Friday, September 5, 2014
No, I did not run a marathon. Running for fun never struck me as logical. No, what I did was make an attempt to rewrite a 30k word outline into a 50k rough draft in the space of one week. I managed to finish it in five days, hammering out around 15k words yesterday alone. If anyone ever says that writing isn't hard work, they should try matching the feat. I think I might have finally hit my limit. The only possible way to surpass 15,000 words in a single day would be to type all day.
So what did I rewrite? It's one of my many unpublished science fantasy stories. It is a fantasy world with a Wild West theme. I'm not one for the whole medieval cliche that saturates the genre. The closest I have to that is a story taking place in a fantasy world with a Crusader theme. Anyway, what I finished is still in need of some heavy polish before it's anywhere near publish worthy. Who knows how many years will pass before it sees the light of a data slate.
So what did I rewrite? It's one of my many unpublished science fantasy stories. It is a fantasy world with a Wild West theme. I'm not one for the whole medieval cliche that saturates the genre. The closest I have to that is a story taking place in a fantasy world with a Crusader theme. Anyway, what I finished is still in need of some heavy polish before it's anywhere near publish worthy. Who knows how many years will pass before it sees the light of a data slate.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
The latest installment in the Great War is now out in virtual bookstores. River of Blood covers part of the war between the US and CS on the Tennessee front. One of the things I avoided is the cliche where Kentucky is part of the CSA. Nope, it is still one of the United States.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Friday, March 28, 2014
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
It's not the first time I've used walking plants in my writing. That would be the Myloan Saga, and they only had a brief appearance in the first volume. The Ambulaflora, however, are quite different. I'm working on a little something based off a round of SimEarth. That's right, a civilization built by plants.
Origin of the Carniferns
When xenobiologist and chroniclers of ages long past spoke of little green men, the denizens of the world of Dirt (translation of the native name) were not what came to mind. In all of the explorations of the cosmos and discovery of its wide variety of intelligent life, humanity believed that nothing could surprise it. When contact was established with the Ambulaflora, that belief was shattered. They were not mammalian or reptilian, bird or fish, they were not even animals. The planet Dirt was in fact populated by a civilization of intelligent plants.
To understand the Ambulaflora one must trace its evolutionary path. Four hundred million years ago, in the region the natives call Archon; a massive salt swamp spanned the coast. The land was recently fertile wetlands, but the splitting of Neustria from Centrasia along a rift that created the Saline Sea. The flooding of the wet lands with salt water created less-than-ideal conditions for plants. Most species died out. Some species adapted to the nutrient-poor conditions by filtering the salt, while others tried to dig deep.
One unlike family adapted by taking their nutrients from the animals that fed upon them. The first carniferns appeared shortly after the flooding of the Archon Swamp. They were simple plants, like those found on Earth and other worlds. Fossils of pitcher plants and fly traps appeared perfectly preserved in a three hundred ninety million year old layer of sediment. As conditions in the land worsened, carniferns began to outcompete the other species of plants and take over the salt marsh, turning prehistoric Archon into a land of flesh-eating plants.
The Eyes Have It
For nearly two hundred million years, carniferns changed little. They adapted and improved their methods of feeding. A few families took to actively capturing nearby arthropods. Most early attempts failed for the carniferns lacked a means to track their prey. A few genera developed sensitive roots near the surface, similar to a spider’s web.
Two hundred twenty million years ago that all changed. Not much is known for the earliest examples of Visioherba come from fragmented fossils. The first of the plants used adapted cells to detect variations in the local light. This aided the plants in finding more advantageous locations to turn their leaves to more efficiently collect sunlight. It also allowed them to “see” passing arthropods.
Flexible branches lined with sticky saps and hairs would shoot out to grab the passing pray and drag it back to the carnifern’s “stomach”. These stomachs were pits of acidic liquid that first killed the prey, to prevent damage to the plant, and later to break them down into proteins and amino acids.
The eyes also allowed carniferns to see each other and for one species to identify another of its kind. Once detected, the carniferns would turn their flowers towards each other and excrete pheromones to attract pollinating insects. These pollinators were differentiated from prey species by the rudimentary nervous system of the Visioherba. As their vision improved over millions of years, carniferns began to develop “brains” in order to keep track of their environment and to know friend from foe.
When the Going Gets Tough—
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going—to where the going is easier.” This axiom applies to life on all worlds. Carniferns were confined to Archon for hundreds of millions of years. As the swamp dried out and reformed in countless climatic cycles, the unique plants struggled to adapt. One of the biggest limitations on carniferns was their sedentary existence. A species could only spread as far and as fast as its seeds.
One hundred forty-nine years ago, the Archon Swamp returned after a two million year absence and it returned with a vengeance. Many species were wiped out by flooding from the oceans. Those that survived did so because their roots were hardened against salt. The extreme moisture of the 149-142 MYA created a soil that was part silt part water. So loose was it that roots were able to move through it.
Mutations traced back one hundred forty-five million years indicate that around this time the first Tranieferns (pronounced Tra-naye-ferns) appeared. These early transient plants “moved” by having their roots grow away from the saltiest water. When they grew, they drug the rest of their bodies through the soupy mud. This mobility not only allowed the Tranieferns to escape the worst conditions but it also opened up their ranges. As plants moved, they dropped seeds, greatly expanding the species’ habitat.
As the climate in Archon dried, Tranieferns began to flee dryness in search of water. To protect against dehydration, a layer of bark-like skin insolated the roots. As the roots grew stronger, the distances traversed by the genera of Tranieferns greatly increased. All the prevented their spread around the world were large tracks of desert. Over the space of forty million years the web of roots gradually reduced into a smaller number of hardened spider-like legs. The fully mobile Tranieferns traversed the ground at speeds reaching fifty meters an hour; a speed their rooted ancestors could only dream of.
