Having just recently graduated college with a history degree, the little voice in the back of my head telling me I should stop goofing around and start working on that upcoming paper assignment has not gone away. A place on the 'net to self-publish my own rambling observations is the last thing Civil War reenacting needed, but here it is anyhow. Feel free to distribute or reproduce as you wish. Hate mail, angry rants, and even the occasional comment may be sent here.
P1853 Enfield vs. M1861 Springfield
Ten Ideas for Improving Civil War Reenacting
If you've ever bought any of my cartridges, the return address on the shipping box betrays the fact that I do, alas, live out here on the West Coast, in Southern California to be exact, and this is a place that not many folks would expect a Civil War reenactor to live. I also know for a fact that being from California has lost me quite a bit of business. Last year at New Market, I fell in with a "back East" Virginia unit and the topic of authentic cartridges came up, and my website was mentioned; I was thrilled to hear that somebody knew about my website, but equally horrified because the reenactor who brought it up declared, "The cartridges look good but I'd never buy anything from the guy, since he's out in California."
And what can anybody from California know about reenacting, right?
You may be surprised to learn that there are many thousands of reenactors on the West Coast, and we've got pretty much everything out here in reenacting than y'all have got back there, except for (or course) the actual battlefields themselves, the humidity, and Waffle House. We try our best to emulate our numerically superior brethren on the East Coast as best we can, right down to the bitter reenactor politics and event boycotts. We've got our own hardcore campaigners, we've certainly got our fair share of garishly bad flaming farbs, and we even have our own exclusively West Coast-serving sutlers who peddle the same vaguely Civil War-ish Pakistani-made uniforms your mainstream sutlers peddle. In general, West Coast reenactors also tend to come from the right side of the modern political spectrum; there aren't very many Berkeley liberals who don the wool and shoulder the musket on the weekends to do their bit for Dixie. We've got our own Abe Lincolns and even our own Jeff Davis impersonators. We even do all the things that you complain about at your reenactments back east: we get way too close to each other when shooting, we don't take hits, we bring to much stuff to the camps, the dismounted cavalry keeps everyone awake until 3 AM with their Monty Python jokes, there are always twice as many Confederates as Yankees (that seems to be a universal law of Civil War reenacting no matter where you're at), etc.
But it is, of course, still California. Reenacting actual, historical battles on (or near) the original grounds is out of the question, except for one pathetic little skirmish fought early in the war in Arizona, and the reenactment there attracts plenty of California reenactors eager (desperate, even) to vindicate themselves by reenacting something that actually happened. The original "Battle" of Picacho Pass had fewer than 30 combatants in 1862, where a small California (Union) cavalry patrol exchanged potshots with some desert ruffians who called themselves Confederate militia. Today, the annual "reenactment" features infantry fighting in closed ranks, their Richmond Depot uniforms contrasting painfully with the desert rock outcroppings that loom over the historic "battlefield". Yet, short of flying back 2,000 miles to an East Coast event, it's the best we've got. So most of our West Coast reenactments simulate what a "generic" battle of the War Between the States "would have looked like", or so we tell the spectators who come to watch our mainstream events. Some of our largest West Coast events try, lamely, to recreate actual battles (with, say, 250 Confederates hunched behind a U-shaped berm to recreate the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania), but that is strictly for the somewhat educational benefit of the spectators. Except for the handful of campaign-style events out here, most Southern California reenactments are geared towards generating maximum public attendance. Fortunately, at least for the time being, these reenactments are either charity fundraisers (one large event raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for charity causes) or for the benefit of local parks, such as Fort Tejon, which was a Federal dragoon garrison in the 1850s and 1860s.
Once you get over the fact that you are pretending to be somewhere in Virginia, while you are actually in a city park in Huntington Beach, our small mainstream events are "pretty good". The very largest West Coast events field no more than 1,000 reenactors, but these numbers (in spite of the recession) are trending upwards. Even in Southern California, the events are well attended. When you have a Civil War reenactment in the heart of Orange County, for instance, enough history enthusiasts come out of the woodwork to cram the "sidelines" and watch the show. Unlike East Coast events where there is usually only one battle per day, California events almost always have two battles each day, Saturday and Sunday.
