The Battle of Booby's Bluffs

By Major Single List

Introduction - 1st Solution - 2nd Solution - 3rd Solution - 4th Solution - 5th Solution - An Approved Solution - Map


At 6 o'clock I attended the conference of field and staff officers at Colonel R's headquarters. He read over the order to us, and explained it in full. I was a little impatient because it appeared as if Colonel R thought we could not read or at least could not understand a field order. Several times he asked me if I understood my part. I always replied in the affirmative. Once or twice he asked me if I was sure that I understood; but I would not allow him to get me into a controversy. I had long ago decided that I would avoid any arguments with him. He seemed of a cruel nature and a jealous disposition. He did not understand how to handle the American soldier; and it appeared to me that he was jealous of me because I was so successful at it.

Map for The Battle of Booby's Bluffs

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I always tried to get close to the soldier and understand his methods of thought Every one of my men knew I was ready to lend him a helping hand, and even money. This general care of my fellow-soldiers had often been a cause of dispute with Colonel R.

our colonel was a good soldier, but he had lost the milk of human kindness. On one occasion I had a great argument with him because I had not reported two boys who had indulged in a shooting scrape in one of the company streets. To me it was simply an over-bubbling of youthful spirits, but to Colonel R it was a crime. It is true that one of the boys had been shot in the arm and had been in the hospital for two weeks, but that was a mere trifle.

On another occasion Colonel R had spoken to me in a very tactless manner because I had allowed three of the boys to leave camp and visit the city the night before a maneuver. They stayed out until 4 o'clock, and naturally were unable to go through the strenuous work of the next day.

As I remember his words, he said: "Major List, you have no discipline in your battalion. I am not sure that I should not relieve you and send you to Bluey for reclassification. You think that you are thoughtful of your men, whereas if you persist in your course you will cause the loss of many lives in battle. It is a serious error to think that even the best men can be good soldiers without a rigid course of training. It is a mistaken kindness to mollycoddle soldiers. You will have men who are inefficient and who will be unable to attend to their duties in the stress of battle. You must understand that bravery is by no means the only quality demanded of an officer. I can find many officers who will lead troops in battle, but I can find few men who can see that they are properly fed and furnished ammunition and taught to shoot. The days of spectacular charges and gallant deaths are past. Nowadays, you are shot by men you do not see; and the worst possible thing for a major to do is to step out in front of his troops and expose himself to an unnecessary death. You should be in front only when they are being misled. You should never go in front of them in order to show your personal bravery. I do not doubt your personal bravery, but I seriously doubt your personal efficiency."

I did not say much in reply. He had just discovered that the score of my battalion on the target range was the poorest of the three battalions; and I could not deny it. But there were reasons for this poor showing. The noble citizens of the neighboring city had given a festival in honor of the troops soon to go overseas and this festival had come just on the day that my battalion shot for record. It had been necessary for us to hasten our target practice in the morning so that the boys could be free to go to the city in the afternoon and evening.

I did not take the trouble to explain all of this to Colonel R. He would not have understood because he has no heart for his fellow-man. Also I felt sure that he was jealous of my undoubted popularity with the boys. I think that he feared that if the matter were put to a vote among them, I would he Colonel List and he would be Major R or Captain R or even Private R. However, I felt that the United States authorities should know what manner of man was commanding the regiment. So I wrote a letter to my personal friend, Senator Sorghum, and told him that I felt sure that the regiment had lost its heart through the heartless grinding of Colonel R, and that if it did not make a good showing against the Reds in the coming campaign he would know where to place the blame. There was no real insubordination in this letter and no one could criticize my motive. I felt that my duty to my country demanded that when the regiment failed in battle he should go to the Secretary of War and give him the reason for the failure. I was very careful to tell the Senator not to mention my name.

In justice to myself I must add that I also told the Senator not to make any effort to secure promotion for me; that I expected to win my promotion on the field of battle; and that I felt sure that my record in future battles would bring to me all the promotion that I could desire.

Finally Colonel R finished the plans for the attack, after reading the field order several times, and we all went back to our posts. I returned to my battalion headquarters (the farmhouse cellar) and promptly went to sleep. I was tired and needed complete rest before the strenuous day of battle. I was soon sleeping as peacefully as Napoleon before Austerlitz.

