Hardtack & Coffee
Mostly re-enacting stuff
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It's almost exactly three years since I joined a re-enactment group. After discussing the hobby in the GPOYW thread, I thought some people on the forum might be interested in knowing how to get involved.

Firstly, choose your period. I do American Civil War because I have a great interest in the period. Why you might choose a particular impression is up to you. It might be as simple as the fact you've heard they are good bunch of fellows, or you think you'd look more attractive in rifleman green rather than as a redcoat. People join for different reasons, but an interest in the period helps, if only so you know who the gun should be pointing at.

Next, find a group. The web is a big help for this - just search for, say 'Crimean War re-enactment' and you should be able to find something. Your local WH Smith's might take 'Skirmish' magazine, which has a index of groups at the back and also carries articles and photos of events and impressions. The best way, however, is to attend an event as a spectator. Walk round the camps, watch the battle, and talk to the re-enactors (we don't bite). Get a feel for what the group does, and what the people are like. You'll want to see what level of authenticity they expect, what the groups does, if the group family-oriented or not, and if you feel you'd fit in. If you like what you see, ask about recruitment. Multi-period events are even more fun as you get to see plenty of groups across all periods rather than just one - many re-enactors use them to seek out new impressions.

The next part is the hardest: making contact. If you have a name or a contact, call or email, else follow what they say on their website. You should then find yourself invited along - they will provide you with most of the kit too, on the understanding that if you join up over your first year you will return it. Your training will start on the first day but they might send you some information sheets to be getting on with. Oh, and you will screw up. Repeatedly. It doesn't matter. We all did too, and continue to do so. Other members will chip-in with their advice, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Due to the gun laws in this country you probably won't be handling a real gun on your first few outings, and even once you've obtained your forms the club might still have their own assessment scheme before letting you fire. Non-firers do tend to die first, sometimes repeatedly.

Things to consider:

Authenticity - this is the big one. You don't want to be a farb (someone who doesn't care how they look). Whilst it can't be helped that re-enactors tend to be older and fatter than the people they represent, look around their campsite. Are modern items kept out of sight? Are the uniforms and kit appropriate for the time and the person being portrayed?

Having said that, you might not want a totally authentic group. At the extreme end are those that will expect their members to be in the 1860s for the whole weekend, with late night guard details, forced marches, period conversations and proper rations. Then you get other groups, like mine, that seek to provide an authentic look during the public hours (I'm in the habit now of taking circuitous routes back to camp to avoid saluting officers), but in the evening the beers come out or we go to the pub, and we have a whale of a time, then collapse onto our modern campbeds and keep warm in four-season sleeping bags. It's a question of what you want to spend your time doing. Talking to a group's members and watching them 'at work' will help you decide if it's right for you.

Commitment - re-enacting is an expensive hobby. Whilst clubs will loan you gear, it is expected that you get your own. Custom-made uniforms are expensive, but thankfully there are always people selling old kit so keep your ears to the ground. Indeed, second-hand stuff is sometimes the better option: I am supposed to portray a gruff, dirty western federal infantryman but when I first got my uniform it was far too neat and tidy for the look I was aiming for. Moreover, as you get addicted to the hobby, as you will be, it will be be draining in terms of petrol.

Rank - if you enter a military-style organisation, you will start out as a private (or equivalent). But remember, authority in re-enactment groups is based on consent: if you believe an order is dangerous then you are under no obligation to follow it. Moreover, there is, in reality, only one rank - that of 're-enactor'. You portray a private, he is portraying a sergeant. The relationship Pvt Kern has with Sgt X is very different to my friendship with X. Do not join a military group because you think you'd make a great commander: if you think that, you should be trying for the real military. You are portraying people and roles from history, and every person re-enacting a private in the ranks is just as important and vital to the success of the hobby as the major. Indeed, some of the best re-enactors I know have never led a unit but concentrated on forever improving their impression.

