REENACTING: NEW KIND OF WAR
By Blair Howard
Battlefields of the Civil War: A Guide for Travelers
Reenacting the battles of the Civil War is becoming a popular hobby. Just as they did all those years ago, men and women from all walks of life are setting forth to fight for cause and country: laborers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, company executives and postal clerks leave behind their briefcases, tools and homes and head for the killing fields. This time, however, they are doing it for different reasons. And today's Civil War soldiers are just as serious about what they're doing as were their forbears back in 1861. Oh, they'll tell you they're doing it for fun, and perhaps they believe it, but it takes a dedicated individual to spend several days several times a year out in all weathers being ordered about in an uncomfortable facsimile of a uniform that was little more than an instrument of torture when worn for real.
These men and women live for a few days by the same military code as did the armies of the Civil War. They carry the same weapons, though most are only replicas - the real thing being far too valuable to risk - and belong to units that bear the famous, honored names of the past. And those regiments mean just as much to the modern-day reenactor as they did to those who fought and died for them.
The dedicated reenactor loves what he does. He has feelings that cannot properly be described; you'll simply have to try it to understand. There's nothing quite like the chill in the air on a crisp, clear early morning in fall when a campground on one of the great fields of glory begins to stir. Or the excitement as the troops are called into line of battle, simulated or not. And, to those who know, the charge is just as real, just as thrilling, just as awesome as it must have been all those years ago. The blue-white smoke over the battle line is just as thick, the gunfire just as loud, and the yelling just as enthusiastic. To stand and watch as the gun crews work feverishly at their great weapons, trying for all they're worth to achieve a rate of fire that was second nature to the artillery man of long ago, is to get entirely caught up in the moment. Yes, reenacting is addictive. Do it once, even just to watch, and you're hooked.
Having said that, there are a couple of ways you can become involved and enjoy reenacting. You can watch the action or you can join in, on one side or the other.
To watch the action requires little more than a basic knowledge of the Civil War and the events played out during those terrible years. The reenactment of any given battle is rarely historically accurate. Lack of numbers and an inability of those involved to understand the mind-set of one who might have spent a couple of years, or more, experiencing conditions and hardships that no one could even imagine today, are the principle reasons for this. But, where the reenactment is to be played out and how many attend also significantly impacts the authenticity of the event. For instance, at the first reenactments of the Battle of Tunnel Hill in north Georgia there were several hundred Confederate soldiers complete with two batteries of artillery and commanded by a full complement of officers from a general down. This significant force was pitted against no more than a couple of dozen Union soldiers with a single three-inch ordnance rifle - a tiny contingent commanded by a captain. Most of the smaller reenactments are like this, and if you add the inevitable boyish enthusiasm and the desire for "a good day out," it's no wonder the event turns out to be a little inaccurate, to say the least. Still, it's fun to watch, and there's no doubt that spectators do become caught up in the moment, many of them leaving the event determined to take a more active part in the next one.
And that brings us to those who do the real work at a reenactment, the participants themselves. These people are usually die-hard Civil War buffs. Many are amateur historians; some are professional historians; some just like to get out there and play; all are enthusiasts. And you have to be very enthusiastic indeed to spend $10,000 on a reproduction canon and all its accouterments, another several hundred dollars on an artillery captain's uniform, and heaven only knows what on the means to transport it all around the country.
Most reenactors, however, cannot afford such luxury. Just like the average soldier 135 years ago, they are infantrymen, the backbone of the army. Their uniforms and weapons are authentic, though reproduction, down to the underwear, and they go to war with a will that would rival that of the first volunteers of 1861, be it only for a weekend or so.
Then there is the civilian reenactor: the doctors, nurses, photographers, and the like. These people also play important parts, just as their ancestors did way back when. Their dress, too, is authentic. They man the field hospitals and look after the wounded and the dying in much the same way as did the field surgeons and staff all those years ago. True, the wounds are rarely more serious than a simple bump on the head, but the enthusiasm inside and outside the tents is real enough.
Most reenactments are accompanied by a tented village, a trade fair, if you will, where you can purchase all sorts of Civil War memorabilia, from books to photographs, from reproduction uniforms to fine dresses, flags, unit histories, buttons, spent bullets, cheap souvenirs and a plethora of other bits and pieces. These villages, the tented shops and refreshment stands, are run by the modern day version of the sutler. The sutler was a merchant who sold goods and supplies directly to the troops. They followed the armies from battlefield to battlefield, riding a covered wagon crammed full with everything a soldier might need to maintain his existence. They would stay on the road, following the army for months on end, leaving only to replenish their stocks. Some were rogues, but most were honest businessmen fulfilling a need. The same is true of the modern sutler. You'll find authentic antiques for sale alongside reproductions being passed off as authentic. Be careful.