There is also a more "educational" emphasis at West Coast events; out here we are putting on a demonstration for people who, chances are, will probably never visit Gettysburg or Sharpsburg. Your average Californian who attends a reenactment will typically assume that the Civil War is irrelevant to them, it happened somewhere back East, had something to do with slavery, and probably involved the British in some way. With public schools barely mentioning the Civil War in watered down "social studies" classes, the only exposure for most West Coast residents to the sights, sounds, smells, and story of 1861-1865 is at a mainstream reenactment. I consider it a job well done when folks come to watch a Civil War reenactment with flawed preconceived notions swaddled in ignorance, and leave that reenactment with a rudimentary yet working knowledge of what the war was fought over, why it was so important, and why it was so bloody, destructive, and divisive.
Just in passing, I should also mention that reenacting the War Between the States is not confined within, well, the States. There are a few remarkably large Civil War reenactments in Great Britain, as well as Civil War groups in Germany, Denmark, and other Scandinavian states.
For more information on West Coast reenacting, check out these links:
www.hartsengineers.com -- a shameless plug for my own unit, the 3rd C.S. Regiment of Engineers, Co. E., or "Hart's Engineers".
http://www.forttejon.org/homenf.html -- most people fly by Fort Tejon on Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield without blinking an eye. A small yet dedicated group of reenactors put on living history events here, which is pretty much the only actual Civil War military installation in Southern California reenactors can play at.
Brett Gibbons, April 2009
Disclaimer: I am an avowed pro-Springfield partisan, and confess my bias here and now. Even so, I own both kinds and there are benefits as well as detractions with each type. Ultimately it is a question of personal preference.
To most Civil War infantry reenactors the choice of what 3-band musket to buy is usually reduced to two options: the P1853 Enfield or the M1861 Springfield rifled muskets. Of the two the Enfield is numerically the most popular, and in my unit the Enfields outnumber Springfields by a ratio of almost 3 to 1. The preponderance of Enfields is a little heavier on the Confederate side, although its popularity remains strong with the Federals as well. New reenactors often ask me about which type to buy and naturally I extol the virtues of the Springfield and exploit every minor defect of the Enfield, but this has led me to put together something of an objective comparison of the two rifles and the pros and cons of each. This is written for reenactors and not necessarily with live-fire target shooting in mind, although target shooters may profit from a few insights.
Manufacturers. Dixie Gun Works used to make their own quality reproductions that were marked "Dixie Gun Works" right on the barrel. Most of these are made in Japan, and all of them are now old. I have not seen a new Dixie musket in ages, and their website simply lists other manufacturers' versions of muskets at handsomely marked-up prices. Many of the Enfields and Springfields listed on Dixie are actually smoothbores.
Armisport and Euroarms are both Italian companies that make musket repros, and they are all generally priced the same and of the same quality. Painting with a broad brush, Euroarms muskets are marginally less expensive while Armisport muskets cost a bit more but are a little better and look more like the originals. A third Italian company, Pedersoli, makes black powder reproductions that are more expensive yet, but I haven't seen a 3-band Enfield or 1861 Springfield from them (but their 2-band Enfield musketoon is superb). Either an Armisport or Euroarms musket will serve you well, but as I will discuss later, the Armisport Enfield looks somewhat nicer than the Euroarms version.
P1853 Enfield. Adopted by the British just in time for the Crimean War, the P53 had one foot back in the old Napoleonic long-musket muzzleloading world and the other foot in the revolutionary new world of modern firearms. It was still loaded in much the same way as the old smoothbore muskets had been, but the British showed an early interest in individual precision rifle fire and the P53 had a very modern (for its day) ladder-ramp sight adjustable in 100-yard increments out to an unheard-of 1,200 yards. Effective range was about a third of that. It was the last muzzleloading weapon used by the British, and therefore the Enfield represents the zenith of muzzleloading infantry weapon development.
