By Paul Comben
In a post Civil War alternative reality…Major Taylor and Robert E Lee are in a radio studio…
Taylor: You are listening to M.A.R.S.E., the Entirely Lost Cause Radio Network, 1861 to 65 drawlin’ strong on your dial; and with me, Walter Taylor, giving you that old-style Southern hospitality, is my good friend…
Lee: Stonewall Jackson?
Taylor: No sir, he’s dead.
Lee: Are you certain? I could have sworn I saw him just the other day, emerging from the shade of the trees to launch a furious attack upon the unprovided flank of the enemy.
Taylor: Does the general not remember? That was a documentary television program on Bigfoot, and whether that particular creature should be viewed as a theatrical hoax.
Lee: Be that as it may, it is my considered opinion that there was a strong resemblance to our valiant hero; and may I further remind you major, that it is my constant practice to avoid the frivolity of written or acted elements of fiction. I find them to be unnecessary diversions from both the duties and the obligations of life; and furthermore, exposure to the same may weaken the acuity of the mind.
Taylor: Indeed sir.
Lee: Indeed so major… So how is he?
Taylor: Who sir?
Lee: The brave Stonewall.
Taylor: As I keep telling the general, he’s dead. He was dead last year, and dead the year before. In fact, he’s been more years dead than ever he was alive.
Lee: I pray you are proven incorrect! And I will confess I am now wholly perturbed, for surely that was our indomitable comrade we saw most recently, silently dug in upon the heights.
Taylor: Beggin’ the general’s pardon, that was his grave. That’s why there weren’t no movement when you tripped over it.
Lee: Then I am grieved sir, and sorely so.
Taylor: Okay, while my co-host tries to remember where we are and what century we’re in, let me tell you, our very special audience, what else we have in store for today’s show.
Lee: Look there major! I think I can see our flags going up the hill.
Taylor: That’s the lady over the road putting her washing out… her undergarments, if you will, err, excuse the employment of such an immodest term.
Anyway, on today’s show, we’ll be briefly looking at Waterloo as the bi-centennial approaches, and then introducing a discussion of some of the Confederacy’s most noteworthy leaders.
Lee: Now some of our flags are coming back down again.
Taylor: Yeah, well I ain’t telling the general what that is, given the impaired constitution of his heart.
Anyway, before we get to our very own General Lee’s Waterloo recollections, let’s go to a commercial.
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Taylor: Welcome back.
Lee: Why, where have I been?
Taylor: No, not you general, the listeners.
Lee: And where are they?
Taylor: They are mainly at home sir.
Lee: My home is in Virginia. But sadly it is denied me now.
Taylor: The Yankee devils knocked it down?
Lee: No, I lost the key.
Taylor: Yes, well, let’s move onto our remembrance of the Battle of Waterloo.
Lee: Ah yes, a sad day for the South, though all Virginia was there.
Taylor: No sir. No, no, no. Virginia wasn’t at Waterloo.
Lee: Did we go down the wrong trail?
Taylor: No sir, general. Waterloo, it’s a place in Europe.
Lee: But I thought I saw our flags go up the hill.
Taylor: Dammit sir, and with your pardon, there weren’t no flags at Waterloo! Leastways, not ours anyhow.
Lee: Then we forgot to bring them. Who is responsible for this oversight?
Taylor: General, there weren’t no oversight. Waterloo was a battle fought across the ocean, across the wide wide seas, in Belgium.
Lee: But the fight is here!
Taylor: No, it was there!
Taylor: IN BELGIUM!!!
Lee: Yes, it’s coming back to me now. I seem to recollect two things in particular that my father told me when I was yet a child.
Taylor: And what were they?
Lee: First, that the money was all gone. Second, that there had recently occurred the epic battle of Waterloo. My father explained, with a most commendable lucidity given the state of his wig, that the day had culminated in an attack by Napoleon’s Imperial Guard upon the very centre of the British line. These brave men had advanced in a mass formation against fearsome artillery fire, and then against ordered lines of musketry, whose combined and most deleterious effect killed or utterly debilitated at least half their number before they gave ground and were compelled to retreat.
And hearing that story, I knew that when I was a man, I wanted to order an attack just like that one.
Taylor: Pickett’s Charge?
Lee: Truly. Though the worst error, quite apart from my having studied the Union line that morning and not noticing I had my field glasses the wrong way round, was in giving command of the attack to General Longstreet.
Taylor: Was he not your “Old Warhorse”?
Lee: Major, it is now my considered opinion that Mister Ed moved around more, and that with greater alacrity, than General Longstreet ever did; for in the aftermath of our artillery’s Feu d’Enfer, he allowed the Union people occasion to restore their lines and their batteries just so he could say “I told you so”.
Taylor: And the lesson of Waterloo?
Lee: It was all my fault.
Taylor: Let’s go to a commercial.
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Taylor: So sir, what was your opinion of General Hood? Sir…..?
Lee: I beg your pardon major, I was filling in a request for one of these Hood figurines, and pondering whether I wish to be kept informed as to other quality offers.
Taylor: But what about the real Hood?
Lee: In the end, very little of him was.
Taylor: Nevertheless, we need to talk about him.
Lee: General Hood was an excellent officer when someone of proficiency had occasion to tell him what to do. However, when General Hood told General Hood what to do, it was another matter entirely.
However, upon reflection, I fear I may have had some culpability in the sorry deterioration of this brave man.
Taylor: To what is the general referring?
Lee: I am mindful of the last words I spoke to him prior to our attack on the second day of the Gettysburg battle.