Then there are the photographers, those who follow in the footsteps of men like Matthew Brady. They dress the part and tote reproduction wooden cameras that sometimes house modern 35mm equipment. These people record the action, make portraits of the soldiers, and generally add a little extra authenticity to the event. You'll see one or two at every reenactment.
And then there are the social events that usually accompany a reenactment: balls, dances and dinners. Here the participants go all out. The ladies wear elegant ball gowns of the period; the men wear dress uniforms. To attend one of these events is to step back in time. These people talk, or try to, just as they might have 135 years ago; they affect the manners and accents of the mid-19th century, and they thoroughly enjoy themselves.
How Do You Get Started?
To watch, all you have to do is turn up in plenty of time, pick a good spot, and settle down. Bring some food and plenty to drink - soft drinks only. You may even want to arrive a little early, a couple of hours or so, and watch the units marching and drilling, perhaps breaking camp, or maneuvering into position. You'll probably have to pay to watch. Entrance fees run from a couple of dollars on up. Don't worry. Your small investment will be repaid many times over.
To become a reenactor you only have to ask. Most units are short on numbers, though long on enthusiasm, and will welcome you with open arms. Attend a reenactment and you're sure to find a unit that will take you on. If not, you can make inquiries in your home town. The local historical society is the best place to start. If you don't have a historical society you can try the library. Be aware, though, that even though these are basically weekend soldiers they will expect you to make a commitment. You'll be required to turn up regularly, learn the history of the Civil War in general, and that of the unit you are joining in depth. You'll start out as a private soldier, be taught all about the weapons and tactics of the times, and you'll drill and march just as rookie soldiers would have in 1861. The men that run these units and do the training are just as effective as were their peers of 130 years ago, perhaps even more so. You'll be expected to kit yourself out, at no little expense, and turn out in all weathers. You'll go to camp, train hard, and you'll fight. You'll get caught up in the action, which will seem real beyond belief. You'll get dirty like never before, and you'll return home at the end of the day tired, even worn out, but fulfilled.
Most reenactments are small affairs, often hosted by a local historical society or Civil War unit. Here, perhaps a couple of hundred men and women get together for a weekend. In most cases it's no more than a gathering where the participants get into character and live the life for a couple of days; it might even include the reenactment of some small, insignificant skirmish. Then there are the large national events where units from all across the country participate. Here the reenactors, sometimes as many as 10,000, refight a major battle. Events such as these will draw spectators from around the world. Small or large, local or national, authenticity is the watchword. Nothing that will detract from the overall illusion of perfection will be allowed. Even press photographers are asked to wear appropriate gear or stand outside the line of sight.
Modern items - cameras, etc. - may be used but should be covered by something of the period. Even in camp, out of sight of spectators, at least until they're allowed in on the morning of the reenactment, you'll be expected to maintain the illusion. This means modern sleeping bags, frowned on in some circles, should be covered by a period blanket, and removed from sight when the spectators arrive. Drinks should be kept in period containers - canteens and bottles, not aluminum cans.
But there's more to living the period than just wearing and carrying the gear. Doing without all the trappings of life in the 1990s - food, clothing, conveniences - will teach you more about the history of the period than you could ever learn from a book. And you'll be expected to affect the grace and mannerisms of a time long gone.
Authenticity also provides a deep sense of belonging, a way of casting off the worries and stress of modern day life, at least for a couple of days. Far away from the asphalt roads, modern buildings, fast cars, heavy trucks, telephones and computers, you'll find things proceed at a much slower, more relaxed pace. The company is friendly and outgoing, the conversation lively, and the atmosphere exciting.
You'll be expected to purchase an authentic period uniform in keeping with those worn by the particular unit you're joining. Check with the powers that be before you spend any money.
They'll provide a basic list of what you'll need.
In the early days of the Civil War, especially in the south, the uniforms worn by volunteer units often bordered on the eccentric. They were rarely practical, but designed more to attract the opposite sex and new recruits than for everyday life on the march. Uniforms of the period just prior to the outbreak of the war were influenced by those of earlier times - bright colors and lots of gold braid were the order of the day. So were the hats. At first, these came in every shape and size, even turbans. Some uniforms had their origins in Napoleonic France, some in the British army of a century before. Confusion on the field reigned supreme. Friendly fire was responsible for large numbers of casualties. Even the flags looked the same. Slowly, however, after the first great battles had been won and lost, things began to change. The bright colors were discarded and more standard modes of dress were adopted.