To the reenactor, the Enfield's obvious "advantage" is the bluing. Repro Enfields are blued using modern chemical methods and the bluing is very resiliant, which makes a field cleaning relatively easy and fast. The repro bluing resists rust and can survive a damp weekend unscathed where the natural-steel Springfield would quickly turn bright orange. In the damp at Gettysburg 2008 my Springfield would turn a deep red each day. Among reenactors this is the chief praise of the Enfield -- "it's blued and doesn't rust" -- although it is something of a double-edged sword. There is much controversy about the original Enfield bluing and whether or not it was as resiliant as repro bluing. Several "de-farbed" Enfields I have seen have been re-blued in a period manner and an aggressive cleaning can take it off. The controversy, at any rate, stems largely from the fact that most surviving Enfield muskets that were used in the Civil War have been burnished white, like their Springfield brethren. My theory is that individual unit commanders, both north and south, who found their units armed with a mix of various weapons sought to achieve uniformity and encouraged the removal of bluing from the Enfields so as to match the other arms. This was a technical violation of the regulations, but we must remember this was the Victorian era in which naval commanders ordered watertight doors burnished so bright that they wore down and would not seal against water. The cleaning practices of Civil War soldiers in the field left much to be desired as well; Springfields (and other "natural" metal arms) were often kept rust-free and white by being scoured with harsh abrasives. An Enfield, subjected to field conditions, would eventually sprout rust itself and these were probably subjected to the same excruciating remedy, which of course would result in the very rapid removal of any bluing. While "hard-cores" and "progressives" thrive on these controversies, it can cause the eyes of average reenactors to start glazing over. (Better to just get a Springfield! Did I mention I'm biased?)
Another unique feature of the Enfield pattern is the flash channel that delivers the flame from the struck percussion cap into the rifle chamber far more directly than the Springfield. The vent on the Enfield is positioned nearer to the barrel and with a slight angle, which allows for more reliability and fewer misfires, especially with blanks (although it must be said that a properly-maintained Springfield should never misfire either). I don't know of anybody who actually bought an Enfield for this reason, but it's certainly nice.
The half-cock hammer position on Enfields is better than on the Springfield. At half-cock the Enfield shooter has enough room to remove the spent cap and affix a fresh one, whereas the Springfield at half-cock gives you just barely enough space. Usually I have to full-cock my Springfield to change caps, and then carefully lower the hammer back to half if necessary.
A field cleaning (cleaning the bore, the nipple, wiping down the exterior) with the Enfield is simple and relatively quick, thanks to the bluing which resists rust. A more thorough cleaning that involves stripping the gun down and removing the barrel from the stock is more difficult, however. The barrel bands are held with screws that must be loosened before removal. Put them back on too loose and they will slide. Put them on too tightly and at best they will grip so tight that they cinch the rammer in place, or even crack. I've seen many reenactors who stripped the threads on their Enfield barrel bands. The Springfield, with bands held in place by gentle leaf-springs, avoids this problem altogether.
The rammer on an Enfield is held securely in place by an internal leaf spring that is accessed only by removing the barrel from the stock (which is a chore to do with an Enfield). Generally this works fine with the original rammer, but if the spring wears out or if you replace the rammer you could end up having to do some modifications lest the barrel bands start shaving metal off the rammer or the rammer fits so loose that it is wont to fall out.
On several brand-new Italian repro Enfields I have noticed that the nipples have exceptionally small flash holes. They are often blamed for misfires, and a suggested folk remedy is to simply put the nipple under the drill press and bore the flash hole into a larger gauge. While this may increase reliability firing blanks, if you ever intend to live-fire your piece then do not modify the nipple, or buy a second original nipple to use. Those with larger flash holes let an awful lot of pressure and gas escape back through the nipple, with enough force to actually drive the hammer to half-cock and blow the spent cap away (often in fragments). I've seen this happen with large blanks (maybe 80 or 90 grains) as well. Instead of going through the trouble to bore out the flash hole and creating a safety hazard, carry a nipple pick.
Repro Enfields are also modestly cheaper than Springfields. A very reputable sutler is offering as of April 2009 a Euroarms Enfield at $539, compared to an Armisport Enfield for $589, an Armisport Springfield at $640, and an Euroarms Springfield for $680. When an Enfield might be had for $100 less than the cheapest Springfield, it's no surprise to see so many Enfields out there.
Unfortunately, both the Armisport and Euroarms Enfields are considerably "farby". The Euroarms Enfield, in particular, is so garishly bad "out of the box" that it can actually stand out even from a distance. To completely "de-farb" an Enfield rifle currently costs about $225. I won't delve into the many inaccuracies about the repro Enfields here, except that the de-farbing process involves removing a great deal of wood from the stock (especially around the grip) and the replacement of several obvious parts (like washers and sling swivels).
