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10 Low Cost Ways to Improve Your Impression, Part II
by Galen Wagner

 

Here is another ten. There really is an endless amount of information that can be shared. I challenge the readers of this article to submit their own ideas.

1.                    Pack Your Food Items in Period Wrappers:  It is cheap and easy to pack all your food in period wrappers. Pour grits, oatmeal, sugar, salt or other powdery sundries in muslin poke bags. Wrap salt pork in wax or parchment paper and then put it in a rag ( of period shirting ) or a poke bag. Coffee, and any other items that must stay dry can be put in a old cap tin. At the next event, throw the new tin in the fire pit to burn off the label, and blacken the tin. This will keep it from rusting as fast. Small jars with a cork are an option too.

2.                    Carry Only the Essentials:  The more you bring, the more authentically challenged you become. Analyze the weekend using our good friend the Weather Channel and decide what items you can do without. If you can get away with carrying all you need in your Knapsack, then do so. At the average spring event in the south a groundcloth, two blankets and a poncho sleeps comfortably. Bring a couple of candles, a flask!!, and an extra pair of socks. Put your rations in your haversack and there you have it. You can carry it in and out and never have to fight ď camp traffic ď.

3.                    Carry Your Knapsack or Blanket Roll Into Battle:  Personal accounts suggest that these items were often worn in battle because if the gear was ď put on the carsĒ it may be days before the soldiers got it back. Soldiersí letters tell often of knapsacks included as gear carried in battle. Yes at times the gear was left behind, but soldiers often complain of the gear not catching up as quickly as they would like. This would lead me to believe they would hesitate to drop them unless they were ordered to do so.

4.                    Remove the Farb Finish From Your Rifle or Musket: The finish on a lot of the reproduction muskets is any thing but authentic. Rifle stocks were oiled not lacquered. Any stock can be stripped of this finish with a $3.00 can of Acetone and some steel wool. Get some boiled linseed oil and rub several  coats of oil on it over a couple of weeks. About every 6 months apply another coat. It is important not to do this just before an event because the oil softens the wood until it dries.

5.                    Hand Work Your Sutler Row Garmentís Buttonholes:  I have found it is a simple task to pop out the machine stitched buttonholes, and redo them by hand. There are several different buttonhole stitches you can use. Buttonhole machines were a rare commodity, so most were done by hand. The finer the garment, the more stitches per inch you should use. This means the officers will have to do a little work. Remember that jeancloth frays, so unstitch one at the time. The finest example I have seen is President Jefferson Davisís Frock coat in the White House. It has hand stitched buttonholes that are unbelievable. If his werenít done by a machine, then what are the chances the soldierís were?

6.                    Donít Smoke Cigarettes:   There is an ongoing argument about cigarette authenticity, but most materials points towards cigarettes as we know them coming on the scene after the war. If you have to smoke, make sure you are out of view of spectators and other reenactors. Cigars are period but were not abundant in either army. Chewing tobacco is a more authentic choice. Wrap your tobacco in wax paper and put it in your pocket. I have found that plugs are easier to carry.

7.                    Donít Talk About Computers, Baseball or Cars:  Maintaining a first person impression is a very difficult thing to do. As a reenactor I donít expect people to do it all the time, and I donít want you to expect it of me. There are times when marching down a dirt road with nothing but trees and soldiers, and horses in sight that ď Hey, Did you see the Knick's game last night ?Ē can ruin the experience for a lot of people. Just because there are no spectators around, doesnít mean you donít have an audience.

8.                    Drill, Drill, Drill :  It is well documented that soldiers did more drilling than anything else. One account states ď This morning we drilled, then ate dinner, then drilled, then held the evening parade, then had supper, then we drilled.Ē The shoddy at best drill on the field at events is a disgrace. We should all take the two hours a month we spend drilling a little more serious.

9.                    When Talking to Spectators Remember to Educate:  If some one ask you why your shoes have heel plates, donít tell them ď to keep the asphalt from wearing out my heels in paradesĒ.  Or if someone ask you what you eat in camp donít tell them ď Well whatever we want as long as it is not in plastic containersĒ. Those people we call spectators come to events to learn about the WBTS soldier not Jim the reenactor.  If you donít know, donít lie. Find someone that does know, and direct that spectator to that person. Nothing hurts our reason for existing like sending away a child with incorrect information.

10.                 Read and Ask Questions:  Do not be afraid to pick up a book and read it, or ask a veteran reenactor how something is done. When I first started I was authentically challenged, but I read accounts and looked at pictures and found the reenactors that looked most like the pictures and asked them how to do it better, and where I could find more sources, and then I went a read those sources.  Educate yourself to educate others. With the multitude of information a mouse click, or card catalog away, our only two excuses for ignorance are laziness and not caring.

I hopefully will have more to come. I am not trying to offend anyone, or feel superior to any reenactor. I am far from maintaining a strictly period impression. I only hope to portray the soldiers I honor to the best of my ability ( without my accountant divorcing me.) These low cost ways to improve give way to spending some money to upgrade. I can not fault any reenactor for not having the money to buy a Ben Tart Frock Coat, but if you are not willing to strive to improve your methods of education,  you are dishonoring a gallant, and noble breed of men; those that went to war for their homes and beliefs in 1861.