Thursday, March 29, 2007

Getting ready for Cold Harbor this weekend

I'm ready for a little bit of variety, and it seems that Cold Harbor might fit the bill nicely. I'm trying to get up a good later war impression, but I'm debating whether or not to go with a civilian coat or the good 'ole NC Depot with some embellishments.

I'll make copious notes and comeback with a AAR for those interested. I hope it comes off a bit better than the Carolinas Campaign event last month.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Not on the coffee table yet, but soon will be....

Call me a bumpkin for not knowing about this earlier, but I only seen this gem last night at the library where the genealogical meeting was held. What a great resource! This magazine is a Civil War reenactor's dream with loads of period images and research to go along with them.

Live from Guilford Courthouse

Here's an interesting twist -- an embedded reporter for a Rev War group doing the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. This guy is with the Greensboro News & Record, and I have to admit, this is a great beat for a reporter that has the added benefit of putting the hobby in a good light in the public eye. It's also a great blog for new or future reenactors who want to know what happens at the beginning level.

Wings of Freedom - great site of the day

Noticed this site in my Internet ramblings of the morning. If you love World War 2 airshows, this one puts reenactors into the mix and comes up with a neat looking event. The photos on this site are well worth checking out, and the photo essay is nice. Make sure you surf this one thoroughly.

The NPS and reenactors

Here's an interesting series of papers done by the National Park Service in relation to reenactors and how to intregrate them successfully into programs, and what to expect. It's an interesting read from an outsider's perspective about reenactors. This particular study centers around Revolutionary War, but the basic concepts are the same for all periods that reenact in NPS programs.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A geek's joy

Went to the Wake County Genealogical Society's monthly meeting tonight and actually learned a thing or two. The speaker was a fellow that I met before, Si Harrington, the Military Collection Archivist for the State of North Carolina Archives. The topic was a guide to which materials were available for researching the Civil War in North Carolina, namely regiments and people. Although basic for me, it was good to hear what he had to say, and what materials were available to the public.

Reenacting links of the week

Here are some reenacting links for this week:

World War 2:
Marchers take to the sand to honor veterans
Artillery demonstration a little too one-sided?
Deer Park Man Helps Restore Navy PBY Catalina; Saved by One in WWII

American Civil War:
Walking a mile in soldiers' shoes
Black Mountain to host Civil War scenes
Museum to hold Living History Day
Virginia celebrates USS Monitor
Ball transports Capitol to Civil War era
Caissons rolling along to Columbia

Texas War for Independence and Seminole Wars:
After the massacre
Florida history walks among us

Revolutionary War:
'British' without flags for big day
Blogging the Battle of Guilford Courthouse

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Firing up The Southern Loyalists site again!

I'm looking at making some additions to The Southern Loyalists site. I've negelected it, and I need to start tending to my reenacting garden again.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Movie Review: The General

Period: American Civil War - 1862 - Andrews Raid/Great Locomotive Chase

Synopsis: The General is one of the last great silent films. The story is loosely based off of the actual hijacking of the "General" locomotive in 1862 during the Andrews Raid, which in turn gave in to the Great Locomotive Chase. The story of the movie centers around the (mis)adventures of the train's engineer to capture back his two great loves, Anabelle Lee and The General.

Overall opinion: In comparison to Birth of a Nation, this movie was easier to watch in many ways. Although it is loosely based on an actual event, it's really a light-hearted romantic comedy that's the length of a regular movie. It doesn't seek to make much social commentary, and is full of sight gags that are still pretty funny. It does play to sterotypes of the war, which might be interesting viewing for reenactors who deal with the public on frequent basis.

Good reenactor film?: The General is a worthy movie to watch, but you're not going to get much out of it authenticity-wise. A couple shots looked pretty nice though, and showed lines of infantry lugging hard packs and what looked to be convincing muskets. The trains were of the period, so that's one thing the movie definitely got right.

How does it stack up?: There's not too much I can say about this movie to recommend it, other than it's a novelity (for our day and age) comedy. It's funny and light-hearted, and from a historical standpoint, you'll see a lot of things that have been repeated in later slapstick comedy movies. But, it still is a silent film, so you have to make sure to get your mind right with that before you watch it.

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

New Reenacting Blog posts

Discovered another reenactor blog today - and he's commented here before! Yellowhammer has a laid-back Myspace blog with plenty of great insight into the ACW part of the hobby. It's well worth a read, but a small warning - all MySpace layouts require some exploration to discover where all the good info is residing. Trust me on this one.