One annoying aspect about the Enfield, even the de-farbed ones, is that the comb of the stock (where you rest your cheek when aiming) is very high. To actually aim down the sights with an Enfield, I have to press my face down hard against the stock at an uncomfortable angle. The comb is lower on the Springfields, making aiming easier and allowing a more comfortable shooting posture.
M1861 Springfield. The '61 Springfield was a simplification of the M1855 rifle, eliminating the complicated and troublesome Maynard tape priming system among a few other less significant modifications. It became the most widely used weapon of the Civil War (although you wouldn't know it by observing reenactors). The sights were cruder than the Enfield, a simple notched affair sighted at 100 yards that included flip-up leafs for 300 and 500 yards as something of an afterthought.
Springfields are "white", or have polished natural steel surfaces that must be attentively kept clean and oiled or it will surely rust with great enthusiasm. Fortunately there are many products available that do an excellent job protecting the Springfields from rust, including the reenactor favorite Ballistol, but I've found that ordinary cheap CLP works quite well. The M61 is a little more difficult to clean than an Enfield because a poor cleaning job will be readily apparent. The Springfield owner can also enjoy a well-deserved sense of pride when his piece is cleaned and polished.
A supreme advantage of the Springfield is the relative ease (compared to the Enfield) with which the gun can be stripped down and the barrel removed from the stock. The barrel bands are held in place by leaf springs that are simply depressed to allow the band to be quickly removed. For all the Enfield devotees who tout the "ease" of cleaning their blued muskets, many Enfield owners find removing the barrel from the stock to be so tedious that they never do it. Moisture then seeps in between the stock and barrel and, in a short time, rust turns into unchecked pitting. If "out of sight, out of mind" describes your approach to firearm maintenance, buy an Enfield and then never thoroughly clean it.
The M1861 Springfield has a "vent screw", which may be removed to access directly the vent that communicates percussion cap flash into the chamber of the rifle. This facilitates the easy cleaning of the vent and removal of obstructions. The Enfield lacks this feature. An oft-repeated "defect" of the Springfield is that the longer flash channel, which includes a 90-degree turn, results in more misfires. I find that this "defect" is actually an advantage, since every time I have had repeated misfires with my Springfield it was the result of an obstruction between the cap and the powder in the chamber, and never because of the inherent design. The vent screw facilitated a rapid identification and removal of the obstruction back in camp. In two years I haven't had a single misfire that wasn't the result of operator error, while comrades in line all around me with their vaunted Enfields are constantly snapping cap after cap in frustration.
Half-cock on the M61 doesn't quite give you enough room to get your fingers under the hammer for the replacement of the percussion cap. This is one instance where the same feature on the Enfield is a marked advantage over the Springfield.
The Springfield rammer is held in place at the muzzle by a swell in the ramrod body, just below the tulip head. A very slight bend in the rammer at the swell helps keep it in place when stowed.
No matter what, an Armisport or Euroarms Springfield is going to cost you more "out of the box" than an Enfield. If getting the gun de-farbed is a consideration, however, the Springfield repros are a lot closer to their original de-farbed state than the Enfields are. To completely de-farb a Springfield costs about $100, as opposed to $225 or so for an Enfield. My Armisport Springfield is not de-farbed but over the years the stock has grown darker, much like the originals, and the lock and barrel have taken on an aged patina in spite of regular polishing. To determine if the Springfield is de-farbed or not requires an intimate inspection, but an original repro Italian-made Enfield can be identified from several yards away.
Lastly, the Springfield is less common among Civil War infantry reenactors, probably because of the cost issue. I tend to root for the underdog in most cases, and when I bought my Springfield many years ago this was a major factor in my decision (although to be fair the Springfield was only about $30 more than the Enfield back then). It's also an American rifle, and even though my repro was made somewhere in northern Italy the Springfield still has a distinctly American look and feel to it, unlike the more "stiff and proper" Enfield intended for service in Victoria's empire.