The next step in carnifern evolution occurred one hundred million years ago. Throughout carnifern natural history, the plants used pheromones to attract pollinators and warn others of danger. As intelligence increased, so did the sophistication of the chemical communication. Unlike so many animal species encountered across the galaxy, plants lack the lungs, vocal apparatus and mouths to make complex sounds.
Their already existing pheromone communication developed more complex molecules to transmit various meanings. One molecule would indicate danger while another might indicate a source of water. Despite their total mobility by the time their “speech” developed, plants still required water. Their legs retained millions of root filaments for drawing water into their bodies. Additional water could be drawn from prey when standing water was sparse.
When the first plant-analog of animal calls occurred is uncertain. The earliest fossil evidence of the organs that generate various pheromones dates back sixty-seven million years. These fossils were of reasonably developed organs, indicating that earlier carniferns possessed the ability to communicate earlier. However, no fossilized remains of the organ are dated back more than ninety-eight million years.
Pollen in the Wind
Climatic shifts seventy-five million years ago created a wetter environment across the continent of Centrasia. In the space of ten million years, carniferns migrated out of Archon and spread across the land. With no other predatory plants on the planet, the carniferns quickly filled various niches. A few managed to cross the Saline Sea at its narrowest and took root on the western continent of Neustria, spreading across the continent in the trail of insects.
To the east, a narrow land bridge connected Centrasia with Austrasia. Carnifern colonization of the eastern continent met with several obstacles, namely the trichordates. Trichordates evolved from meat-eating echinoderms. Once on land, many trichordates adapted to a plant diet. When they two phylum collided, the trichordates began to eat the carniferns. Predatory ones fed upon the arthropods that carniferns depended on.
The spread of carniferns across the planet offered a vast range of diversification as new environment appeared during the millions of years leading up to the Archon Era. Some carniferns grew as large as trees while others grew quicker. In the birthplace of the carniferns, some species began to grow smarter.
The next great evolutionary breakthrough in carniferns occurred around twenty million years ago. As pheromone communication grew more and more sophisticated, individual plants stopped behaving as individuals. The scents transmitted between individual plants within the same species began to take on a similar form as signals between individual neurons. An individual carnifern could do or think little, but a group of them behaved more like a super-organism. The larger the group, the more complex the actions.
For the most part, carnifern species proved to be smarter than their prey. Considering their prey ranged from grasshoppers to flies, that is not as impressive as it might seem. In the swamps of Archon, one genus of carnifern developed larger nervous systems as well as more complex scents. Numbers in at least hundreds, colonies of the genus Venatiherba began to manipulate their environment in favorable ways.
Early stone tools date back five million years to the dawn of the Archon Era. The Venatiherba did not make tools the way early humans made them. Instead, they used stones and other materials present in their environment. The use of tools did not provide immediate advantages to the Venatiherba against other carniferns. All carniferns fed by luring prey to them and ensnaring them with their sticking appendages.
The first use for stone tools was not in butchering prey or chopping down trees, but rather in digging. While no evidence exists for the reason the Venatiherba developed this habit, a logical reason was that one of the many eyes in the colony noticed arthropods burrowing in the ground. Instead of waiting for the prey to come to them, these carniferns took a proactive approach. In short, the plants began to actively hunt down their prey.
The use of flat stones gave the Venatiherba greater resources. As the colonies grew larger and larger, taking up much of Archon, they began to split into smaller units and move away from their birth place. Stone tools gave the Venatiherba greater access to food in a range of environments, allowing the genus to crowd out entire genera and families of carniferns across Centrasia. Neustria, separated by a large sea never had any populations of Venatiherba. In the east, after five to six hundred thousand years of expansion, the Venatiherba cross a temporary land bridge to Austrasia.
Stone tools could also be used as stone weapons. These weapons aided the small colonies of Venatiherba in Austrasia to fight off trichordates. Carniferns were never fast creatures, and only the slowness of most trichordates allowed the used of weapons to give the new carniferns an edge. Within a hundred thousand years of crossing the land bridge Venatiherba pushed most other carniferns in Austrasia into extinction.
The first Ambulaflora appeared in the Archon three millions years ago. Several anatomical and behavioral differences set them apart from Venatiherba. Ambulaflora habilis stood at one meter in height, and like its ancestors they had hexilateral symmetry. Since they evolved from tool users, A. habilis’s limbs grew stronger and more dexterous. The sticky filaments for catching prey became less sticky to allow the plants to drop tools.
Along with using stones as simple tools, A. habilis began to craft the stones into useful shapes. A flat rock they would chip away its edges until sharp. The sharper the edges, the easier the dirt came loose and prey were captured. Along with arthropods and other invertebrate small enough to grasp, A. habilis began to hunt down larger prey as the species expanded from modern day Archon and Syrixa to the north. Insects large enough to feed upon carniferns soon found themselves prey.
When brought down, the large bugs were dismembered and the pieces distributed throughout the colony. A. habilis hunts were simple and brutal affairs. Being plants, they could never hope to outrun an animal. Instead, they would lay in ambush as one of their numbers acted as bait. When the plant-eating insect tried to eat the bait, the rest of the colony would latch on to the prey with free limbs while the limbs carrying hand axes would smash the exoskeleton and mortally wound the prey.
A. habilis spread north along the western coast, circumventing the growing Gelleon Desert. Within half a million years, the species ranged from Archon to the south, along the west and north coast as far as the strait between Centrasia and Austrasia. As with other species of carniferns, the spreading of the species over generations was more of chance. Flowers sprouting on the branches that serve as arms, cast their seeds across the landscape from large pods. In the driest land, the seeds never germinate.
