Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Run away! Run away!

As I was writing my last post, a thought popped into my mind in regards to taking a dive or running for cover as part of fulfilling a fate card's result. I've always thought that "skedaddling" or "going over the hill" is very under-done in the hobby. Nobody bolts. Lines hardly break. Why?

In my experience, there is a stigma attached with reenacting cowardence or as I like to refer to as - 'self-preservation'. Even though running away was common during an actual battle, group commanders seem to have little tolerance with it in reenacting. I've seen event commanders going as far as threatening to kick reenactors out of an event for running for the rear. Not a good way of handling the situation. But to throw a bone to the other side, sometimes reenacted "skedaddling" isn't done with the purest of intentions, either. Especially if the commander is a jerk or incompetent to the point of misery.

Unfortunately, much of the aversion to running away is largely due to group pride and a fear of dishonoring the soldiers represented. Many reenactors are on the field to honor the soldiers they represent, and it's hard to conceive the thought of "skedaddling". It seems to be a slap in the face of the concept of honor. Many reenacted (or reactivated) units are usually units with a honorable service record, and thus have some pride attached to the unit's accomplishments. In truth, though, most units have had their time of weakness, and we represent men who had their faults.

So, how do we reenact a broken unit without making it feel like we're "sticking it" to a commander who everyone actually likes?

This is the point while writing about fate cards, the thought of running away came to mind. It seems while we research the people within a unit, we don't look at the overall performance of a unit in a particular battle. Part of my history buff background includes hours and hours of wargaming experience. (If you have never played a wargame, board or computer, this would be a great time to start.) In the better wargames, these units are usually divided into grades - elite, crack, average or green, or something very similar. The grade of unit usually determines offensive/defensive strength and morale level. The better the unit the better it fares in battle, and the less likely it is to "break" or lose cohesiveness in battle if it is beaten or driven back. In other words, less likely to run away.

If an event sponsor is willing to research who was in the unit, in a particular battle, then it wouldn't be a far stretch to estimate unit performance in a battle and apply a grade to it. This way, reenactors from commander down know how the unit should fare morale-wise in a historical sense. If you're in a green unit, and you're about to be overwhelmed, wouldn't it make more sense to "run away", rather than stay in ranks and blast away to the death? Knowing that your unit was not historically battle tested would make that a viable option, from the unit commander down.

In order to make skedaddling a viable option, we also need to work on dropping its stigma on the reenacting field. It happened, it happened often, and on both sides. Event sponsors should instruct commanders and reenactors on the proper way of "running away" and when it's an appropriate time to do so.

Maybe we as reenactors, in the pursuit of accuracy, need to give running away a little more honor. This begs another article - "How to be an Effective Coward".


David Corbett said...

Dear Elephant ,
In the Chicago area , we of the then 36th Illinois Vol Inf,(1997-2002 ) , used to bolt in panic from the lines quite often , discarding packs, balanket rolls, arms and hats in the process . The spectators loved seeing Yankees run . I always attributed it to having a preponderance of "Dutchmen ," in the ranks.
all for the old flag,
David Corbett

mntineer said...

Hey David -

You don't see that often in the sunny south, unless it's planned in advance as part of the battle script. I've seen two battle lines duke it out for several volleys, and the end result was a couple guys falling on either side. Perish the thought of running away!

When I wrote this, I was thinking of a spontaneous run in reaction to a battlefield event, like being flanked or charged. I'd love to see some Confederates high-tail it.

Spiff said...

I am a CS reenactor and we run fairly often. Veteren units knew enough to get out while the getting was good if they were about to be overrun.

mntineer said...

Spiff - where are you all at when I'm on the field? :-)

I agree, the veteran units knew when to bug out, but in my experience, I haven't seen very many reenacted unit routs. Maybe it's the reenacting in my neck of the woods, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm just a spectator, but I love living history and attend battles a lot. I vividly remember seeing a battle in which two "cowards" bolted. The person narrating the battle of the loudspeaker drew attention to it, and I can still vividly see the soldier struggling with the officer trying to hold him there, falling down, and getting up to run again. I found it a striking detail, one that I've only seen that one time, and I think it was interesting and effective.