can expect some to trickle in. He has sent word out and gotten word in reply, expects to send and hear more. Nobody has to stay. He knows we have families and duties. Thought we would all be home by now. He's staying but that's just for him. No dishonor in leaving and there will be another time to fight. Doesn't think the Mexicans will spend what it takes to root us out but they might. He knows everyone has had time to talk it over and now we need to know. He's short and to the point. Before I realize he takes out his sword and draws a line in front of us.

There's just a quiet moment and then we realize he's waiting. His linen shirt glows in the dark. Shining sword in his hand.

Crockett walks over first without speaking. Some of his boys a step behind. I hear someone say "come on, Bull," and the Greys all cross. Quiet, just a crunch and a squeak. I see the Parson's tall hat.

From our wall we face into town across the river but to the far North there's a treeline that has been picking up a trace of green. An old pear up there has bloomed out white the last few days and I've been thinking about walking past that white tree into the grey woods. I believe I could get to that white pear a little past two on a quiet night and be gone as smoke before the sun came up. Maybe with a few others. Tie some rags on the horse's feet. Shoot and scatter if they raised an alarm.

But instead King and I shift our rifles and walk over. In a minute it's settled. Only Bowie and Candeleria and one other shadow standing back. Moses Rose.

Bowie sits. It's dead silent until he says plainly, "how about a hand here?" and three men rush over to pick his chair up and carry it across as we make a space. Candelaria brushes past me, anger coming off her like a hot stove. I get a chill and a picture: "she'll outlive us all."

Moses Rose. We're all standing looking. He doesn't move. "I've had enough, boys." he says. Nobody speaks until Crockett: "I'll scalp yours Mose."

And just like that it was decided. Men walk back toward their posts. Everyone seems happier and at ease. King and I tread back to our hole with young Kellogg ahead. Teague says, "how about a bite of that cold beef?"

  Santa Anna at age 35

  Based on the information given by the women the decision is made.  The attack will come in the early morning hours tomorrow March 6.  The weather has abated.  It's about 50 degrees.  There is a cloud cover with a full moon on top of it.

  The batteries are ordered to step up their rate of fire.  It's possible that the La Villita battery is merged into the East side Potero street guns.  The batteries have fired for several days to keep the defenders awake.

  The attack will be made in the early morning hours before dawn.  The assault will be split into four columns of about 1000 men each.  1500 will attack from the north making the total 4500. 

 General (Ramirez y) Sesma is either ill or declines and the attack from the town side will be lead by the British adviser Col. Adrian Woll.  Ladders, crowbars and axes are distributed.  Mexican units stood down at twilight.  The soldiers will be marched out and in place by 5:00am.  The commanders will enforce noise discipline during the march.

  The Mexican General staff rides around the fort for one more look at the ground.

  It's Friday, March 5, 1836.

  The garrison received one courier.  No help was coming.  There seemed to have been discussion about surrendering or escaping.  Travis assembled the men and gave a speech outlining the situation.  Several accounts have him drawing a line in the sand with his sword and asking those who will stay to cross over.  Everyone except Bowie, who is on his cot, and Moses Rose cross.  Bowie asks to be carried across the line.  Rose decides to take his chances over the wall after dark.

  Travis writes until nearly midnight and sends a last set of dispatches and letters with 16-year old Jim Allen, riding bareback.

Update:  Moses Rose has picked a good time.  As the Mexican units stand down and go to bed early the town seems empty.  Rose walks out along the dark river.

Update II:  Bowie and Crockett talk privately for a long time after Travis speaks.

Update III:  Tapley Holland, a 26-year old man from Grimes County was the first to cross the sword line.  My maternal Grandmothers maiden name was Holland.  My brother's name was Holland Irwin Langham, from an old family name.  My daughters middle name is Holland.  Tapley Holland is an artilleryist, one of six children in a family who came as a settler in Austin's "Old Three Hundred."  This is our relative.

Update IV:  At twilight the artillery fire dwindles, then ceases.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 11: Encirclement

  On the first day the Mexicans set a battery in town just North of Potero Street.  On day three they set one in La Villita (South) to support that day's attack.  Day four found guns placed across the river to the North and on day five they brought the North guns across the river and began to work them closer.  By day eleven they had moved all the cannon in to cover the attack routes or block escape routes.  The North battery had been moved down the now dry ditch to within 200 yards of the North Wall.  The defenders repaired the wall continuously, ramping up earth behind it and piecing together the wood face over the crumbling adobe.  The Mexican 12 pounders were still on the road South but every battery had been replaced and strengthened. 

  The engineers could only work at night.  In daylight Texicans shot anyone visible.

  Santa Anna called a conference of his officers and staff at his headquarters in the Yturri house on the plaza to talk about an assault.  Some argued for waiting until bigger guns arrived to destroy the Alamo walls.  More battalions were just a few days march away.  By Monday all would be on hand.  The staff debated while Santa Anna listened.  There was worry about Texican reinforcements and the anticipation of a major moral boost by what was thought would be an easy victory.  Santa Anna seemed to favor an early attack.  There is some concern that the Texicans might surrender without fighting and a dramatic military action lost.
  It was re-affirmed that there would be no prisoners taken.

Overall plan is for a very rare attack beginning before dawn. Light conditions will improve but it means logistical nightmares of moving and placing troops into position in darkness.

  The Texians were still hopeful of relief.  If the Gonzalez party could get through, so could other promised help.  A letter pledging men from the various colonies and couriers were still circulating.

  Two Bexar women left the Alamo and gave the Mexican army a report on the conditions and placements of the defenders.  The crucial information seemed to be an actual count of the numbers of the defenders.  This information seems to have moved the attack up at least 48 hours.  Travis says he has 145 men in a letter.  Other counts put the number closer to 180.  Some have it as high as 250.  He needs twice that to man the cannon and to defend the walls. 

  Tactically, defenders always have an advantage over attackers.  Even if the walls are heaps of rubble it will take an overwhelming number to push an attack through to success.  The Mexicans have those numbers.  The question is if they will spend them.  The report of the Texican numbers by the two women seem to push the decision toward attack.

  It's Friday, March 4, 1836.

Update:  The official list has 212 defenders.  Not enough.

Daily Deercam.

Couple of nice little kitties.

Very impressive cat.

Pig on cam.  My wandering boar.  The bottom had forage signs from a large group that must be in the area.  Beaver dammed the creek inside the creek gorge in a couple of places.  Just like old times, only this time I'm going to let the other landowners handle it.  I've kept them out for about the last 30 years.

Big healthy doe running through the woods.  She must be the second in line and the first one tripped the cam.  Nice looking deer.
Firestone with a thumb-sized dimple for using drill to make fire.  With assorted flint chips.  No pottery anywhere that I saw.

Doesn't look like much but was one pig-dig out among many.  Lotta sign.  Rooting, digging.

Beaver dam down in the gorge.  I wondered why the water was still high at the crossing, then noticed a fresh-cut branch.

Lucy, hunting turtles.

Indian Ball.  I'm sure that in a lith society they were rockhounds par excellence.  Probably a pick up.  Iron geode.

Lu at Whataburger.