When they do sprout, their early life is sedentary and filled with danger. At this stage they are most vulnerable to grazing arthropods. Noxious smells and stinging filaments used for subduing prey did not always discourage predation. To compensate for the loss, a single nomadic A. habilis could cast as many as one million seeds during their lives. Through sheer numbers a handful will always survive to adulthood.
Ambulaflora, though they are capable of learning new skills, began their lives with only instincts to manipulate objects as a guide. Until true communities developed, Ambulaflora “culture” would be little more than a series of genetic commands.
Diversity through Desertification
The periodic shift between wet and dry moved towards dry two million years ago. The Gelleon Plains again transformed into desert, splitting A. habilis into three distinct populations. To the west, along the Illyium Coast in modern day Lilei, A. lilei made its appearance. This new species proved more drought resistant than the A. habilis trapped in the south. As the desert spread southward, A. habilis found itself confined to smaller and smaller spaces. Where the desert moved, A. lilei followed. Within two hundred thousand years, A. habilis was extinct and A. lilei ruled the western coast of Centrasia.
Further east, Ambulaflora encountered an environment familiar to its ancestors. Like the deserts, the Cerael Marshes expanded and contracted with the change of climate. In times of prolonged drought the marshes grew saltier. A. gelleus adapted to these conditions. However, the marshy ground did not provide the easy access to food as in other regions. A. gelleus sought new sources of food. With their hand axes, they began to break into fallen trees and feeding upon the Dirt’s equivalent of grubs and termites.
A variety of food sources presented itself in the marsh, but in different locations. Instead of all plants in a colony digging, A. gelleus organized itself into various shifts. One shift in the colony would attack fallen trees while another climbed living trees in search of food. A third shift, as shown by the fossilized content of one A. gelleus “stomach” even took to the water in search of aquatic arthropods. A. gelleus spread westward, hugging the coast of Centrasia until a wetter climate returned.
Battle for the Planet of the Plants
In the last year of the Archon Era, Centrasia was again divided between three species of Ambulaflora. Dominating the western third of the continent, A. illyius was the descendant of A. lilei A. illyius proved very adapted to dry climate. In fact, it was too adapted to an arid landscape, an adaptation limiting the range of the species. Their bodies proved less adept in wetter conditions. One of the traits of the species was their ability to dig for water. This was not the cistern-building culture that rose during the Ralae Era. There was no design for catching rain water. Their digging was strictly for natural occurring sources.
A. aridae, descendants from A. gelleus discovered near the city of Aridae, thrived when grassland returned to the Gelleon Plains, cover much of the remainder of the continent, save the Cerael Marshes of the shrunken Nufia Desert. The wetter savanna was not necessarily a safer place to live. Large locust-like insects roamed the plains, devouring anything in their path including a variety of species of lesser carniferns. A. aridae turned the table on the large arthropods, hunting them as often as the locust hunted the A. aridae.
Confined to the salty swamps to the east, A. sapiens made its appearance for the first time. Its early evolutionary history is not the different from its relatives. A. sapiens evolved from A. gelleus confined in the marshy lands. Shifting land masses provided a far more seasonal climate in the swamps. During the height of the wet season the land was flooded from rivers and sea. During the dry, waters receded turning the lands to baked earth. This species of Ambulaflora developed methods of storing the water during the dry season, both in their bodies as well as in shallow pits protected from the sun.
As their numbers grew, colonies of A. sapiens spread west along the northern coast into the Gelleon Plains. The savanna suffered from seasonal affects as well, with short wet seasons followed by long dry seasons. In times of extreme drought, A. aridae declined in numbers. In times of extreme drought, A. sapiens tapped their bodily stores of water, giving them the edge in the numbers game. A. sapiens adopted many of the hunting techniques of A. aridae, including big game hunting.
As A. sapiens expanded, A. aridae began to decline sharply in numbers. The end of A. aridae came with the desert expanding once again. That alone they could have weathered. However, A. aridae specialized in big game. When the game began to die from lack of food, A. aridae followed. A. sapiens, with its wider range of food, held on to life, hunting big game when it returned after the drought.
Ways of Life
The Ralae Era, named for an Ambulaflora paleontologist, is marked by the splitting of A. sapiens into separate cultures. The Nufia Desert expanded and contracted often in the past twenty million years, driving carnifern evolution in the region. In the early Ralae, instead of dying out like other species, the A. sapiens adapted their surroundings to suit them. The Nufia Culture is best known for the remains of cisterns scattered across the desert. At first glance, these pits appear scattered randomly. At the time of construction, these cisterns were dug near ancient seasonal rivers.
During the dry season, the rivers often dried out with only a subterranean flow remaining. The Nufia Culture not only dug cisterns near the underground rivers, they also dug out channels linking the rivers during the high flow of the Wet Season to their pits. Pits in the Early Ralae were small and scattered over wide areas, indicating the Nufia Culture retained its nomadic existence. Colonies marked out their cisterns and guarded them fiercely against rival colonies. From these struggles, some of the earliest Ambulaflora weaponry arose.
The earliest weapons were nothing more than clubs lined with sharp stones. When hit, the blades would slice through “flesh” and sever branches from the body. Not being animals, Ambulaflora and other carnifern species can take a high amount of damage. Wounds such as torn open stomach sacks, a mortal wound in an animal, did not automatically kill the plant. The loss of precious fluid in the desert killed more of the Nufia Culture than actual trauma.
Not only were wars waged over cisterns, but the Nufia Culture fought them over colonies of pollinating insects. Why exactly this began is not clear. Most likely one colony eventually decided if a rival could not reproduce then they would no longer be a threat. The more successful colonies either wiped out their weaker opponents or drove them out of the desert altogether.