Confederate Uniforms. By the spring of 1862 the standard Confederate army uniform consisted of a gray jacket or frock coat with light blue or gray trousers. In practice, however, few Southern units (never call them Rebels) ever looked alike. Grays varied, not only from unit to unit, but from individual to individual. Some were light, some were dark, some were not gray at all. Confederate soldiers, perhaps from necessity, included more civilian items of dress in their uniforms than did their Union counterparts, especially where headgear was concerned.
Trousers were made of heavy wool, fine in winter when the weather was dry, but torture in hot or wet weather. They were worn loose, with plenty of room for long underwear and to move, bend or squat. They never had the sharp creases we've come to expect in modern uniforms. Jackets were also loose-fitting. The shell jacket must have been uncomfortable, especially if it didn't fit properly, and most of them didn't. The frock coat was often heavy and restrictive, but warm in winter; uncomfortably so in summer. Your prospective unit will dictate which style you should buy.
Hats were as much a personal statement as a part of the uniform. Two styles were popular: the familiar kepi or the more practical slouch hat. The slouch or plantation hat was more popular because its wide brim kept out the sun and rain. You'll probably be allowed to wear whichever style suits you best.
In the early days of your reenacting military career it's probably best to borrow your uniform and weapon. It wouldn't be wise to invest a lot of money in clothing and equipment, only to realize you're unsuited to the pastime. Spare uniforms, loaners, are kept on hand by most units for just such a purpose.
Union Uniforms. Most Union troops wore light blue woolen pants, although some did wear dark blue pants. The regulation jacket was a dark blue, knee-length, woolen frock coat, but some units did wear a waist-length shell jacket. What you will wear will depend very much on your chosen unit. Be sure to check before you buy; some outfits will not allow anything that isn't authentic to that particular unit.
The uniform shirt might have been any of a number of colors ranging from dark to light blue, gray or white.
During the early days of the war, the kepi was the most popular style of hat for the Union soldier. Toward the end, however, mostly because the kepi didn't give much protection from the elements, many adopted the wide-brim slouch hat, which gave more protection from the sun and rain. There were several styles of slouch hat, but the most popular was undoubtedly the one named for General William Hardee. The Hardee was a black hat with a wide brim turned up on one side and fastened in position with a brass pin, usually in the form of an eagle.
Other styles, the wheel hat, several styles of straw hat, and even panamas were the legacy of the Mexican war and were worn by one and all well into the 1860s.
And then there were the hat decorations. We've all seen them in movies: the golden cords adorned with golden acorns worn on cavalry officer's hats. But there were so many more unit badges, corps badges, regimental numbers and company letters, all worn by the foot soldier; the bugle was worn by mounted infantry. What will adorn your chosen hat will depend upon the unit to which you belong.
Shirts. Most shirts, on both sides, were pullovers. They were made mostly from flannel or muslin, and those worn by Union troops were often dark blue and, in warm weather, were worn over a muslin shirt instead of the heavy woolen jacket. Shirt pockets were rare.
Boots - Confederate and Union. In the early days of the war, boots on both sides were plentiful. They were tough and strongly made from hide leather. The most common style worn by soldiers in both armies was the "Jefferson bootie," so named for the Confederate president who approved its use by Federal troops when he was the United States Secretary of War. It was a heavy, square-toed boot that covered the ankle. Union versions were made with the smooth side of the leather out, Confederate models with the smooth side in.
Soldiers in the cavalry, and mounted infantry units, were allowed to wear high-topped boots with the pants tucked into the tops. Other than that, only officers were allowed to wear such boots.
There's been a lot made of the fact that, especially during the later stages of the war, many Confederate solders were reduced to marching and fighting in bare feet. Well, that's true, but not always out of necessity. Soldiers in the ranks on both sides often went barefoot by choice in the summer months, just as they did in civilian life.
Socks. These, believe it or not, were not so very different from those worn today. There's not much you can do with the design of a sock. They were made mostly of heavy wool, were hand-knitted by the ladies waiting at home, and were much darned and patched in the field. They were washed, mended, and worn until they literally fell off the feet. Many were knitted by the soldiers themselves. Socks, especially in winter when leather shoes became water-logged, not only kept the feet warm, but also protected them from chaffing, and thus helped prevent blisters.
Underwear. There was little difference between what was worn in the Union and Confederate armies. During the 19th century, soldiers, and civilians for that matter, wore more underwear than we do today. The longjohns of the movies were just that, movie props. They didn't become common until the later part of the 19th century, well after the Civil War had ended.
The underwear of the Civil War era, officer and common soldier alike, was an earlier version of the longjohns: a two-piece affair with long sleeves and legs that covered the body almost entirely - this as much out of a strong sense of modesty as a desire to keep warm. White and red were the popular colors, although the red quickly turned to pink with wear and washing. So, what will you wear? It's best, of course, that you wear something warm: longjohns or thermals, or both. If so, be sure you keep them covered and out of sight.
Firearms. The most popular weapon, then and now, on both sides, was the Springfield rifle musket, Model 1861, simply called by the soldiers that carried it, the Springfield.
The Springfield was a little more than five feet long and weighed in at just over nine pounds. It was a .58 caliber -just a little more than a half-inch - weapon with an effective range for a regular soldier of about 500 yards, although sharp-shooters could kill a man at twice that range.
The 1853 Enfield was also popular with soldiers on both sides. Made in England with a caliber of .577, it was more accurate than the Springfield and, in the right hands, deadly at well over 1000 yards. The Enfield was imported by both sides in vast numbers.
Both of these weapons were three-banded. Shorter weapons, carbines and the like, were two-banded.
Carbines or musketoons were much shorter, and less accurate, than the infantry long-rifles and were used mostly by cavalry units and mounted infantry.
As to the famed repeating rifles, these didn't become widely available until 1863, and then only to solders who could afford to purchase them themselves - as did the members of the famous John Wilder's mounted infantry units that caused so much havoc among Longstreet's soldiers at Chickamauga. It's doubtful that your unit will allow such weapons.
All reenactor units insist that every rifle musket have three bands; this as much for safety as authenticity.
A word of warning: if you're lucky enough to own an antique musket, don't use it while reenacting. Not only because it's a valuable piece and might get damaged, but because time may well have weakened the barrel and working parts. An exploding rifle is a terrible thing to behold, and the damage it does is devastating.
How about pistols? Even though you may have seen Civil War era portraits of young bloods brandishing or wearing large pistols, unless you're an officer, they are not appropriate. Swords, too, are reserved for officers, except for members of cavalry units who are allowed to wear a cavalry saber.
You should also be aware that if you're under 16 you probably won't be allowed to carry a rifle; if you're between the ages of 16 and 18 you'll be allowed to carry a rifle, but you won't be allowed to fire it. These rules are applied, mostly for insurance reasons, but also for safety.
Gunpowder. Black powder, gunpowder, is rated by the size of its grain from fg (1f) to ffffg (4f). The coarsest, 1f, is used for cannons; the finest, 4f, is used as the primer for flintlock weapons. Revolvers, single shot pistols and rifles under .45 caliber use 3f powder. Larger weapons, rifle muskets of .577 and .58 caliber as were common in both armies during the Civil War, use 2f powder. So, 2f is what you should use, too.
There are several commercial brands of gunpowder. Of these, Goex and Pyrodex are the best known. Pyrodex is not recommended for reenacting. It's a black powder substitute used mostly for live ammunition. It requires magnum caps, burns slowly, and, without the compression of a bullet in the barrel, it makes little noise when fired as a blank. On the other hand, Goex is a true black powder, burns much cleaner than Pyrodex, and makes a satisfying BANG! when fired blank.
Both types of gunpowder can be bought at most sporting goods stores. It comes in convenient one-pound cans, but should always be stored in a steel container, preferably an army surplus ammunition box, in a cool place where the kids can't get hold of it. Gunpowder seems to have a magnetic attraction for boys of all ages. Back in my youth, I used to dismantle fireworks to get a supply of the stuff. Very dangerous, very stupid.
Paper Cartridges. You can buy these ready-made at some of the larger events, but most reenactors prefer to roll their own; during the winter, many units have cartridge rolling parties. These are often social events, and can be a lot of fun. If you want to try your hand, it's quite easy. All you need is a supply of 2f black powder, a short piece of half-inch wooden dowel, slightly tapered at the end, some old newspaper or some pre-cut cartridge papers - these can often be bought at local reenactments - and some strong thread.
If you decide to cut your own cartridge papers, take a sheet of newspaper and cut trapezoids from it: 4 1/4 inches along the base, 5 1/4 inches along one side, three inches along the other, then make a slanting cut that joins the ends of the two sides together. Roll the paper around the dowel and leave about a quarter-inch over the tapered end. You'll tie off the longer end of the trapezoid. Place the dowel with its roll of paper still around it in something that will hold it upright while you tie off the end of the paper. Use your thread to tightly tie the tip of the paper. Now slide the dowel out of the resulting tube and pour a measured amount of black powder into the opening: the recommended measure is 60 grains of 2fblack powder, and it's best that you don't exceed this. You can, if you like, place a small ball of cotton wool where the ball would normally go, but it's not necessary. If you do, you can use the dowel to tamp the wool into the bottom of the cartridge before you apply the charge. After you've charged the cartridge, pinch the paper in toward the center of the cartridge, fold it fiat, tightly against the powder, first one way to make a crease, and then the other. Final]y, fold the flattened tail of the cartridge back so that it lies toward the tie-off tail end.
