Monday, February 26, 2007

Carolinas Campaign - review and critique

Sometimes it's hard to know where to begin, or what to say about an event. The Carolinas Campaign is one of those events. The event had heart, and was well-intentioned, but it could have been much, much better. I compare this event to Wyse Fork last year - the two are almost identical, and so are my feelings about the event. Maybe too much so.

One caveat I throw out is that I do know what it takes to run an event, and I know from experience any event isn't a minor thing. And the problems do grow exponentially the larger an event becomes. Rather than hatcheting an event with great intentions, I would rather suggest what could be done to make it a better event, with the hope someone with influence with the event reads this and maybe implements some of the ideas I present the next time it's run. Doing a constructive critique is particularly important for me, since this is an event in my home state.

The heart of this event comes from the local Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp (216) who have a deep interest in historical preservation. The event itself was well run on the logistics side. I wasted very little time to register and get on to camp, which was easy to find in the dark, and I quickly linked up with my bros who were enjoying a nice warm fire. By the way, I was doing Federal this weekend.

According to the event brochure, this event represented two separate scenarios from two separate battles, Bentonville and Wyse Fork. The Bentonville scenario was the initial Federal Assault of Slocum's XX Corps, and the Wyse Fork scenario was the Final Confederate Assault.

Suffice it to say, the scenarios were too ambitious for the amount of troops at the event, as well as the amount of event battleground. The battle, how it was fought, had too much of a 'fairground' quality to it, and lacked a bit on the realistic side. Rule of thumb - if the opposing artillery is less than a couple hundred yards apart, then it's way too close.

OK, now for the critique.

What were the good points to this event? I have to admit the after-battle festivities are a strong suit to most events in North Carolina. They're a guilty pleasure for me. The Carolinas Campaign event was no exception. The food was great, the entertainment was wonderful, and even the biscuit-making contest was a grand thing to behold. As a matter of fact, it was fun. Who would have guessed that biscuit-making could be a spectator sport? With the right kind of humor, it can be. The event was fun on the basis of entertainment, and it also had a good sutler turn-out.

Now for the tough part - where was this event weak?

I think every event planner has the ambition bug. Host the event, and they will come. But this line of thinking doesn't apply in CW reenacting. Now that the hobby is going into a cycle-down mode, many reenactors are being a bit picky about the events they attend. To compound this problem on the event level, the Carolinas Campaign wasn't well marketed among the reenacting populous. As a matter of fact, the only play it seemed to get was within the realm of the ANV reenacting organization, and maybe this was by choice. But whatever the intended choice, this crippled the event in terms of manpower right off the bat. The Federal side was hurting especially hard. In my opinion, the solution is to cap the Confederate numbers and give Federal reenactors incentives for showing, like free ammo and caps or reduced/free event registration. When the Rebs outnumber the Yanks by 3 to 1, you have some serious problems that really need creative solutions.

The second problem this event had was area utilization. The amount and type of ground the event was held on had a lot of potential for an extended late war clash. Unlike the Wyse Fork event last year, which was constricted by a limited amount of land, the Carolinas Campaign had the potential to be an awesome tactical. Instead, the event designers had the event fought in an open field, in front of a stand of spectators. My solution is to take a hard look at the land you have to use and maximize it for the reenactors. This land had been used in the past for reenacting, and still had trenches cut from the last event. This would have been great for a limited amount of Federals to have to hold from a superior force of Rebels. A little imagination could have went for miles at this event.

Another problem kinda related to the manpower issue is the allotment of assets to each side. I think with events this size, if one side has artillery, the other side should get the cavalry. As it turned out, it was a Confederate legion vs a company of Feds and their single artillery piece.

Lastly, everything I wrote about Wyse Fork, goes for the Carolinas Campaign, too. The two events almost mirrored each other in terms of logistics and battle. The one thing that hurts this hobby is the 'cookie cutter' feel to many events. Change is good - most of the time - and maybe the event planners to these events can shake it up next time around.