Further north, the A. sapiens of the North Plains Culture retained techniques for hunting big game. Though not totally dependent on big games as other species of Ambulaflora, the North Plains Culture stagnated early. Their range was not dependent upon water or pollination but on the range of their prey, the giant locusts. Some of these beasts, thanks to the oxygen rich atmosphere of Dirt, grew to the size of sheep.
Further east, the A. sapiens remaining in the marshy lands developed the early Salt Marsh Culture. They were so at home in salt water than several colonies managed to cross the straight to Austrasia. As with other species crossing over, their range remained limited due to trichordates. Stone weapons aided the Salt Marsh Culture’s survival. Trichordates were not only hostile but of little use to Ambulaflora. Carniferns lacked strong enough acids in their stomachs to break down trichordate flesh. In order to break them down, the acids would need to be so strong as to dissolve the carnifern’s stomach.
By the Middle Ralae Era, the Nufia Culture gave way to the Pit Diggers. The Pit Diggers were the first sedentary society in Ambulaflora history. They built cisterns and stayed in the area. As time passed and the local climate became understood, Pit Diggers expanded their small cisterns into a complex network of channels, cisterns and wells. The surplus in water allowed the Pit Diggers to build the first gardens.
Ambulaflora gardens have a dual purpose. Throughout the evolutionary history of carniferns, after flowers were pollinated the seeds were cast off on the move. The seedlings were left to their own devices. Most never germinated and those that did seldom grew into adults. The stores of water allowed the Pit Diggers to construct specialized garden for their seeds. With sprouts now in the care of the adults, a true culture began. Techniques for construction were no longer inherited through genes. Instead, the sprouts could learn from the adults and apply change when room for improvement was discovered.
Plants were not nomadic solely for water. Their ranges and habits depended upon pollinating insects. The second function of gardens was the cultivation of these pollinators. The Dirt equivalent of honey bees were believed to be domesticated during this time. The pollinators provided a vital service to the Pit Diggers’ survival, and in turn the Pit Diggers provided water and protection to the pollinators.
With a majority of seed germinating and surviving, the population of the Pit Diggers exploded. Their numbers spilled over into every corner of Centrasia. The first of their neighbors to fall victim were the A. sapiens of the Plains Culture. Pit Diggers swept aside many of the large insects as they constructed new gardens and cisterns in their old ranges. A number of large insects were driven into extinction.
To the west, the Pit Diggers overwhelmed the last holdouts of A. illyius. The more primitive Ambulaflora stood little chance in competing with their more intelligent and better organized cousins. To the east, the Salt Marsh Culture managed to hold its own. By the Mid-Ralae, the Salt Marsh developed domestication of a different kind. Instead of pollinators, which were plentiful and in a number of different families and genera, the Salt Marsh took to domesticating arachnids.
They favored spiders above all, but not just any spiders. A number of orb spiders called the marshes home. The Salt Marsh selected the spiders that produced the largest webs. After the spider few once, one of the A. sapiens would remove the spider from a web and move it to a new tree, where a new web would be spun. The previous web the Salt Marsh used to trap flying insects during the night.
The end of the Ralae Era saw the Pit Diggers span across the continent and evolve into the Megalithic Culture. The Megaliths were not a people that specialized in one trait. Instead, it combined local specialties with the first network of trade. The wetter climate offered an overabundance in water across much of the land. Much of the waters at unused in wetter areas and in the drier regions. The people of the marshes tried to find a way to transport water. Early consideration for long-range channels ended when the distances were calculated. A channel hundreds of kilometers would have to be dug, and through mountains to reach the drier areas.
Instead, these people of the marshes, called Silk Weavers, began molding vessels from the abundance clays in their habitat. Unfortunately, they lacked the ability to turn the clay to stone. The Monument Builders of the desert had no such problem. They sunbaked vessels and traded them to the Silk Weavers for their other main product. Silks used for hunting were discovered to be very strong. The Silk Weavers began to breed spiders that produced large quantities of silk. The silk not used for hunting the Silk Weavers spun into strong rope that allowed Ambulaflora to lift and haul heavier loads.
In the range that once belonged to the Plains Culture, Megalithic Cicada Tamers rounded up the remaining mega-insects. The appetite of their livestock forced the Cicada Tamers to live at least a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving on when the cicada exhausted their local food supply. Cicada Tamers raised their livestock from eggs, through larvae stage and into adulthood. When the livestock reached its full size, the Tamers butchered and preserved them, trading them with other regions of the Megalithic “empire”. Silk from the Silk Weavers not only served as rope but the smaller strands were woven into baskets and preservation cocoons for shipping meat over long distances.
Not all cicada were butchered. The largest of the beasts the Cicada Tamers kept alive not only for breeding purposes but also as beasts of burden. A sheep-sized cicada could carry as much as ten of the meter-tall Ambulaflora. To the west and south of the Cicada Tamers lived the Grass Farmers. Ambulaflora are carnivorous and incapable of digesting plant matter. The grass grown were not for the farmers but served as fodder for livestock. The animals raised by Grass Farmers were smaller than the giant cicadas, but as the Grass Farmers expanded to greener pastures, they took to raising cicadas on ranches instead of as nomadic herdsmen.
They traded their grasses to the Cicada Tamers for use as fodder and for building material. The sturdier species of grass made for excellent sleighs. It was the Dirter equivalent of bamboo. Bamboo made it as far as the Silk Weavers, who used the material to construct rafts. Ambulaflora could float but their goods could not. Using these rafts, they discovered it was far easier to transport goods over long distances. During the skirmishes over the best spider territory, losers were driven out by the victors and took to the water in search of new land, some making it as far as the marshes of western Austrasia.
Grasses from the west, cicada from the north and silks from the east all ended up in the heart of the Megalithic Culture, the land of monument builders. Gone were the simple cisterns of old. In their place, the Monument Builders constructed huge monuments at their cisterns and gardens, announcing to all which colony ruled the land. These monuments served additional functions. Some where calendars, marking when the rains were expected to return and when the rivers would flow the lowest. They were also used against the back drop of stars at night to keep track of the year.
