Mark (Silas) Tackitt
After a long weekend of reenacting, the last thing I want to do is carry heavy faux ammunition boxes, remove the junk which accumulates in a wall tent, dodge falling tent poles, fold a tent, then stow all my belongings in the back of my horseless carriage. So I don't. I go campaign style.
Basically, being on campaign means if you want something, you have to be willing to tote it on your back. If you can't carry it, you don't need it. A soldier of the time wrote:
"The fight we had the other day has taught me one thing, and that is never to carry anything more with me than I absolutely need and can carry on my back in case of necessity. It will not do to try to play soldier and gentleman at the same time.... You must make it rough."
I. WHY ONE SHOULD REENACT IN CAMPAIGN STYLE
Taking less sounds harsh, but actually carrying less has its advantages.
Your persona looks better. Nothing looks worse than privates residing in wall tents - in the middle of the summer. Wall tents and flies have their place. That's called winterquarters. In summer, the most one needs is some covers above, below, and in the middle. This means: a shelter half or gum blanket on top; a gum blanket on bottom; and a blanket or two for warmth. A true veteran carries only one gum blanket and one wool blanket. As the morning chill arrived, a veteran shivered, shook, then spooned with his pard. Manly men of the 20th Century are allowed to stoke the fire in lieu of spooning.
You are more approachable to our guests. People seem reluctant to approach a group of reenactors resting on chairs under a company tent fly. However, there is nothing imposing about a man resting on his haunches under the minimal shade of a shebang. I have spent far more time answering questions from our guests while sitting under or standing next to my shebang than I have underneath a tent fly. "Did you really sleep there last night?" Yes. "Wasn't it cold?" You get used to it. "Didn't you get wet?" To the bone, but I'm dry now. "Isn't the ground hard?" It might be, but I'm so worn out by the end of the day, I really don't notice.
You won't loose as much gear. The more valuables you tote, the more valuables you'll loose. Just because you have space in the trunk of your car (or your tent) does not mean that you must find something to fill that space. Less is more. If I can't carry it, I don't need it. Anything beyond what my back, shoulders, and legs can carry is too much gear.
You'll learn to cook. Cans of stew are heavy. A can opener is useless weight. With some corn meal, rice, or flour, I have a solid foundation for a meal. With some vegetables, I have a side dish to accompany my bacon, chicken, or salted sugar beef. With some dried fruit, spices, and hardtack, I can make a delicious soldier's dessert.
While you're leaning over that fire during lunch, our guests often start conversations about - gulp - food. They take a great interest in a soldier preparing his lunch. They often hope to catch you eating Top Ramen or Nalley's Chili. When you tell a guest that you are frying skillygallee and apples, be ready to spend the next ten minutes speaking about Civil War food. Make sure to bring some extra hardtack for trading with our guests. They will long remember the experience of breaking bread and a tooth with a Civil War soldier.
You'll gain an appreciation for how tough it was for the Old Guys. Being a soldier then, and now, is hard work. If the Old Guys could survive like that for four years, we can survive for two or three days. It just takes a some preparation.
And you'll feel better about yourself. When you tell people at work, school, or on the bus that you are a reenactor, how do you think they perceive you? Sleeping in a commodious wall tent, on soft cot, in a warm sleeping bag, during our dry summers? Eating Dorritos and Hostess fruit pies? Wearing your Hawaiian shirt and Nikes on Saturday night? Clean shaven? No, no, no, and no. They perceive you as roughing it and preserving the history and memory of the Old Guys. If you lead people into believing you are a soldier, act like one. Finally, other reenactors will complement you on your dedication.
