Hastings, MI, July 2017, After Action Report

I’m not really sure to where the weather we actually received was supposed to go, but I am sure they were jealous because the temperature we had was fantastic. I may have even used a blanket on Friday night. Many thanks to John Vohlken for not only his duties as Sergeant Major, but also for keeping the mosquitoes away with spraying. TJ Berlucchi really added to the weekend with his drumming (getting some help from Russ Paul on occasion).

Saturday morning, we started off with some drill that was performed quickly and efficiently. Organizationally we had a lot of various companies combining to form the battalion. Scott Cummings commanded 1st Company, Marty Walker (although I tried to promote Ryan VanMaldegen) had second company (and we were all so glad Marty didn’t have another ‘episode’ like he did in 2016), 3rd Company was Robbie Giorlando (with some instruction from Ian Fulford and Russ Paul), and 4th company was Captain Douglas McComas. (more on THAT guy later... All did well, but I wanted to point out the performance of Robbie Giorlando. I believe this was the first time I have seen him command a company in a battalion formation and his performance was very solid. Also thanks to Scott Cummings who made sure I didn’t invert the battalion during drill!

The battle on Saturday was out in the High Meadows. Union forces came in from the road and wrapped around the spectator hill which I believe they enjoyed. The battle wrapped around both sides and the Cav (led by Kevin Yeager) was very helpful in sweeping up the Rebs. We had a significantly higher number of troops on the field and ended the day with a victory.

Saturday Parade was held on the Village Green and Greg Swank helped facilitate one of the better parades I have seen in a long time. I briefly left for dinner Saturday evening. When I returned it was reported to me some of the men were being treated at the hospital in town. I went there immediately and found Captain Douglas McComas, who was either fatigued by battle or drunk…maybe both. Before the evening was over Captain Douglas McComas was in a duel with another Officer and unfortunately it did not go well for him.

The tactical on Sunday was the regular fare. Scott Cummings and his crew were out on the field with picket responsibilities.   The Rebs did a fantastic job covering the field and at one point gave us a great volley as they came in behind us, well done! Sunday’s drill went well, with a special note on Marty Walker's 2nd Company’s volleys which were outstanding (I am guessing Ryan had drilled them earlier). The battle on Sunday was held on the Village Green and gave the Cav the opportunity to open up the battle for us. Kevin and his crew dusted up the Rebs who were very aggressive during the opening of the battle. Although we came down two different roads, we eventually deployed ourselves across the width of the field. Eventually the Rebs were driven back through town and surrendered. A big ‘thank you’ as always to the Reb command staff. Greg Van Wey could not make it, but Bill Adams took his place, both of these men are fantastic and have been very flexible to work with.

Last, I appreciate the skills of our Wing Commanders Denny Whiting as well as Dave Bauman, thank you both.

As mentioned, the 49th Indiana will be fielding a company for Hale Farm, so we’d love to have anyone fall in with us who is interested, dates are Aug 12/13.

Colonel Van

Shiloh, TN, April 2017, After Action Report

I think I just now have the energy to sit down and put some thoughts down in regards to Shiloh, as I was exhausted after the event.  I'll go into more detail in a post on the Grand Armies of the Republic page about noting all the logistics and pre-planning done by the event staff (Earl Zeckman and John Nash Jr), and the (not kidding, 2 site visits and (by my count) 8 conference calls led by the overall commander Bob A Minton who did an amazing job at getting this event pulled together. 

I arrived on Wednesday and was greeted by Terri Cooney Zeckman working the registration table.  After setting up on site we worked through a pretty windy and rainy Wednesday and Thursday, but by Friday things were starting to shape up for some great weather.  We had most of the company, battalion and brigade leaders on site by early Friday afternoon so we met to discuss the schedule for the weekend.  I enjoyed camping next to 1st Battalion Steve Lundburgh who was great to work with all weekend. 