If you don't want to go to all that trouble, you can always buy ready-made paper rolls sold in boxes of 100 or more at many of the larger events. All you have to do is fill them with the required amount of black powder, close the ends, and you're ready to go; simple, but a little more expensive than the do-it-yourself paper cartridge.
Bayonets. The Civil War era bayonet was an unwieldy weapon, 18 inches or so in length, triangular, with dull edges and a sharp point. It turned an already over-long rifle into something that was hard to handle at best, and downright dangerous at worst. Bayonets were carried by all soldiers on both sides throughout the war. They were fixed over the end of the barrel via a socket that locked over the front sight. Though fearsome to behold by an enemy on the receiving end of a charge, they were not an effective weapon, and rarely used with any real effect, except in the movies, of course. Even Chamberlain's famous charge downhill at the Battle of Gettysburg produced fewer than 100 casualties. Although, when it was used effectively, the resulting wound was often fatal, not so much from the severity of the injury as from the inevitable infection that was almost always its aftermath.
The bayonet was, however, even from its inception long before the Civil War, one of the first real psychological weapons of war. One can only imagine the horrifying spectacle a raging, screaming soldier, brandishing one of these awful looking weapons, must have presented as he bore down at full speed, fully intent on ramming the thing deep into you. It's no wonder, then, that most soldiers, when on the receiving end of a bayonet charge, simply turned and ran.
But the mighty bayonet served many more purposes. Around camp it was ideal for hanging a coffee pot above the fire, holding a chunk of meat or chicken above the flames, and so on.
Care and Maintenance of Weapons and Equipment. It's not wise to wash woolen items too often. Wool has natural water-repellent properties that will be destroyed by constant washing. When you do wash your woolen items you should do so by hand, only in cold water, and then they should be hung out to dry, preferably in sunshine, on a clothesline; never use a washer and dryer. If you do, the uniform that emerges will not fit even GI Joe. You can, however, have your uniform dry-cleaned. If you do, make sure that the items are returned to you un-ironed. Wool becomes shiny if ironed without a cloth between it and the iron, and then again, Civil War uniforms never had a crease down the trousers or on the sleeves of the jacket; that was a later invention.
Brass items were often allowed to tarnish. Steel was oiled to prevent rust.
Your rifle, the most expensive part of your investment, should be cleaned thoroughly after each event. Black powder leaves a great deal of residue in the barrel. During the Civil War, this was such a problem that, after firing only a few rounds, it became more and more difficult, eventually impossible, to ram the bullet down the barrel.
To clean your rifle you'll need to remove the barrel from the weapon, then pour warm, soapy water down the barrel to loosen the residue. Once this has been done you can use a wad and cleaning rod to remove what's left. Don't pour water down the barrel while it's still attached to the stock. If you do, water will inevitably creep into the crevices between stock and works, thus causing rust; water's not good for the wood either.
Among many other items you'll find on sale at most of the larger events will be a variety of cleaning tools. One you should buy is a bristle, a small round brush that attaches to the end of the ramrod or cleaning rod. It does a great job of cleaning the inside of the barrel. Just make sure you get one that's the right size for your particular weapon. The worm and bullet pull are also useful tools. Both attach to the end of the ramrod or cleaning rod. The worm is used to remove the remains of unburned powder and paper from the barrel, the pull to remove an unfired ball.
Finally, when you feel the weapon is clean, reassemble the barrel to the stock, and then wipe it down with an oily rag. This will prevent rust and help to repel any water you might contact during your next time out in the field.
The Knapsack. These, and haversacks, were issued to both sides at the beginning of the war, and were carried throughout the conflict by soldiers on the Union side. Confederate soldiers, however, rarely carried them after the first year of the war.
They came in many different styles. What you carry will depend largely on the unit you join.
Mess Kits. Soldiers on both sides carried a mess kit. This consisted of a tin cup, tin plate, knife, fork and spoon. There was little difference between Union and Confederate issue. The cup was large, often with at least a two-pint capacity; the plate, some eight inches in diameter, after only limited use was always dented and beaten up; your irons -knife, fork and spoon should, of course, be of the period. Mess kits can be found for sale at most large, and some small, events.
The Canteen. This was THE essential part of the Civil War soldier's equipment. He could get by for days, if he had to, and that was often the case, with little or no food. But the long, forced marches through the choking dust raised by thousands of marching feet meant that a soldier was always thirsty and had to drink often.
Canteens of several different styles were issued to troops on both sides, but almost all were made to the same basic design. They were round, had a spout closed off with a cork that was held by a small chain. Some had woolen covers of one color or another and, although no one knows for sure, it's thought that these were blue for the union side and gray for the Confederate side; some covers were brown. Some canteens were made of wood and will leak if allowed to dry out. They soon seal themselves, however, when refilled.
