Differences Between Civil War & Revolutionary War Reenacting
by Jonah Begone
Wigs, shoes with buckles, breeches instead of trowsers, pointed hats, flintlocks - reenacting eighteenth century warfare is different than reenacting nineteenth! Since I also do Revolutionary War ("Revy War") reenacting, Grant MacMeans suggested that I point out some differences between reenacting both periods. Here's some of my observations of how they're different.
MINDSET. If you don't have a "lost cause" you have no Crown Forces reenactors bemoaning the fact that Americans are no longer British subjects. The war happened 200+ years ago - safely out of living memory - which means fewer ceremonies at monuments, fewer "Lest we Forget" speeches, much less resentment. Ignoring the occasional "Rebel Scum!" hurled at a Patriot, the fraternizing between Revy War reenactors is natural and unforced.
MONEY. Revy War guys are simply stunned by the fact that we PAY to attend CW events! Because Revy War uniforms are not mass-produced and are therefore expensive (discouraging the riffraff} and that there is a limited interest in "doing" the era, Revy War reenactors are relatively few and far-between. The law of supply and demand thus sets up the situation where not only are many Revy War events paid events, they're also catered. (Believe me, being sent into battle just after a massive feed is the true "Rape of the Reenactor" Bill Keitz once identified.) If Revy War reenactors were expected to pay for events, they simply wouldn't attend. They think we're getting ripped off. I tend to agree. Example: my CW unit paid $7.00 a head for the honor of attending Sayler's Creek - my Revy War unit gets hundreds of dollars for attending one day skirmishes and - parades! Another example: currently the treasury of my Revy War unit is I about ten times greater than that of my CW unit (which means, among other things, that the women in my Revy War unit feed us; the phrase "lunch from haversacks" is unknown in Revy War). Revy War units have to be serious about filling out the Internal Revenue Service forms each year!
CLEAVAGE. In the Victorian period - at least during the day - there ain't any. In Revolutionary times it provides a dandy carrying space for pipes, bone spoons, what have you. More diverting to look at than tubby, bearded men.
AMMO. With the money constraints mentioned above, there isn't any practical way a CW unit can afford to distribute black powder - let alone rolled cartridges! - to its members. In my Revy War unit cartridges are supplied to each man (during a battle people keep cramming cartridges into my box when I'm trying to wind down to take a hit). In fact, you aren't allowed to supply your own due to safety considerations. Dues in my Revy War group, by the way, is $10.00. There are no indications that this will go up anytime soon.
AGE. The average age of the CW reenactor is perhaps about 30 years. His counterpart in Revy War reenacting is about 104. Only kidding!, but the Revy War guys do tend to be a bit, well, long in the tooth. This is one reason why the common CW "Death March" isn't to be found in the Eighteenth Century. I still fondly recall the commander at Brandywine cautioning reenactors to conserve their energy and not exhaust them- selves on the 50 yard hike to the battlefield...
DRILL. Von Steuben was a genius: Revy War drill is much easier and more intuitive than CW drill. Also, it isn't done to the level of excess that we perform in CW (it wouldn't be tolerated). I simply have to laugh when someone wearing a cocked hat promises to "drill me till I drop." Ha! I'm in the National Regiment - better men have tried and failed! Lack of drill precision does have some humorous results, though: at an event last year a hopeful command of "Stack Arms!" was given - and the flintlocks were carefully leaned against trees. My own feeling is that drill sucks in any century. The Revy War guys are on the recreational high ground on this one.
ACCOUTERMENTS. With the hot n' dusty nature of CW reenacting, a canteen filled with water sometimes becomes absolutely invaluable - the extra capacity type is popular. In Revy War reenacting, a canteen is just something picturesque to hang from your shoulders. Think about it: if you don't do a lot of drill and marching you don't get thirsty.) In fact, there is something known as a "show canteen"; an unfilled wooden canteen, to be worn at photo opportunities only.
REVEILLE. I was at an event where the fife and drum corps woke up at 6AM, lined up and duly started banging away. Nothing unusual as far as CW reenacting is concerned. It took on a distinctly Revy War tone, however, when the commander got up and roundly chewed out the musicians for making all that @#!$! noise so #$@!#! early in the morning, and sent the musicians back to bed. The official reveille occurred around 9 AM, when the women got up to begin preparing breakfast.
ATTENDANCE. The phrase "every Hessian reenactor in America" means maybe ten guys. The phrase "every Irish Confederate Zouave reenactor in Virginia" means a popu- lation about the size of Duluth. Sometimes, as at Gettysburg where literally thousands were in uniform, this is good. A lot of the time, this is bad. Why? If you're an event sponsor and you've got hundreds and hundreds of CW guys wanting to do your event, why bother paying 'em? Why not charge them to attend? Which, of course brings us back to number one, money. I don't miss the numbers, though. As far as I'm concerned the five or six companies at a typical big Revy War event is a good manageable number. If there's one thing the quasquicentennial has taught me, it's that numbers aren't always everything.
THE BAD FIRST PERSON IMPRESSION. In CW reenacting the bad first person impression sounds like the Lucky Charms leprechaun. In Revy War reenacting it sounds like Monty Python.
CLEANLINESS. In CW reenacting, where a sackcoat goes for about $50 a pop, people take some really athletic hits and get thoroughly grubby at the end of a day. In Revy War, nobody would seriously think of dirtying that regimental coat that the little lady spent hours and hours grumbling over. It's difficult to get into a Dirty Dozen mindset when you look down and see $30.00 filigree buckles on your shoes.
SNOBBISHNESS. Both periods have it. The Revy War guy wouldn't do "Silly War" because there are too many rednecks running around yelling "YEEEEHHHHAAA!" in a sort of beer- induced battle frenzy (a common sentiment is "I wouldn't do any period where people forget the war is over!"). The CW guy wouldn't do Revy War because it's swishy, effete and hey, we all know that the people who lived before the Civil War weren't real Americans yet, right?
COMMANDERS. Civil War "leaders" - in the East, anyway - are often egotistical, stand-offish, arrogant and political. Revy War commanders tend to be mature, open, friendly and accessible. At a recent big Revy War event the first and second in command of the Continental forces were seen dishing out food for those of us waiting in line to be fed dinner. Arriving at camp one rainy evening and discovering that my unit's camp wasn't yet set up, I, a lowly private, got an invitation to sleep in the command tent with the second in command (I of course accepted) . Can you imagine anything remotely like this happening at a CW event? (Remember "Bizarro World" in Superman comics? When I started doing Revy War I thought I had landed there - then I recovered and got back into line for another helping of hash browns at breakfast.)
Yup, the Revy War guys have it made and they know it. (Hey, what am I saying? Do I want to encourage extensive commercialism and video coverage in this unspoiled paradise?) Revy War is TERRIBLE - DON'T EVEN THINK OF IT! Yeah, that's it, YOU WOULDN'T LIKE IT AT ALL. ITS BORING; AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE!