Sunday, July 13, 2008

A deadly skirmish at Greenbrier Maryland

What follows is a fictional piece of writing from Toy Soldiers Forever!

Greenbrier Maryland was once nestled  on the western shoulder of South Mountain overlooking early Boonsboro.  Although no longer an incorporated town (absorbed in the 1920s by San Mar MD), Greenbrier in the 1860s was a tiny farming settlement at the junction of Greenbrier and Mountain Laurel Roads.  Though diminutive, Greenbrier was a prosperous settlement, known for its fat hogs, generous farmers, and delectible watermelons.

Greenbrier crossroads in idyllic peace and agricultural abundance.

A hog drover prods his porcine procession past the tiny blacksmith jobber's shop toward the intersection with Mountain Laurel Road.

Farmer Farhney pragmatically sets out toward nearby Boonsboro in hope of securing a young bride from the charitable home for fallen angels.  Unbeknownst to farmer Farhney a clash of arms is soon to threaten his life of predicable delusion.

The machinations of Mars are visited upon this bucolic bower.
The tiny village had very few brushes with the with the disturbances related to the American Civil War, most notably  during Lee's 1862 Maryland campaign when the town changed hands twice.  The first time when rebels retreating from the Battle of South Mountain paused long enough to denude a watermelon patch only to encounter Pennslyvania troops at the opposite end with similar designs.  Although the Yankees emerged victorious, Union General Nagle misplaced his Mexican War era sword somewhere in the vicinity, reported by more than one wag as last being seen lodged deep within a ripe melon.  It is a matter of note that a statute honoring said swordless general stands today at the Antietam Battlefield.  Noble Nagle sans blade, perhaps pondering a bygone melon patch.

The second encounter was in July of 1863 during Lee's fighting retreat from Gettysburg.  A freebooting Confederate battery, acting without orders, strayed from the main Williamsport-bound rebel columns and struck toward Greenbrier owing to recurrent and reliable reports of that aforementioned melon patch.

Upon arrival in tiny Greenbrier, the rebels found themselves enjoying two feasts that day.  The first involved their ill-gotten bounty of melons, and the second was precipitated by he arrival of an understrength regiment of Indiana infantrymen,  marching straight into range of the masked Confederate battery.  The foraging Federals found themselves blissfully ignorant of the threat that lay just east of the little crossroads village of Greenbrier.  

Unit cohesion in this Federal unit was not good owing to the men coming from a wide variety of Indiana Counties including: Marx, Imex, Italeri, and the very backward Americana County. Many of these men were so-called "recasts" soldier slang for slovenly in appearance and unsoldierly in conduct.  Despite the best intentions of their veteran noncoms this polyglot assemblage was about to come off tragically the worse for wear upon their first meeting with the storied "elephant".

Here then, in images, is in all of its terrible detail, a thrilling recapitulation of that brief but vicious action.   The faint of heart may well wish to avert their eyes as well as those of the curious young.

The rookie Hoosiers approach Greenbrier crossroads from the west, in suspicion of nary the least of difficulties. Owing to their  pronounced paucity of experience as well as their convivial complacency at being in known friendly territory they have posted neither skirmishers nor have they reconnoitered the road ahead.  All to their bitter detriment as we shall soon behold.

Lying in wait outside of the village is that peripatetic battery of rebel guns gleeful of the opportune target with which fate has gifted them.  Here a stalwart Conte gunner mans the recently reviewed BMC/Americana Parrot gun.  Typical of the aloof and always professional Conte batteryman, he devotes his attentions solely toward the enemy, leaving ridicule of the poorly cast nature of his comrade in arms to those less genteel and more jocose in such matters.

Only a few more yards and the unsuspecting and drowsing hoosiers will be awakened with the alarm that is cannister.

A passing crow, not indifferent to the impending outcome (for obvious reasons of great indelicacy) achieves this telling view of the building situation.

Gray gunners wait with bated breath, their mixed battery loaded and ready.  The imported and untried Whitworth pencil sharpener gun at the battery's left (the viewer's right) is slightly sub scale and not favored by this particular battery, owing to its propensity to be dragooned for clerical duties with the headquarters company.

The battle is joined

Intrepid rebel gunner's take a calculated risk.  Knowing that their opening volley will unmask their position the order is called for case shot at a mere 300 yards, the fuses being cut at scarcely the half second mark.  The risk to the gunners is near as great as that to the targeted victims.