Canteen straps are traditionally very long. This causes problems when you're moving quickly. New recruits to reenacting are tempted to hold the canteen in place by putting their belt over the straps, thus securing the canteen close to their side. Don't do this. Not only will it label you as a rookie, you'll have to take off the belt every time you want to drink, and this can be something of a problem at the height of battle, even a simulated battle.
What Shall I Purchase First?
This is a fair question, and the answer is that you should buy those items that are the most difficult to borrow: rifle and boots. When you have these two essential pieces you should put together the basic necessary equipment: uniform jacket, hat, pants, belt, suspenders, socks, shirt, canteen, knapsack, cartridge box, and a bayonet and scabbard. Give it a few weeks, at least, before you begin to buy on a grand scale. Once you've decided you're in for the long haul, however, you should make efforts to obtain as much equipment as you can as soon as possible.
Your boots will be the most important part of your uniform. Just as the Civil War soldier of old did, so you will you do your share of marching and drilling. Buy an ill-fitting pair of boots and you'll surely regret it. Always try them on before you make your purchase. You'll spend most of your reenacting time in them, even asleep. Make sure there's plenty of room for socks; you'll need at least a couple of pairs in cold weather.
Where Can I Find Weapons & Equipment?
The following is a list of sellers and manufacturers from whom you can purchase your every need. Most of them will deal direct through the mail and have catalogs to support their businesses. It's recommended that you find a supplier, or suppliers, from among these names. They are all known for their fair dealings, and the authenticity of their products. Almost all are small businesses. Their owners are enthusiasts, and will go out of their way to help with answers to your questions. On the other hand, you should be wary of the many retail stores dealing in souvenirs; their prices are high, and the quality of their merchandise is often shoddy.
Tim Allen, 1429 Becket Road, Eldersburg, MD 21784. 410549-5145. Confederate and civilian hats.
Lynn Ball, 702 N. Spruce Avenue, Goldsboro, NC 27534. Hats.
Ray Bass, Route 2, Box 4R, Newton Grove, NC 28366. 919-5940070. Shirts, underwear, shoes and suspenders.
Bolivar Boutique, Route 1, Box 407, Walkerton, IN 46574. 219-586-3586. Ladies' period clothing and accessories. Free catalog.
Isaac Cantrell & Co, 933 Westedge Drive, Tipp City, OH 45371.513-667-3379. Uniforms.
County Cloth, Inc., 13797-C Georgetown Street NW, Paris, OH 44669. 216-862-3307. Fax 216-862-3604. Top quality goods. Confederate and Union fabrics, patterns and pre-cut uniform kits. Catalog $5.
Crescent City Sutler, 127810 Highway 57N, Evansville, IN 47711.812-938-4217. Male and female clothing, military and civilian. Also equipment and other supplies. Catalog $3.
Dirty Bill's Sutlery, 7574 Middleburg Road, Detour, MD 21757.401-775-1865. Hats, military and civilian. SASE for brochure.
D.L. Roder, Clothier, 3607 Highway 48 North, Nunnelly, TN 37137. 931-729-5597. Uniforms.
Fugawee Corp., 3127 Corrib Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32308. 800-749-0387. Fax 904-893-5742. Jefferson bootees; comfort guaranteed; available in all sizes from 5E through 14EEE. Catalog $3.
Gettysburg Sutler, 424 R. East Middle Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325. 717-337-9669. Top quality, museum-grade reproductions: male, female and children, military and civilian.
Goldberg Textile Co., 2495 South Alden Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84106. 801-476-2343. Uniforms and uniform kits.
Grand Illusions, 108A East Main Street, Newark, DE 19711. 302-366-0300. Full-service outfitter of period clothing for men and women. They supplied the uniform and civilian clothing for the movie Gettysburg. Catalog $3.
His Lady and the Soldier Sutlery, 851 Kaypat Drive, Hope, MI 48628. 517-435-3518. Small goods -jewelry and accessories - for male and female reenactors. Catalog $2.
L&H Hats, 179 Melville Street, Dundas, ON L9H 2A9, Canada. 905-627-7492. Civilian and military hats, male and female.
Missouri Boot and Shoe Co., 951 Burr Crossing Road, Neosho, MO 64850. 417-451-6100. Top quality reproduction boots and shoes. Catalog $2.
Petticoat Junction, 307 Lakeside Avenue, Angola, NY 14006. 716-549-4998. Period clothing for men, military uniforms and civilian. SASE for catalog.
Salt Springs Sutler, 5645 Gulf Drive #1, New Port Richy, FL 34652. Period military uniforms, ladies' clothing, eyeglasses. Catalog free.
