Two Days with the U. S. Marine Corps

15 12 2021

On December 9 and 10 I was honored to share the history of the Civil War in general and the First Battle of Bull Run in particular with members of our United States Marine Corps. Specifically, 38 young officers of 2nd Platoon, Echo Company, of The Basic School at USMC Base Quantico. I did so at the invitation of their commander Captain Zachary Byrd, and for me it was quite an experience. I can only hope they learned as much as I did.

After a quick scout of the field with Capt. Byrd, Thursday started off at the crack of noon with a Sand Table Exercise (STEX). In brief, in a STEX a field of operations is recreated in a big, elevated sandbox. Individuals are assigned tasks, and in the case of historic events, are cast in the roles of the actors. So the platoon was broken up into Confederate and Union teams, and roles of generals assigned accordingly by the teams. Then, using the sandbox with general terrain, road, and waterway features represented, each “side” determined actions based on the information provided regarding strengths, armaments, and positions, as well as on scenarios presented on the fly by the CO. I would step in every now and again and provide historic info, but the exercise focused very much on what the teams would do and not so much on what really happened.

Marines, as you may know, are an aggressive lot, so it wasn’t surprising to find that the Confederate team behaved very much as P. G. T. Beauregard would have.

The platoon graduates on the 17th, so this exercise and the battlefield tour the next day were more low-key and informal than what they had been going through for the past six months. You may be able to pick that up in the photos.

Setting up the STEX
Lines deploy
Me, pointing at something
Still pointing

Afterwards, we all retired to 2 Silos Brewing Co., a cool brewery/restaurant/concert venue. Try the Goat 2X.

2 Silos

The battlefield tour was Friday, the 10th. There were a total of six platoons in five busses. Ours was the only bus with an outside guide (other platoon tours were student led), and so the only bus not to go directly from the base to the park visitor’s center on Henry Hill. This was news to our driver Donna, who was game for it and proved a real trooper – three cheers for Donna. We stopped first at the Stone Bridge, then Sudley Springs Ford, Matthews Hill, and finally Henry Hill. We spent the most time on Matthews Hill, where we discussed first contact, the strong impact of Rhode Island on the battle, how to fire a civil war cannon, and made a trip to the Stovall marker for a dose of social history and, well, romance. We traversed Henry Hill (did not go to the Robinson House) and spent some time covering the USMC Battalion at the battle, as well as the antebellum Marine Corps and the changes it went through in the wake of secession. I had prepared WAY more material than I had time in which to cover it, and most of Henry Hill was a whirlwind. I told them that what happened actually was very confusing, so if they were confused, my job was done!

Me still pointing, this time at the bridge in case they missed it
Going through the loading and firing procedure on Matthews Hill. I think they got a kick out of it.
Walking back from Stovall. The weather was surprisingly mild for December.
At Imboden’s position forward on Henry Hill
The obligatory group photo.

It was a fun and interesting two days. The class asked great questions and had a sharp sense of humor. I learned a bit about how the USMC officer education process works, but still know very little. I also learned some things about leading a tour for folks who don’t necessarily have the Civil War knowledge base that I’m used to. On the one hand it required more explanation, but on the other I didn’t have to deal with breaking down preconceived notions.

I think the Corps is in good hands with young men and women like these. Thanks to Capt. Byrd for the opportunity to meet them. I wish them all the very best as they move forward in their lives and careers.

Me at the corner of Belleau and Montezuma at USMC Base Quantico