Friday, June 30, 2006

Which Civil War you talkin' about, Willis?

I've known about the Sealed Knot for a long while, thanks to the old Living History Magazine. The article and organization were pretty intersting from an outsider's point of view - the reenactors here seem to have a blast.

Now I know there's more than one Civil War!

Reenacting in Russia

This hobby never ceases to amaze me. A few weeks ago, I linked to a few photos showing a WW2 reenactment in the Ukraine. I looked great -- the uniforms and overall authenticity was impressive, as well as the T-34s! I know it's from my own small and narrow view of the world, but I was pleasantly shocked to say the least.

The International Military Historical Association is a blanket group for Russian reenacting in all time periods. It's an amazing site, and one I'm very heartened to see. You see some things familiar, and other things exclusive to Russia. It's a window into how other countries' groups reenact, and something we all should be keeping an eye on.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Where's the line?

A recent article in the Flint Journal (article is no longer archived for free on the paper's Web site) reported that a Confederate Civil War reenactor, Tim VanRaemdonck, was working a living history display at Crossroads Village and was told to leave over a perceived breach in racial etiquette.

Part of VanRaemdonck's presentation to the public was to fill and hand out enlistment papers as souvenirs to visitors. A group of first grade elementary school children visited his display, and he commenced to fill out his papers. On a black student's form he wrote in "slave" as his occupation. The paper's story doesn't go into detail other to say that Van Raemdonck was told to leave by Crossroads officials because what he had written as an "occupation" upset the student and had seemingly racist overtones.

Incidently, VanRaemdonck received a ton of support from the public after the incident.

This is one incident that seems to beg a rant, but on closer reflection, maybe some discussion is in order before we jump on one side or the other.

When I first read this article, my first impulse was to come in defense of a reenacting bro. He was using his own time and energy to get a message across and arouse some interest in an important time in our nation's history, only to be put down by the very place he was trying to help. Sometimes history is distasteful, but it does need to be told.

But a couple of questions popped into my mind after I read this article: are we getting ahead ourselves as living historians? Are we doing something that is appropriate for the age-level of the audience?

On the whole, I look on the happening at Crossroads Village as excessively ham-handed on the part of the Crossroads officials. They obviously pulled a CYA move by immediately booting VanRaemdonck rather than simply dealing with the issue in a constructive and low-key manner. Unfortunately, this CYA move back-fired, and now it looks like they have a rather hefty public relations problem in the making. That's what happens when you kowtow to the religion of the politically correct.

I do feel that VanRaemdonck did cross the line, but not because I'm some sort of PC lackey who feels that history as a whole needs to be dumbed down. :-)

VanRaemdonck did wrong by not taking in consideration his audience. Yes, he was doing a Confederate soldier impression who was enlisting new "recruits" for the cause and keeping things as period as possible. But I think the error came to being when he assumed a very basic understanding of the Civil War period on the part of first grade students who probably have no inkling what a "Civil War" is in the first place. Therefore, the word "slave" in relation to a "enlistment paper" is likely to go way over a first grader's head, no matter how carefully you explain it. They have no knowledge of the period, therefore no context to use to frame usage of the word "slave". But they well know that being a "slave" isn't a good thing, so without an understood context, it's paramount to an put-down. Net result? Kid with hurt feelings.

As living historians, we have a self-imposed reponsibility to make sure that the history we're dishing up to the public is accurate and unpolluted by extremist views or classic PCness. We as reenactors want to feed history to people raw in order to share the experience as much as possible. But we need to be aware of the audience and context before we deliver our message. You can deliver tough history to high schoolers because they do have the knowledge (we hope) to frame everything you tell them into the right context. He or she may not like it, but they would have an understanding of why. To a typical first grader, everything is eye-candy and very little is truely understood.

Does VanRaemdonck deserve an apology from Crossroads Village? Yes, because Crossroads Village officials responded in an overly strong and inappropriate fashion. If the local NAACP wasn't moved to action, then it seems that the incident wasn't that big to begin with.

Does the first grader deserve an apology or explaination from VanRaemdonck? Yes, if VanRaemdonck is willing to broach the subject then he, as an interpreter, needs to fully explain his reasoning on the student's level. If he cannot do so, then he needs to simply apologize for the misunderstanding.

The bigger issue here is that a problem arose that could have been resolved in a quiet fashion ended up in a newspaper. Crossroads Village officials jumped the gun for their own selfish reasons, handled the situation clumsily, and got stung in the process. Although VanRaemdonck did cross the line, he did so in an unwitting manner. From all sides of the issue, his intentions seem to be good. Maybe sitting the student down and explaining why VanRaemdonck chose "slave" would have been a good beginning, and maybe a good lesson for his classmates, too. But it seems like that route was quickly shut off, along with a constructive ending to the situation.

Civil War Reenactors forum has the original news article and a good discussion on this story.

My favorite Sutler of the week

Last week was an unintended "bye" week for My Favorite Sutler, but probably a much needed break nonetheless. Gave me time to think back about all the sutlers I've had dealings with.