Conclusion. This may be something of an anticlimax, but the ultimate answer to the "Enfield versus Springfield" debate boils down to personal preference. There are a few inescapable pros and cons about each rifle that are particular to the model and design, but most of the wild claims like "Springfields misfire half of the time" stem from improper maintenance or poor shooting habits. A new Euroarms or Armisport musket that comes out of the box can be expected to provide the reenactor with a decade or more of trouble-free service if properly cared for.
And finally... to those of you who read down this far and have expected me to pass judgment one way or the other on which is "better", Enfield or Springfield... very well. Springfields are better. Then again, I am biased.
Brett Gibbons, December 2008
It should be said right here at the beginning that better reenactors than myself have said everything I will say here before, and reenactors after me will say it again. Several of these "simple and easy ideas" are simple and easy in theory but must first be adopted by various levels of unit, battalion, or brigade leadership before they can happen. Most of these ideas, however, are intended for the common individual reenactor. I tried to avoid finger-wagging in this article where it concerns things that really and truly ought to change for the benefit of reenacting, but in all reality probably won't happen (with "lose some weight" being a worn-out, albeit justified, mention in almost every "how to improve reenacting" piece). Instead, here are some practical things individual reenactors without rank or significant influence can do on their own to improve many aspects of our hobby without requiring expensive new purchases or the gracious consent of entrenched brigade and division leadership. Being "authentic" and improving the hobby begins with a state of mind, and grows from there. Here are a few suggestions aimed at the mainstream reenacting community, and not as a finger-wagging from upon my high horse, but merely a humble exhortation to make that which we're already doing a little better.
1. Open fire at longer ranges. While this is more frequently an issue when the battlefield is restrictively small, reenactors typically exchange brutal volleys at ridiculously close range, prompting NCOs and officers to remind their men to "elevate!" their weapons. It looks pathetic; the battles I have observed while incognito amongst the spectators elicit deadpan comments from the viewing audience, many of whom paid good money to watch Blue and Gray appear on opposite sides of the field and then march up to 30 yards of each other before they start shooting. While the uniforms may be period and all hand-stitched, and even if all the muskets are defarbed and most crisp, period drill used, it all descends into a comedy when rows of infantry paste each other with volleys from rifled muskets at ranges that musketeers with matchlocks would have considered outright suicidal. That, and "nobody dies", which is an issue I'll address below. If the battlefield is a postage stamp, then I can reluctantly see why such close-range engagements can't be avoided. If the field is even of modest size, however, start shooting farther away. Elevated muskets because of dangerously close ranges simply looks absurd. In fact, we'd look a lot better on the field if we didn't shoot at all when we get that close to each other.
Safety -- a very good case can be built for shooting at longer ranges at reenactments. Obviously the closer one is from one's "enemy", the more potential damage can be done from a musket that isn't elevated. Almost every unit has fresh fish in the ranks at events, and it only takes one enthusiastic new reenactor (or a careless veteran, even!) to forget to elevate. If it's much more safe for us, the participants, and it looks so much better for the spectators, why aren't we shooting at longer ranges? Does the enemy really have to get closer than 30 yards before their musketry becomes "effective"?
2. Stop elevating muskets absurdly. There is a time and place for elevating the musket; it's when you're loaded, the enemy is upon you, and to simply stand there and do nothing would look worse (and may even be less safe) than discharging the piece at a high, safe angle. However I still see individual reeenactors, and sometimes entire units, elevating muskets 30 degrees or more above the horizon, perhaps out of some sense of "safety", even when their targets are far out of minimum musket safety distances. At Gettysburg '08 I saw an entire company firing upon a Yankee line over 200 yards away, but musket barrels were still stuck up at 45 degrees. It looks absurd and it is unnecessary. Please note that by no means am I in any way advocating that we actually aim directly at our brother reenactors on the other side. There are, however, other ways to be safe and still avoid the excruciating eyesore, to spectator and reenactor alike, that results from extreme musket elevation. Our weapons are (unless you have an ancient smoothbore) fitted with sights; use them, not to aim at a reenactor, but to aim away from him while still leaving the musket on the horizontal or close to it. Even a 5 or 10 degree elevation, at respectable ranges, would be scarcely noticeable from the spectators and other reenactors and if, God forbid, there was a rammer or other projectile in the barrel getting discharged, it would be carried far over their heads even with modest elevation. That said, as I've mentioned, there are still occasions when noise and powder smoke is needed, like when the enemy presses home their charge, and extreme elevation can't be avoided here. My concern is for longer range fire, because elevating muskets when there is no need to is simply silly.
