Some Tips for a Successful Infantry Impression
by Jonah Begone
Develop an Attitude - Complain a lot. It's expected, and comes naturally after being at a halt at shoulder arms for ten or fifteen minutes while you observe the latest officer's drill huddle. (It's true: a musket is heavier than a sword.) Doing "By Company Into Line" ten or fifteen times helps, too. My personal favorite is the promised safety inspection, which always occurs after the Saturday tactical: it's fun getting your ramrod stuck in the black powder crap at the base of the barrel.
The phrase "Quiet In The Ranks!" has no meaning. It denotes some sort of unhealthy discipline amongst the troops. Besides, a quiet company is an unauthentic company: the Army of the Potomac talked, cheered, shouted and huzzahed at the least provocation. Don't worry about hearing the commands, either - you've heard them all before. What's fun to listen to, however, is "SHUT UP!"
You hate Cavalry. That's right. I don't care how impressive you think they look, as a Civil War grunt you dislike the cavalry (or "calvary" as it's usually mispronounced) intensely. If you don't now, you will after your first parade marching behind the horses, or when they are trotted through the company streets, leaving their unmistakable calling cards behind near your sleeping area. "Hey mister, here's your mule" is the authentic comment that's appropriate at these times, as are equally authentic but much more vulgar expressions. Besides, cavalrymen carry revolvers. The only other people that do are officers and Confederates.
Drink Coke Classic. The hands-down favorite among reenactors. The authentic way to drink it is from your tin cup. The last quarter-inch or so picks up a delightful leaden taste from the solder joints and gives the stuff a brackish look. You didn't want children anyway, did you?
Wear heel plates. Essential if you want the leather heels on those expensive new brogans to last over a season. The neat thing about them is they make walking on smooth pavement a very slippery proposition, providing a business opportunity for chiropractors. They also make a strange combination human footprint/horseshoe impression in the dirt that confuses the uninitiated.
Motel accommodations don't exist. Unless you're an officer or a Wimp, you'll have to sleep on the ground. You can avoid a sleepless night by carefully surveying the ground, however. Avoid tree roots, big rocks (your body will adjust itself to the little ones), ant hills and freshly-manured fields. And remember: Real Men Don't Scotchgard Their Shelter Halves.
Harrumph the Women: also expected, and very authentic. A "harrumph" is the sound you make by suddenly and violently clearing your throat. This is done at a company level to acknowledge the presence of a pretty woman in the vicinity. What's funny about it is seeing the confused, pitying look on the woman's face because she thinks the entire company has bronchitis. Comic effects ensue when you initiate a harrumph for a particularly harsh-looking woman, or better yet, a man.
Tent Poles: I suppose you have the bright idea of bringing neatly cut and cleaned poles with you to the campsite. Wrong. It just isn't done that way. In order to fully experience the infantry impression you need to thrash around in the woods at night looking for sub-standard limbs which will collapse upon you while asleep. However, bringing your own poles allows you to scratch up and tear the upholstery in your car on the way to the event. That makes an event meaningful, too.
Details, details: The golden rule here is "Never Volunteer For Anything." This, however, isn't always feasible. If you get to choose between wood, guard or water details, choose water: that way you get to loiter at the spigot and cool off. When the call for guard duty becomes imminent and unavoidable, immediately (sergeants love volunteers) offer to walk post at some reasonable time of your choosing, say 9 PM to 10 PM. Obviously, you then avoid the 2 AM to 3 AM shift. The secret here is looking properly innocent and helpful when making the initial offer, otherwise this scheme could backfire badly Being early is also the key to a successful wood detail. You go while the campfire is in the talking stages - this way you get to collect the light stuff needed to start the fire. This also has the added benefit of making you appear to have a "can-do" attitude, and when the time comes to lug those all-night Giant Sequoia segments you can truthfully plead that you've already done your part for the campfire!
Fun with Black Powder: pouring it into the campfire of some unsuspecting hammerhead from another unit and watching him jump up and ruin his chow is a perennial laff. IF you don't pour in too much, that is. Also, smearing it all over your face during the battle and looking ferocious while walking back to camp convinces the public that it would probably be a bad idea to ask any dumb questions about how hot your wool uniform must be.
That disgusting Frying Pan is one of the real treasures in your knapsack. Eating out of something that looks that bad is a sure discouragement from others wanting to share. The flies, ashes and dirt on the food helps, too. The Disgusting Frying Pan has as companions a Disgusting Fork and a Disgusting Blunt Knife.