With the influx of goods, additional pits were constructed to store meat, silks and other goods. The monuments served as centers of trade across the continent and would give rise to the first true cities. With that we enter recorded history.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
With the crossing of the Tennessee River planned for August 9, Pershing spent August 7 and 8 bombarding Confederate positions across the river. Again he wanted a far longer bombardment but a month of hard fighting greater reduced his stockpile of munitions. The battle became the greatest consumer of American munitions in July 1914, and spent shells and bullets faster than factories could produce them. Pershing attempted to divert rounds from other fronts. His attempts were thwarted by the War Department, which would not ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’.
Pershing brought forward two more divisions of the First Army to Camden; the 9th Infantry and 55th Iowa Guard. The 9th spent much of July in reserve, recuperating losses sustained on the front for the previous three months. The 55th Iowa was recently called up to service. It was the rookie division, with half of its soldiers untested in combat. The rest were survivors of the 37th Iowa, a National Guard Division torn to pieces on the York Peninsula. Its members had mixed reactions from shifting from Canadian winters to Southern summers.
At dawn on August 9, five divisions went over the top and across the river. The crossing of the Tennessee proved far more hazardous than a regular dash through no-man’s land. Samson took the lull in activity from August 1 and August 6 to move artillery pieces into place and fortify them against anticipated bombardment. Civilians in the region were also evacuated, including the entire population of Stuart. Stuart sat on the banks of the Tennessee directly between Camden and the Waverly-Buffalo line. The town was virtually wiped off the map and provided excellent cover for Union soldiers coming ashore.
The prospect of platoons crowding on barges and battalions funneling on to pontoon bridges brought great anxiety to the soldiers. In no-man’s land, there was at least a chance to find cover. On a barge there was none. Should a shell come down on the barge it could wipe out an entire platoon, which happened on a number of occasions on August 9. The pontoon bridges were favorite targets of surviving Confederate machine gun nests, which homed in and fired on a steady stream of advancing soldiers.
Artillery units did their best to sever all of the bridges, work that took a mere five minutes. At 0813, Confederate artillery let up, bringing a much needed reprieve to advancing Union soldiers. The reason of the pause was twofold; 1) Samson wished to conserve his ammunition and 2) The CSS Memphis made its appearance at the crossing. The Confederate river monitor was a near copy of its Union counterpart. Two twin turrets of eight inch guns fired for great effect into masses of Union barges.
Pershing expected the Confederate Navy to play its part and fought with the US Navy Department for a fleet of monitors. Instead, he was sent the USS Decatur and USS Evansville. The two Union monitors spent the morning firing on Confederate fortifications and artillery nests. Both ships turned their turrets on the Memphis once sighted. At 0820, the two Union ships began firing upon the Memphis. At a range of two miles, many of the rounds did indeed hit, unfortunately not at what gunners where aiming.
A number of Union barges fell victim to short rounds, blown apart by their navy. The Navy cursed the soldiers for being in their way as they tried to navigate through the swarm of barges at speeds topping one knot. The Memphis took advantage of the large, slow targets, turning its attention away from soft targets to those two that were genuine threats. At 0823, shells from the Memphis blew open the forward turret of Decatur, knocking the ship out of the fight. Decatur’s captain ordered the ship to turn hard astern, his goal to beach on the west bank of the river before sinking.
The duel between the Evansville and Memphis caught the headlines in newspapers across the country, crowding out articles speaking of thousands of Union casualties crossing the Tennessee. The duel was a short affair, for once free of the Union barges, Evansville was free to maneuver. The duel ended by 0830, with the Memphis sunk and Evansville too heavily damaged to aid in the crossing. Unlike the Decatur, which could still bring one turret into play, Evansville suffered damage to both of its turrets. As soon as the Memphis rolled over, Confederate guns opened up on Evansville, damaging the ship further. At 0833, one Confederate round breached the damaged turret and aft magazine, sending the Union monitor to join its Confederate victim.
The battle was half-over for soldiers once they reached dry ground, where they could again spread out and seek shelter. By sunset, most of the 9th and 14th managed to cross and gain a toe hold on the east bank and fought through the night to keep their holdings. It took until August 12, before the entire force stood on the east bank. Samson sent out company-sized raids against the assembling Union lines with the expressed goal of keeping them disorganized. The nightly raids kept Union soldiers awake and daily artillery bombardment denying them afternoon naps.
By August 15, the seventy thousand Union soldiers trapped on a five mile deep and ten mile long front suffered greatly from fatigue. A push on August 16 met with more casualties than gains and a push the following day failed as miserably. Pershing needed to gain ground, otherwise he would be forced to ferry his men back across the river, with likely the same casualty rates as crossing it cost.
August 21, saw five days of fighting come to an unsatisfactory conclusion when the surviving sixty-five thousand soldiers of the Union crossing slammed into a prepared trench network between the towns of Waverly and Buffalo. The first line of trenches they captured through sheer willpower. Two attempts to breach the second line of trenches failed, costing the lives of three thousand Union and two thousand Confederate soldiers. On August 22, Pershing called a halt to the advance.
The supply situation remained critical as Confederate guns took every opportunity to fire upon the pontoon bridges. A number of trucks carrying ammunition exploded after encountering a Confederate three inch shell, taking a second of the bridge with them. After each explosion, engineers raced to replace the destroyed section of bridge, reopening supply lines as quickly as humanly possible. Despite their efforts, supplies ran dry. On the morning of August 22, supplies were critical for the 61st Ohio. In some cases, companies were down to their last clip of ammunition and out of grenades.
