Seven Annoying Reenacting Types

by Jonah Begone

Stay in reenacting for a few years and I'm sure you'll run into these "types." They're to be found East and West, Union and Confederate, Civil War or Revy War. Read on and see if you haven't already encountered some.

1. The Enthusiastic Drill Private

This is a young - but not always so! - private who remembers Napoleon's quote "Every corporal carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack." Aspiring to higher rank, he displays his ambition by vocalizing an endless flow of helpful advice during drill: "Dress right! Dress right!" "Rear rank cover down!" "Guide on the colors!" "Lean into the pivot!" If you're within reach he'll have the nerve to manually align you into place. You know the type: if the company is marching over a bridge he'll invariably shout "Break step! BREAK STEP!" as if the semi-synchronized passing of 20 guys is going to collapse the thing. Before a cannon fires he'll shout "Fire in the hole! Open your mouths! Open your mouths!," and during the battle - apparently feeling that the redundant voices belong to the NCO's - he'll shout the ever-helpful "No ramrods! No paper!" Stifling the Enthusiastic Drill Private is the one excusable time a commander may loudly order "Quiet in the Ranks!" (It's also justifiable cause for one private to frag another.)

2. The Dull Wit

This is the guy who, upon seeing a plane pass by, will crack the highly original "Look! The Yanks (or Rebs) are calling in their air support! Har har har!" His other big opportunity comes when it's time to erect the tents, when the Dull Wit turns it into a drill movement: "Erect dining fly in nine times, erect!" He also specializes in twenty year old Monty Python routines delivered in a bad British dialect.

3. The 24-Hour First Person Impressionist

One who pathetically refuses to break character no matter how profound the miscommunication may become. The most common scenario is when a member of the visiting public requests the way to the restroom and this Barrymore responds "Restroom? What's a restroom?" The all-time worst example I ever saw was the fort commander who refused to admit a very pregnant visitor through the doors (and to the bench inside) because of a possible "Rebel infiltration." (I let her in, Court Martial be damned.)

4. The First Person Journalist

No, not a person who does a journalist impression at events; I mean the type who is the literary version of the 24-Hour First Person Impressionist. With limited writing skills, this type writes up reenactment after-action reports in a florid and excruciatingly bloody Victorian style that could make the dullest small town "Strawberry Daze" skirmish read like it was Verdun. You've read this stuff before: "...then the gallant (some reenacting brigade), superbly led by Colonel (some reenactor), faced a withering fire and was forced to retreat with horrendous casualties. Caring nought but for their country, however, they bravely surged forward again and yet again as the once numerous regiments were decimated and their precious lifeblood was split upon their flag, blah, blah, blah." (I was reading a friend a passage from one of these and before I was past the fourth dying hand-over of the colors he cried out "Stop! Stop! I'll talk! Anything! Just stop reading!") The dorkiest one of these literary gems I ever read featured a "Key to Participants" at the end, i.e., "Col. (some reenactor) portrayed Col. George Strong of the 57th Mass.; Maj. (some other reenactor) portrayed Lt. Archibald Gordon of the 67th Pa. and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver," etc. Articles of this type provide one of the few instances when book burning is socially justifiable.

5. The Megalomaniacal Commander

This is the reenactment NCO or officer who hasn't quite figured out that the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice (and all the authority it confers) only applies to personnel who are in the REAL service. This type is fond of barking imperious "You WILL" commands, heatedly reprimanding the troops, ordering the gullible to carry logs around camp in "good natured" punishment and issuing an occasional brisk "Well Done!" when in a benevolent mood. You know, Ego squared. A guy like this doesn't last long at a unit level. His regiment inevitably tires of his august, martial personality and votes him out of office at the annual business meeting when the first credible challenger comes along. The Megalomaniacal Commander then becomes a staff officer in some reenactment brigade or division and the originating unit thus gets to share him with many other reenactors. (Gee, thanks guys!) Sometimes he retains his rank, but more often takes a promotion in the process. Ever wonder why there is strife and bitter politicking in what is, after all, a hobby? Wonder no more!

6. The Authenticity Guru

This is the type who writes very well-researched, very detailed and horribly unreadable articles about minor historical issues. His (or her - can't let the women off on this one!) interest ranges from "Color, Type and Efficacy of Seam Threads Used in Federal Issue Trowsers of the Trans Mississippi from May 1862 - August 1863" to the somewhat more gut-wrenching "Nineteenth Century Midwifery of the Moosehead River Valley." Discussions about muskets and edged weapons seem to bring out the most crazed of this type. No matter how boring, however, the Guru's articles are inexplicably praised to the hilt and almost always introduced in gushing prose by editors who recommend a reading because it will " us serious Living Historians perfect our impressions so that we may better educate the public." Some Gurus have become celebrated for their arcane knowledge, but my interrogation of other reenactors has revealed that as a practical matter they skip the article entirely once they read the author's name!

7. Reenactors Who Write "Annoying Reenacting Types" Articles

I've identified this type to anticipate the main point of the hate mail this article is bound to get from Enthusiastic Drill Privates, Megalomanicial Commanders, etc.

NOTE: This article has a sequel, written by Jeff Hendershott: Annoying Reenacting Types (Part II)