I'm back with a another oldie-but-goodie sutler, Jas. Townsend and Son. I bought a couple items from him long ago, and I miss them to this day. One was my antler comb, and the other was a penny whistle. The comb was great, but I never learned to play the whistle right.

Jas. Townsend and Son is a great place to go for antebellum stuff, for their main audience is Revolutionary War reenactors. But they do cater to the Civil War era in small bits. They also carry things that are unique, authentic and inexpensive. Never negelect the fringe - who knows what you'll find.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups

Part VIII - Administrative Organization

Now we're getting into the nuts and bolts of the OSORG system - things that are fairly unique organizational techniques. Please bear in mind, OSORG is for anyone willing to put it to use. I'd love to hear from anyone with changes or adjustments to the way they use OSORG. I'll post these changes on Seeing the Elephant (recreated) in the spirit of "open source".

The last installment was about mentors - many groups already use various shades of this to guide new members in the right direction. This installment is a big one - it's the administrative side to organizing your group. Many reenactors call it the "civilian" side of the group, although in OSORG, this is a misnomer. This is the framework that allows your group to operate and serve its membership in an efficient manner.

Basic units of organization

Everything written in this serial to date pertains to a singular organization, but there will be a time when the group will expand. OSORG group organization is based on a system of "messes" (military) or "societies" (civilian). In OSORG, "messes" and "societies" are two different groups, but an option can be to combine the two into the same organization. If you do so, make sure that group decisions are even, and don't favor one over the other unnecessarily.

Your group in context of this serial has been a single mess/society (we'll use "mess" for brevity), but obviously in order to grow, the group must extend its area. Rather than create a single all-encompassing group that eventually becomes unweildy and out-of-touch with members as it grows, OSORG is built around several smaller groups controlled by the group's mission, guidelines, and membership. This way, OSORG allows for expansion outside the group's immediate area, allowing for increased ownership and participation by all group members.

Mess Leadership

Messes are scattered around your representative area or state. Each will control a certain predetermined area, but as growth occurs, this area will change allowing the growth of more messes. A mess has a single member who acts as a "coordinator" who interfaces with both the mess and the organization at large.

At the mess level, coordinators should:

  • Encourage and schedule mess activity such as small scale drills, socials, and workshops,
  • Collect and submit registrations to events, and
  • Report event attendees to the NCO that is assigned to the mess.

At the overall organization level, coordinators will compose a board that meets once a year (possibly twice depending on need). Refer to the Annual Meeting section later in this post for what happens in this meeting.

The coordinator board replaces the classic organization of president/vice president/treasurer/secretary as a functional body. If your group is a S-type (or similar) Corporation, then you'll need to maintain the classic organization structure in name, and develop a way to report any financial transactions. As a note, company money and property in OSORG is greatly curtailed, if not eliminated, depending on the requirements of your group. If you intend to maintain an S-Corporation, you'll need to refer to the requirements to maintain status.

Coordinators are elected by the mess and serve for a term of one calendar year, starting from February 1 and ending on January 31.

Coordinator Pro tem

If a single member is from an area far from the center of the organization, and is confident that he can raise a mess in his area, then he can be named as a "coordinator pro tem".

The coordinator pro tem has one year to raise a legitimate mess. If he fails to do so, then he must join and participate in the mess that is closest to him. He still can attempt to gather a mess, but not as a coordinator pro tem.

A coordinator pro tem attends coordinator meetings, but since he has no constituent members, cannot vote on matters that require member advocacy. If a constituency vote is a tie, then a coordinator pro tem can be asked to cast a tie-breaker.

Annual Meetings

Once (or twice) a year, the board of coordinators will meet and determine these issues:

  • Review and recommend the overall direction of the group,
  • Decide on what events to attend or host,
  • Accept or deny memberships, and
  • Review and approve any new guidelines for the group.

Earlier in this serial, I recommended that the mission statement needed to be reviewed every six months. The board of coordinators meeting should be the time that this is done, as well as fine tune goals and make sure that the group is on target to attain those goals. If goals need to be created, the board will come up with a list of issues to present to the membership, and vice versa.

At the beginning of the year, the coordinators needs to have an idea of what events the group should attend, so consistent and frequent communication with members is a must. The events should be published online and via newsletter for member reference.

OSORG's basic vision does not include charging dues, so continued membership is determined by participation. Members can participate in these ways, as an example, or however your group decides:

  • Attend events as group members,
  • Research and publish history of regiments, regions or people of the era, or
  • Help maintain the group infrastructure, such as being a coordinator or volunteering for activties that the group is directly involved with.

After the annual meeting, a roster of active members should be published for the year. Any members who are determined to be inactive will be informed a week after the board of coordinators determine active membership. Members who are determined as inactive will have a month to respond, if they wish to be considered active again. Members who respond and want to be considered active must prove participation in the first two yearly quarters.

Lastly, any changes to the organization or material guidelines/PATH need to be discussed at this meeting.