Safety -- there is often a perception that an elevated musket is "safe". This leads, in turn, to the misconception that it's "OK" to fire at close ranges, even within safe musket distances, if one elevates. If you have to elevate your musket, you are too close. Period.
3. Take more hits. It gives the good folks in the medical corps more to do than just stand around for the first 30 minutes of an event because nobody's getting hit, not to mention this is the No. 1 complaint of spectators. "How come nobody's dying?" they ask. It's also frustrating to be shooting at other reenactors for seven volleys without one of them falling down. One need not take a hit in the first 5 minutes and lie there in the clover until recall; I'd rather somebody among the spectators notice me "recycling" rather than have entire battalions stand virtually immune to bullets for 15 minutes of exchanged fire. Entire companies miraculously surviving numerous point-blank volleys will stick out like a sore thumb to the public, while a couple soldiers taking hits and then getting recycled might be spotted by just a few. Don't think that the spectator does not notice the inexplicable improvement in marksmanship in the last five minutes of a battle, when, having shot off enough powder to be satisfied, soldiers start dropping like flies.
4. Act like you're being shot at. Every reenactor should be forced, at close range, to watch a battle from the perspective of a spectator. As if the radically elevated muskets, hopelessly short firing distances, and absence of any hits weren't enough, the ear-to-ear silly grins of the reenactors themselves would finally peak the absurdity factor. I "wasn't there" in 1864 but I think it's safe to say that Civil War soldiers did not typically stride swiftly, or eagerly even, directly into hundreds of loaded muzzles while flashing pearly smiles. I do not think, in point-blank infantry exchanges, they were too concerned about keeping perfect dress. Advance timidly. Make the officers and file closers do their jobs and prod the line ahead in a withering advance. React, if not by taking a hit, then at least by ducking or wincing when the enemy sends a volley your way. At one recent event a large battalion fired a crushing volley into our line and nobody winced, nobody reacted, and instead we exchanged glances left and right at each other and said reassuringly, "we're loaded, we can't take hits with loaded muskets". Be that as it may (and safety comes first), have we become too absorbed in the procedural and robot-like "rituals" of reenacting that the acting part of it has been subordinated to something of an afterthought?
Bonus "Simple and Easy Idea" Vaguely Related to Acting Like You're Being Shot At -- why aren't we even attempting to simulate the brutal recoil of the .58 and .69-caliber muskets we're blazing away with? We should be acting like we're getting shot at, and acting like we're shooting something. Blanks have virtually no recoil (unless you're the dumb kids who stood next to me at the last event giddily double-loading, and darn near deafening me) but a live round has a good kick to it. Just because many (most?) reenactors have never live-fired their muskets before, and may not have personally experienced the recoil of a Minie ball getting blasted downrange, does not give us a license to blast away without scarcely flinching. Simulating a realistic recoil can notch up the authenticity of any event, and you don't need the permission of the grand pooh-bahs to do it! But please, don't over-do it. The only thing worse than no simulated recoil is the yahoo who extravagantly hauls back their musket as though they had just touched off both barrels of a .750 Nitro Express elephant gun.
5. Recognize and eradicate obvious anachronisms. The dictionary defines "anachronism" as the misplacing of a person, thing, custom, or event outside its proper historical time. As we attempt to recreate an "authentic" Civil War era environment, we naturally adopt as our goal the eradication of everything that does not belong in the 1860-1865 period. We've even coined our own word for non-authentic stuff: farb. A supremely useful word, "farb" can be a noun or an adjective. Nobody in our hobby wants to be a "farb" and every reenactor has his own idea of what the minimum threshold for being "farb" is. Despite our best efforts, however, we can never eradicate all "farb" because, try as we might, it will never be 1862 again. Besides, far better reenactors than I have mounted energetic crusades against the evils of farb, and these well-intentioned efforts rarely end well. Fortunately, there are a few simple things every reenactor can do to eliminate anachronisms without spending $300 for a hand-stitched sack coat. Here are just a few of what could easily be an endless list of obvious anachronisms.