In the month of August, the United States Army advanced no further than ten to twelve miles east of the Tennessee River at the cost of nearly thirty thousand casualties, a third of them fatal. The media and members of Congress began to clamor for Pershing’s replacement, ignoring the advance he gained in the month of July. Similar calls for replacement rang through the Confederate States, with the governor of Tennessee complaining loudest of Sylvester’s ‘indecision’.
Recent advances in Europe offered Pershing a solution. The Germany Army fired a number of rounds into British lines containing tear gas. It was a non-lethal chemical weapon and allowed the Germans a minor advance along the Western Front when British soldiers panicked. Since it was non-lethal, it also proved easy to counter. Chemists in industrial heartland of the United States offered the War Department a weapon far more devastating than mere irritants.
By September 1, the Union’s position on the east bank proved far more tenable. The toe hold was no longer in danger of collapsing before Confederate counter-attacks. In addition to replacements for the maimed units, Pershing moved the 124th New Hampshire Guard across the river to bolster the line and prepare for a new push. The advance was delayed not by the movement of men or artillery, but by the deployment of a new weapon and the cooperation of the weather.
Instead of the shells he hoped for, Pershing receiving thousands of canisters of chlorine gas. He could not simply bombard the enemy. Instead, the First Army was forced to rely upon the wind carrying the gas across the no-man’s land. A favorable wind blew across the front in the early morning hours on September 3. The flow of greenish clouds across no-man’s land and the sudden choking death of hundreds of soldiers sparked panic in the Confederate trenches. The psychological impact of an unbeatable foe was far more damaging than the actual deaths.
An hour after the cloud rolled into the Confederate lines, Union soldiers climbed out of their trenches and charged. Upon entering contaminated Confederate trenches, several hundred Union soldiers succumbed to the gas attack. Early gas masks were very primitive by modern standards and the unknowns of large-scale chemical warfare would plague all sides in the war throughout 1914 and into 1915. What awaited the Union soldiers was chaos. Some Confederate soldiers fled the gas while others were quick to surrender. The soldiers of the Tennessee divisions stood their ground and fought before being forced to retreat in the face of a better organized foe.
What prevented Pershing from full exploiting the crumbling line east of the Tennessee was a continuing supply problem. Pushing the Confederates out of artillery range of the river allowed for more pontoon bridges to appear and railroad bridges to be rebuilt in late 1914, improvements that did little for Pershing on September 3. Against disorganized and trapped units, bayonets worked superbly. Against entrenched and determined foes, it worked not so well.
By September 5, he decided the forward elements of the First Army were sufficiently supplied and ordered a second gas attack take place. As with the first, the nature of the weapons remained dependent upon the weather, which proved to be the Confederate’s ally for the better part of a week. The time spent waiting for the right wind was no time wasted. Soldiers spent their time fortifying captured lines and extending the trenches, as well as addressing their own supply issues.
A short window of attack opened on September 14, when chlorine was released in the new no-man’s land. The windows proved too short for a shift in wind blew some of the poison gas back into Union lines. Much to Pershing’s growing frustration, panic in the ranks of the 124th N.H. proved almost as devastating as the panic occurring in the Confederate lines. With that division in disarray, Pershing gave the order for the rest of the divisions to advance. The Confederate lines were in disarray and again the 14th and 73rd Neb broke through their forward defenses. Again the First Army failed to bust through and charge towards Nashville.
Pershing’s frustration grew over the course of September. The longer the much needed breakthrough waited, the more time the Confederate Army could adapt to the poison gas attacks. A third attack occurred on October 9, and resulted in a minor breakthrough. The Confederate Army was forced from their trenches and driven back nearly fifteen miles. Since the First Army crossed the Tennessee, Samson prepared a series of defensive lines between the river and Nashville.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee manned trenches spanning from Dixon to Centerville. The First Army ran into a solid line of Confederate defenses, breaking their momentum for good. Machine gun and artillery fire pinned the forward most elements of the First Army, forcing them to dig in desperately. Within a week, the bulk of the First Army sat a few hundred meters west of the Confederates, packed in shallow trenches and vulnerable to mortar attacks. Their positions were tenuous, and had Sylvester sufficient forces in place for Samson to attack then the Confederate Army might have driven the Union back to the Tennessee River.
By October 20, both sides in Tennessee were exhausted from months of near constant fighting. Pershing wanted to launch one more push, but the weather refused to cooperate. Rain began to bombard both sides of the war, turning trenches to mud and rendering gas attacks useless. On October 21, he gave the order to Baker to make himself comfortable. The Battle of the Tennessee River wound down back to the sporadic artillery duels and trench raids that made up the fighting in the first half of 1914. Even the artillery duels were few and far between. In his attempt to flank Nashville, Pershing expended his stock and reserve of shells.
The Battle of the Tennessee River failed in its strategic goal. Nashville remained in Confederate hands until well into 1915. For a gain of thirty miles southward in the land between the rivers, Pershing spent nearly fifty thousand lives over four months. To defend that same area, Sylvester sacrificed forty thousand Confederate soldiers. With a soldier ration of nearly two-to-one, the United States won the numbers gain in mid-1914.
In the summer of 1915, Pershing and the First Army went on to capture Nashville but failed to break the state in 1915. By the end of the war, the First Army was poised to invade the Deep South. After the war, Pershing served as military governor in the Deep South during reconstruction. There was some talk in the 1930s for Pershing to run for office, but no political party wanted to place him on a national ticket. Before the Great War, he was known as Black Jack Pershing. After the Battle of the Tennessee River and its grueling body count, he was dubbed Black Death Pershing by the press.