Coordinators need to understand that they represent their member's interest, so it's important that all issues be discussed with the mess membership before the coordinator makes decisions. Likewise, mess members need to understand that they elect a coordinator that can make the best decisions for the group, even if an issue that hasn't been discussed with the mess is posed to the board.

Mess Details

A mess in OSORG should consist of 3 - 15 active reenactors, a size that should comfortably be handled by a single coordinator. The charter members should all have a say in naming the mess. The name should be creative and original, but as period as possible.

Once the mess has 16 or more members, then it should divide roughly in half, using geography as a determining factor for how the mess should be divided. The goal should be to group mess mates as closely as possible. Dividing messes like this have the effect of doubling effort and encourages more growth within the mess' geographic area. It also keeps the mess at a manageble number for the coordinator.

If a reenactor does not want to shift messes, then the coordinator should poll members and see who would be willing to help make the division as equitable as possible. If there are no takers, then the issue should be left as is. Sometimes people are more comfortable staying where they are. There is no good reason to force someone to conform to a change if it can be easily handled by volunteerism or dropping the issue and recouping the loss at a later time.

The new mess will then elect a coordinator and inform the organization at-large of the change.

NEXT: Part IX - Military Organization

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

On the Civilian side

I've really had no interest in doing a civilian impression until recently. It was all military for me. But as have been discovering lately, if you do Confederate, some of your uniform impressions touch on civilian. As an interpreter, you know everyone started out as a civilian, so it's good to touch on aspects of the home front. Fanny & Vera's site is great to get anyone started doing a civilian impression, or touching on the subject on a high level.

CW links of the week

Here are some reenacting links for this week:
Viola celebrating 150th anniversary
As usual, the Rebels win
Battle of Parkers Crossroads re-enacted June 11
Union and Confederacy still engaged in battle
Learning history by living it
Civil War revisited

Other reenacting headlines:
French surrender fort, again
Older Than Plymouth Rock, But Still Behind
Lecompton celebrates history, reenacts battle for "Territorial ...
Re-enactors bring to life War of 1812 in Mumford
Custer's last battle to be re-enacted
Paratroopers invited to military weekend
Fitchburg Historical Society presents 'Soapbox in the Park'
Forgotten breeds find home on farm
Crow historian ties songs into big battle
Crowd sees demise of Custer, again
Fort Roberdeau - Revolutionary War reproduction is destination for history buffs

For more Civil War news, check out Strike The Tent's Civil War News Roundup.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Has the Dog run away?

I've visited The WatchDog's site a couple of times recently, and I was wondering if this publication is still in business? The site apparently hasn't been updated for some time.

When I went out of the hobby long ago, The Watchdog was beginning to make its name in the authentic community. But it seems that time has taken its toll, and it's not as mentioned as it once was.

Anyone know anything about The Watchdog? Lemme know!

G'day y'all, the Australians are coming!

I have to admit, the UK and Canadian sites I've posted here have an enviable relish for things ACW, now I add an absolutely fantastic Australian site to the mix. The Blue and Grey is hands-down a great site to behold. Loaded familiar information, it's another example of what a ACW site should not only look like, but how it should function for its members and the visiting public. We in the USA should make sure to keep an eye on our out-of-country pards, they know how to raise the reenacting bar.

Also, I consider this site a treat, because the links section points to other reenacting sites that have loads of information, can't them on US sites, and are just great to explore. A great place to start would be the ARLHO (Australasian Register of Living History Organisations) Web site -- lots of good information.

Cool group site of the week

I'm back from out of town -- only missed one day of blogging, so I'll start with my Cool group sites entry of the week.

Before I left for points away, I was able to find the Campaigners Manifesto; a list of ethical DOs for reenactors. The group who hosted this list is Company G, 10th Texas Infantry from Georgia. Although this isn't a flashy site, it has alot of great information contained within it.

This site is a great example of a resource-heavy site for members of the group. It has plenty of articles and referring links to research related to the group's impression, what members can do to improve, and other articles or links to articles to keep group interest going. If the photo on the home page is any indication, these guys have a great impression they should be very proud of.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Manifesto and list to take to heart

I read the Campaigner's Manifesto some time back when I was considering jumping back into the Civil War reenacting fray. It impressed me that someone was willing to put to words what we all as authentic reenactors should do. It was similiar to Cal Kinzer's now somewhat dated list to A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression, but it deals with the matter more on a higher, ethical level. I think all Civil War reenactors should read and take it to heart.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The OTHER big time period

I've been remiss writing about another favorite time period of mine, the Revolutionary War. I was planning on going down to Guilford Courthouse in May to do a Seeing the Elephant exclusive, but my plans fizzled out.

The Sixth NC was the first Rev War group I ever came into contact with, because at the time they split their time doing Civil War. I also know some members who also recreated the King's Own, which they later translated into a fine British WW2 group.