If I had a nickel for every time a reenactor did a first-person living history demonstration and said his musket uses "black powder", I'd be able to afford that new 1842 smoothbore by now. In the 1860s, "black powder" was known only as gunpowder. It was the only kind of gun propellant. Black powder is name given to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder. Responding, when "in character", to somebody with the word "OK" isn't period. Reenactors with hand-stitched jean wool and defarbed muskets who exchew tents as "farb" and sleep campaign-style with just one blanket can shatter a perfectly good impression with one "OK". Leave the modern eyeglasses at home, or failing that, back in camp during battles. Use cotton balls instead of bright orange (or even flesh-colored) earplugs.
6. Recognize and eradicate obvious "Reenactorisms". This word has been coined to describe anachronisms that have been adopted by reenactors (usually because somebody said it's "period", like railroad lanterns), or something we reenactors do differently than how it was done in the 1860s. There's a whole litany of them, and we are stuck with them because almost all reenactors learn drill and reenacting "behavior" by watching the example of others, and not from the manual or from established authorities. And just because there is one period photo showing it done that way, like a private soldier wearing a uniform with abundant trim and lacing late in the war, doesn't mean that somehow makes it acceptable. Many "reenactorisms" are tolerated because the reenactors themselves are weak on the drill and therefore must perform redundant commands which waste time and (to anybody who knows what's happening) look silly. How many times have you been marching along in column when you come under fire by the enemy, only to have the officers "countermarch" you in a giant U-turn, exposing both of your flanks to enemy fire, in order to put you into non-inverted battleline? No real commander of real troops in 1863 would have done that, yet as reenactors we tolerate it and then go back to camp and sneer at the dismounted cavalryman wearing modern-day sneakers that aren't "period correct". A couple spectators might have seen the guy's shoes, but odds are every single spectator watched your battalion march out and then literally walk around in circles while getting shot at. Again, watching a couple events from the crowd's perspective really can be beneficial to us reenactors. Because most reenactorisms aren't recognized as such by those who unwittingly repeat them, simply increasing awareness is one way to start the process of correcting them.
7. Get wounded more often. Despite horrifically high casualties, the number of soldiers being killed outright where they stood in ranks on the battlefield was remarkably small. Compare this to the mainstream reenactment battlefield, where most "casualties" fall down stone dead and don't twitch (except for quickly placing a hat over their eyes) until the bugler sounds Recall. The most common wound during the Civil War was in the right hand and arm, which some historians attribute to the right arm being raised high during the ramming process of reloading, exposing the arm to the substantial volume of lead being shot too high by inexperienced soldiers. The vast majority of casualties were from wounds, and any given Civil War battlefield would be strewn not with still corpses, but mostly with writhing, screaming men and "walking wounded" streaming to the rear. This ties in with the "take more hits" suggestion for improving reenactments. The first reason given for not wanting to "die" early in an engagement is because you "have to lie there" until the battle ends. Not if you become wounded! You can take a hit and still be very much a part of the action, adding not only to the authenticity of the event, but also contributing to the experience of your fellow reenactors (and any observing public). Just don't use your musket as a crutch as you hobble back to the rear; if you were wounded so seriously that you cannot walk without aid of your musket, you wouldn't be able to get up anyhow. Get a "dead" comrade to watch your musket as you stagger away. Take fewer center-of-mass hits and more in the extremities, like the arms, hands, even feet. Your body isn't the only thing in the line of fire, either. Period accounts mention clothing, accoutrements, weapons, canteens, etc., all being struck by bullets.
Safety -- what can possibly be a safety consideration about pretending to get wounded? Picture yourself in ranks, being told to take "ten paces rearward", after an advance under fire. The poor guys who took hits are now sprawled in the grass behind you, lying still as the grave, probably with hats over their faces, and they are about to get stepped on by tubby reenactors with heel plates and hobnails trying to walk backwards. Never mind that walking backwards, under fire, is an established "reenactorism" itself, I'm trying to make a point here. If, say, half of those who took hits and are now being callously stepped on by retreating soldiers had become wounded, and either hobbled to the rear or made themselves more visible by writhing and groaning, they could have been helped to safety by the file-closers or been noticed by the men in ranks as they passed over them. The worst-case scenario is somebody with a loaded musket tripping on a "dead guy". The best part is, we can be safe and look authentic and damn good at the same time.