II. WHAT SHOULD A MODERN CAMPAIGNER CARRY?
Here is the author's own list of items to bring:
Kitchen. I do all my cooking in two receptacles. One is a can with a bailing wire attached which is used for boiling coffee or meals. The other is a canteen half used for frying. I bring a 28 ounce can of vegetables and open it with a modern army can opener/screw driver (a P-38). I dump the contents into my dipper (a.k.a. coffee mug) then pound two holes with a nail into the sides of the can for the bailing wire. After inserting the bail, I return the vegetables to the can and place the can/boiler over the fire. To remove the can from the fire, I use the butt end of a bayonet. To remove my canteen half from the fire, I use a crocheted hot pad I acquired at a reenactment several years ago. I eat from the can and from the canteen half. Once the weekend is over, I toss the can. I usually bring an eight inch round plate with which to eat, but I find that with the can and the canteen half, I really don't need the plate. My silverware consists only of a sharp pocket knife and a spoon. I include a wash rag on my list, but rarely bring one.
Sleeping quarters. For most events, I bring only gum blankets and a dense wool blanket. The wool blanket is 5' x 7' and weighs seven pounds. For the colder events where there is a defined camp, I will bring one extra wool blanket. To stay warm and dry, bring two gum blankets. How one uses the blankets determines whether a soldier is tolerably warm or sleeplessly cold. Use the Boy Scout folding layer method. Fold the gum blankets in half. Folded, each is approximately 5' x 3.5'. Lay them side by side then tuck one inside the other until the entire length of both blankets is longer than one's body. One blanket will cover the legs; the other the upper torso and head. There should be a one to two foot overlap. The wool blanket is folded lengthwise and inserted inside the gum blankets. The fold of the wool blanket is always placed opposite the folds in the gum blankets. After inserting my wool blanket, I secure the feet of the lower gum blanket with a blanket pin inserted in a pair of grommets, and I will also secure the pair of gum blankets with a blanket pin inserted through four matched grommets at my side.
For pillow, I use my knapsack, cartridge box or the toes of my boots depending on my mood.
For wet days, wear the gum blanket like a cape attached around the neck. Leave the ponchos for the fresh fish to purchase. Ponchos have openings at the sides and neck for wet and cold to leak in. A cape has only the opening about the neck which can be sealed and an opening in the front which can be closed. The cape also acts as an acceptable windbreaker. Add a blanket to the inside of a cape, and one has a very warm barrier from the elements.
Sanitary. Like our counterparts of old, reenactors fail to wash as frequently as they should. Remember: it takes less time to wash regularly than to sit on the bathroom throne cursing that batch of dysentery Monday and Tuesday after an event. Bring period soap for washing body, hair and clothes. My thoughtful wife recently purchased some antiseptic, waterless soap in a handy container. Its utility begs the imagination.
Purchase a period toothbrush and use it! On it, apply sutler tooth powder during public hours and travel sized modern toothpaste at other times. I find that baking soda based powders sold by sutlers is passable, but not sufficient for my aging gums. Bring the aspirin for relieve the aches associated with daytime battles with the opposition and nighttime battles with John Barleycorn. For the hay fever set, bring antihistamines and sleep far from the people who rest on hay.
The roar of cannons and musketry makes my ears ring so I insert flesh colored or white (read: dingy gray) foam for battles. Leave the blue and orange plugs at home because they can be seen for miles. Always bring some T.P. because the sinks often lack sufficient paper.
I keep all these items in a white bag bag marked with a large blue dot. I sewed my other bags with dark fabric and different patches resembling Yankee corps badges. Being a unique color and shape in my bag, the sanitary bag stands out in the darkest of nights.
Food and Beverages. If you imbibe, bring a whiskey flask. Remember that drinking slows the respiratory system. The more drink consumed, the colder the reenactor will be while sleeping.
I always bake a large batch of hardtack because it is my staple food. I'll eat some with a slice or two of bacon for breakfast. I usually bring corn meal when I know fresh berries or fruit can be found at an event. Corn meal mush with fruit picked at an event makes a satisfying breakfast. For lunch, I'll have an apple or boil half a sliced yam. Each will be eaten with the hardtack. A little molasses helps lunch stick to my ribs until dinner. Dinner is usually stew made with my famous salted sugar beef with onions, potato and anything else edible found in my haversack. I drop some hardtack pieces into the stew and let it cook also. Boiled hardtack has the consistency of dumplings. The result: a tasty stew with dumplings.