I seen the Battle of Guilford Courthouse before, but long ago. It was a nice event, but I do remember that it was ssssslllloooowwww. I'd like to make some Rev War events in the near future. Maybe I'll make Guildford Courthouse next year!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Slow to get out of the gate

Hello all -- apologies for the lack of posts for the last couple days. I'm a catchin' up after the Stanley Cup finals. I'll be back to it (except for this weekend, I'll be out of town) today with more posts and more of An Open Source Organization.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups

Part VII - Mentors

In comparison to the other installments, this part of the serial won't be so long, but it is an important cornerstone to OSORG. The the last installment covered how to implement Material Requirements, but that information can be be placed to the side for now.

Instituting a "Mentor System" for your group is probably one of the single most important processes that your group needs. If properly used, it insures everyone is treated fairly and that new recruits obtain the right gear with very little trial and error purchasing. The Mentor System also gives the more experienced members a chance to interact closely with new members to add a measure of comfort to the first few events.

A good Mentor System involves individuals in of the entire group, most notably the members who have just collected their basic and intermediate kits. The one thing you want to avoid with the Mentor System is engaging your charter members past the initial setup phase of the group. Technically, the charter members should mentor the next group of members, who in turn will mentor the next group, and so on. Doing this engages all members in the group at some time. The goal here is to create a basic sense of group ownership and develop camaraderie with the newer members.

The OSORG Mentor System has a definite beginning and a definite end. Once the new members collects all his gear and can stand on his own without borrowing basic gear, then they step away from the mentor, and with a little more experience, will become the next mentor. The group needs to avoid keeping members responsible for other members who are fully vested. The group can even perform a ceremony or papers to reinforce the fact that the member has split from the mentor and is ready to assume responsibility in the group.

Being a mentor doesn't mean complete control over a new member, it's meant as a guide - a way to get a new member up to speed in the least time possible, within the new members' financial and time constraints. Many groups who fail to do this are the one who look impossibly disorganized because new members were left up to their own devices to purchase their gear. The first time at the sutlers usually gets the snowball to Hades rolling.

A mentor should know and know how to interpret these things to a new member:

  • Group goals
  • Member requirments
  • Material requirements
Mentors should also strive to be the new member's mess mate, but at the same time, encourage friendship with all members. Eventually, the new member should find his own place within the group. One thing to be discouraged is creating a "Private Pyle" as in the movie "Full Metal Jacket". In the movie, Private Pyle was a hapless person; devoid of motivation, desire, and ability - a liability to everyone around him. Although Private Pyle's transformation and fate are of no consequence to this example, you do want to avoid creating a dependent member - a Private Pyle. Everyone should be able to get on their feet as soon as their gear is collected, and be able to carry on the Mentor System to newer members.

Another mentor option you can consider is Sponsorship. If you want to tighten membership and insure that you're netting the members that are just right for your group, you may want to require all new members be sponsored by an existing member. The Sponsor takes responsibility for the new member until the member is fully equiped and integrated, or for a set time period. Unlike the mentor, the Sponsor exercises more control in shaping the new member, since the new member is using the Sponsor's credability within the group as collateral for eventual membership.

NEXT: Part VIII - Administrative Organization

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Hurricane's last stand

I don't have much to say this Monday, other than to hope my team takes the Cup tonight. It comes down to this last game. I just hope this game isn't the moral equivalent of Pickett's Charge. I'll be back to normal, depending on whether we win or lose, by Wednesday.

Update: The 'Canes won!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Cool group site of the week

I usually cover the more authentic-oriented groups in the Civil War corner of reenacting, but this mainstreamer site absolutely deserves its place in the Cool group site listings. The 8th Tennessee US was a group I was involved with long ago, and I've mentioned it from time to time on this blog.

This group has a very nice site, and it's very focused on the group and doesn't try to divide its mission with other activities. It's a nice example of a "community" type site, where members can access a messgeboard and keep in contact with one another making the group more cohesive. I encourage any Web master looking at developing a site to give this one a close look-see.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Who are we doing the favor?

I know this post would bring a hostile reaction, but it's one that's been brewing in me for some time. The thought was rekindled at the event in Kinston, NC and I did mention some remedies and fixes for the event in a post soon afterwards.

I've had time to think about what I've said, and have more thoughts to add. Dark thoughts. Foreboding thoughts. But constructive thoughts. Thoughts we as reenactors and historical portrayers need to find voice to allow this hobby to grow in accurate and true-to-the-subject ways. Ways that are true to history, and not necessarily the most fun or delightful ways to entertain our 21st century sensibilities.

Please note though, this post isn't bashing on the Kinston event, but my way of pointing out some issues I see in the hobby at the root level.

Honestly, I think Civil War reenacting is at a crossroads. The large anniversary events are becoming smaller due to lack of interest and declining numbers of reenactors. Some events are becoming participant-only, while others are de-empathsizing the specatators in favor of quality. But most events are still doing the same 'ole thing - trying to appease the public with a fluffy fantasy version of the Civil War. To me, we're not doing enough to promote quality, instead selling our hobby out to business interests.

So, who are we doing this hobby for? The public or ourselves? Are we allowing the hobby to decline from lack of innovation?

