As a member of 5th Company - Washington Artillery, I tip my hat once again to member Ernie Easterly, as I find I must on every occasion when I have the opportunity to talk with him. In this case, it's not for the latest conversation I've enjoyed with him, but for an idea he, while serving as our group's President, introduced to our group several years ago: "For The Good Of The Unit".
Opening up the opportunity to address any matter that affects our group with the purpose in mind of improving ourselves is an excellent idea. The longer I'm involved with reenacting, the more the whole concept of "reenactorisms" strikes me, as I'm sure it does you. Here are some that I've been thinking about, and I'm sure there are many more of which I'm entirely unaware but that y'all will have noticed.
(Note: Let's discard entirely the issues of age and weight as "reenactorisms". For most of us, if one wouldn't get us, the other one would; if not both, as in my case. Remember that the "religious guy" for the wartime 5th Company, their unofficial chaplain - a Corporal who was a Presbyterian deacon before and during the war, and who went on to become a Presbyterian minister after the war - was called "the old man" because of his advanced age - 38. In fact, his advanced age resulted in his being discharged from the Army - so he re-enlisted with another unit soon after. In our case, though, if not for the TBGs - tubby bearded guys - there'd be scarcely anyone left to reenact. So let's admit that there must be some reenactorisms that take on the status of "sacred cows" among us.)
For the purposes of the present
discussion, there are 17 "Reenactorisms" - and one "Non-Reenactorism"
- that have been identified. Those are:
1. Sermons at reenactments
2. Prayers at reenactments
3. Removing our hats for prayers at reenactments
4. Tipping our hats to the ladies
5. "Military" time
6. Tentage and Camp Furniture / Equipment for the Artillery
7. Field promotions
8. The Signal Corps and proper, period terminology
9. Colored, or tinted, eyeglass lenses
10. Hairnets or "snoods"
11. Personal hygiene
12. Unfinished furniture
13. Age, weight, and height
15. Missing sounds of the Civil War
16. Missing sights of the Civil War
17. Bills Of Forage Caps & Kepis
A non-reenactorism: In Defense Of Gilham's A Manual...
1. In the area of religion, those who don't attend Divine Services on the Lord's Day are still likely to get exposed to the world of religion at some point during an event, whether it's at the morning raising of the color, or before battle. At some point, we are all likely to be prayed over. There are several "reenactorisms" that apply, assuming for the moment that prayer would have been offered at the particular occasion on which we find ourselves gathered (by which I mean that it's not always been the case that the men of the War Between The States had time for a prayer meeting before battle, and so forth). What I'm saying is that the sermons offered up are very, very, very rarely identifiable as being consistent with the represented denomination's doctrines and methods of presentation for the period. Same is true with their prayers.
The notion that God will bless the unprepared, extemporaneous sermon of the man who offers one up at an often deludes himself. Jesus' sermons were indeed apparently extemporaneous, but he spent all of his life preparing to minister and present those words to the people of his day. Too, Jesus was truly man, but also truly God; it is presumptuous beyond all comprehension to think that any of us enjoy anything like that relationship to God. It also neglects to admit that God will bless effort, such as study of the Word of God, prayer, fasting, and other preparatory steps that will help the preacher determine how fit his words will be for those who will hear him. Those who prepare to meet with God and His people and open the word of God to the people of God may more reasonably expect to have their efforts blessed than those who simply show up.
A study of the sermons of the period will prove highly instructive to those who assay the task. Those were most often sermons delivered by men who spent hours studying the word of God, and following a structured approach in their study and their sermon development.
2. There is the matter of the prayer, then. I'll spare you the details, but the sorts of prayers we have offered up on our behalf are - at best - fairly lacking in strong, Biblical content. They tend to be of the "Good Bread, Good Meat, Good God - Let's Eat!" variety, rather than an offering up to a Sovereign God thanks and praise and honor as is His due, and a confidence and trust in His mercy and power to see His will done, no matter the outcome to us. In other words, seeing God as the center of the universe rather than the affairs of men in that 0place of central importance.
Okay, then - enough preachifyin'.