If you haven't already done so, here are a few reenactor blogs that are worth checking out:
Outsider's Perspective
Adjutant's Blog
Sarah's/Chauncey's Reenacting Blog
18thC Cuisine (Note - this blog is translated into French. Also, this blog has hit a nice stride, and I very much recommend it, especially if you're into recreating period dishes)

If you have a blog or know of a reenactor blog (any period) you'd like to share - put it in the comments and I'll add it to my commentary. The only thing I ask is to make sure it is active.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"The Hobby" a wargaming podcast

This is Episode 1, Segment 1 of what should be a very nice podcast series for miniatures wargamers. There are a few episodes posted on YouTube, and the show's quality really goes up on the 2nd episode.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I wonder what people think when they do stupid things

It seems that The Flag is in the news again. I wouldn't normally pay attention these stories, but as a reenactor, it's always good to keep pace with what is being put in front of the public. This time, it's the Confederate flag as a piece of art, but seen in a negative light. What's new, huh?

If you invite the controversy, you better be willing to deal with the fall out.

To be honest, I don't find fault with the artist, John Sims. He's happened on a project that is interesting in the social circles that I assume he's used to dealing with. I do find some of his show's concepts interesting as a fellow artist-type, but other aspects of the show I don't agree with, are mildly offensive to me and ignorant of the history concerned. As a "socially aware" artist, he's done his job - he's managed to piss off both Southern Heritage advocates and the local NAACP with his exhibit. Best of all for Mr Sims, he doesn't have to live with it - he's from Detriot.

But there's a small problem for the museum - what would cause a small stir in, let's say in a fairly cosmopolitian area, may not go over so well in not-so-cosmopolitian and very Southern area like Tallahassee. Most people in New York City may see the flag as a symbol of racism, but a sizable number in FL and surrounding areas hold the flag in regard as a symbol of their heritage. Oil, meet water.

Talking to Stephen Majors of the AP, Chucha Barber, the museum's executive director says:

There's a balance between the nature of the art that we show and the outcome that we seek, which is to promote dialogue and conversation, and have you maybe think of something in a slightly different way.

I can only think that Ms Barber uses a gallon of gasoline to light her hibachi, too. The textbook explaination she uses doesn't wash with the reality she is facing, which is that she has foisted a certain viewpoint on a community who sees history differently. There's a difference between raising awareness via art and polarizing the community. Unfortunately for her, Sims gets the publicity, and Barber and the museum gets the ire.

What I'm reading now

I had to put down Bloody Roads South for the time being - the copy that I have must be imbued with bad karma, this is the second time I've picked it up, only to put it back down because of outside factors. What I've read, I've enjoyed. But I'm weird, and can't really enjoy a book unless I read it in a timely fashion. This one has been getting nibbled at since October. I'll give another try later.

With that said, I travel back to my favorite historical stomping ground of southern Unionism with Disloyalty in the Confederacy. I'm not particularly enamored with the title, especially from what I've read on my first skimming. Looking at the content, the title may be the only thing I have a problem with, the rest of the book looks to be an answer to a wish I had a while back. I wanted to find a book that gave a good high-level overview of Unionism and unionist activities state by state. And guess what?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Reenacting links of the week

Here are some reenacting links for this week:

World War 2:
Stephenson living W.W.II history lesson
Vintage bombers to land in College Station
A chance to live history as WWII fight re-enacted
Museum offers living history show

American Civil War:
Shiloh 145th events planned
Ball gown competition returns to Civil War Re-enactment
Civil War events set
African American Civil War Conference in Raleigh, NC for the Symposium on the United States Colored Troops, March 23-25
Beyond the call of duty

Early Frontier & Rendezvous:
Boat crew welcomes public
Living History Farm celebrates True Texas Women
Conner Prairie seeks more money, community support
Living history lesson
History comes alive at Camp Floyd
Mountain men are moving in
Theft hurts more than the museum

Revolutionary War:
Launching a new 'Revolution' at CW

Worthy cause time

My dearest happened on this on her favorite genealogy site:

Time for Hands-On Preservation with Park Day 2007

The Civil War Preservation Trust and the History Channel are once again sponsoring our 11th Annual Park Day! On Saturday, April 7, 2007, volunteers throughout the country will work together to clean and repair the grounds at over 100 Civil War sites. Last year, approximately 4,000 volunteers played a vital role in sustaining these parks, providing more than 12,000 hours of service.