I was honored to command all the infantry for the Friday afternoon battle, and we had three battalions that, while never worked together as a brigade, performed beyond expectations.  2nd Battalion 4th Company Captain Ryan VanMaldegen was tasked with being the bait of the scenario and led his company in drill in the field.  One the attack unfolded he was joined by 3rd Company Captain Douglas McComas.  Eventually the battle unfolded with the 1st Battalion (led by the fierce Colonel Dave Brunner) and Federal Calvary coming to our aid.  The Confederates didn’t put up too much of a fight so we opted to retire off the field. 

Saturday morning’s battle started off early with a 6:00a First Call.  This battle was in two parts with us initially marching out with some interesting fog and deploying on the hill.  As we covered for the rest of Army retreating behind us, our 1st Brigade fought a very stubborn delaying action allowing the rest of the Army to reform in the next field where the battle continued.  Excellent work by Brian Riley and Aaron Sayles on the 1st Battalion Right Wing as well as Captain William Behrman of the 2nd Battalion 2nd Company. 

On Saturday afternoon, we performed Brigade Drill which was something we don’t get to do very often.  I must say all the Battalion and Company Officers did a GREAT job with this drill.  There were 5 or 6 specific things I wanted to do in terms of deploying and forming and we got those down so quickly, there was no reason to make it last any longer.  (I only deployed our column of Battalions incorrectly one time…one time only….pretty sure no one noticed except Ian Fulford.  1st Battalion 2nd Company Greg Kohn was great to work with on this drill. 

Saturday afternoon had a delay but it was due to the incredible number of spectators coming for the event.  In part, these are the folks that pay the bills and I for one supported the delay in order to allow more of them to come see the event.  The battle had an impressive display of artillery.  After the battle, Lt. Colonel Jesse Poe led a patrol into the town of Purdy which was something we don’t get to do very often.  It was right after the delayed battle so I know the guys were tired but thank you.

I made the mistake of staying to long (or maybe going at all?) to the 3rd Michigan Infantry Co. F's camp where someone hit the ‘on’ button for Gary Houghtaling.  I was also supplied green liquid and for the rest of Saturday night there was probably as much fog in my head as there was on the battlefield Saturday morning. 

The Sunday battle had us march into the farthest corner of the battle field to stage.  Our battalion kicked off the fight with an initial assault.  A few observations here…the men of 1st Battalion looked amazing.  I really saw Lt. Colonels Howard Morgan and Ted Opran do a fantastic job.  I commented to Dave that their battle line was as straight as a ruler.  Jason Andrew Brunner was great as 1st Company Commander, setting the pace, all the companies looked fantastic.  (In a national event, what better place than 1st company, 1st Battalion??)   I had to dispatch Marty Walker to the middle of the field to act independently, and he did a great job not just during the Sunday battle, but all weekend ‘appearing’ right in front of me when I needed him most and figuring out my hand signals.  Our final push drove the Rebels from the field and we marched back to camp. 

Compliments to 2nd Battalion Sgt. Major John Vohlken for his excellent work on the Guard Mount (several commented to me on it), and to Thomas Berlucchi, my Chief of Staff who I could not have done the event without.  TJ Berlucchi filled in for drumming at several formations and did a great job as well, and last, thanks to my ‘bugle translator’ Tom Emmerick, for keeping me honest to the bugle calls for 1st Brigade. 

I appreciate all of you did your part except one group who left about one cord of wood stacked in the middle of the field (because, you know, I didn’t communicate expectations there….).  Having said that, there was no trash to speak of in our camping area, so thank you for that as well as minding the 'no fire pit' request.) 

I expected nothing less than excellence from the Indiana and Michigan boys in terms of their performance as I work with them regularly, but it was my first time with the MDM and KATs in 1st Battalion and they were hands down an amazing group of guys to march with who are well led and well trained.  The other company officers I didn’t already mention, Todd Koster, Jeff Cordell, Todd Wisnant Matt Mallory, thank you. 

I am grateful for all of your hard work.  (If I mixed up any company numbers / names here please let me know). 

Hope my voice comes back soon….

Colonel Van

Jackson, MI, August 2016, After Action Report

Ton of front end planning credit has to go to Thomas Berlucchi who facilitated several conference calls with
all the principals for the event prior to the weekend, thanks Tom!