3. Related to the question of prayer, though, we have introduced a practice that we today believe bestows honor upon God, a practice that is only modern - not period. That practice is the one of removing our headgear for prayer, usually in response to the order "Remove Covers!". While it was usual and customary for civilians to remove their headgear when entering a building, that was not always the case or the requirement of etiquette - military or civilian - for military men. For the purpose of prayer, though, particularly out of doors, it was not the practice of military men to remove their hats.
Like tipping your hat to ladies unknown to you - another reenactorism.
4. In all fairness, we probably got the idea of tipping our hats in a gentlemanly fashion to every passing woman from Lucas McCain of The Rifleman, Yancy Derringer, Hopalong Cassidy, Gunsmoke's Marshall Matt Dillon, and a host of other good influences from the 1950s and 1960s. Here's the problem, though: period etiquette manuals instruct us that a man is not supposed to acknowledge a woman's presence in public, other than giving her the "right of way" and obeying the dictates of "ladies first", unless and until she acknowledges him first. For him to tip his hat to her, or to (crudely and reprehensibly) offer his hand in greeting - whether gloved or not, or to greet her in any fashion is to suggest a level of intimacy that is accorded to a woman of the streets. So the supposed "politeness" being extended to women of your acquaintance by the tipping or doffing of your chapeau is actually a public statement that the lady in question is, indeed, no lady but a lady of the evening plying her trade.
Should she first greet you, then it is fitting that you should respond back to her, and a tip of the hat is then acceptable.
Just as some of you have been the objects of withering glares from some ladies at reenactments where they have, in their ignorance, believed themselves slighted because you didn't offer what they supposed to be their "right" of the tipped hat as "ladies" are "owed", so have I. And I've read letters in some hobby magazines where women either complained that men were failing in their duties of courtesy by failing to tip the hat, or were looking forward to the upcoming season when men will again offer up that small honor to them. However, it's THEIR ignorance and not ours that should expect such salutations. When we refuse to offer our preemptive acknowledgement of them, we do them honor. Shame on them if they don't know better. It's not our fault that some know so little of period etiquette that they don't mind being marked by the tip of a hat as a woman of loose moral character. Whether they know better or not, though, let's not be guilty of treating the ladies of our reenacting community like whores just because some of them don't know the (period) difference.
As many of our men learned as young boys in their families, we don't treat women like ladies and other men like gentlemen because they have demonstrated that they merit that regard. We treat women as ladies and men as gentlemen because WE are gentlemen. Go forth, therefore, and sin no more.
5. We tend to use military time ("1300" for 1 o'clock, for instance) when that is a relatively modern innovation. That's not to say that a 24-hour clock didn't exist then - it certainly did - but the relatively scarce or limited use of it then does not warrant our introducing it into our reenacting just to sound "more military".
The use of "military time" is something that was relatively uncommon. Read the accounts of military commanders of that era and see for yourself. And military time wasn't the only method of time-keeping that was uncommon or even unknown that we now take for granted.
In fact, there weren't even time zones until after the end of the Civil War. And it was the trains that caused the country to have to have standardized time zones (although it should be noted that the Signal Corps recognized that need before the trains forced the issue; the Signal Corps had a prearranged signal which would initiate the "countdown", if you will, to a common time). When you traveled from east to west a distance of twelve miles, you would change the time back 5 minutes; and traveling 12 miles from west to eat, you would forward your watch five minutes. Local time and the longitude determined what your watch OUGHT to say.
6. Then there is the common misunderstanding among our Infantry and Cavalry peers about the amount of tentage and camp / mess furniture that we Artillery and Signal Corps units tote around. You cannot look at photos of large concentrations of soldiers in camp, and artillery parks, without concluding that they indeed had lots of canvas and lots of wooden goods. As for the argument that tent flys were scarce, the Quartermaster records don't seem to reflect that. The photographic evidence seems also to bear out that tent flys were used in a variety of ways: free standing, as mess flys or meeting flys; erected in such a way as lay over the top of wall tents and A-frame tents with a space of roughly four inches between them (some speculating that they provided cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter - but actually served to keep water from penetrating the tent so well, as the canvas then was not waterproofed unless painted, which was the case for artillery tarpaulins); and as "front porches", erected at the front of a tent and usually furnished with chars and tables and the like.