At 3.30 o'clock my adjutant Lieutenant Swift waked me. He apologized for waking me, but said that he knew that the attack was to take place at 4.30 o’clock, and he supposed that I wished to go out and look over the ground before the attack commenced. He stated that he had been reading the orders and noticed that the barrage started at 4.30 o’clock from the north and south roads about 800 yards west of my cellar, and he had notified the company commanders that they could expect me to meet them at the farmhouse in the center of our sector (345-729.6) at 4 o'clock. He also stated that various officers of tanks, machine guns, signal troops, and light mortars had reported during the night; but that he had told them to go to sleep in the next room (where the farmer had kept his potatoes) and that I would wake them up at the proper time.

I was much displeased at the action of Lieutenant Swift in making arrangements for me to meet the captains at 4 o'clock. I had not slept as much as usual and for the moment I was in a bad humor. Also this Lieutenant Swift was quite prone to usurp my powers as battalion commander. He was always taking it upon himself to give orders during my absence. I had told him time after time that I was commander of this battalion and that I would give all of the orders necessary. However, I was quite elated this morning at the prospect of a battle in which I would earn undying glory and have my name written on the pages of history alongside our most famous soldiers, so I did not talk very severely to Lieutenant Swift I only told him that I must again remind him that I was the commander of this battalion, and that he would in future make no appointments for me and give no orders in my name.

Incidentally, to soften my reprimand, I told him that he had done well to dispose of the various officers of tanks, machine guns, signal troops, etc., so smoothly, and that we would let them sleep, poor fellows. Probably they were as tired as we were. I never had the heart to make a fellow being do more work than was absolutely necessary. Of course, the poor infantryman must get up early and take the Red position; but that was no reason why the officers of other services should not rest at every opportunity.

After I had disposed of Lieutenant Swift with a half reprimand, I found it necessary to frown also upon the freshness my intelligence officer, Lieutenant Bright. He told me that he had been studying the maps and that he had talked with the officers of the regiment we relieved. As a result, he believed that the Reds were all on the other side of Booby’s Creek, and were in force in the woods on the south side of the bend where Booby’s Creek turned to the east for 1,000 yards east of Hill 433. This was too much. I had forgiven Lieutenant Swift because he had disposed of the various officers of tanks, machine guns, signal troops, etc., but this suggestion of Lieutenant Bright was more than I could stand. It was not the first time that he had seemed to think that it was his duty to come forward and volunteer queer bits of information that he had gathered. At any rate, I did not waste time with him. I just told him that if I wanted to hear from him, I would call on him. Meanwhile he need not volunteer any information.

Thus you call see that I went out on the field in a fairly bad humor for a man who was to participate in his first battle. However, I summoned a smile as soon as I reached the vicinity of my brave boys, for it would never do for them to see that I was out of humor. How often have I heard my father read of the cheery smiles that made J.E.B. Stuart and McClellan popular? Their soldiers were always glad to see them, and cheered them whenever they rode down the line. In this case I did not feel that I could justly expect a cheer. I was not mounted on a horse and the sun was not shining gloriously; in fact, the dawn was just beginning to break. However, I felt that it would not surprise me greatly if some of the boys should give a huzza when they saw their major coming to lead them on to battle and victory.

There were no cheers on my approach, and I decided that the nearness of the enemy prevented any such greetings. However, my reception was quite cordial. The four captains crowded around me to receive their orders. I did not waste time, but gave them as briefly as possible. "You know all the drill regulations. We have been over this many times on the drill field. B and C companies form the firing line, A and D companies form the support. Lieutenant Swift, you will form the battalion just east of this ridge in the center of out sector, facing west. They will be ready at 4.25 o’clock, as the attack starts exactly at 4.30." The captains and adjutant saluted and each captain moved off to join his company.

For the next half hour I walked up and down the ridge, or just east of it, where the whole battalion could see me and be encouraged by my coolness in the face of danger. I felt that each one should know that I was there to go forward with him to victory or death.

I walked along the front of the Companies and joked with many of my personal friends. I remember especially that one excellent sergeant of B Company hailed me with a glad shout of "Hello, Single! How do you feel in the face of the real thing?" and I replied with some cheerful remark to the effect that I was going home with my shield or upon it.