Finally: have fun. Unlike those we portray, we know we are going home at the end of the weekend and are, most likely, good friends with the people on the other side of the musket. The cheers from the crowds after a successful performance always raise the spirits, as does having a member of the public talk to you about the period (it's the only time I normally get to pontificate on the American Civil War) and the kit. And, of course, you'll meet great new friends too, and sometimes get the privilege of shooting at them :)
I'm not interested in re-enacting myself, but I do enjoy reading about your involvement with it all, Kern.
We used to have a model shop near us, and once or twice they'd have an open day and the high street would be full of jeeps and panzer troops. They only seemed to do 20th Century stuff though, which wouldn't be my cup of tea if I were to do that, but was interesting to look at. I also used to live in Lyme Regis and the Sealed Knot peeps came a did a few re-enactments there ( we had a Civil War siege and the Monmouth rebellion sort-of kicked off there ). I was a bit too young to remember that properly, though.

My favourite historical books are the Hornblower ones, but I imagine reenacting a frigate duel would be beyond even the most enthusiastic group of reenactors.
Squirt wrote:
I imagine reenacting a frigate duel would be beyond even the most enthusiastic group of reenactors.


I've heard about it being tried in Scarborough (quick google - Peasholm Park) but on a smaller scale. But, yeah, the start up costs might be prohibitive ;)

I pranced around on HMS Warrior last year, pretending to be part of the British crew of the similar-yet-smaller CSS Alabama, but we only practised gun drill rather than actually put powder down. Thankfully I managed not to fall out of the gunport when leaning out of it to try to ram the pretend charge.
Man, when I was a kid I used to go to Peasholm Park every summer to watch the battleships duke it out. It was completely fucking awesome every time. Twas a bit unfair how the Germans were outnumbered about 20-1 but hey!

Ever seen the film Role Models with Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott and McLovin? Apart from being a good comedy, it has some amusing medieval re-enactment stuff going down...
Peasholm park does it with model boats and flares and fireworks.
Oh, and then there's this:



I've done shows like that.
Friends of mine are re-enactors, I've done a bit with them. Will try and find a photo.

Or three it seems! These were from a 'fashion show' in Coventry about three years ago.
Goddess Jasmine wrote:
Or three it seems! These were from a 'fashion show' in Coventry about three years ago.


Great pics GJ.
A colleague at work is also into his re-enacting & he has a ridiculous collection of guns.
I'd go and watch a re-enactment.
Alarm wrote:
I'd go and watch a re-enactment.

It's a good day out to be fair, very interesting with lots of displays usually. :)
Alarm wrote:
I'd go and watch a re-enactment.


There's usually stuff going on around the bank holidays. I'm not sure where you are based but there's a multi-period at Megram Park in Port Talbot on 1-2 May. If there's a particular period you're interested in, do a web sear as most societies list their dates on their pages.

Goddess Jasmine wrote:
It's a good day out to be fair, very interesting with lots of displays usually. :)


Aye, especially the multi-periods. I remember watching a Saxon and a Norman beat the crap out of each other (pretend - I hope!) at one last year - the crowd were all cheering on the Saxon. Course, it's the Roman guys who always look the coolest.
I didn't realise you could go and talk to the actors though, quite cool for any aspiring history buffs.
Mr Russell wrote:
I didn't realise you could go and talk to the actors though, quite cool for any aspiring history buffs.



Yes, it's something we try to encourage but I suppose we can be intimidating. I always try to initiate a conversation with anyone who wanders into our camp - if they want to talk they'll stop, if not at least I tried.

Some re-enactors do so-called 'First person' impressions, where they will only answer in character. I don't, because not only is it really tricky to pull off convincingly, frankly I would rather get the public interested in the period then alienate them.

I've found the horseshoe game, as in 'Red Dead Redemption', is always popular, especially with kids (who normally end up beating me). Course, I'd never gamble... :)
Vaguely related to this topic, some pretty awesome photo montages of re-enactors superimposed on how American Civil War sites look today:

http://lightbox.time.com/2011/04/12/why ... c-sites/#1

EDIT I think they are montages- am not sure. But pretty neat regardless.
Kern wrote:
Vaguely related to this topic, some pretty awesome photo montages of re-enactors superimposed on how American Civil War sites look today:

http://lightbox.time.com/2011/04/12/why ... c-sites/#1

EDIT I think they are montages- am not sure. But pretty neat regardless.


