Do Something New!
by Jonah Begone
Pioneers, telegraphers, morticians, sutlers, local politicians, Sanitary Fair workers, dragoons, sailors, surgeons, minstrels, hospital stewards, foreign military observers, Signal Corps, musicians of all kinds (including bagpipers), Federal Veteran Reserve Corps, engineers, prostitutes, widows - you name it, somebody in reenacting does it. ANYTHING to keep from having to do that boring old infantry impression. Once, I even met a guy doing an Oliver Wendell Douglas, er, Holmes impression, looking for his son in the aftermath of the Antietam battle! (Don't know if he ever found him, or if it was a good impression by any measurable criteria.) Anyway, who am I to stop progress? Here's a list of suggestions for those who yearn for something new:
The Male Nurse: You obtain a Walt Whitman Halloween mask and gaze lovingly and sadly down upon wounded soldiers. Become close friends with some of them. Lovingly run your fingers through their hair. Cry a lot. Write poetry. This Civil War Alan Alda impression should be big with a certain group who, up to now, hasn't been well represented in reenacting.
The John D. Rockefeller: With $300 of reenactment money in hand you hire yourself a substitute, which of course frees you to start a financial empire (possibly in the lucrative Historical Art Print resale field). No uniform expenditures required with this impression but a natty set of civilian duds is essential.
The Copperhead: You infiltrate the campfire circles of Federal reenactment units and utter lines like, "All this bloodshed! Is anything worth all this?" and "Oh, I suppose Jeff Davis isn't all THAT bad." Later, sneak into the Reb camp for the all-night party action. Whose side are you on? No one knows!
The Shoddy Cloth Contractor: Of course, some may argue that one of these already exists under the guise of the sutler you bought sub-standard clothes from, but a refinement of this impression requires you to attend Sanitary Fairs and eat a lot in return for a pittance donation in reenactment money. (The eating-a-lot part should appeal to many reenactors.)
The Cringing Civilian: This one involves hiding until the local battle is over, performing various fearful tableaux for the public who is admitted (with charge, of course!) to the basements of appropriate homes. The mobile version of this impression is called "the Refugee."
The Mule Driver: Expensive to get into (that mule and wagon costs more than a rifle!) but worthwhile in that you can indulge in some truly creative swearing in front of the public without fear of reprimand. Remember "Rawhide"? HAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
The West Point Cadet: Yeah, I know - it doesn't belong out of the confines of West Point, but think of how much fun you'll have dreaming up the "What If?" scenario to explain it! (That is, IF you can fit into one of those cadet shell jackets.)
The Abe Lincoln: Performed singly (a Lincoln at a Civil War event is always appropriate!) or with the other regional Lincoln impressionists, who are grouped together for effect in a Company of Lincolns and drilled at major events. Can be shot at by a Company of Booths.
Food Preparation Regiment Cook: With the possibility of people who spend all their time cooking organizing into a Food Preparation Brigade, I can see a big demand in the future for this one. If you can heft those #20 cans of pork and beans, you'll always have a job in reenacting.
The Mark Twain: Spend exactly two hours in a reenactment regiment, then desert. Write books. Encourage dying U.S. generals to write their memoirs and obtain the copyrights. Grabbing women is a refinement of this incorrigible old man impression.
The Unreconstructed Rebel: This one requires a belligerent attitude and adopting the sullen, resentful looks perfected by rap artists. Proves that victimhood is not just a 90's thing.
The Apparition from the Past: Daub some Revolutionary War uniforms with glow-in-the-dark paint and appear at night in Federal camps, encouraging the reenactors to "Remember Washington and Valley Forge!"
"The Vacant Chair": Why not involve your camp furniture in the fun? This requires that a folding chair - which no one dares sit in, of course - be set up around the fire in eloquent testimony of the honored dead. The person who isn't in on the tableau gets to be yelled at and insulted by the other members of the regiment when he tries to sit in the chair.
The "Jeff in Petticoats" (a.k.a. "Victor/Victorian"): The reenacting outlet for men who envy the women who dress as soldiers. Provides inclusion for a certain group who up to this time haven't been well represented in reenacting...
The Fenian: This is a further use for that Lucky Charms dialect you "perfected" in the Irish regiment, and proves that multiculturalism was always in style. Why cease being ethnic simply because the Civil War ended?
The Veteran as Transcontinental Railroad Worker: I know from talking to World War I reenactors (who do a lot of weekend shoveling to maintain and improve trenches and bombproofs) that there must be an interest in some good, back-breaking Civil War-era work. Obviously, not for everyone. (Or me.)
The Victorian Gigolo: Requires you to dress and groom yourself (wearing stinky pomade for your hair) like Elmer Ellsworth and hang around the outdoor showers near the women's camp. You'll have to remove your 20th century civilian gold chains and medallions, but if you're lucky you can appear in an art print or a paperback book cover, clutching some voluptuous babe. With practice, luck and pectoral development (or implants) you can become the Civil War Fabio.
The Bloating Soldier: (Popularized in a Wall Street Journal article as "the Bloat.") Been gaining weight lately? This might be the one for you! Requires very little in the way of physical exertion or effort and looks so "right."
The Sniveling Company Clerk: Avoid duty of all kinds and get fellow reenactors in trouble. Requires ingratiating yourself with those in authority, a rat-like appearance and a period clipboard (if there is such a thing).
The Contraband: Not politically correct but just the thing if the 54th Massachusetts won't have you!
Obviously, there are all sorts of possibilities, limited only by your imagination! So give that musket the heave-ho and say farewell to drill forever!