I then remembered the young son of one of my best friends, a Mr. hale, vice-president of the bank in my hometowm before I entered the military game, so I hunted him up and talked with him. He was very glad to see me, and entrusted me with many loving messages to his friends, and I will also say to his fiancée. He said "Major, I know you will be with us in any danger, but I have a feeling that you will live through this battle, and I do not think that I shall do so. For the sake of your friendship for my father and for my family I want you to tell them all that I died with my face to the enemy and with their names on my lips." I wrung his hand and promised to tell them that and much more in case any misfortune befell him. I had known him since he was a small boy, and I sincerely hoped that nothing would happen to him. We were still conversing when Lieutenant Swift came up to tell me that the batta1ion was ready to form. It was 4.22, so I wished young Frank Hale Godspeed and left him.

As I was walking with Lieutenant Swift over to the center of the line I had occasion to feel thankft1l that I had been so caref1ll in the training of my battalion. In the last Infantry Drill Regulations some young upstart had written a statement to the effect that, in extended order, the company is the largest unit to execute movements by prescribed commands. But when I became battalion commander I did not feel at all disposed to relinquish my direct command of my companies, so I had trained my companies to execute the movements of extended order by battalion, with the same commands as in the former drill regulations. Thus I was sure that the attack would come off in the best possible manner. My boys were trained to the minute, eager and willing to fall upon the Reds.

At 4.25 o'clock Lieutenant Swift called the battalion to attention, faced about and reported, "Sir, the battalion is formed." I told him to take his post, and commanded, "Rest," as I wished the companies to rest even to the last minute before going forward for the struggle which might last all day. I looked at my watch and marked the second hand as it slowly counted off the seconds until 4.30. The eyes of all my soldiers were on me, and I felt that no one could criticise me for lack of coolness and courage. I calmly stood there, making a few commonplace remarks to Lieutenants Swift and Bright, who seemed anxious to suggest something, nut they had learned that I was the commander of this battalion, so they kept quiet. At 4.29 I faced about, and everyone cou1d see from my stern attitude that the time had arrived. I then watched the second hand, which was spelling time for us and eternity for thousands of Reds and for some of us.

Just at 4.30 I lowered my left hand (which carried my wrist watch) and started to command, "Form for attack." The most infernal racket burst forth. Shells by the thousand burst on the north and south road just west of me, and my command could not he heard more than ten feet.

I was dumfounded. Such a racket had never been heard in any boiler-shop or iron-foundry that I had ever visited. I could not think what had happened. How had the enemy known that we were to attack at this moment? I began to suspect treachery; but I knew that there could be no treachery in my battalion. Possibly some Red spies had slipped over in the early dawn and had heard Lieutenant Swift's statement that the attack began at 4.30 At any rate we were lucky in that the Reds did not have our range, and as long as we remained where we were there need be no casualties.

I waited a few seconds, and was a little amused at the facial expressions of Lieutenants Swift and Bright. Being young men, they naturally were a little more prone to surprise than I was. I smiled to reassure them, and said, "It is all right, my boys; the enemy has not our range, and we seem to he perfectly safe. In fact it is evident that they are aiming less and less accurately; the shots seem to he falling shorter and farther from us."

Then Lieutenant Swift yelled in a most disrespectful manner: "The barrage! It's our barrage, and it travels at the rate of 100 yards in four minutes. Of course, it is missing us more and more. We must catch it. If we don't take advantage of it our artillery will be of no assistance to us."

At once it came back to me. Colonel R had said in the conference of his field and staff officers that the barrage would start at 4.30 o’clock and move forward at once. Immediately I rose to the occasion. My voice could not be heard, so I opened my mouth several times and waved my hand. It made my heart bound to see how quickly the intelligent American soldier can adapt himself to circumstances. The majority of my men were volunteers and they understood at once what was wanted. Promptly B and C companies moved out in extended order, and A and D companies prepared to follow. At a double time B and C companies spread over the center of our sector, guiding center, one man per yard. This covered about 500 yards, leaving some 250 yards on either flank, which was to be covered by A and D companies as they advanced later at the prescribed distance of about 300 yards.

I took my position about 150 yards behind the center of the front line. The whole battalion moved forward in perfect order, guiding center, the front line some sixty yards behind our barrage.

My heart swelled with pride. Everything was working smoothly. It is true that some of the boys were falling, and my heart bled in sympathy but I gritted my teeth like a soldier, and marched proudly forward, calm and collected.