Helping hands are needed everywhere for a wide variety of short and long term projects, providing interesting and rewarding volunteer opportunities for individuals, couples, schools, families, corporations, citizen groups and service organizations. Clubs and organizations can help with specific park improvements: trail renovation, tree planting, stream restoration, litter cleanup, minor repairs and more. The event is also perfect for Scout troop service projects or corporate team-building efforts.

Without the help of volunteers, trash accumulates in these natural areas, harming wildlife, polluting lakes and rivers, and detracting from the beauty of your community. This event is a fun and effective way to improve the natural environment in your local community. Thanks to your donated time and skills, your favorite state park can see improvements now instead of sometime in the future.

At each site, volunteers will get a free t-shirt and have the opportunity to hear historians tell them about the land they are helping to preserve. Plan to join fellow preservationists on Saturday, April 7, 2007 at a site near you for a day of history and hard work.

Civilwar.org

Cut and paste the url above for contact info for your state.
Click on "Park Day" on the right hand side of the webpage
Then scroll down to the bottom and click on the link to take you to the info for each state.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Experiencing a little more Workus and Lifeus Interuptus

Hello from the netherlands of work! I'm still kickin', just had to attend to some work and personal biz. Will be posting some more later this evening.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Duh.

Sometimes I wonder if some newspaper writers live in an absolute vacuum. I came across this statement in a recent online edition of the Elizabethton Star:

The research increasingly shows that slavery, Jim Crow and racism were not, as once thought, confined to the South.

Huh? I had to read the article a couple more times to see if I had missed something. Who once thought these things were confined to the South? Mr Potato Head? I must be ahead of the times -- I knew this pearl of absolute knowledge in High School history.

Reenacting links of the week

Here are some reenacting links for this week:

American Civil War:
Civil War park comes alive
My Life So Far: ‘The coolest thing about this hobby is learning’
Weekend of living history in Pea Ridge
Group ends efforts to buy Civil War battlefield
Road Trip: A historic ship docks again in Virginia
Cedar Creek, Petersburg among endangered Civil War sites
New Ridgewood Exhibit Brings Civil War To Life

Revolutionary War:
CW: Locals invited to Rev City rehearsals

Just a reminder...

Here's a good article about the threat of new housing on preserved sites. Nice to know that there's coverage of this in the national media. It's always good to keep the plight of these hallowed sites in the public eye.

The CWPT has also unveiled its list of endangered parks. This issue really cut to the core of our hobby, and is worthy of all our interest.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

'Zine on the table this week

America's Civil War is a great magazine for reenactors, if it can be judged by this particular issue. It goes into the depth I like about featured units. This month's feature article was on the Iron Brigade, which was well researched content wise, with plenty of images of soldiers and artifacts. The other articles were good, but the Iron Brigade article alone made the magazine a worthwhile purchase.

Catchin' Up

I've been away for the past few days, for the most part readying up for a recruiting drive on Saturday for my reenacting group. I'm back today with a backlog of stuff to write on, so keep visiting for updates!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Anatomy of an Reenactment, Part 1

I've decided to put some ideas and observations on the table. Maybe they'll be helpful to some event planner looking at doing something different. These ideas aren't wholly mine, but are mainly observations from my past experiences. This series of posts came from thinking along the lines of the What I think makes a great reenactment post from a couple days ago. Feel free to make comment or add to the posts.

I aim to layout a possible scenario that can be used, including sample maps and such. I might be able to pull something helpful off, or I may flop and have my failure displayed on the OKTB forums. Can't fault me for trying though! I'll start simple, and then work my way up. Chances are that I'll hit on something done before, but that matters not. What matters is that it's recorded and available to anyone who reads the blog. The subject will be the American Civil War, unless I specify differently. Lastly, if anyone puts these ideas to use, please use the Comments to discuss the results.

Man your stations!
Event Type: Small Display; Resources: 5 -15 Reenactors

Small displays are usually discounted because they don't involve lots of people shooting lots of weapons. But these displays are vital to get close to spectators and to do some recruiting. These events are also a great chance to show spectators the passive side of the hobby and allow them to get your full attention as a reenactor. But how to do this in an organized fashion that appeals to all age groups? You want to avoid the "convention booth" - where the reenactors essentially stand in front of displyed and make a sales spiel to prospects. What's more attractive is putting the history into the spectator's hands. Here's what you need to do:

Get a estimate on reenactors who are attending, and of course, plan for any AWOLs. You'll need at least five active participants doing the following:

  • Display guide
  • Demonstrators
  • Information/Recruiting

Pick a time frame you want to represent - but whatever you do, be faithful. Don't set up wedge tents and say the timeframe is on campaign in 1865. Also this is a great time to research your unit and represent it faithfully for the time period you choose. The focus of your research would be what the soldiers knew or did to cope with life at that time.