I like the effort there, but not the result. All of the actors look completely removed from the surroundings, looking superimposed as you say, despite supposedly being shot on-site. It just looks really fake.
Reenacting: turn up, have cunts examine you from head to toe, either to check your kit is authentic, or to satisfy their bizarre sexual fetishes. Most likely both. Sit round bored. Have battle that you're scheduled to lose. Get moaned at for calling your side 'the Jabronis'. Get smacked around by cunts with pikes who obviously don't believe in the 'safe combat' you had to sit getting a lecture about for an hour. Watch cunts moan when the nutter next to you breaks one of their wrists cos he'd got sick of getting battered by him. Get told off for pissing myself at said cunt as he was stretchered off. Decided not to bother again.
Probably a wise choice. Sounds like a really unfriendly group.

I've not done anything with pikes: I've watched pikemen drill at multi-periods and have watched videos of 'push of pike' and it looks very much like an uncontrolled scrum.

Our stuff is mostly firing, and we're forbidden from fixing bayonets during battles despite being ordered to charge from time to time. Hand to hand is very hard to do without training and I always avoid it - I once yelled words to the effect of 'I'm loaded, please go away' at someone coming towards me with the butt of a musket . Or I'll just take an immediate hit.

As for being bored, well, my group never get the chance: other groups in the society mock us for spending what seems like every available minute drilling. :)
Did you do anything for the 150th anniversary of the whole thing kicking off, Kern? I imagine the next few years are going to be busy times for you guys. I look forward to you blowing a gigantic hole in the ground and then scrapping in it in 2014.
Squirt wrote:
Did you do anything for the 150th anniversary of the whole thing kicking off, Kern?


Some of my group did small living history displays this weekend but I couldn't make it, alas. I'm hoping that the increased interest will see a lot of spectators to our shows and, possibly, recruits! We don't want to have to resort to a draft. Unfortunately, places haven't been booking us very much this year due to the recession, but things should start picking up again.

Quote:
I imagine the next few years are going to be busy times for you guys.


Hopefully! Sadly, I lack the funds to get to as many of the 150th events in the US as I'd like to. I'm definitely going to Shiloh in April 2012 with my group, and the huge Gettysburg in 2013, but there are plenty others I'd like to attend (Antietam, Perryville, Fredericksburg come to mind, but there are others).

Quote:
I look forward to you blowing a gigantic hole in the ground and then scrapping in it in 2014.


That would be pretty awesome, although I've heard that the 125th re-enactment of the Crater was a bit of a disappointment.

Of course, for that event I'd be happier if I could wear officer's bars and spend the event authentically inebriated.
Interesting piece here on re-enacting and educating the public. He raises some interesting points, which I might respond to as and when I feel like it.
I am currently re-enacting the US civil war with the excellent but farcically complex AGEOD American Civil War game. There's a play by email option. Someone play me, so I can dither each night as to whether or not I should impose martial law in Texas, and attempt a rush on Harper's Ferry!
I need to dig that game out and get to grips with the controls.
Play-by-email could work once I know what I'm doing. Of course, to get properly into character, I would have to get drunk on whiskey first.
NervousPete wrote:
attempt a rush on Harper's Ferry!


You should. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited:
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hf2.jpg

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hf1.jpg
I might just make this my generic ACW thread.

But anyway, there's a very famous photo of dead soldiers laying in a field in the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg. One of the historians working at the battlefield park has written an interesting series of posts discussing where it might have been taken, and which units it might portray. Quite interesting, if you're into either the battle or attempts to fit historic photos into our historical understanding of an event.

Be warned that these posts do contain images of the dead so possibly NSFW (in black and white).

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


He doesn't discuss the possibility that the picture might have been faked, in the way that the famous sharpshooter one is believed to have been, but reading the text it seems unlikely that this was so.
I didn't make the huge 150th Bull Run re-enactment, but came across these aerial shots of the second day of it.

Due to the intense heat loads of people went home after the first day, but thankfully there were no fatalities (according to rumours on re-enacting forums, the emergency services had planned for six).