When we reached the crest, some four minutes after our advance had started, I halted for a moment and gazed upon the scene with my field glasses. The morning sun showed a perfect picture. One hundred and fifty yards ahead of me were B and C companies in a magnificent line, marching straight to the front as if on parade. Some sixty yards in front of them was our barrage, still going forward at the rate of l00 yards in four minutes. Behind me, 150 yards, and off to the right and left flanks, respectively, were the A and D companies, now in platoon columns. I felt that my weary days of work in the training camp were producing their reward. With a smile I placed my field glasses in the case and hurried forward to regain my position back of the center, midway between the two lines.

I heard Lieutenant Bright say to Lieutenant Swift, "Look at the shells bursting just this side of the creek. Either we have an extra wide barrage or it is their protective barrage in front of their line. My best information says that their line is west of the creek. If that is their protective barrage they will switch it as soon as they locate us, and then we will have an awful time." I saw nothing to justify Lieutenant Bright in this dismal prediction. I did not care to administer any further admonitions to him, so I calmly marched forward.

After about twenty minutes the left of my front line arrived opposite the trees, already mentioned, on the south side of the bend in Booby’s Creek at 344.6-729.3, the barrage having passed this point. I saw a few men break from the left and start for the creek only some forty yards away, but a sharp command from a lieutenant or a sergeant called them back into line and they continued forward.

Evidently some of the Reds were in that creek bottom, but the platoon commander knew that I would send up some men from the support to clear them out. It was his duty to march straight ahead just as I had taught them day after day on the parade ground. I quickly turned to the left and waved forward a platoon from D Company, pointing to the creek bend. Not a second did they hesitate. Bravely they started forward, but luck was against me. I heard a rat-tat-tat from the creek bottom, then a continuous roll of rat-tat-tats. The left of my front line just crumpled up and lay down. It vanished.

The right, true to its training, immediately began to advance by rushes, straight to the front. Probably they had seen an enemy or something to their front. Steadily and surely they rose, rushed forward and fell, firing to the front. Each time fewer rose and rushed forward. Always some fell. But relief was at hand; the platoon from D Company was only some 100 yards away. I signaled "double time," and they rushed forward and silenced the machine gun.

For a few minutes I breathed freely. But not for long. Suddenly, 100 yards back of me, there was again an unearthly racket, shells exploding and iron splinters Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-ing in all directions. Lieutenant Bright yelled "There it is! They have us located!" and truly it seemed so. One platoon of D Company simply disappeared. Half of another was blown into the air. Captain D, with rare presence of mind, commanded, "Scatter, boys, SCATTER!" (Footnote: "A command actually given in an American machine gun battalion in France.") and the rest of the company abandoned all formation and rushed pell-mell for the creek bottom. On the right the enemy’s counter-barrage seemed less effective. Possibly they did not have enough guns, and they made it thicker on my left.

I moved over to my right and placed myself between the two lines, and we continued to move forward. Personally I felt that this showed great fortitude on my part. Practically half of my battalion had been killed or wounded, and yet I had not sounded the retreat.

At Bull Run the Federal troops retired with much less than that. In fact in no one of our great battles had the losses been 50 per cent. Yet here was I, Major List, still pushing forward after over 50 per cent of my men had been killed or wounded.

For some four more minutes we followed the barrage without accident. Then again we had hard luck. The barrage passed some more Red machine guns concealed in the woods south of the bend, and my line began to crumple up on the left. Still we struggled forward, and I noted with pleasure that a small party gained the top of Hill 407 and disappeared. My joy was short-lived, for just then the Red counter-barrage switched from D Company and fell upon A Company, My last supports vanished, and no first line existed except a few men on Hill 407.

My battalion was ruined. We had captured Hill 407, but at what a price! On all sides my brave boys were wounded and dying. Time after time my name was called, and I stopped to comfort old and personal friends. Finally, to my great grief, I came across young Frank Hale mortally wounded. I stopped and bent over him. "My boy, my boy, what can I do?" "Major," he said can't you call us anything but boys? Don't you think some of us have behaved like grown-up men today?" And he smiled and died.

My cup was full, but it overflowed when a messenger rushed up from Captain B to say that he had captured Hill 407, but he had not been issued extra ammunition and would have to retire if I could not send him some. I had none to send him. I did not even know where to find it.

Though overcome with bitterness at Colonel R for having given me the hardest job of any of the battalions, I determined to he a soldier to my dying breath. My brave boys were streaming back over the field in wild confusion. No human flesh could stand against that hail of lead from the woods across the creek on our left. I sent Lieutenant Bright back to Colonel R to ask for help--that we were utterly beaten. Meanwhile I determined that I would sell my life as dearly as possible. No one at home should ever say that I, Single List, had fled from the foe. We had seen no enemy, but it was evident that many Red machine guns were in the woods south of the creek. I called for volunteers, and some forty brave lads gathered around me.