Once a time frame is established, then pick the participants who will be the designated "demonstrators". They should be out-going enough to engage the spectators on a first-person level. This is important because of any of the participants, these guys have to know what they're doing, and keep up an impression at the same time, all the time. The twist here is to engage the public as much and as closely as possible, rather than keeping them at arm's length. Each demonstrator should have a "station", and the displays should first cover the military aspects, then entertainment, and then social commentary. If you can build a fire pit, then cooking demos are always good.

After your demonstrators are settled, then the next people to choose are your "display guides". What many displays lack is someone who can walk the spectators through the camp, interact with the demonstrators on a first-person level, and lend some context.

Reenactor extraordinare or total geek?

It's getting late, but I did find one of the most interesting reenacting sites I've run across in a long time. It's even more interesting than the Lord of the Rings reenactors.

This guy is a Roman period reenactor - but - "Gallio Velius Marsallas" does other periods not of this world. Star Wars anyone? Or how about a Cylon? Stargate?

Nevertheless, he looks like he's having a blast doing various impressions, and makes it all look like a load of fun. Maybe we all can learn from Gallio's example. That makes him a "Reenactor extraordinare".

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Curious site for reenacting and gaming

Warplay is a curious combination of a general interest reenactor's site, mixed with a little bit of wargaming to boot. It's one of those sites that does hold your curiousity for a few minutes while you wonder "what the heck?"

Warning - the site has music files on several pages. I also wonder at the music selection, but I'll go with it.

Reenacting links of the week

Here are some reenacting links for this week:

American Civil War & Indian Wars:
Re-enactment draws thousands
Civil War Reenactment in Tallahassee
Past inspires vows for Civil War enthusiasts
Lincoln reenactor provides update on Civil War
Battlefield symposium March 31
Museum visitors meet Buffalo Soldiers
Historic Lode foundry to become a living museum
Investor wants to restore Old Mill Museum
Tea talk takes on 19th-century women's issues

Texas War for Independence & Rendezvous:
Alamo Plaza, AP Photos: 1, 2, 3
Mountain men coming to Wise River

Revolutionary War:
The miniature redcoats are coming

I'm bummed - a great blog comes to an end

I was hoping Brett would reconsider, but apparently not. Looks like American Civil War Gaming & Reading is ending its great run. This is a tremendously interesting blog for me, and a popular stop for many Civil War blog readers. The good news is that Brett Schulte is keeping the site going, so it'll be there for everyone to read its archive. Maybe one day, it'll come back.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ready to pick a fight

Got the Combat Mission Anthology last week, and I'm ready to pick a fight in Barbarossa to Berlin. As a matter of fact, I've already got one brewing with a guy from France. We'll what he's made of --- quiche or otherwise.

If you like to play wargames, I very much recommend joining up with the Blitzkrieg Wargame club. Great place to find opponents for Combat Mission or any of the John Tiller Civil War games.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What I think makes a great reenactment

Joshua Blair from Civil War Power Tour threw a very good question at me after I wrote the review of the Carolinas Campaign event:

Please enlighten us non re-enacting folks. What is the ideal re-enactment?

OK, fair's fair. It's one thing to chirp about an event on a blog, but it's quite another to define the ideal reenactment to non-reenactors. So, my mind has been thinking on this one for the past few days. Here's what I've come up with.

Let me provide a few caveats before I launch into this post:
  1. We're only talking about events with spectators watching,
  2. The event as a whole doesn't have to be scripted, and
  3. Of course it's my opinion based on my personal experiences.

One thing I've come to grips with in recent times is that both reenactors and the general public know more of the Civil War now than they did 20 years ago. This is not to say that knowledge has grown by leaps and bounds, but people are certainly more aware. The reenactor side has grown in knowledge several-fold. Everything I wished for as a reenactor 20 years ago has pretty much transpired. Better uniforms, gear, and printed material are available and more affordable. And with that, the people who come out to watch our events have become more knowledgable - hopefully partly as a product of reenactors making history available to the public.

With this is in mind, sooner or later, someone is bound to say this:

“I know the result,” Townsend said. “I just want to see if they portray it accurately.”

This out of a high school student who went to see the Carolina Campaign event. His reaction afterwards? The Fayetteville Observer further quotes:

If Christie was overwhelmed by the realism, teen history buff John Townsend had spotted some flaws. Although the Confederates were all clad in the distinctive gray uniforms, Townsend said that by the end of the war — when this battle took place — they were low on supplies, including uniforms.

