Smoke Gets in your Eyes
by Mal Stylo
Let's face it: nothing ruins an event like the presence of Confederates. Last year I attended the "funeral" of some real Irish Brigade soldiers (actually a sandwich bag of bone fragments); who should come walking into camp but two self-appointed "Official Confederate Representatives!" Even though I concede that without Confederates there would have been no battle of Antietam, the presence of "Official Confederate Representatives" was still tacky at a funeral for Federals!
At an event I was at last month, we were feeding a harmless, semi-domesticated squirrel who in return was providing us the highlight of the event. Along came - you guessed it -Confederates. The youngest was perhaps 14, and I knew what he was going to say even before the words came out: "Somebody git a gun, heh, heh!" He didn't prove me wrong. If anyone had produced a loaded gun, the true target(s) would have been clear to me. Not only do Confederates want to shoot anything that moves (they're into hunting killer animals like squirrels and protecting our Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear the cannons, Uzis, anti-aircraft guns, and grenade launchers needed to do it), they also have no sense of humor.
One of the jack-booted, gold-lace trimmed "Confederate officers" there was not amused when I inadvertently mistook him for the valet parking attendant and asked him to park my car. (His comment when he thought he was out of earshot blew the quarter tip I had planned to give him.) Later it dawned on me that he might have been one of those Confederate Parking Lot Attendant Reenactors you see at the entrance to the muddy lots that serves as participant parking at events.
The solution to the Confederate problem suggested itself to me as far back as Cedar Mountain, VA in 1987. As punishment for those who didn't come down to sit around and sweat Friday night, the tactical portion of the event was held at 0600 Saturday (instead of in the afternoon as scheduled). I arrived some hours after to meet many perspiring, powder-stained Federals returning to camp ecstatically describing how exciting the "battle" had been. Skillful interrogation of these veterans by me revealed that the tactical had been successful because it was foggy and no one could see more than three feet in any direction. All talked glowingly of "...seemingly being there, surrounded by fog of war (no visible anachronisms apparent unless they happened to glance at their wristwatches) amid the roaring of cannons, screams and shouts, and the staccato crackling of musket fire," etc.
This isolation had several benefits which weren't intended. The plethora of Confederates available had been unable to mass and engage in frenzied, close personal combat mano-y-mano, so the tactical was reasonably safe. Also, the National Regiment staff couldn't control the Federal forces and place the boys in blue in the position to be defeated in detail, so for once the rank and file felt like maybe they'd won! It had been a "soldier's battle" in which each man was alone but not alone and was his own commander (and indeed his own army). It also pointed out that Confederates are superfluous (like ticks, poison ivy, and torrential rain) to a good reenactment.
So, here's my proposal for safe, fun Confederate-less reenactments which I call SOBRs (for "Sound-O-Battle" Reenactments). First, smoke generators are placed around the edge of the "battlefield" (which can be quite small - one can easily reenact Gettysburg, for example, in the backyard of a townhouse, either alone or with one or two other Federal reenactors).
The smoke generator is supplemented by the OSHA-approved high-impact plastic musket. For only $49.95, this authentic reproduction weapon emits billowing clouds of talcum powder when the trigger is pulled. The stock holds a Sony Walkman (not included) so you can add realistic sound effects by playing any one of the new line of Sound-O-Battle reenactment tapes (Fredericksburg and the Wilderness are currently available), a recording of some reenactor playing his harmonica or "Homespun Songs of the Civil War." Imagine the moods to be made! You or your Pard (who has to be close by so you can see him) takes a hit and as the "dying soldier" scene is performed (in FIRPER of course) the gentle strains of "Just Before the Battle, Mother" softly fills the air. If your battlefield is at least 10' X 10' then for greater realism have someone fire an occasional .38 caliber round every now and again into the smoke cloud.
Think about it! Fun, safe (unless the .38 caliber gun suggestion is used), and authentic reenactments (no non-period stuff visible at all) of any size, and anywhere you want with no brilliant Rebel commentary like "Them Yanks march purty, but kin they fight?" and "Lee Surrendered but I Didn't!" The first SOBR, "The Burning of Atlanta and Sherman's March to the Sea" (burning rolls of kerosene-soaked bathroom tissue will be used in addition to the smoke generator) will be held in an abandoned telephone booth at a locale to be announced shortly. Registration will be $3 before September 15... Don't miss this one!