The next event is Cold Harbor, March 31 - April 1.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Almost off to the Carolinas Campaign

Sorry I haven't been posting much this week -- work and life demands have been putting a temporary squeeze on my time. BUT that changes this weekend, when I march out on my first reenactment of the season.

This reenactment is a hypothetical tactical that takes place shortly after Sherman enters North Carolina during the Carolinas Campaign, but before the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville.

I'll be doing Federal this weekend, as a soldier in O.O. Howard's Army of the Tennessee. Taking the camera along, so hopefully, I'll have time to snap a few shots, and then do some heavy-duty posting on Sunday.

Monday, February 19, 2007

What did I tell ya?

Seems that the presidential politicin' season is in full swing, and The Flag is already being trod upon by one grand-standing prominent politician wishing to score some points with voters in SC. What really gets me is her reasons why the flag should not be flown.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another reenactor blog

18thC Cuisine is the blog for recipes and handy tips for preparing period dishes. The blog owner is a French and Indian Wars reenactor, and she does marvelous job in researching and describing dishes. It's the only blog that actually made me hungry to read it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Movie Review: Uprising

Period: 1943 - WW2 - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Synopsis: A TV miniseries about events leading to and the actual Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings in 1943. The series spotlights the heros and survivors of the uprising, and events that lead to the circumstances, and what happened afterwards.

Overall opinion: Although this is serious material, it's a welcome change from what I've seen in the past about the events covering the Holocaust. Usually Holocaust movies detail the grim lives of the victims and survivors -- The Pianist and Schindler's List immediately come to mind. The little angel of my conscience always wants to see the cruel Nazi get his due, but that scene never comes. Many other such movies tread the same path. Uprising is different in the fact that it portrays the WW2 Jews as not just victims, but fighters who have accepted their fate and have decided to die with honor. Call it a "payback" movie. Despite a few technical flaws, I liked the movie -- it had heart.

Good reenactor film?: Unfortunately, what makes Uprising a good film isn't the attention to detail, otherwise, it would have been a great movie. The civilian clothes are fairly accurate, but the military uniforms are another story. When IMDB spots you for that inaccuracy, it's pretty glaring. The "Polish" uniforms at the start of the movie aren't Polish, but late WW2 Russian infantry. The German uniforms and equipment started out OK, then slid quickly downhill to "Hollywood Nazi" standards matched by movies like Top Secret. The German heavy equipment just didn't cut it - I was praying for some left over props from Saving Private Ryan to come in and save the day. Then again, the story is compelling, but there's not much here for the reenactor to marvel at.

How does it stack up?: I know it seems that I've been taking in a lot of movies, but it's the reenacting off-season, and it's nice to see some historical Hollywood offerings before the season gets cranked up again. Uprising stands by itself in its particular category. If you can get by the flaws in detail, suspend the reenactor eye for a while, this is a good movie, and worthy of some serious watching.

If you want to see about more movies, check out my old blog, "War Moovies".

Monday, February 12, 2007

New Reenacting Blog posts

Did a quick scan of the true reenactor blogs I know about in the blogsphere, and I see interesting new posts worth checking out!

The Outsider's Perspective has a post on Victorian erotica, with a mildly NSFW piece of period artwork to illustrate the point.

Tony at the Adjutant's Blog is preparing for another campaigning season with Longstreet's Corps.

Sarah's/Chauncey's Reenacting Blog has a handful of nice posts dealing with some winter events and a "How To Make Moccasins" post that is pretty interesting for those of us who enjoy 18th and early 19th century reenacting.

If anyone knows of any reenator blogs, let me know, and I'll give 'em some exposure! :-)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Zine on the table this week

Military Heritage is another nifty 'zine in the same vein as Military History. This month as some very interesting articles - the one that reenactors would find the most interesting would be the article on non-firing weapons, which seems to have become a booming market. Very nice article.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Where have all the fanzines gone?

As I write this post, I'm waxing nostalgic. I remember a time where the Camp Chase Gazette was the top reenacting publication with quality articles, and elaborate unit publications that seemed to be 'zines unto themselves, and other independently printing publications that were best considered fanzines - magazines printed for fun by reenactors.