“They’d have been wearing jeans or whatever they could find,” he said.

He's right - and a type of observation that was probably not missed by some other spectators. This leads me to...

Point #1: An ideal reenactment has to demand material accuracy of the participants. Give Mr. Townsend a couple more years and I can imagine he could be pointing out the over- abundance of Richmond Depot II shell jackets at a western theatre event. I think it's essential that the event sponsor define the impressions. Although reenactors can bone-up on the events portrayed, the sponsor should have some special insights and develop guidelines for what they feel appropriate for the event. The McDowell event sponsors did a great job of defining the desired impression on their site. Failure to do so might find some sharp-eyed teen's observations displayed in the local newspaper.

Point #2: An ideal reenactment must have a realistic scenario that's pertinent to the historical event reenacted. OK, here's the reenactor translation - don't do a generic fairground meat-slapping contest and pass it off for a recreation of an actual event. At the time of the Carolinas Campaign was fought, the nature of combat had changed, not least of which were how small unit actions were carried out. But yet, both forces were packing two-ranked battlelines, rather than the reinforced skirimish lines found late in the war. Attack and Die is a great book that explains these changes - and event designers should read it and take note. The Carolinas Campaign not only suffered from sameness and a generic treatment of the events, but the battle tactics weren't representative of that point in the war.

Point #3: An ideal reenactment has a reasonable balance of forces. You can't have the yanks outnumbered 2 or 3 to 1, outgunned, with cavalry breathing down their necks, trot them on the field and then expect a realistic event to blossom. Ain't going to happen. I'm actually a big fan of capping numbers to certain forces. Down in the south, it's access to the Confederates and their artillery. Capping has the effect of promoting a bit of competition for the limited spots, and allows the other necessary forces not to be overwhelmed, if not allow them to grow from the ranks of the reenactors who have a dual impression. I'm also a big proponent of using incentives to attract the necessary manpower - a couple of packs of free ammo and a supply hardtack would go a long way to attract needed Federals.

Point #4: An ideal reenactment uses innovation or a twist to add its own 'flavor' to the event. One of the things that a reenactor who was on the cusp of burn-out told me was that "most events have become the same, and that's why I'm thinking of quitting." Unfortunately, that's not an uncommon refrain these days. Most events have become a little too much the same. The only difference is where they are fought.

I think most event designers are too focused on how a battle unfolds in a scripted fight to pay mind to the things that really attract good reenactors, and make a believable reenactment for spectators. One battle that sticks in my mind is an event that was once held at Carnifex Ferry, WV. I wrote about this event before, along with my thoughts on event design. Innovation is the key that keeps reenactors in the hobby, and is also the past subject of a post. Rich Mountain seems to be another event that had a twist - so there's plenty of ideas out there to make an event an experience rather than a chore.

Hopefully I've addressed Josh's question to satisfaction - I feel like I've got out a thing or two that's been brewing for a while. In my opinion, the better mechanics of a reenactment, of course the better the reenactors enjoy it, which in turn makes it a great event for someone spectating it. Something can be said for energy and a sense catharsis.

'Zine on the table this week

The 'Zine on the table this week is a very fine issue of Civil War Historian. This is kind of issue that makes you think that they're on top of their game.

They're are two great battle reviews, Perryville and Rich Mountain. In particular, the Rich Mountain event seems to be the most revealing about what we are made of as reenactors.

The other articles deal with loading a cannon, using the correct finish for a rifle stock, reaching a first-person persona, and a bit about the Lee family.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another relative in military history

This time on my wife's side. This is Jesse Benard Stancil, and she has collected a little bit of information about his service:

Served in WWI. Landed in LeHarve, France. Have copy of certificate of military service certifying that he was in the Army from July 22, 1918 until May 15, 1919. He received an honorable discharge as a Private. Served for 10 months.

Also have copy of final pay roll indicating that he was with Company B, Conv. Cr. Tr. Cr. at Camp Lee, Virginia. Upon discharge, he received $1273.38 which included travel pay of $6.90. He also received a war risk allotment of $7.50. At some point during his service, he received a pay check for $74.40.

Some interesting news about Bentonville battlefield

This bit of information is from the WRAL site:

"In March 1865, 80,000 soldiers clashed on a Johnston County battlefield. More than 4,000 were killed, wounded or listed as missing.

But you won't find their graves on the battlefield. Now, it appears there are soldiers buried on the battlefield, and there is evidence of a mass grave."

Curious reading for a Saturday morning.