Oh happy day for the gray-clad gunners as the deadly case explodes directly above the advancing Unionists.   Casualties and calamity combine with cacaphony.  The ball has opened!

Confederate gun detatchments keep it hot as the forces of nullification quickly ram home double cannister in all four guns in expectation of the inevitable...

 counter attack by the forces of emancipation and Union!

Those Lincolnists who have regained their composure and professional elan quickly follow a gallant major who leads a forlorn attempt to capture the rebel guns in the lenghtening evening shadows .

Despite this momentary rally among the neophyte Federals, they are no match for the double cannister rounds launched at point blank range, by the skilled and sagacious southrons.

More than one northern family will be familiar with the strains of "The Vacant Chair" before merciful darkness brings this carnage to an end.

The last that was seen of the gallant major was as he vanished , with his men in an angry cloud of Confederate smoke.

With the breaking of this forlorn hope the few survivors among these green Hoosiers took to their heels, managing to avoid the disgrace of losing their colors.  They beat a hasty retreat as an all-concealing darkness fell.

Greenbrier Maryland: the butcher's bill
During the night the detatched Confederate battery limbered up and discreetly rejoined their main column as it crossed back into Virginia with the rest of Lee's retreating columns.  And as the sun rose the following morning the crossroads of Greenbrier were littered with the dead and the piteous dying.  
Wounded men, aided by the few able-bodied Hoosiers that remained behind sought shelter within and around the Keedy home, soon to be both field hospital and impromptu mortuary.

Army amublances transported the wounded to establshed aid facilities as the less injured sought shade and recounted the tales of their survival.

Surgeons toiled for three days as the heaps of limbs grew higher by the hour while the hopes of distant families grew fainter with each of those passing hours.

Many of these survivors have seen their last battle, others will have future opportunities to further the glorious cause as members of the Veteran Reserve Corps, scarred, perhaps in body, though not in their patriotic zeal for the Union.

Huzzah for our heros!

Greenbrier Maryland today
Hiking in the area of the former battlefield, and settlement of Greenbrier, one can scarcely realize the magnitude of events that touched this forgotten crossroads on that July day 145 years ago.

Only two structures remain, both long abandoned and caving in.  These decaying buildings, an old foundation and some tumble-down stone walls are all that's left of this once prosperous little farming crossroads.  

This house is believed to be that of farmer Farhney, the optimist in search of a bride so long ago.  The other structure is reputed to be the last remaining outbuilding of the old Keedy place.

The land is now part of Maryland's Conococheague  Mountain State recreation area, closed to metal detectors, ghost hunters, and other such juvenile thrill seekers.  To this day the location of the battlesite itself remains one of the most closely guarded secrets held by the residents of this very friendly though tight-lipped region.  So don't even bother looking.

And remember, you didn't hear any of this from me.

Keep on playing!



festus said...

Red Cross markings on stateside ambulances in 1863 are very prophetic.
Clara Barton learned about the Red Cross in 1869, iirc the first, pretty much unrecognized publications were in 1873.
while probably umarked at all, some rod of asklepios might be a more period marking (maybe a yellow flag, even more maybe with a upper case letter H)

Mannie Gentile said...


I can always count on you for cogent comments.


What you mention, I'm quite aware of, and I thank you for the comment, but with these little battles I'm going way less for authenticity and more for the simple charm of the "out-of-the-box" nature of the soldiers and equipment that we all grew up with.

Thanks for stopping by, please continue to comment, and do expect to see lots and lots of similar anomalies!

Very best wishes,


Smoketown Chick said...


I have enjoyed reading your blogs from time to time and your new blog here on Toy Soldiers Forever has piqued my interest. I have been collecting history of Mt. Lena and the general area for some years now. I love the fictional piece that you did on Greenbrier. By the way, the log house you picture actually belonged to my husband's great grandfather, Martin Hoffman.

Thanks for all you do to make CW alive and fun!

Mannie Gentile said...

Smoketown Chick,

I didn't see your great comment 'til just this morning.

And I thought no one would ever put the pieces together!

My wife and I occasionally walk down Greenbrier Road, and are especially intrigued by the house with the witch-flying-a-broom weathervane. That house is straight out of children's literature.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog, perhaps we'll run into each other on the mountain.

Best wishes, Mannie

Cap'n Bob said...

This illustrated history lesson was fantastic. I enjoyed every frame of it.

One minor quibble: It's "bated breath." Unless it smells like worms or shiners, I suppose.