7. We sometimes make reference to bringing up a fellow from our ranks to fill a vacancy for a day or two in our noncommissioned officer's cadre as a "brevet" promotion. That term really applies to the promotion of a commissioned officer from one commissioned rank status to a higher commissioned rank status. The correct period term to use is a "lance" promotion , such as a lance corporal, or a lance sergeant.
8. The Signal Corps loathes the term "wig-wag" in referring to how the signal with flags. That is a modern term, and was not used during the period we reenact.
9. Some in reenacting contend that colored eyeglass lenses were unknown during the period. That's simply not so, and that's one reenactorism. Were there probably a high percentage of colored lens wearers? Probably not. But they did exist, indeed. But they did not announce to the world who had syphilis and who had a liver problem, and so forth. That's a reenactorism.
From Storke, Domestic and Rural Affairs, 1859:
"Preservation of the Sight. - The following are the general rules for preserving the sight unimpaired for the longest possible period:
1. All sudden changes from darkness to light and the contrary should be avoided as much as possible.
2. Avoid looking attentively at minute objects, either at dawn or twilight, and in dark places.
3. Avoid sitting near a dazzling or intense light, as of a lamp or candle, and facing a hot fire.
4. Avoid reading or sewing much by an imperfect light, as well as by artificial lights of any kind.
5. Avoid all dazzling and glaring sunshine, especially when it is reflected from snow, white sand, or other light-colored bodies.
6. Avoid dust, smoke, and vapors of every kind, which excite pain or uneasiness of the eyes.
7. Avoid rubbing or fretting the eyes in any manner, and wiping them with cotton handkerchiefs.
8. Avoid much exposure to cold northwest or easterly winds.
9. Avoid all spirituous and heating liquors, rich and highly-seasoned food, and every species of intemperance, all of which invariably injure the eyes and impair their sight.
10. Some persons living in cities who have weak eyes find permanent relief only by a change of residence to the country.
Persons of this description will find an advantage in wearing some defense before their eyes, especially when exposed to heat, sunshine, or glaring lights. This will be best if of a green color. Spectacles that do not magnify, of the same hue, are well suited for this purpose."
O.W. Holmes, in The Professor at the Breakfast Table, 1859, did not assume the worst when he met the landlady's daughter's fiance, who wore green spectacles. In fact, quite the opposite was true. He assumed he was a minister:
"... ended in her bringing home a young man, with straight, sandy hair, brushed so as to stand up steeply above his forehead, wearing a pair of green spectacles, and dressed in black broadcloth. His personal aspect, and a certain solemnity of countenance, led me to think he must be a clergyman; and as Master Benjamin Franklin's blurted out before several of us boarders, one day, that 'Sis had got a beau,' I was pleased at the prospect of her becoming a minister's wife. On inquiry, however, I found that the somewhat solemn look which I had noticed was indeed a professional one, but not clerical. He was a young undertaker, who had just succeeded to a thriving business. Things, I believe, are going on well at this time of writing, and I am glad for the landlady's daughter and her mother..."
Blue spectacles seem to have been worn by people who suffered from weak eyes:
"To weakness of the eyes: We should judge that, as you suggest, blue spectacles would convert the yellow rays of artificial light into a green tint, more agreeable and less irritating to weak or sore eyes..." Scientific American, 1857.
Weak eyes could be caused by numerous medical conditions, among which syphilis was one. However, the use of colored lenses was not exclusive to medical conditions.
Blue spectacles were also worn by pious, studious individuals. Here are some period references to this:
July 1855 Godey's, at a fashionable watering-place a gentleman at the hop there was described as wearing blue spectacles and was talking about the "frivolity of society." He considers "a little amusement as superfluous." It goes on to say, "He stands aside at balls, and, not having an ear for music, sneers at dancing, is a lawyer, and devotes his days to searching title-deeds and prosecuting claims."
In a January 1858 story about a young lady who is pushing her younger sister to marry a gentleman, the younger sister says, "I don't like him, and think he's so disagreeable, - and oh yes! there's another thing, - he wears blue spectacles, - ugh! blue spectacles!"