When I made the jump to WW1 and WW2 reenacting, I felt that I was exposed to a side reenacting that was almost pristine. No business interest dictating how the event should be run. No catering hand and foot to the public. Something that was true to the spirit of the era. Reenactors motivated to be as authentic as possible. I quickly understood that I took up this hobby for me. Not the public. Just me. My interest in these eras drove me to improve my impression and keep on improving as best I could.

Like a model train hobbyist, you improve along the way by trying new techniques, with the goal of realism. Not exactness, but realism. Exactness to me denotes exact scaling, a one-on-one representation. Realism, to me, means coming close as possible to exactness but not creating a caricature of what you're doing. Although we don't want exactness, much of what some reenactors do has become a caricature. What to do?

At the root level, some attitudes need to change. It kills me to hear the old refrain "I'm not in the army!" to avoid pulling guard duty, doing something else "army-like", or acquiring an authentic kit. The fact remains that we are reenacting the army. We derive enjoyment from recreating army life from the 1860's. If you don't like recreating army life, why are you in the hobby in the first place? These are the people who feed the caricarture events. Will these opinions change? Yep, the day a zebra adjusts its stripes or a pig takes flight. Is there anything that can be done? No and yes.

I learned that if someone doesn't want to change, they won't, no matter how good the argument is. More energy will be spent on convincing people to do something, than actually doing it in the first place. Trying to convince unwilling people is a waste of energy. Instead, find the willing.

With willing reenactors you can have vision about making the hobby better. Willing reenactors are the ones who want to push the envelope of realism and make the hobby worthwhile -- more than just a bunch of guys in a tightly formed group firing blackpowder rifles for the crowd. Reenactors willing to go to events like McDowell and Rich Mountain are going to be the salvation of this hobby. It's the evolved state of the hobby that I knew 20 years ago. Gone is the attempt to look like a specific unit, and now the replacement philosophy is to look like a unit that was actually at the battle. That is the essence of recreating and reenacting as it should stand now.

But thinking/writing and doing are different things. I'm sure most things I've written will be decried as elitist rantings. I don't think what I'm saying is elitist at all. I think it's common sense. If you cater to the lowest common denominator, then that's what comes out in an event. Ask some "progressive" reenactors about how they feel about the major event at Gettysburg. I think nowadays we've become too afraid to offend and too inclusionary for the good of the hobby. It's good to see groups willing to host events that buck those fears. Some people may not like it, but it's time to look at events as a 'product' that has a standard of quality. When we do that, then the hobby will improve. Most everyone appreciates quality.

If we want to have a great hobby, then we need to start thinking what's best for us and the hobby.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Marchin' Miles

When I read an article about the General Miles Marching and Chowder Society in an edition of the now-defunct Living History Magazine (of the mid-1980's), it profoundly changed my view on authenticity not only as worn, but as reenacted.

These guys don't do battle reenactments, and pretty much everything they do is a full-immersion living history. They do patrols for days, pack rations for those marches, and generally do things that many Civil War reenactors would consider "crazy" or "hardcore". I would consider it fun, personally.

Even if GMMACS isn't your bag of tea, they do have interesting ways of doing things as a group. One example is that they filter membership by the way of a "Benzene Board" to keep the standards of authenticity high. Probably not something conducive for a huge group, but something that authentically-minded CW groups should look at adopting.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My favorite Sutler of the week

Sometimes you need to indulge in something that's as close to history as you can get, barring the original item. Waterside Woolen Mills has just the item - a blanket that was created in the same mill as the original item. How much closer to authenticity can you get? The The Keagy-Noble Blanket they offer is an exact match. Although this vendor isn't specific to the Civil War, they do have some neat blankets.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups

Part VI - Material Requirements

Last week was my "bye" week for An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups serial. The last installment was about defining membership requirements. This week, we'll look at material requirements and OSORG's "Path" System.

As we move along to this installment, you need to have these things:

  • Basic vision of what kind of group you want
  • Very basic group mission statement
  • Rough drafts of the group's guiding, immediate and long-range goals
  • List of basic membership requirements

Keep these things on hand, because they will help guide you through what material requirements your group will require of members. The point is to make all your goals match-up and make sense in the bigger scheme of your group.

The first and most important decision to make is to set the authenticity standard of the group. Since reenacting is partly a hobby of collecting, what do you want members acquiring? A certain style of uniform? Certain arms or accoutrements? Do you want to portray a specific unit or go generic? Use your membership requirements to help define the standard you want to achieve.

Secondly, list what uniforms and gear are acceptable for the group, and have your research at hand. You need to be very careful with your uniform requirements, because of the expense to acquire some items, so make sure your research is as up-to-date as possible. A careless mistake in research is costly for everyone. Remember, the narrower your focus, the smaller your group will be. If you want everyone to carry smoothbores, then expect that experienced reenactors coming into your group may not have the desire or the finanaces to obtain another firearm.

You may need to weigh the option to give your members a range of items they can select or qualify for group membership. Instead of just smoothbores, you may want to extend the requirements to '61 Springfield. But you'll need to put your foot down at some time for the sake of authenticity. Some items should be a non-negotiable.