Greg Starbuck, 1581 General Booth Boulevard, #107, Virginia Beach, VA 23454. 804-583-2012. Kepis.
Suckerboys Clothing, 825 11th Street, Chaleston, IL 61920. Period clothing, male and female.
Uniforms of Antiquity, PO Box 613B, Mena, AR 71953. Military uniforms and kits.
Uriah Cap and Clothier, 220 Old Route 30, PO Box 93, McKnightstown, PA 17343. 717-337-3929. Handmade period headgear.
Winchester Sutler, 270C Shadow Brook Lane, Winchester, VA 22603. 703-888-3595. Fax 703-888-4632. Military and civilian period clothing. Catalog $4.
Weapons & Equipment Border States Leatherworks, Route 4, 14 Appleblossom Lane, Springdale, AR 72764. 717-259-9081. Leather goods and weapons. Catalog $2.
Cartridges Unlimited, 3253 Nebraska Street, St. Louis, MO 63118.314-664-4332. Black powder, cartridges and percussion caps. Catalog $3.50.
The Cavalry Shop, PO Box 12122, Richmond, VA 23241. Cavalry equipment, artillery gear, uniforms, etc.
Dixie Gun Works, Gunpowder Lane, Union City, TN 38261. 901-885-0700. Black powder supplies. Catalog $4.
Dixie Leatherworks, PO Box 8221, Paducah, KY 42002. Period leather goods, haversacks, etc. Catalog $2.
Drummer Boy, Christian Hill Road, RR 4, Box 7198, Milford, PA 18337. 717-296-7611. Firearms, tinware, insignia, buttons, leather goods and uniforms. Catalog $1.
Fairoaks Sutler, Route 2, Box 1100, Spotsylvania, VA 22553. 703-972-7744. Wide range of equipment. SASE for catalog.
Fall Creek Sutlery, PO Box 92, Whitestown, IN 46075. 317482-1861. Fax 317-769-5335. E-mail email@example.com. Civil War era weapons, uniforms, shoes & boots, leather goods, tents, etc. Large catalog $3.
Fort Branch Supply, PO Box 222, Hamilton, NC 27840. 919798-2671. Period military equipment, including wooden canteens.
Jarnigan, PO Box 1860, Corinth, MS 38834. 601-287-4977. Full-service supplies for reenactors.
Owens Accouterments, 1639 Belvedere Boulevard, Silver Springs, MD 20902. 310-681-7462. Manufacturer of museum-grade haversack, scabbards, and other leather goods.
Rapidan River Canteen Co., 16205 Trainham Road, Beaver Dam, VA 23015. 804-449-6431. Confederate wooden canteens.
Regimental Quartermaster, PO Box 553, Hatboro, PA 19040. 215-672-6891. Reproduction weapons, uniforms and equipment. Catalog $2.
S&S Firearms, 74-11 Myrtle Avenue, Glanedale, NY 11385. 718-479-1100. Fax 718-497-1105. Antique and reproduction firearms, gun parts, and other equipment for reenactors. Catalog $3.
Spencer Firearms, Inc., 5 S. Main Street, Sullivan, IL 61951. 217-728-7128.
Tentsmiths, PO Box 496, North Conway, NH 03860. 603-4472344. Fax 603-447-2344. Period tenting. Catalog $2.
Reenacting For Men
If you're not an officer or noncommissioned officer (corporal of sergeant) you will, obviously, be a member of the ranks. How do you rise from this lowly status? Just as in the real military world, you have to earn your promotion within your own particular unit.
There are some exceptions to this, although often the recipients of these unearned ranks are not well thought of, nor do they receive the respect they think they should. Horse owners often award themselves officer status in the cavalry, dress for effect, and spend much of their time ordering around members of the infantry, over which they have no authority.
The one real exception where assumed rank is acceptable is in the artillery. A canon is a very expensive piece of equipment. A reproduction three-inch ordnance rifle, for example, can cost upwards of $10,000; the caisson and other equipment can cost as much again; a 12 pounder bronze Napoleon can cost $25,000. It's no wonder, then, that the owner of such a piece should be a lieutenant or captain of artillery. His dedication to reenacting, not to mention his investment, deserves no less. The owner of a canon and all its accouterments will also be the one who will recruit his gun crew, and will rank them according to position on the gun and skill in operating the weapon. He and his crew, however, will be expected to fall under the command of the officer, usually a colonel or general, that's in overall command of the field, Union or Confederate.
You will be expected to show proper respect to all who rank above you, including civilian reenactors. Often officials of the times - state governors, congressmen, senators, cabinet members, even Presidents Lincoln or Davis - are portrayed by reenactors. Should you encounter such individuals, you will be expected to come to attention, present arms, salute, just as you would in a real situation.