Remembering my grandfather's story of how he rallied his men in the deadly Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, I seized a gun and began to exhort them to do their duty by their fellow-countrymen. The tyrannical Reds must not triumph. Our freedom was in danger. The country's honor was at stake. Remember the glorious democracy for which they were fighting. I would lead them and be one of them. All became fired with my enthusiasm. They clamored for immediate action. They cried, "Lead on, List, we're with you!" I turned to lead them, but just then three shells burst in our group and machine guns swept us like a hose. I was unhurt, but when the dust cleared not a man of my volunteers was with me--all were dead, wounded, or missing. I looked around the field, but could see no men. All of my battalion had disappeared.

Sudden1y, Lieutenant Swift grabbed may arm and said, "Look!" I looked to the rear and saw a thin line of Blue skirmishers coming over the ridge. The Second Battalion was coming, but it was too late. My battalion had been fighting the whole battle alone, and it was demolished. No amount of reinforcements could reestablish the battle or bring my brave boys (men) back to me. As the line passed by me I saw that the Major of the second Battalion, was in command and that he was accompanied by the lieutenant-colonel. The latter spoke to me curtly and said, "Colonel R orders that you report to him immediately. I shall take command of your battalion—what is left of it."

As I walked back to Colonel R I was very much crestfallen. It was evident that I was to be relieved. Well, I was willing. My battalion was gone and my heart was broken. I cared no more for wars, and I wanted a peaceful time in the Service of Supply. But I did think that Colonel R should at least thank me for the gallant work done by my battalion. In his dispatches he should mention that the First battalion, under major Single List, had bravely breasted the leaden hail and captured Hill 407, but was unable to advance farther because of severe losses.

I did not expect him to mention that my battalion had fought the whole battle alone and unsupported, and had been stopped through lack of support after it had captured the Red fort on Hill 407, but I did hope that he would acknowledge that it had been specially selected for the most difficult task. Also I felt that he should specially mention my gallantry in rallying forty volunteers and advancing to clinch the victory by capturing the Red machine gun nest. He should have left me with my battalion now that the victory was won, and at night the Second Battalion could have safely taken over the position so gallantly won by us.

I reported to Colonel R. He told me that I was relieved; that he had recommended me for reclassification; that I was not fit to command the battalion; and that I would at once go back to division headquarters and report to General A.

I need not give a long discussion here of the explanations given by Colonel R. It seems that he blamed me for not taking the machine guns before they enfiladed my line, but gave no idea as to how I was to do it. He blamed me for letting my men run out of ammunition, but said nothing about the fact that no ammunition carts had reported to me. He blamed me for allowing my men to be caught in close formation by the Reds’ counter-barrage, but offered no suggestions as to how it could be avoided. In short, he blamed me for and not himself for the loss of the battle. He offered no satisfactory explanation of why he had made my battalion fight the battle alone. He belittled my capture of the Red fort on Hill 407; said it was no victory; that there was not a single Red on Hill 407. He made many heartless remarks about the lack of fighting qualities in my battalion; said it was run like a political club. This last I did not discuss with him, as I saw he was moved by jealousy, and I said nothing more to him. I determined to appeal to General A.

At division headquarters General A was too busy to see me, and the adjutant handed me an order to go to Bluey for reclassification. As no one would give me justice, I sat down and wrote to my old friend Senator Sorghum, and told him al about the battle and my victory and about Colonel R’s robbing me and my brave battalion of the credit. I knew that Senator Sorghum would understand me and see that I received justice from the War Department in Washington. The letter finished, I became calm and peaceful, and—woke up.

At first I was displeased with my subconscious mind. It had not at all solved my problem. However, I had at least learned four things not to do:

  1. Do not let your battalion become a political club.
  2. Do not let machine guns enfilade your line.
  3. Do not fail to issue extra ammunition. Look it up.
  4. Do not get caught in close formation by enemy's counter-barrage.

These lessons were not enough for my problem. I slept, and again my subconscious mind began to revolve and evolve.

(To be continued.)

Introduction - 1st Solution - 2nd Solution - 3rd Solution - 4th Solution - 5th Solution - 6th Solution - Map