An option that you should consider is a "Benzene Board" (based on the same concept from the General Miles Marching and Chowder Society) for experienced reenactors coming into the group. The group needs to stick to it's guns on established standards, and not make unreasonable or unfair allowances. If someone doesn't want to play by the rules, then chances are good that they're really not sold on the concept of your group, either.

After your authenticity standard and uniform, arms and gear requirements are set, you'll need to do some online research on vendors. First, search for groups that closely follow your group's standards and note the vendors on their uniform and equipment lists. Tap at least five sites, but make sure that the researched vendors listed can fulfill your needs, or at least be able to do so if you have special requirements. My own recommendation at this time is to keep your uniform and accourtrement vendors as tight as possible, limiting the choice to one or two vendors to keep some uniformity in the choices members can make. After all, items were issued, not tailored for style.

Now that your uniform, gear and arms requirements are set, you need to set a way for new recruits and members with partial kits to come to the impression set by the group. To this end, I introduce the "Path" System using TGNCC as an example:

Uniform and equipment pathways

When a new member comes into TGNCC , they have the option to take one of two impression pathways:

  • Confederate to Federal
  • Devoted Confederate

A Confederate to Federal impression will allows TGNCC members to acquire a Confederate impression, but in the the process buy accoutrement and other pieces of equipment that are of Federal make. Once everything is acquired, all that the TGNCC members needs to do is to buy a Federal Sackcoat, forage cap, and sky-blue kersey trowsers to be able to field a good impression.

The Devoted Confederate impression allows TGNCC members to build a Confederate impression that can be used in both theatres of the war. Although not as flexible as the Confederate to Federal pathway, this pathway does allow for wider event participation as Confederates, and allows an easier transition to early war or late war Confederate impressions.

Either pathway focuses on a mid-war eastern theatre Confederate impression, and is collectively known as the Basic Impression. The other pathways are known as the Intermediate and Challenge Impressions.

The Basic Impression

There are four levels in attaining a Basic Impression:

Confederate to Federal Pathway

Level 1

  • 1858 model Jefferson booties
  • Cotton socks
  • Smoothside canteen with jeancloth or issue blanket cover and stopper attached with hemp twine. Other covers will not be allowed, although chain attachments are allowed.
  • Federal pattern haversack
  • Plate
  • Cup
  • Fork/spoon/knife
  • Civilian shirt
  • US issue blanket
  • Period eye wear if needed

Level 2

  • Slouch hat or Confederate make forage cap
  • NC Depot trowsers
  • Suspenders or period waist belt
  • NC Depot Jacket
  • US issue ground cloth (or gum blanket)

Level 3

  • Black Waist belt with japaned roller buckle
  • US issue M1855 or M1861 .58 cartridge box
  • US issue cartridge box belt
  • US issue M1855 or M1861 cap pouch, standard front
  • US issue 2 rivit bayonet scabbard for Springfield musket

Level 4

  • 1861 Springfield rifled musket
  • Bayonet

Devoted Confederate Pathway

Level 1

  • Confederate or english-made military booties
  • Cotton socks
  • Smoothside or bullseye canteen without cover and stopper attached with hemp twine. No chain attachments are allowed.
  • White onasberg haversack
  • Plate
  • Cup
  • Fork/spoon/knife
  • Civilian shirt
  • NC issue or civilian style blanket
  • Period eye wear if needed

Level 2

  • Slouch hat or Confederate make forage cap
  • NC Depot trowsers
  • Suspenders or waist belt
  • NC Depot Jacket
  • NC issue ground cloth (or gum blanket)

Level 3

  • Black Waist belt with japaned roller buckle
  • US issue M1855 .58 cartridge box (or .69)
  • US issue cartridge box belt
  • US issue M1855 cap pouch, standard front
  • US issue 2 rivit Springfield bayonet scabbard for 1842 Springfield or sized for Enfield bayonet

Level 4

  • 1842 .69 Springfield musket or 1853 .577 Enfield rifled musket
  • Bayonet

The Intermediate Impression

The Intermediate Impression tops off the Basic Impression and allows the TGNCC member to explore both theatres of the war.

Impression Detailing (Confederate/Federal and Devoted Confederate pathways)

  • Huck or cotton towels
  • Muslin bags
  • Soldier's housewife
  • Bone or authentic material comb
  • Beewax candles
  • US issue shelter half
  • Shelter half tent stakes
  • Hemp twine
  • Bone handle toothbrush

Federal Impression 1861-1865 (Confederate/Federal pathway)

  • JT Martin pattern Sack coat
  • JT Martin pattern footman's trowsers
  • Federal waistbelt with leather keeper and "puppy's paw" stay
  • 1858 Forage cap, Type 1
  • 1855 Double bag knapsack
  • US issue shirt in grey flannel

Western Confederate 1863-64 (Confederate/Federal pathway)

  • White onasberg haversack
  • Civilian-made blanket
  • NC issue ground cloth (or gum blanket)

The Challenge impression can be early or very late war impressions that would require the other levels to attain and don't have a application at many events, or any impression that is group-wide and based on your path requirements. The impression and level of detail would be set by the group.