Wow.
I've just been playing Gettysburg: Scourge of War again. It's great! If anyone's wondering what it looks like - well, it looks like this:



It was the first day of the battle. I'd been tasked by Major General Abner Doubleday to march my Iron Brigade boys double-fast up into the woods of MacPherson's ridge to relieve Buford's brigade, and to deny the Rebs the woods on the ridge - the key to the position. I formed them up in to two lines of three regiments (each regiment around 250 men) with the front units up against the fence for added protection. The Rebs threw four units at me, so I moved two reserves up and used them as bullhorns to fire into the side of the enemy - keeping one unit in reserve. They began dropping fast and in a last desperate bid they charged my brave boys, but I threw 'em back and even took a fair few prisoners.

Then I saw another two columns advancing on Bufords worn out men. I moved two units up to cover them and the rest deeper into the woods to take and hold the key position. There they blundered across two other Reb units moving up through the dense foliage and a mix of shooting and close-quarters broke out. Thanks to further flanking I pushed them back and then repelled two more frontal assaults using my fresh reserve and a unit that had only seen light action, in the end finding myself overlooking a deep ditch from on top of the wooded ridge which I thought the ideal place to halt my advance and rest my men. The objective being secured and the timer having run out, the battle finished with a major victory. Pleasingly, I read the historical account and found that the canny and excellent named Solomon Meredith, leader of the Iron Brigade, did pretty much exactly the same thing I did. Smug mode.

I love this game, but I'm still not ready to do the 'in the saddle' generalship which is nigh on first person, with limited map updates and the only order giving done text-adventure and mini-map click stylee leaving your subordinates to interpret your orders. It's a bit too scary.
Oh, and corking Rock Paper Shotgun thread about it here:

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/ ... gettysburg
Looks pretty neat from the video, and the buildings look eerily familiar too.

Course, shame there's no option to head straight to O'Rourkes for a pint or have a cheesecake at the Lincoln diner, but that would ruin that atmosphere I guess. :)
Just got the latest National Geographic through the letterbox - there is a whole lot of stuff on the Civil War, with an article on reenactments.
Plissken wrote:
Just got the latest National Geographic through the letterbox - there is a whole lot of stuff on the Civil War, with an article on reenactments.


Sounds cool - will keep an eye out for it.
NervousPete wrote:
I've just been playing Gettysburg: Scourge of War again. It's great!


Just been playing around with the demo and having my regiment march, wheel, then double quick, then lie down, then double quick at the oblique, before deploying as skirmishes. I know now why one of my corporals is so fond of the double quick when he takes us out for drill - might as well make the men run for their money. I think our wheelings are neater than the CPUs, however.

Also, I'm pretty sure this game could teach me the proper bugle calls...sorely tempted to get the whole thing.
just thought of you as well Kern, when receiving the nince civil war map with my dutch national geographic
Sacrilicious! Gettysburg: Armored Warfare asks what if time travelling racists supplied the Confederates with near-future weaponry?

Image

Tanks, hand-held gatling guns and airships clash!
Whilst I think of it, over the bank holiday weekend I'll be at the Fortress Wales multi-period event at Caldlicot Castle, Momouthshire. Details about the event here.
Kern wrote:
Firstly, choose your period. I do American Civil War because I have a great interest in the period.

Been meaning to ask you what first got you into the whole thing, Kern? From an outside perspective it seems unnuasual for an English guy to be so enthralled with this period of American history. Do you have relatives from over there or is it something that just broadsided you?
MaliA wrote:


Heh.

I'm taking part in a guard of a honour for a re-enacting friend's wedding next month. Means I'll have to clean the 'mud from near Shiloh' off my uniform and get those brasses shiny. But, perhaps the bridesmaids will find me irresistible...
Zardoz wrote:
Kern wrote:
Firstly, choose your period. I do American Civil War because I have a great interest in the period.

Been meaning to ask you what first got you into the whole thing, Kern? From an outside perspective it seems unnuasual for an English guy to be so enthralled with this period of American history. Do you have relatives from over there or is it something that just broadsided you?