James Sylvester III did not live to see the war or the consequences of his indecision in July 1914. He, along with several staff officers, were killed in Nashville during a Union air raid. Bombers of the Great War were not the most accurate of weapons and killed Sylvester only through dumb luck.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
The first shot of the Battle of the Tennessee River fell on Confederate lines at midnight, July 3, 1914. It was followed by hundreds of thousands of round over the following three days. Pershing wanted one million rounds brought down along the seventy mile wide front, but fell short by several hundred thousand. So many rounds fell on the line that towns such as Polk and Obion were wiped clean off the map. Literally not a single building was left standing in either town. The casualties would have been horrendous had the towns along the front not been evacuated early in the war.
Over all, problems caused by Confederate civilians trapped behind Union lines were minimal. In Troy and Martin, where the 61st Ohio and 73rd Nebraska massed respectively, the civilian population did little more than glare at any soldier in blue. Paris, Tennessee, the staging area for the 14th Infantry offered passive resistance to occupying forces, proving more of a headache to Lieutenant General Newton Baker than anything else. In Ridgely, a small port on the Mississippi, the 21st Cavalry had some active aid from locals. The free Blacks living in the town’s colored neighborhood were employed by Arnold as laborers.
For three days, artillery pieces ranging from 75mm to the eight guns of river monitors to a single sixteen inch railroad gun hauled across the border on the only remaining railroad. The railroad gun sat north of Paris and focused on destroying known Confederate fortification behind their trenches near Mansfield. The fortress covered the northern most of six railroad lines crossing the state east-to-west. More than two hundred of the massive rounds fell on and around the fortifications, destroying anything they touched. Unfortunately, most of the shells missed their mark and succeeded in tilling large tracks of farmland and woods.
For three days, Confederate defenders sat tight in their trenches and prayed the six months of work spent while the front remained static would hold. For the most part, the bunkers survived the bombardment with a destruction rate of only seven percent. Most of the destroyed were a result of a large shell landing directly on top of the structure. When the shells ceased falling at 0730 on July 6, Confederate officers suspected a trick. It would not be the first time Union artillery let up long enough for Confederate soldiers to leave their bunkers before resuming fire.
On the other hand, the silence might mean Yankee soldiers were about to go over the top. At 0800, the 14th and 21st Divisions spearheaded the advance across Mesopotamia. The 21st Cavalry encountered the least amount of resistance, advancing along the Mississippi. The objective of the 21st was the town of Dyersburg. The town sat at the junction of two east-west railroad lines and was to be held to prevent any Confederate counterattacks from striking Pershing’s main force’s flank.
Pershing knew Arnold believed strongly that Memphis should be the goal and thought more than once that Arnold would disobey orders. Officers of the Arnold family were known to disobey orders when strategic necessity demanded it. When Benedict Arnold disobeyed orders at Saratoga the result was him leading the Continental Army to victory at Saratoga though it ultimately cost him his life. Pershing knew Arnold for years and knew Samuel Arnold had no such wish for a glorious death. However, the prospect of Arnold pushing further south than his mandate required was always at the back of Pershing’s mind.
The 21st suffered the lightest casualties of the first day of battle, with five thousand wounded or killed. Baker and the 14th faced twice as many casualties in their drive from Paris towards Mansfield. Like with mass bombardment for the past year on two continents, the opposing force suffered only lightly. Before the first Union soldiers were halfway across no-man’s land, Confederate machine guns opened up, pinning survivors in a mine field. Before lunch, Pershing was forced to call upon regiments of the 73rd to reinforce Baker.
Despite the extra assistance, a number of soldiers spent a sleepless night in no-man’s land. From 2100 to 0630 the following morning, guns around Paris began shelling Confederate lines. Instead of a half-hour wait, Union soldiers were ordered to advance as soon as the shelling ceased. Fewer soldiers than expected scrambled across no-man’s land and dropped into Confederate trenches. An untold number of rounds fired from Paris were short, and fell upon trapped soldiers of the 14th.
With the addition aid of the 103th Nevada Volunteer regiment, the 14th Infantry captured a two mile wide expanse of Confederate lines. Lt. General Robert Samson ordered elements of the 12th Arkansas and 28th Tennessee to fall back to secondary trenches, half a mile further south before the Union could overrun his forces. His forces reached the secondary line only minutes ahead of advancing Union soldiers.
Above the trenches, machine guns tore apart anything that moved. In the trenches, warfare grew truly nasty. Rifles were not the ideal weapon for the close quarters of the trenches. Soldiers of the 14th Infantry and 28th Tennessee fought with pistols, swords, knives and any blunt instrument that landed in their hands. One of the favorite weapons of both sides was the trench gun. It was little more than a standard pump-action shotgun with its barrel cut in half.
Grenades and firebombs took their toll as well. They proved a greater threat to defenders in fixed locations as attacking soldiers had an easier time evading the bombs. Even then, Union soldiers fell by the hundreds to grenades, often thrown by their comrades. One instance repeated a number of times throughout the war were when advancing soldiers were unaware that a position was already captured and threw grenades in at imagined enemies.
The secondary lines failed to halt the Union advance once the 14th, 73rd Nebraska and other elements picked up momentum. On July 8, after two days of grueling hand-to-hand combat, Baker broke through Confederate lines. The cost of the breach was more than fifteen thousand dead on both sides in two days of fighting. With the 14th depleted, Pershing moved the rest of the 73rd Nebraska in to exploit the opening.
Further west, the 61st Ohio faced similar resistance. There first assault against Confederate lines was repelled altogether, surviving soldiers returning to their trenches. Soldiers of the 8th Tennessee Cavalry (dismounted) rose out of their trenches and attempted to overtake the retreating 61st Ohio. By the time they reached Union lines, machine guns opened up on them, cutting down more than two thousand soldiers in a matter of minutes.