Breakfast and lunch are washed down with the two days ration of ground coffee which is boiled in the 28 ounce can.
As pork was a usual meat issued to soldiers, I bring one third to one half pound of bacon. I use it as a flavor enhancer and for the grease.
Gear. "Much can be carried in a big black car,
But little is carried on a man's back far."
The minimums attachments are: canteen, dipper with bailing wire, haversack, musket, bayonet, leathers (belt, cartridge and cap boxes). I tote a knapsack and usually carry it all weekend (except during drill). The alternative to a knapsack is a bulky blanket roll which works wonders on my back. Inside my knapsack, I keep my traps in several different sized and colored calico bags. Without the bags, everything mixes at the bottom and cannot be found when needed. Each bag has a draw string.
Roll and fill your cartridges before the event. Place them in easily made packages of twenty. Bring four or five packages for a weekend. For cleaning, I boil water and liberally apply 3-in-1 oil. The cleansing action is performed by a ball puller screwed onto my ramrod with scraps of wool and calico doing the work.
For those afflicted with that thirst for smoke, bring tobacco, matches and pipe. I carved mine from a branch cut by my neighbor's apple tree. I bring harmonica and jew's harp which I play between events. Please practice between events, not just at them.
Finally, bring identification. For me, this means driver's licence, club identification, and attorney bar card (this way I can visit my rowdy pards in jail should they be carried away by the authorities at an event). I also bring some cash, period money, and a photo of my wife and kid.
Clothing. One hat, one shell jacket, one pair of pants with suspenders, and one pair brogans constitutes the entire outer layer of one's uniform. The inner layer is a matter of luxury. I bring two shirts, one for wearing and the other for the washerwoman. I bring two days worth of socks. One day's is on my feet; the other in the knapsack or the laundry line. I have not sewn period drawers yet so I wear boxers. One is for swimming and the other is for after the swim. (Nearly every event in the Pacific Northwest is adjacent to water so I take advantage of the coincidence at every opportunity.) I wear a vest (waist coat) to all events. Wool in spring and fall, and cotton in summer. I sometimes bring fingerless wool gloves.
Other. A time piece is indispensable, and I carry an antique watch on a chain. Leave the wrist watch at home. I also like to write, so I bring pen, ink and paper. A candle and a few wax fire starters are welcome additions. Some dice or period playing cards can help pass the time and provide scenarios during public hours.
The items listed above constitute my typical list. Sometimes I take more, sometimes less. The total weight is about thirty-five to forty pounds including musket and filled canteen. It is relatively light. To those who reside in wall tents on cots in sleeping bags, this list seems barbaric by its primitiveness. To the Old Ones who tramped the battlefields a century ago, the list is barbaric by its luxuriousness. Only a fresh fish or a mule could carry that mound of junk. Therefore, "light" is a relative term. I take satisfaction in knowing that the gear I carry is far less than most reenactors lug to events. I thoroughly enjoy having the option of throwing my traps on my back and leaving an event at a moments notice. I am willing to help my pards pack their gear, but my help comes with a price: I always chastise them about the superfluous junk they find necessary. In the next world, they will pull their gear from event to event by a chain longer and heavier than that dragged by Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol."
At your next event, be true to the memory of the Old Guys. Step back in time for a weekend by being a soldier, not Jacob Marley. Pack light and remember the maxim: less is more. You may have a better time than you ever had before. You may even recapture that "new" feeling you once possessed when you started reenacting so many years ago.
Mark (Silas) Tackitt reenacts in Washington State in the 44th Tennessee Consolidated Infantry and hosts the Flying Dutchman reenacting cyber journal.
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