The latter, although I think I got into it by a very indirect route. Other than a trip to Fort Sumter when I was 9 (so it didn't mean anything to me), I remember years back writing a paper as an undergraduate in which I argued that federal systems were the best way to organise a diverse society. My tutor listened, then with one question destroyed my argument:

'Explain the American Civil War then'

I think I read James McPherson's 'Battle Cry of Freedom' shortly after, but at the time I was paying more attention to the chapters detailing the politics of the period rather than the war stuff. Didn't think much more about it for a few more years, but one day in late 2006 I was going through a bookshop making notes on which books looked interesting enough to add to my Christmas list. I've always had an interest in contemporary US politics, and the blurb for Tony Horwitz's 'Confederates in the Attic' describing his quest to understand what the war meant to the South today got my interest. I idly added it to the list, and my parents picked it out to get to me for Christmas. I then read it in one or two sittings. After that, I found myself reading more and more books on it and browsing various websites, before eventually deciding to combine a hiking trip to the Shenandoah (photos) with some battlefield visits.

After that trip, I joined a lecture group (the American Civil War Roundtable) so I could get to hear talks on the subject. At the time, I thought re-enacting was a bit of a strange way to spend one's time. But, come 2008 I realised that I was not doing much at the weekends, and whilst I had always thought about going back to being a Scout leader, decided I might as well give re-enacting a go instead. It's got the camping and social side I liked about Scouts, but with muskets. And beer.

Now, and I always stress this whenever I'm talking to the public at events, Britain was extremely tied up in the war. We know of around 60,000 English, Welsh, and Scotsmen who took part in it, as well as over 100,000 of our Irish cousins. We sold guns, ammo, and equipment to both sides, built and manned Confederate ships, and came very close to getting involved in it ourselves. And due to the South's ban on cotton exports, people in Lancashire starved due to the war.

The more I learn about the period, the more fascinated I become. There's just so many interesting subjects to choose from: from big political issues like how slavery had almost torn the country to pieces so many times in the past or the violent and bloody mess that Missouri and other border states turned into, to, say, the change in military tactics and how warfare was conducted. Or just a great cast of characters, from Lincoln's amazing political skills and laid-back nature, to the witty and vivid memoirs of Private Sam Watkins (Co H, 1st TN, CSA).

I just wish I had discovered the period and the issues when I went to graduate school, rather than afterwards. Oh well...
TL;DR

ZOMG Spoiler! Click here to view!
;) Thanks Kern. Strange isn't it what pass times grab us? Thank fuck I don't waste my time with footy.
Kern wrote:
Plissken wrote:
Just got the latest National Geographic through the letterbox - there is a whole lot of stuff on the Civil War, with an article on reenactments.


Sounds cool - will keep an eye out for it.


That's what I meant to link to before, when I linked to the photo stuff!

Malc
Radio 3 are currently broadcasting a live performance of Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait'. Admittedly, it's not one of my favourite Copland works, lacking, I think, the way he captures the Shenandoah perfectly in 'Appalachian Spring', the excitement of a rodeo in, er, 'Rodeo', or the majesty of the ordinary in 'Fanfare for the Common Man', but after three fun days re-enacting (including an unofficial 1860s BeeXmeet) it feels apt.
Missed this so am now listening to the Henry Fonda Lincoln Portrait. I love Copland, top five composers for me. I'll never forget the bit in Alaistair Cooke's TV series 'America' where the camera swoops over the bread-basket of America with all the combine harvesters at work in golden light to Copland.

Hope you didn't all get flooded out over there and managed to shift sticks okay. Did old man Mississippi rise any higher? Soon as I got back I had that long soak and then felt utterly exhausted. One weekend of non-stop photography has really taken it out of me! And cheers again for the tent loan!

Yes folks, I was there with Kern as we tumbled back in time to the 1860's. He stayed there, but I was jostled around a bit further to the 1930's and 40's, the Wild West and Medieval World. Later we were stalked by a malfunctioning Yul Bryner, but that's another story. Full report some time later.
As a taster, here's two photos. I broke my promise to myself in swearing I wouldn't look at them for a while to come. I just couldn't resist cracking the camera open and taking a peek inside, and these are the two that leapt out at me.

Image

Lady of the Union


Image

Thinking of Home

Wish they all had such gorgeous light! But it looks like I've walked away with at least a dozen 'greats' of the Union and Confederacy. Out of 900 I took, cough.
Thinking about this colour style and grit for the latest battlefield shots, what think you Kern?

Image

Union Fallen
I really like everything except the white vignette, which I think is a little too severe at the bottom corners.
While I was at the cinema yesterday I saw a poster for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Oh dear.
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