A similar number of Union soldiers fell when the 61st Ohio countered the Confederate counter-attack. Unlike the 8th Tennessee, the 61st Ohio managed to reach Confederate trenches and drop in on their enemy. Like further east, the fighting south of Troy was a bloody affair of up-close combat. Conditions were more medieval than modern, with a greater number died of stab wounds or trauma to the skull than from gunshot.
The 61st Ohio was not depleted in numbers sufficiently to prevent it from pushing forward. Between July 8 and July 13, the 8th Tennessee engaged the 61st Ohio in a fighting withdrawal. On July 10, the 61st Ohio flanked its opponent near the town Kenton, cutting off a southerly retreat and forcing the 8th Tennessee eastward towards McKenzie. The 61st Ohio attacked McKenzie from the west as the western most regiment of the 73rd Nebraska reached the town. The town fell to Union forces on July 13, after a day of heavy fighting.
On the following day, the bulk of Pershing offensive captured the town of Mansfield, cutting the first of Tennessee’s railroads. Unfortunately, because of the east-west nature of railroads in the State, Pershing was unable to fully utilized lines captured intact. Engineers and volunteer labor, largely in the form of Tennessean freedmen, worked around the clock to extend a north-south line towards the new front.
By July 15, Samson established a new line of defenses between Huntingdon in the west and Bain in the east. Confederate soldiers dug frantically in their new position. Despite their best effort, they failed to dig a proper trench by the time elements of the 14th, 73rd Nebraska and the Nevada volunteers. Of the available forces, Baker found the Nevada regiment the least reliable. The volunteers were brave enough, but unlike regular army or National Guard units, they often lacked the discipline of proper soldiers. He broke the regiment into platoons and companies and seeded them amongst profession soldiers and authorized militia units.
On July 19, the 61st Ohio, reinforced by Nevada volunteers, launched an assault on Huntingdon after a relatively short four hour bombardment. It was indeed short in terms of offensives in the Great War, but for the civilians still in Huntingdon it felt like an eternity. Those buildings that still stood before the bombardment began were toppled by the time the dust settled and twelve thousand Union soldiers swept into the town. By July 20, the 61st Ohio pushed elements of the 8th Tennessee east across the Big Sandy River.
Samson made the best of the Big Sandy, using it as a new front line. It was a pale version of the Mississippi or Tennessee, the later he realized his division was slowly being pushed back towards, but it might slow the Union advance long enough to allow machine gun fire to take its toll. Samson proved half-right. It did slow the advance, which caused a number of casualties, but not enough to stop Pershing’s momentum.
In Milan, Sylvester realized that part of the Army of Tennessee faced the real threat of being pinned against the Tennessee River. An attempt on July 18, to flank the Union advance was foiled by the 21st Cavalry, which struck the 31st Mississippi as it moved northeast from Dyersburg. As of July 19, Sylvester was still unaware of the Union’s primary objective. With a commander as competent as renown as Samuel Arnold along the Mississippi, Sylvester suspected that Memphis might be the ultimate goal. Why else would the Union launch an offensive between the Mississippi and Tennessee? The 31st Mississippi was ordered to retreat south of Dyersburg to hastily prepared fortifications and trenches on the southern bank of the northern fork of the Forked Deer River.
Arnold considered pursuing the 31st Mississippi after his victory near Dyersburg, but after his light losses, less than a thousand dead, he decided not to press his luck. Instead, he stuck with his orders and held Dyersburg. His invasion of the Deep South would have to wait. The Forked Deer River was about as much of an obstacle to advancing soldiers as the Big Sandy. To officers who attended Fort Arnold on the Hudson, these Tennessee rivers were nothing more than glorified creeks.
Sylvester’s handling of the offensive brought doubt into the minds of the Confederate General Staff as to his fitness to command. He nearly lost an entire division when he tried to use it to flank one Union advance without checking the other. With the possibility of losing three divisions to Pershing real, his decisions over the next week would decide his future. When Bain fell on July 22, he decided Samson’s position was untenable and ordered the 8th Tennessee, 12th Arkansas and 28th Tennessee to retreat east across the Tennessee River.
He decided a retreat to the south was too risky as they possibility of the 61st Ohio swinging south and trapping Samson was more imminent than any imagined attack on Memphis. By July 30, the last Confederate soldier crossed the Tennessee River. On August 1, the 14th entered the town of Camden unopposed, and there the Union advance began to run out of steam. Baker took the lull in combat to reinforce his division, as well as the Guard divisions and volunteer units. Between August 1 and August 6, artillery regiments set up positions all along the west bank of the Tennessee.
Back in Milan, Sylvester assembled his generals to plan the defense of the Dyersburg-Milan-Camden front and relocating his command south to Jackson. Samson, who saw the brunt of the fighting closer than any of the other generals assembled, argued with Sylvester over his plan to pull Samson’s forces south. With so many Yankee guns massed around Camden, Samson was convinced that the Union’s plan all along was to cross the Tennessee River and that Dyersburg was part distraction and part securing their flank.
Samson’s plan involved fortifying the east bank of the Tennessee and prepare for the Union crossing. He lobbied for more artillery to be transferred to a front between Waverly and Buffalo, and to be in place to shell the crossing. Sylvester conceded that many of Samson’s arguments were valid. If the Yankees managed a crossing, they could split the State in half and possibly flank Nashville.
Sylvester was forced to split his artillery, transferring several artillery regiments east of the river while holding the rest along the new front line between the two major rivers. He telegraphed Richmond, requesting reinforcements for his new front line, as well as any assistance the Confederate Navy could provide in defending the Tennessee River. With a largely defensive strategy in place across the Confederate States, Sylvester was forced to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, moving remaining reserves to wherever Pershing strikes. One of the first rules of war taught in the Virginia Military Institute was that it was never to cede the initiative to the enemy. As of August 1, 1914, the initiative sat firmly in Pershing’s court.