I said to him, as I now clearly recall, “General Hood, I want you to take possession of that hill yonder.”
“I see two hills sir” was his reply. “Which one are you wanting me to send my boys against?”
I then answered: “General, if you care to look a little to your right, you will see a taller hill, that is presently totally unoccupied by the Union army, and which may, with but a little effort, be prepared for the useful accommodation of our artillery, that may then deliver a flanking fire upon the heart of the enemy position.”
“I do see that hill” he replied.
“Well sir” I said, “I don’t want you attacking that one. Rather, you are to advance upon the smaller hill, that is currently being festooned with the regiments of an entire Union corps, and they supported by a number of well sited artillery formations.”
Alas, I fear that my intemperance upon that occasion persuaded the general to eschew any form of flanking movement at any later time for fear of incurring the disapproval of posterity.
Taylor: In mitigation sir, there never was no issue with General Hood seeking out the power of the enemy and putting his strength directly to it.
Lee: That may be major, but in a similar vein, there is never any great difficulty finding fly to settle on your dessert, but that does not imply that it is in any way a preferable event.
Taylor: Still, a contrast to the services of General Longstreet.
Lee: Major, the good General Longstreet was entirely excellent upon the defensive; you just could not get him decently motivated to quit his works and do anything else. In fact, when it comes to evaluation of our offensive effort at Gettysburg, I have no doubt the entire First Corps would have been more aggressively handled in the attack had I transferred its command to the first Quaker I came across.
Taylor: Perhaps Jeb Stuart should have taken corps command; after all, he performed well enough when the necessity of the situation arose at Chancellorsville?
Lee: I pray you remind me major, what necessity are you referring to?
Taylor: You know, sir, after the wounding of Stonewall….oh jeez!
Lee: What!? Is our fighting Stonewall wounded? What do the surgeons say?
Taylor: He’s dead sir!
Lee: Dear God! Such a loss to befall our cause! And with respect major, you were wrong to hide this from me, though no doubt you were seeking to spare my feelings.
Taylor: Sir, I’ve been telling you every day for the last hundred and fifty years! He’s dead, which is about what you get for riding around a battle in the pitch dark answering challenges like Moses asking for directions in the desert.
Lee: At least we still have Stuart.
Taylor: Let’s cut to commercials.
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Taylor: General Lee, we were about to talk about Jeb Stuart.
Lee: I have but little knowledge as to where Stuart is. Perhaps he has met with some unfortunate delay?
Taylor: He’s dead sir.
Lee: How can that be? I was talking to him only the other day, and I was prompted by his altered appearance to remark how this terrible conflict had aged him so considerably.
Taylor: Beggin’ the general’s pardon, that was Santy Claus. We were out doing our festive shopping, if you remember?
Lee: Alas! So many empty chairs. And know this, major, General Stuart never gave me a false piece of information.
Taylor: He never told you where he was either. None of us ever knew where he was a-gallivanting at. It was only because we could follow a trail of old dung that we managed to get reacquainted again.
Lee: Yes, I do recall having to rebuke him over his tardy appearance at Gettysburg. I first confessed my ire that he had sent no word of his whereabouts since we entered the north, and that thanks to his neglect, I was left with no idea what was in front of me.
I then took two steps forward and collided with the table.
Taylor: Time for a commercial.
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Lee: May we talk about the man now?
Taylor: No sir, we have a more pressing need.
Lee: You are right to correct me major. We must wait for the sound of his guns.
Taylor: Whose guns?
Lee: The artillery of Jackson’s corps.
Taylor: He’s dead sir.
Lee: Then what is that reverberating thunder I am hearing?
Taylor: I believe that is the producer of this here radio show banging on the door and trying to get out.
Lee: Is he a straggler? Should we have him shot for desertion?
Taylor: No need sir. He just gone shot himself. As for ourselves, perhaps we can conclude by looking at one of the South’s first fallen heroes, General Albert Sidney Johnson.
Lee: Is he dead?
Taylor: Very much so, sir. He fell at Shiloh, leading his boys forward to the attack.
Lee: He was undoubtedly a most gallant gentleman. And if we had had more of his like, we would have…
Taylor: Lost quicker?
Lee: No major.
Taylor: Lost the lot?
Taylor: Lost all sense of reality?
Lee: Prevailed is the word I am looking for, major. Though I will admit it was a peculiarity of the man that when he was in in relatively junior command, and that of his own regiment, he dreamed of one day commanding an army; and then when he had an army, he commanded it like a regiment.
Nevertheless, his ardour was most demonstrably on show at Shiloh…and then he got…
Lee: Unfortunately, yes. However, I will admit to a certain feeling of envy with regard to the man’s style; for there he was, out in front of the battle, holding aloft a small cup as his share of the day’s spoils, and in every way cutting the most impressive of figures.
Taylor: The general has the right of it.
Lee: And as you will recall, I sought some means of emulating him during the Wilderness fight, and that by blindly grabbing the first object I came across from the overrun encampment of the enemy, and was thus, by the folly of my own ego, compelled to hold aloft a banjo for the balance of the fight.
Taylor: Well, that’s all we have time for right now. Next time we will be looking in-depth at the presentation of these and many other commanders in American Civil War games. So join us then, where alongside myself and your genial co-host, General Robert E Lee, we’ll be conducting a special guest interview with the author of the controversial new Civil War study: George McClellan – Man of Action.
So, from the two of us, until next time…
Lee: Why is there a depiction of a lewd woman disporting herself on the side of my coffee mug?