When I arrived on Friday afternoon Major Greg Swank was already ‘on scene’ and forming Headquarters.
Thankfully Keith Graham Harrison had already laid out 5 company streets (which at the time I thought would
be adequate allowing for last year’s number with some growth. John Vohlken was busy providing some much
needed pest control over the weekend, thanks John.

As we compiled company reports, we were actually considering consolidating to 4 companies based on the
numbers we were seeing. When Saturday morning came our ranks swelled to not only 5 large companies, also
we were pleased to see Scot Spiekerman with the 114th PA on site with a full company. Unfortunately due to a registration miscommunication I didn’t have a 6th Company Street laid out (sorry guys…) but we made it

Saturday’s day started with a few rough edges but by the end of the drill we were pretty much in sync and we practiced a few maneuvers that (believe it or not) we actually used in the Saturday battle, such as by the right of companies to the front and to the rear. The battle plan called for us to march out in front of the crowd and wait for the battle to start (which we did). We also moved into the crowd to interact with the spectators which everyone seemed to enjoy.

We engaged the Confederate forces and pushed back and forth but were finally ran off the field. A quick note
here, unfortunately the JDR Commander Greg Van Wey was unable to attend Jackson. Greg is always a
pleasure to work with. In his place was Bill Adams. You can tell these two are cut from similar cloth as Bill
was incredibly accommodating and just amazing to work with. It creates such a positive experience when you
have commanders on the field putting their full effort into fulfilling the vision of the battle, not trying to break
scenarios. Bill was fantastic to work with.

After the battle we were able to honor John Clark and Jim Newkirk for their many years of service to Cascades
Park. We were also able to have a moment to honor several folks in the re-enacting community who we have
recently lost.

Later in the evening we had a Parade scheduled (which I might a few people on staff seemed to think we
should cancel due to weather…) but, they were WRONG! The rain cleared off and we were able to have a
solid performance on Parade. The only thing that would have made the Parade (and the event) better would
have been to have consistent music.

We had a very solid bugler and drummer in and out of the event over the weekend, just not all the time. I’d
really like to make that a goal for next year. That concluded most of the formal activities for Saturday as the
dance was unfortunately cancelled. Later in the evening I did have the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Spiekerman
who was wonderful to talk to. I understand she keeps an axe close to her tent but thankfully she did not feel the need to retrieve it.

Sunday’s drill we practiced the maneuvers (specifically deploying the column) we would use later in the day.
The battle plan for Sunday involved having Kevin Yeager's crew initially engaging the Confederates on our
front. Kevin, as always, put on a great show for the crowd. As for the infantry, our plan was to march to the top of the hill behind the battlefield and then march down through the crowd (which the spectators always enjoy). As we came down the hill we went into a column of companies then deployed. I have talked before about having solid left and right ‘hooks’ as a battalion, and with Scot Spiekerman's boys on the left and Nick Leach's AOW company on the right (including my awesome home company of the 49th Indiana Co F), I had them.  Up until that well placed Confederate gun opened up on our left (sorry 6th Company, we had to get through there!). Anyway, it decimated Scott’s boys, but I was fortunate enough that the Marty Walker's 3rd Michigan filled the gap. At one point when we may have been turned, it was calming to see Ryan VanMaldegen in the thick of it already anticipating what I was going to ask him…and he said he would not allow the left to be turned.

Speaking of nonverbal communication, it seemed like I was also totally in sync with Russ Paul and his HUGE
Company. It was hard to yell the orders out over the noise of the battle (and the announcer) and I could lock
eyes with Russ and know based on his expression if I needed to repeat any orders or change anything. Moving
towards the center of the battalion, I also have to compliment a few more company commanders. Nick Miner
turned in a solid performance managing 4th Company and was always where he needed to be and was great to work with. Last, 3rd company which was tag teamed by Chad Johnson and J.R. Schroeder….gents, you both did fantastic not only in drill, but were crisp and timely in both battles. Great job to both of you, it was my pleasure to work with you.