Although it was positioning itself to be the CCG competitor, the Reenactor's Journal was what I consider a fanzine. Where the CCG was weak in content, the RJ made up for the gap by listening to the reenactors and coming out with pertinent articles. At one time, the CCG had its start as a fanzine, too.

Nowadays, the electronic media have changed how we communicate, and it seems the time of the fanzine has come and gone. Web sites (and blogs, too) allow everyone to publish their own publication for only the cost of their Internet access. The CCG has become a polished magazine, and it's spiritual successor, Civil War Historian, never touched fanzinehood -- it was a polished pub from the get-go. Maybe some enterprising soul will start a fanzine up, or if one exists, tell me about it. I'll put it front and center on this blog.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Movie Review: An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge

Period: 1863-1865? - American Civil War

Synopsis: A short film based on a story by Ambrose Bierce. The episode I watched was the French one shot in 1962 and shown on the Twilight Zone. An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge (or La Rivière du hibou) involves the hanging of Peyton Farquhar, who is identified as a member of the Southern resistance. What Peyton did to deserve hanging is never explained in the movie. The actual short story places the incident in Northern Alabama. As Peyton is to hang, his rope breaks and he escapes. I'll not give the ending away, but there is a twist at the end of the movie.

Overall opinion: I have soft spot for the Twilight Zone, but I don't ever remember seeing this particular episode. It's decently done, and the twist at the end keeps you hanging.

Good reenactor film?: Not a great reenactor film like "Zulu"or "Gettysburg", but a reenactor wouldn't mind watching it. The uniforms and equipment weren't exact, but I did see a soldier toting a gin-u-wine percussion Springfield. It didn't show a lot of detail, in keeping with the protagonists' point of view.

How does it stack up?: It's a neat one-time watch, but once you seen it, that's it. But it does wrap you up the first time around. I recommend it -- it's very interesting.

If you want to see about more movies, check out my old blog, "War Moovies".

More toys...

This is a Sherman M4A2(76) - I think. It was an impressive piece of history that was rolling around at Fort Indiantown Gap in 1995. Behind it but not shown, was an earlier version Sherman. That event had a vast collection of vehicles, both Allied and Axis.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Movie Review: Birth of a Nation

Period: Approximately 1860-1871- American Civil War and Reconstruction

Synopsis: An epic-sized silent movie made in 1915 that chronicles two families before, during and after the Civil War. The two families are the Stonemans of PA, and the Camerons of SC. The movie makes heavy use of symbology and historical myth to weave a story that people in the current day would find a bit on the shocking side.

Overall opinion: I have to admit that I went into this movie having done a small amount of research. Most of what I heard before then wasn't great, but that was tempered by the "you haven't seen all the great Civil War movies, unless you see Birth of a Nation" challenge. I decided to take the challenge, but I also took with me the thought that the movie is a product of its time, and should be judged with that in mind. So I did some research and made up my mind to give BoaN a serious screening.

Judge it as a product its time? I have to say that's a feat easier said than done.

In reality, this is two movies in one. The first movie chronicles the life of two families before and during the Civil War. This theme has seen the light of day a few times afterwards, most notably and recently with the North and South/Heaven and Hell miniseries. In itself it's a enjoyable, if a deeply historically flawed, story.

The second half is the part with the controversey, which deals with a very Southern view of reconstruction and the Klu Klux Klan. This is where the movie drifts sails into historical fantasy, and takes the modern day viewer on a surreal ride through the years after the Civil War. This where I keep on reminding myself that the movie was made in 1915, and the KKK didn't quite have the stigma that it has today. I have to admit this part of the movie made me squirm. Quite a bit.

The thing that interested me the most was the symbology - or at least what I read as symbology. I took the families as representing the people (as a whole) of their respective regions. The patriarchs represent the governments, and even the races represent an ideal - the movie was taken from a book with a white supremacist theme, "The Clansman".

The movie was an eye-opener for me, and it really defines what myths and misconceptions of the Civil War were borne from the early 20th century. It still surprises me that some of these misconceptions still are kicking around today.