Her older sister says, "Well, I'll agree that a pale, studious face and blue spectacles are good reasons for hating a man. Now let me say a word or two in his favor, notwithstanding..... if Mr. Hunt was not good and pious, and of blameless life and reputation; extorting from Laura an affirmative reply to each separate inquiry."
The article continues by saying, "...such a good offer, especially to one in your circumstances, from such a worthy, talented, pious young clergyman, whose preference, with their thousands would be glad to win... I do say, Laura, that you ought to give better reasons for refusing him, nay, for jilting him, after a two-years' engagement, than that his cheeks are pale and his spectacles blue."
Why would someone encourage her sister to marry a man and say that his "pale, studious face and blue spectacles" are not good enough reasons to reject a man or contradict his good character, if they were well known to be worn by people with a VD?
In 1863, "A large fortune is left to my hero, who forthwith becomes enamored of a fair damsel; but fearful lest the beloved object should worship his money more than his merits, he disguises himself in a wig and blue spectacles, becomes tutor to her brother, and wins her affections while playing pedagogue."
Again, the blue spectacles go with a studious, bookish persona, not an immoral one.
In 1871, "In the carriage... a tall old man in blue spectacles, who seemed to be a writing teacher."
In Napoleon's rapidly executed effort to jump start the invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon instructed his Staff Quartermaster and officers to only provide summer gear as they would be back before winter set in. He was anticipating a 'normal' campaign and expected to be home in 3 to 4 months at best. His officers ordered several dozens of cases filled with 'smoked glasses' to go along on the march. These were to be issued by the medical staff, as-needed, to those suffering from eye problems incurred along the way. Although many documents have been published about the events that summer, fall and winter, few exist that tell us exactly who was issued the 'smoked glasses', we know they went but we don't know who wore them or when. We can speculate that Artillery officers, Cavalry and Staff Officers were at the forefront as they would have been aware of them but as for the general grunts in the field, very doubtful. It is easy to imagine an Artillery crew wearing these 'smoked glasses' while lobbing 12-pound balls into the redan at Borodino in the stifling heat of the Russian summer. But colored lenses - sunglasses - were common enough even then, and generally without any stigma of ill health connected to them. Colors did not mean specific things. In fact, there were even red lens eyeglasses made specifically for playing billiards.
That's not to say that there should be a proliferation of colored lenses in period glasses at events. However, someone who chooses to wear such should not be ostracized as likely would be the case for the fellow who shows up at an event in the leopard-skin trousers and holsters most of us have seen in a period photograph.
10. Let us ask ourselves about the commonly seen "snood" (a term which is decades later than the period we reenact and the object it seeks to describe, which is correctly known as a hairnet, or simply a net). The term "snood" is not correct for our period; but is the object period-correct?
Author Juanita Leisch (Who Wore What?) surveyed about 5,000 cartes de visite dated to the war years as part of her research into her popular book Who Wore What?. She was looking for not only clothing, but also the variety and types of features in dress and accessories. The conclusion Ms. Leisch arrived at with reference to hairnets or nets was that they were worn primarily by young women. The older the woman, the less apt she was to be found wearing a hairnet or net.
Why is this so? Even in our own day, we most often see the newest of fashions on the youngest of ladies. Most of us - ladies less than men, certainly - tend to stay with the styles popular in our own youth. Hairnets were introduced as a fashion item in the 1860s, and therefore most younger women would have been apt to wear them while older ladies would have been less apt to leap into the fashion frenzy of wearing hairnets. Older ladies would have been more likely to keep their (older) style of headwear, at least for a time.
Unlike many of the hairnets sold by sutlers today in a rainbow of colors, nets of the period appear to have most often been made from darker colors, colors that most likely were closer to the woman's hair color.
The hairnet was not used as some women today use a scrunchy and a hat - to just have some place to stuff thir hair in order not to spend time grooming it or themselves. Nor did they don a thickly knitted or crocheted hairnet to disguise the fact that they had short hair. Hair was neatly dressed (or styled) before the hairnet or net would be added as a decorative feature, or a means to hold that hairstyle in place effectively and attractively. Invisible nets of fine threads, such as we commonly associate with the "lunch ladies" from school, or even nets made from hair were also used, either alone or in conjunction with decorative nets.