You will also be expected to pay your respects to lady reenactors: act with deference and courtesy.
Some reenactors prefer a less organized role in the field. These might include, but are not limited to, doctors, photographers, preachers, blacksmiths, sutlers, and so on. Unfortunately, the cost of the authentic equipment needed to support these roles is often prohibitive. Even so, these reenactors are essential to the overall ambiance of the event and there should be a place for one and all. If you do decide upon a civilian role, you should always check with the organizers of each event to make sure you will be accepted in your chosen capacity, and that they will set aside a location from which you can operate.
One more thing, if you do decide to play a civilian role, you should know as much about it as possible. The chances are you will be bombarded with questions from both military reenactors and the spectators, so you'd better be knowledgeable and ready to answer.
Reenacting For Women
Women played many important roles in the conflict between the states. Most played supporting roles: seamstresses, letter writers, cooks, laundresses, and so on. Most nurses of the times, however, were men. Today, at reenactments, you'll see women everywhere, except on the battlefield, dressed in period costume. Most are spectators, wives of reenactors that enjoy playing a part just as much as their erstwhile partners on the field. These ladies also play an important role at the dress balls that are becoming more and more part of the larger events. These are happy events where the men wear dress uniforms and the ladies their finest gowns.
Rules of the Game
As already mentioned, your first responsibility is to learn and become familiar with the etiquette and manners of the period. Then, from the moment you step into uniform and onto the field, until you leave it again, stay in character. You'll adopt the demeanor, customs, speech patterns and social behavior that reflect the times. In short, you should become the person you are trying to portray, at least for the weekend.
At first, it will seem strange to be addressed by your fellow reenactors in the speech patterns of a by-gone era. You might even be tempted to laugh. Don't. This is serious business.
Always obey orders given by your superior officers, just as you would be expected to if you were a member of a modern military unit.
Safety and consideration for yourself, your fellow reenactors, and for the private property upon which most events take place, should always be first in your thoughts and actions. Reenacting can be dangerous. After all, even though live ammunition is never used, the weapons involved still can inflict serious wounds: bayonets, blank rounds, etc.
Never engage in hand-to-hand fighting, unless it's fully scripted and supervised.
When under fire, stay with your unit at all times.
If you do get hurt, or feel sick, go down and don't hesitate to call for assistance. You should understand, however, that such a call will immediately stop all the action.
Never move in front of, or get too close to, artillery units. Reenactors' cannon are usually charged with a one-pound load of black powder; the resulting blast at close range can do a great deal of damage. A ramrod placed across the mouth of a cannon means there's a live round in the barrel; a ramrod upright against a wheel of the cannon means the weapon is loaded and ready to fire.
When loading your own rifle, never use a ramrod. Black powder leaves a thick, sticky residue that can cause your ramrod to become stuck in the barrel. Also, it has been known, in the heat of the action, for a ramrod to be accidentally fired from the weapon; the result can be deadly.
It also goes without saying that bayonets should never be fixed on the field. In fact, they should be tied safely in their scabbards where they can do no harm.
It was not unusual for Civil War regiments to lose a third, even 50%, of their number during a battlefield engagement. This is usually also the case at reenactments. Don't be afraid to take a hit now and again. You can die on the field, or simply fall wounded. If you do, you can make all the noise you want. Wounded men of the day screamed in agony, called for their loved ones, and yelled for help; you can do the same. Don't overact, though, and don't fool around. Remember, you will often be reliving actual historical events, and you should respect the memory of the men who really did die.
When you take a hit, you should fall forward. This will prevent you from falling into someone behind you, or from falling on a rock or something you can't see that might do you harm. When on the ground, protect your weapon by lying on it, and lie still.
Sunglasses, or modern eyeglasses for that matter, should not be worn at reenactments. If you must wear eyeglasses, you should try to find an old pair of the period and have your prescription lenses fitted to them. Sometimes, at the larger opthamologists, you can find reproduction frames. Ovals were most common during the period, but it was not unusual to find hexagonals. If you can't find something that works, you might want to try contacts.
Sunstroke and heat exhaustion can sometimes become a problem at reenactments. The days are long and hot, the uniforms hot, heavy and uncomfortable, and you might need to spend several hours on your feet. Keep your canteen full and drink plenty of water. Keep the top of your head covered and, especially, your neck; wear a wide-brimmed hat or a bandanna.
During the winter, cold can be a problem, too. Wool uniforms are great insulators, but only to a point. Thermal underwear should be worn under the uniform; period gloves, if you can find them, will keep your hands warm, but an old pair of woolen socks will do just as well; never wear modern gloves. As to keeping your feet warm, try wearing a plastic bag between two pairs of socks.
Finally, always look to your own safety and that of others.