Using the Path System keeps the new recruit, and in many instances, regular members focused on the main group goal. The concept behind "Path" System isn't new and is used in parts by many other groups, but not as goal-oriented for the most part.

Another concept that uses the Path System to an extent are Special Interest Groups or SIGs. This will be discussed later in the serial.

NEXT: Part VII - Mentors

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Cactus Confederacy

Fellow Carolina Hurricanes fan, blogger, and former CW reenactor, CasonBlog, pointed me to an event in Arizona, the Battle of Picacho Peak (sometimes referred to as "Picacho Pass").

The Arizona Outdoorsman has a nice write-up on the reenactment of the Battle of Picacho Peak. The photo here is from the story write-up with several pictures. I suggest checking it and the other links out, the Trans-Mississippi theatre of the Civil War has an interesting historical flavor all its very own. Talk about little-known battles... Arizona and New Mexico are probably rich in small-unit skirimish sites that defined the Civil War out West.

ACW in the Great White North

As the Battle for the Stanley Cup rages on, I became curious about the reenacting scene in Canada and did some quick surfing. Lo and behold I actually found an American Civil War organization based in Ontario. Very interesting site. The mission statement was very interesting too:

The ACWHRS, or American Civil War Historical Re-enacting Society, is a non-profit living history organization based in South Western Ontario, and is dedicated to preserving and exploring the memory of Canada's contribution to the War Between the States. Between 1861-1865, approximately 50,000 subjects of Her Majesty Queen Victoria left the Dominion of Canada to enlist in America's bloody civil conflict.

I didn't know so many Canadians were involved in the Civil War - that's a new one on me!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cool group site of the week

The 10th PA Reserve Volunteers site is the great Cool Group Site of the Week, not that it's beautiful or easy to navigate - which it is - but because it has extraordinarily useful multimedia of a platoon going through some basic formations. I have to admit I was totally awestruck.

I know they probably inserted this as a helpful guide to new recruits and to interest potential members, but how it was done only begs for a wider use. Imagine doing this at the company or regimental level - it would be a fantastic tool for everyone, even as a multimedia handout to spectators. Hey, we can have virtual Hardee's or Casey's! I'm keeping a very close eye on this site.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

There goes the frickin' neighborhood

I normally don't post anything outside of the reenacting realm, but news items like this really made me angry. Not the news, but racist jerkos using our battlefield parks to further their warped agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with the Civil War.

As a Confederate reenactor, I have to field questions about, or worse, get confused with these kinds of people. I have definite opinions, like anyone else, but I would prefer these sots take it elsewhere. Link to the story on the CNN site here.

Mike over at Mike's Civil War Musings has more on this farce.

Men and their toys

Sometimes I wonder what a person has to do in order to get a tank, full horse-drawn artillery, or just a nice set of wheels like the Chrysler in the picture? But I do love seeing those things on the reenacting field! They add a lot to a regular event.

Friday, June 09, 2006


One not oft-mentioned period of reenacting is the fur trade period between 1750-1840, most commonly referred to as Buckskinner or Mountain Man reenacting. Unlike war period reenacting, where you're playing the part, most Buckskinners live the part. Their goal is to participate, not to reenact in front of a crowd, so authenticity is a relative thing. You get into the mix of Anglo/Franco and native American cultures, and it has a strong appeal to anyone interested in the period.

Just as I was getting into reenacting, the fellow that "recruited" me was also allied with the local Buckskinner group. He, me and a friend of mine went camping with them. It was a very interesting experience. From my short time with the Buckskinners, I learned to throw a hatchet fairly well, and how to load, shoot and clean a flintlock rifle.

Rendezvous in the Buckskinner world are large campouts with a mix crafts, skills competition and shooting. They're the moral equivalent of events in the military reenacting world. But most Buckskinners don't seem to turn away from using modern-day convenience to get more people into the fold and to provide for fellow Buckskinners.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

My favorite Sutler of the week

Charlie Childs is arguably the sutler with the best reputation in the hobby. He's been around a long time, and began to hit his stride in the mid-80's with Confederate uniforms made from authentic fabrics.

Unlike many vendors, he offers uniform kits for the most part - which means you sew. This is great for many reenactors who have a strong opinion of what is or is not proper or correct.

Voting so far....

Actually it's a poll - but hey, I'll take the responses any way I can. So far we've got these results shown on the in the graphics. Nine brave souls responded, six were reenactors and three were non-reenactors.

The reenactors who responded are pretty experienced, with +3 years of experience - two being in the "grognard" class of being in the hobby more than 20 years.

Of the three non-reenactors, only one indicated that they would like to reenact.

I'll keep this poll open for another month, publish the final results and move one to another. Any requests about what questions to ask? Also, don't forget to vote - use the button to the left to cast your vote. I encourage everyone, frequent and first-time visitors to vote.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

American Civil War History's Living History Site of the Day

**Welcome Civil War Interactive readers!**

In the same vein as My Favorite Sutler of the Week, the American Civil War History blog has Living History site of the Day. This weeks' selection was great, and I recommend linking over to ACWH to find out all about it!