I’d like to thank two incredible wing commanders, Denny Whiting and Ron Wilkins, as well as Greg Swank
for his hard but fantastic work all weekend. Also thanks to Gary 'Smith' Houghtaling for stepping up to be
Sergeant Major all weekend. Unlike Hastings, I was able to spend a bit more time around Gary and have a
huge appreciation for his sense of humor. Matt Guinn was also in cam p and on staff, and helped with the day
to day running of the event. Of special note also should be William Eichler who provided the flags for the
weekend. Last and certainly not least, TJ Berlucchi for dispatching communications to the field.

Last issue to discuss…some of you may have been aware there were some vehicle break ins over the weekend.  The responsible party was caught very quickly by the local police. However, the event staff will be taking the extra step to hire additional security at the event next year to patrol the parking lots, so I think that is an appropriate and responsible step on their part.

See you at Perryville! (get registered!!)

Colonel Van

Hastings, MI, July 2016, After Action Report

Apologies for my late report. We wrapped up another fantastic Hastings weekend. First, the weather. Wow, I
am pretty sure I can’t remember a Hastings where I needed a blanket to sleep. The mosquitoes seemed to be
minimal, and although there was a brief period of time where a significant storm looked like it might come
through the area on Sunday, the lake dissipated its strength and we generally had great weather all the way

Many to thank this time around. I think we all realized just how much work Keith Graham Harrison has put
into Hastings, and as always we missed him. Doing a fantastic job filling in his shoes was Greg Swank, who
not only kept the weekend running smoothly, but also pulled off a fantastic Parade on Saturday. Ivan Gucci
Vargas also did a phenomenal job making the next evolution in the battalion orders documents, thank you! The
other members of the staff did a fantastic job, including Wing Commanders Denny Whiting and Dave
Bauman, Tom Emerick and Bill Combs. I’d like to make a special note in regards to Ron Wilkins, he was
everywhere. He made sure everyone was online when they needed to be, chased down issues, resolved issues, could NOT say enough about his hard work. Gary Houghtaling was incredible at Sergeant Major, and
wow…let’s talk about Kevin Yeager…we’ll talk more about the cavalry a bit later.
Thanks to Jim Newkirk for keeping everything in motion, and as always I have to tip my hat to our noble
Rebel friends, led by Greg Van Wey.

It was an honor for all of us to form and honor both Jim Tononi of the 4th Michigan Co A Volunteer Infantry
Reenactors as well as Rich Roscoe of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, and it was such a class act for the Jeff Davis Rifles to participate in that, thank you gentlemen.

I thought the drill was quick and to the point, we accomplished what we needed to and used much of it during
the battle. Saturday’s battle on the High Meadows was certainly hard fought…but the cavalry…wow the
cavalry. Those guys did a fantastic job controlling the field. Also of special note I wanted to recognize Brian
D. Jankowski for all his input in regards to the battle planning for Saturday.

Sunday morning’s tactical required us to capture an artillery piece which, with the help of the Cavalry, I think
we had in our possession in a count of ‘minutes’. From there we pulled it back up to a hill and controlled the
field for the majority of the scenario, although I have to say there were some times when the Rebs were giving us a pretty hard push. In the end, had we not had the Cavalry, I am pretty sure the outcome would have been more to chance. Thanks to the artillery crew for lugging the gun up and down the field for us!
Sunday’s battle in town resulted in a Union defeat as our forces came on to the field and were chewed up in
pretty short order by the Confederate Army.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Colonel…looking forward to seeing all of you at Cascades Civil
War Muster!

Colonel Van

Jackson, MI, August 2015, After Action Report

So much to say in regards to Jackson…let’s start at the beginning.  What many people did not see was the tremendous amount of planning that went into the event before anyone even stepped a foot on the grounds.  Special thanks goes to Thomas Berlucchi​ , as he set up multiple teleconferences including via GoTo Meeting (sharing computer screens) to give the event the maximum chance of success. 

Subsequent to that, but still even prior to the event, Keith Graham Harrison​ was there laying out the company streets, and the Marines were there laying out the civilian camp, so by the time most of us were there, it looked pretty organized!