Good reenactor film?: "Birth of a Nation" should be required watching for any reenactor who seriously wants to look at the darker side of Civil War myth. You won't find too much accurate in the battle scenes or the uniforms and equipage (the yanks wear the M1884 field blouse), but it's what the movie is saying that you should really look at. You'll be encountering some of those myths during the course of your reenacting experience, especially if you do living history displays.

Probably the most reenactor-interesting part of the movie isn't the movie -- it's the special feature after the movie, which covers the making of "Birth of Nation" and other productions of the period. Apparently BoaN wasn't the only Civil War movie around, and some of the clips are down right intriguing. One 1913 movie seemed to peg the uniforms down very close, almost to the point where I think they're the real McCoys. It's well worth a careful look.

How does it stack up?: I can't say that BoaN was utterly entertaining, it's a silent picture that runs a long time - about three hours. The Klan glorification made me squirm a bit. BUT it was interesting from a historical standpoint, being that the film is over ninety years old, and it was covering a subject well within memory of many at that time. To compare it to other, more current films is really impossible. But as a history buff, it's a movie that is worth a viewing to get a feel of the attitudes prevalent at the time.

If you want to see about more movies, check out my old blog, "War Moovies".

Monday, February 05, 2007

Got it!!

Now I'm ready to play both theatres of the war! My offer is still open for any takers -- I'm willing to do a TCP/IP or PBeM game.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

'Zine on the table this week

I found Military Illustrated magazine at the bookstore a few weeks ago, right before my trip to San Francisco. It's much like Military Times Illustrated, but it has more that I like. It also shows reenactors along with its feature articles, December's issue has Romans, and reenactors showing how Romans were armed and how they used their swords. Vietnam reenactors were also featured. It's well worth the $6 you'll pay for it. Bear in mind though, it has no Website, and other than some online sellers, this is a newsstand-only item (unless someone is willing to share a bit of info about how to get it or its Web site.)

I do think the cover is a bit humorous -- Germans invading Britain in rubber dingies?

Book on the backburner

Although I'm tackling Bloody Roads South, I've got some reading to do as a backgrounder for my Civil War reenacting. The Thirty-Seventh North Carolina Troops promises to be a great read, even for a regimental history. It's written by Michael Hardy, who is also rumored to be working on a similar book for the 58th NC too. I hope it comes to fruition. Michael also has an interesting blog, North Carolina and the Civil War, which is well worth checking out.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Impressions - Pacific Campaigns - US Marines, 1944-45

Another "Jeep and Jitterbugs" reenactor. But if I remember correctly, he was a walk-on. He simply seen the displays, went home, geared up, and asked if he could join us for the day. I remembered he had a great impression, and his youthfulness was square-on for a Marine enlisted man at the time. But the Pacific was his only interest, and he didn't join our group - not to say we didn't try our best to get him to join up.

Everything he had on was impressive and from what we could tell, straight up original Marine Corps-stamped uniform and gear. The only thing he didn't have was a rifle.

He wears the Marine stamped later issue HBTs, issue leggings, and the rough-out low quarter boots. I'm not sure if the buckle boots were issued to the Marines, but the leggings seemed to be a staple until the end of the war and on into the Korean War. As a matter of fact, this uniform and gear, with small modifications, would be what the Marines would wear in the first few months of Korea. He also has corporal's stripes marked on his HBTs, a practice that was adopted because of the constant replacement of HBTs in combat conditions.

This uniform wouldn't be changed much until the early sixties when the Department of Defense decided to eliminate uniform and gear elements that could be issued in a universal manner.

Movie Review: Paths of Glory

Period: 1916 - WW1 - Western Front

Synopsis: "Paths of Glory" is based off a novel written by Humphrey Cobb, and loosely based off an incident in the French army in WW1. The incident involves a failed assault by French troops on an area of the German line called the 'Ant Hill'. In the commanding general's eyes, the attack failed because part of the assault force did not move to join the attack. Instead, it was stalled when it's commanding major was killed, leaving that force without a leader. The commanding general considers the failure a black stain on his honor, and insists three soldiers (actually down from the initial 100) stand trial for the whole unit on charges of cowardice.