Basic Reenactor's Craft - Learning the School of the Soldier

The school of the soldier and drill is one of those inescapable things you gotta learn as a reenactor, and part of the overall "craft". Some people take to soldiering and drilling like fish to water, others abhorr it. I'm of the opinion, if we're reenacting soldiers, then we do as they had done. This isn't the modern military, so don't look at it as such.

These are great online resources for drill materials:

An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups

To catch up with my OSORG writing, I'm going to use this week as a "bye" for the "An Open Source Organization for Reenacting Groups" serial. Will have a new installment next week!

If you haven't done so, check out last week's installment.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Guilty pleasure

***Welcome American Civil War History readers!***

OK, I admit it --- I've been wrapped up with hockey fever the past couple of weeks since the home team, the Carolina Hurricanes, made it to the Stanley Cup finals. I promise to more timely after the series is played.

It does remind me (very vaguely) of the Fenian raids in 1866 - except we're not Irish for the most part, the Fenians disliked the Confederacy, and Edmonton is a llllooonnggg way away. Even a small historical event like the Fenian raids are actually reenacted. Here's a bit more history on the raids.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cool group site of the week

This week's Cool group Web site goes to the Wythe Grays. This is a great Web site as far as the graphics and information is concerned. It's also one I've regretfully never surfed, either. I put this site in the Syke's Regulars category, it has everything a member or vistor can ever wish for.

It has a very nice research section I think many reenactors and reenacting groups should take careful note of. On top of that, the site graphics are pleasing and the presentation of the information makes navigation easy.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What I Last Read

"Attack and Die"

ISBN: 0817302298

Just finished up with Attack and Die. It was much better than I thought it would be, even approaching it with a skeptical eye.

I consider it to be the best overviews of Civil War tactics I've read to date, and it's very reader-friendly to boot. I was able to get through it quickly, and surprisingly enough, learned quite a bit on the way. For it's relative size, it has plenty of interesting information and insight.

Although I do heap on the kudos and recommend Attack and Die, I think the last chapter could have been completely done away with. To, me the southerners= Scots, Scots-Irish, Irish celts and northerners=English, Romans argument just didn't float. It simply doesn't hold any water to me. From what I've been able to research and experience first-hand, many southerners were also descended from northern families, and not just a negligible amount. To arm oneself with broad paint brush and make such a flat assertion about Confederate espirit d'corps isn't looking at the whole picture.

I feel the book more proved the point of the failure of most Civil War commanders to evolve and innovate tactics to the new technology of the time, which made a difference in how the war was fought. Much space is used to reinterate the dominance of the rifle in determining the outcome of many of the battles, contributing to the ultimate outcome of the war itself. I thought the parts about Upton were great - it's nice to read about the commanders who were the true innovators of the war.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Great (War) reenacting!

My next favorite time period after the Civil has to be WW1. Although I followed my old Civil War pards into WW2 reenacting, WW1 has always been close to my heart.

For a brief time, I collected a large portion my Imperial German gear for WW1. I went to an event at Fort Pickett, VA in 1995 kinda of in a interim period for the Great War Association, which is the umbrella group for WW1 reenacting east of the Missisip. I completely loved the experience, but sadly, the base of operations moved to PA again, where the GWA has trenches and a complete playground set up for reenactors.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What I'm reading now

Actually, The Orphan Brigade is what I'll be reading starting this weekend, after I finish out Attack and Die tonight or tomorrow.

I enjoy William C. Davis' writing, so I can't wait to jump into this book. I bought this one just recently at my favorite local used bookstore, The Lazy Lion. It was a whim purchase that I hope turns out good.

My favorite Sutler of the week

Sometimes a person has to create some controversy. I think with my next favorite Sutler of the week pick, I'll do just that.

I know that to some, the mention of C&D Jarnagin causes eclipses, dogs to howl, the spirits to rise, and some authentic reenactors to go into uncontrollable spasms and Tourettes' fits.

Admittedly, I see Jarnagin as a good thing. Really. If you know what their shortcomings are, and what good stuff they truly have to offer, then Jarnagin is well worth a look. They offer things that are hard to find with other vendors. Even with their no-so-authentic stuff, it's at least a quality product. One of my favorite shell jackets was a Jarnagin, and I almost cried when I let it go.

I think the big perceived problem with Jarnagin was the fact that they once (still do?) made uniforms to any specification with questionable material, usually a wool-blend - an authentic no-no. Not a good PR thing if you want to reach out the more elite reenactors. Otherwise, their stuff was considered top-notch. Nowadays, they are the place to go to for Federal gum blankets, leathers and greatcoats (as long as you're willing to hand-sew the buttons).

For their authenticly-oriented impact on the hobby early on and their longevity within the hobby, I think it's time C&D Jarnagin gets some renewed respect. I'd buy from them again.