Friday night we conducted an officers meeting and, much like Hastings, we reviewed the schedule as well as the drill maneuvers we were going to do.  I think this was time well spent as the drill on Saturday was simply outstanding.  I often find that at any event, I’ll have one of the drills and one of the battles I like the best, and they are typically on opposite days.  This weekend was no exception, but I’ll get to the battles soon enough.  I had two of my sons ( Rob Roy​ – (22), and Ray Van​ (20), at Headquarters as well to assist, which was very enjoyable for me.

Our staff was amazing, we had the likes of Keith Harrison as Chief of Staff (more on him later), Nathan Malone​ as Sergeant Major, my ‘go to’ Right Wing Commander Dave Bauman, Denny Whiting did a great job as Left Wing Commander with his Great Lakes Battalion boys, and I had the pleasure of getting to know Robert Rock​ who’s service was invaluable as Aide-de-Camp.  I didn’t really get a chance to meet the rest of his family, but his daughters were there as well.  Special thanks to the artillery wizardry of Jim Newkirk, and although he was only ‘on our side’ Saturday, I have come to have a high regard for Kevin Yeager​'s cavalry skills.  I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention music…boy how important music is.  We had a one drummer that popped in for a partial day (not really sure what happened to him), but a young man whose last name I didn’t catch, but his first name was Jonathon, was arguably one of the best at giving a beat to march to I have heard in a long time, and was there for most of the weekend.

After drill on Saturday we moved into battle preparations, including a rousing prayer by Reverend Charlie Buckhahn (wow that man can pray…).  As we formed up, many were surprised and delighted to see Dave Shackelford take the field as ‘Commander Emeritus’ for the battle on Saturday.  Dave marched out with us.  Although it went ‘well’, it was not my favorite of the two battles.  It was too over scripted with too many last minute changes, and frankly I don’t enjoy that kind of set up.  Colonel Nick Medich​ was gracious enough to come over and provide some guidance as to how we might move him off the field, only underscoring the fact that the man is a class act.  We came out and pushed the Rebels off the field and that was basically that.  One thing I have begun to rely on time and time again, is the solid performance of my ‘bookend’ companies, Marty Walker​ and the 3rd Michigan boys on the right, and Scot Spiekerman​ and his Zouaves on the left…I can’t tell you how assuring it is to see them there.  Also performing good work with some punches in the middle were Captains Russ Paul​ , J.R. Schroeder​ , and several more.  After the battle, the event organizers had set up a special ceremony to honor Dave Shackelford, Nick Medich, and (although he didn’t know it at the time), Keith Harrison.  (This would not be the first time we had something planned for Keith he was not aware of).  Jackson recognized all three men and provided them plaques for all of what they have done for Jackson and for re-enacting. 

We marched back to camp with a planned parade later in the evening.  Again, tip of the hat to the Rebel Army, they came over to link up with us for the Parade which actually was a ceremony to recognize Keith.  What can you say about a man who has given so much, so selflessly, for so many years?   Keith walked among the men after he was given a pistol as recognition of his service. 

On Sunday we formed up for drill and this drill went well, just not quite as smooth as Saturday’s.  I hold myself responsible for that, as I think a ‘do different’ for me will be to have a brief Officer’s meeting BOTH Friday and Saturday to review drill concepts.  Also before Sunday’s battle, I also had the pleasure of meeting Russ Paul’s wife for the first time. 

Sunday’s battle (at least for me) was a bit more loosely scripted but more enjoyable.  I have to say I feel like I am really in sync with Greg Van Wey​ (the Confederate Commander on Sunday) in terms of how we have battles flow.  I am looking forward to working with him more and more.  We ended up getting pushed off the field Sunday, but I think we bloodied their noses at bit before we did. 

If nothing else, I am incredibly excited about the Cumberland Guard and the direction it is taking moving forward.  I received a lot of positive feedback and offers of assistance.   

Many thanks to all of you who shouldered a musket for Guard Mount, it is very much appreciated.  I’d also like to extend an invite to ‘All Ya’All’ to consider coming down to Hartford City, IN on October 9, 10, 11 2015.   Find more details at 

Thank you for letting me be a part of your weekend.

Colonel Van


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