8. Bring less stuff. Your encampment will not be any less period or interesting to spectators without your ox cart or sewing machine or candelabras. During my first year of reenacting I crammed so much stuff into an old four-door Toyota that I barely had room to squeeze in myself. A major cause of reenactor "burnout" stems from growing sick and tired of hauling all kinds of crap out to the event, spending hours setting it up, and then tearing it all down a day later after a weekend of marching and soldiering. I used to bring things that I knew I would almost never need or use, but "just in case" I brought it anyways. Not only is bringing this much crap the very essence of farbism, but all the extra stuff never actually made me any more comfortable or contributed in any way to my enjoyment of the event. In fact, it just made the event worse. We're men, not old ladies, and when packing for an event, consider every single item and ask yourself, "Do I really need to bring this writing desk with period inlaid inkwells?" Many "mainstream" reenactors recoil in horror when I suggest this, but have you ever tried bringing only as much stuff to an event as you can physically carry on your person? If, right now, you're thinking to yourself, "I don't think I'll be able to carry that much beer all at once," you're probably a hopeless case. Just try -- please -- to keep your spinning wheel, chest of drawers, candelabra, rocking chair, block party-sized ice chest, and battery-powered pump for inflating your air mattress out of sight for the weekend. (Alternatively, consider switching over from Civil War reenacting to doing Renaissance Faires, where there are no evil "authenticity nazis" to look with contempt upon your collection of vaguely period antique furniture and baggage.)
9. Relax. Sometimes we forget this is supposed to be a hobby. Too many of us are already stressed out before we leave the driveway on our way to an event. It doesn't help that the longer one stays in the hobby the more responsibilities are usually accumulated that can make reenacting more like another job. Running around before the battle trying to drill the fresh fish, getting the late arrivals set up on the tent line, telling people to get their vehicles out of camp, posting a guard at the event entrance, and carrying out special instructions of the officers leaves you strung tight. Add some obstinant comrades, clueless new recruits, panicking officers, and have the recipe for a bad event. There's little room left to tolerate the unexpected rain squall overnight, the drunk dismounted cavalrymen in the next camp who keep you awake until 2 AM with their Monty Python impersonations, or the patched cleaning rod that gets stuck solid in your musket barrel. These things are going to happen and you will either get stressed and frustrated and end up leaving the hobby bitter and unsatisfied, or you can choose to relax and resolve to have a good time in the face of stressful situations. How you mentally "approach" an event in thought, word, and deed will not just make it better for you, but it'll also reduce the tension and stress in your fellow reenactors. Enjoy the hobby and educate the public, in that order. If anything else is a higher priority, you're probably well on the road to reenactor burnout.
10. Don't try to change the (reenacting) world overnight (or at one event). As "veteran" reenactors burn out or leave the hobby for other reasons and new reenactors continue joining up and proudly falling into the ranks with $75 worth of the finest Pakistani sutler specials on their backs, actually changing anything for the better of the hobby can be daunting. At the end of the day we must resign ourselves to the fact that most reenactors are "mainstream" powder-burners. At risk of sounding "political", however, it is the mainstreamers who are the most receptive to constructive criticisms and suggestions for improving their impressions. The number of hard-core campaigners who got that way without first being a mainstreamer long enough to become sick of it can probably be counted on your hands. On the other hand, convincing a new reenactor to burnish the bluing off his brand new Enfield and to leave the piles of camp furniture at home isn't going to be easy. Through it all, progress is still being made. Just look at some of the 1970's or 1980's reenactment photos if you want proof of how far we have come. The "mainstream" reenactor of today is far more authentic than many of our reenacting forefathers ever could have been. Change imposed overnight rarely lasts. We certainly ought to work towards improving the hobby and putting on a more authentic and realistic show for the public we "living historians" are supposed to be educating, but we should be content to take it slowly. Becoming ever more incensed at the farbiness of certain units or the unwillingness of certain individuals to transition out of their Pakistani uniforms is only going to sour your own experience at Civil War events.
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