Old Pseudo-Soldiers Never Die,
They Just Write for the Camp Chase Gazette
by Mal Stylo
The title of this article is my observation from two consecutive issues of the Camp Chase Gazette containing tips on a better impression as shared by "old soldiers." I was especially impressed by the ability of one author to identify shirt fabric type and weight by just looking at 125-plus year-old photographs; i.e., "a quick check of period photographs reveals ...that most were either muslin, wool, or heavy cotton."
Alas, the word "farb" in old pseudo-soldier tips articles is used to mean "anyone who doesn't agree with me." Someone I know once wisely observed that in the world of reenacting, the label "farb" is used like "communist" was in the 1950's. Keep this in mind, any of you FARBS who disagree with my freely-dispensed wisdom.
In keeping with the old pseudo-soldier school, I offer my own practical observations for the benefit of those in THE HOBBY who haven't yet arrived at these conclusions on their own. I feel most people in reenacting can and will do some research and arrive at an overall authentic impression without my help. But these suggestions will help you survive that process.
- If challenged on a nebulous "authenticity" issue, simply respond "it's documented." A good example of this is the reenactor truism that one must at all times have at least the top button of one's sack coat fastened. There's no basis for it, and photographs show the troops apparently didn't always do it.
- Some people will try to tell you that wearing "period underwear," the stuff that looks like a 1920's diving suit and weighs about the same, intangibly enhances your impression even though (presumably) it won't be seen by the general public. They usually tell you this in July or August and they are usually wearing lightweight Park Ranger uniforms. Nod in agreement and suddenly remember a pressing reason to leave.
- Whenever possible, park your car on, or close to, a paved road surface. Do this even if you have to walk extra distance to the camps. You never know when a capricious mother nature will create a wetland habitat where once there was an event parking lot. (Remember 125th Sayler's Creek?) Compact front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive vehicles are best for getting to and from these potential quagmires. Volkswagen Beetles work pretty well too.
- While your cartridge box and canteen may make usable pillows for some people, a homemade laundry bag (that you can also put your accouterments in while traveling), stuffed with straw, makes an even better one.
- There is no real need to "shoot" and thereby dirty your rifle-musket. There are enough other guys blasting away so that your absent contribution to the decibel and smoke levels won't be missed. Carry no more than 10 smallish (60 grain) rounds in case you really can't resist the urge to shoot (or better yet to toss into campfires, safely, of course). Stuff the remaining space in your cartridge box (tins removed) with snacks, like Granola bars, dried fruit, boxed fruit juices, etc. This pretty much eliminates the need for a haversack (extra weight) during the average 2-3 hour "battle." Your cap pouch is handy for quarters and greenbacks to buy sodas and other pseudo-soldier food.
- If you are shooting (or trying to), and you aren't sure you've achieved a detonation, before you try yet one more time, empty out the powder on the ground. Many of us old pseudo-soldiers have witnessed the unfortunate consequences of the multiple charge detonation phenomenon.
- Most of you already have a musket, but if you're just getting yours (and really want to make noise and smoke) select a Model 1863 Springfield or an Enfield. Avoid the Model 1861 Springfield reproductions, they seem prone to misfires. On the examples I've seen, the barrel band springs are poor and the bands are stampings instead of castings. Speaking of muskets, ignore unsolicited advice on authenticity from anyone who still has "Made in Italy - Black Powder Only" etc., stamped on the barrel of theirs.
- Ignore advice to wear your canteen and haversack under your armpits: the giver obviously has never tried to snatch a quick drink on a march or felt that being able to move his arms without restriction was really necessary.
- If it's hotter than the hinges of Hades and the "officers" leave you standing in the ranks in the sun when shade is mere feet away, don't be afraid to take advantage of that shade. Their wrath is nothing compared to heat exhaustion.
- If you are going to a winter or potential Arabian Desert-style event (hot during the day but cold at night), take a sleeping bag. You can hide it during the day and enduring the scowls of the self-appointed authenticity guardians (if they discover your contraband) is better than shivering through an endless night from hell. Besides, you can always confront them with "WELL, YOU HAVE CAR KEYS DON'T YOU?!?"
- With sling and bayonet, your musket is about 11 pounds of dead weight. At shoulder arms, after a while, your body is going to give your brain a strong suggestion to go to "rest" (called "auto-rest" by old pseudo-soldiers). Do it.
- Forget the 1861 or 1863 army regulations as a guide for acting like a Civil War soldier. Read Si Klegg and His Pard or the Rebel Yell and Yankee Hurrah and take your cue from their actions.
- Finally, avoid monument "rededications" at all costs. Real soldiers dedicated these monuments to real units and real men and did not do it in a time-perishable fashion. A commemoration is one thing but a "rededication" is the most presumptuous thing reenactors do.