Overall opinion: This is a great movie, and one of the few that stands the test of time. It's not a long movie, either, so it's easy to get a quick viewing in. It has that "Kubric" feel that you'll see in "Full Metal Jacket" or "Doctor Strangelove". Again, this is supposed to be an "anti-war" war movie, but my opinion of those is posted here.

Good reenactor film?: Much like "Joyeux Noel", this may not be a great film for picking out correct uniforms and the such, but it certainly does evoke the horror of trench warfare in the battle scenes. The effects nowadays may seem a little on the cheesy side, but they're not over done and within the context of the film aren't distracting. It has notable one-liners, so this is a great film for reenactors to get into the mood for doing the next gig.

How does it stack up?: Like I said above, this movies does stand the test of time. Compared with some of the more better modern fare, like "The Lost Battalion", it still is an enjoyable watch. Also, this movie lacks any real cliches, which makes the movie a unique watching experience from beginning to end.

If you want to see about more movies, check out my old blog, "War Moovies".

Friday, February 02, 2007

The value of displays

The one thing I loved to do as a WW2 reenactor/collector was to display my stuff in public. This is something we don't see enough of in my neck of the woods as far as Civil War reenacting is concerned. Although the general public likes the sound of musketry, sometimes I think it's good to just display what you got and just talk about it. We all paid a pretty penny for it, so it's only right to show it off.

The value to a display is the closeness and attention the audience receives. I find that most people love to talk, and that's a great segway into an introduction to the hobby. In our WW2 displays, this was always the case. Occasionally we'd hook a vet, and the stories would be told to other people who took an interest in the displays. What a pay off! But, with Civil War, that'll never be case, but there will always be people who want to see and ask questions.

Displays are a great place to encourage and field one-on-one questions. Yes, some of those questions will not be so smart, but I find that issue to be in the vast minority of the total. I operate by the old military saying that "the only dumb question is the one left unasked." Sometimes there will be jaw-droppers, but hey, we're here to educate, right?

Though battles are fun, they do lack a one-on-one quality that really speaks to people. You see a battle from afar, and though you can talk to reenactors in camp, it isn't the same as reenactors who want to talk to you about what they do. Many times after a battle, it's hard to find someone to talk to who isn't raring to wind down from a loud, hot and grueling battle scenario. Before a battle, most reenactors are busy and can't really spend the time with an enquiring mind.

Make no mistake, the bottom line for most groups is that displays are the most powerful marketing tool that a reenactors have. When I was doing my stint with the Old Hickory Association, that's how we hooked at least three new recruits, two of which were brought in at the same display. So, instead of voting for that extra battle an hour or two away, do a little bit of "home work" and do a display instead.

A question to throw to reenactor readers of StE(R): Does your group do displays, and what kind of response do you get in your "neck of the woods"?

AZ Reenacting

Here's an interesting concept - promote all periods of reenacting within your state. Although primarily a Civil War site, this is what the Arizona Reenacting Network is aiming at doing.

Along with Civil War groups, the ARN also has a War of 1812 and WW2 group on its member list. This seems to be a great way of getting like minds together and using a little bit of "synergy" to promote the reenacting hobby as a whole.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The only difference between men and boys....

... is the size of their toys.

Something I wouldn't mind having for myself. This shot was taken back in 1995 at an event at Ft Pickett, VA.

I think this is a SdKfz 222 armored car, or something very similiar. A site to keep in mind if you have an interest in restored German vehicles is the SdKfz Foundation.

Doing the French Fusiliers-Grenaders in Latvia

Here's a very interesting Web site posted by a Latvian group who reenacts Napoleon's Fusiliers. It's a neat story of how they organized the storys of the individual members as reenactors.

I'm a big proponent of seeing what our European counterparts do as far as reenacting. To me, it's a refreshing pool of great ideas and points of view that we need here in the 'States.