Note, too, that the hairnets of the period were not made of today's shiny rayon or nylon, nor were they made of stretchy materials. In other words, a hairnet or net should not be capable of being stretched so as to envelope the entire head, and it should not be shiny.
Period materials would include cotton cord to chenille to velvet.
An examination of period photographs and cartes de visite will reveal that hairnets are most often an integral part of some type or style of headdress, worn in combination with anything ranging from a wrapper to more elaborate, decorative evening versions, clearly intended for wear at relatively formal occasions such as a ball or supper party.
Nets, or hairnets, are all too often used in reenacting circles as a "quick fix" - covering up unkempt hair in the manner of some women who today throw a hat over their hair to cover the mess - or using it in lieu of styling the hair in a period manner, thinking that the net will cover a multitude of sins. While it may, indeed, cover a mess or inadequate grooming, at least our ladies should not be confused with the notion that by so doing they are following in the footsteps of their foremothers of the period.
The net should not contain a nest.
There is an argument offered in favor of the hairnet being used as a "hair bag" to get long hair up and out of the way of the lady, especially women in rural areas where they had to do a man's work every day. It is posited that it seems reasonable to think that a rural lady - which then constituted the majority of women, you should understand - would leap out of her rope bed in the pre-dawn hours to prepare for a long day's work in the fields, and for the sake of expedience she would throw her hair into a hairnet. The argument continues that it seems unthinkable that a woman would spend the time dressing her hair for a significant amount of time each morning when she had so much to do all day long, beginning with fixing biscuits and eggs and ham for breakfast, and then proceeding to slop the hogs or milk the cows.
A reasonable argument, but it ignores the existence of the hairpin. Why is it difficult to think that women on farms would not have simply pulled their hair back and secured it with hairpins? The hairpin was common enough - common enough that metal detectors often locate them even at Civil War campsites, where ladies obviously visited.
Women who wear their hair long, especially those who wear their hair at waist length or close to waist length, can attest that putting their hair up on the nape of the neck and securing it with hairpins not only does not take any longer to do than putting their hair into a hairnet, but even takes less time. After all, once the hair is in the hairnet - dressed or not - the hair has to be pulled around in order to fill up the hairnet in a balanced way that doesn't look like the lady took a cat and shoved it into a bag on her head. Women with thicker hair or longer hair have even more difficulty with arranging hair in a net, of course.
One drawback to the net versus the hairpin is that, depending on the activity, the hairnet may even be prone to fall out, while well-oiled hair (done in the period fashion, that is, usually with Macassar oil) that has been pulled back at the nape of the neck and secured with hairpins seldom falls out, regardless of the activity being performed.
(Macassar oil, incidentally, was used by both men and women to groom their hair. Use of Macassar oil led to the creation of the "doilies" that were often placed at the tops of upholstered furniture in order to absorb that oil, rather than having it stain the upholstery. Those "doilies" were appropriately named "antimacassars". A recipe for Macassar oil follows:
One pound of Olive Oil
One drachm of Oil of Origanum
One scruple of Oil of Rosemary
Mix the ingredients, and apply as needed for satisfactory results in making the hair more manageable. Macassar oil washes out of the hair easily.
As a side question, then, we would ask about the hairdressing practices of ladies in the antebellum or Civil War periods when they went to their beds at night: did they wear their hair loose, or was it somehow contained then? The question arises because those who have worn their hair very long know that going to bed with the hair loose is often a recipe for disaster. Rolling over in the night often leads to rolling on your own hair, thereby pulling it and awakening yourself . Long hair left loose while you sleep often leads to a ridiculously large number of knots and tangles, which takes an eternity to get straightened out the next morning, and usually leads to a lot of broken hair and other damage to it - which often leads to extremely frizzy hair which is then harder to care for, as well as needing more and more hair care products (which, in our context, means more Macassar oil).
Pulling the hair back into a ponytail or twisting the hair into a loose braid, though, helps keep the hair straight and neat and in good order through the night. Grooming the hair in the morning then poses no trouble and takes almost no time - especially compared to the war that has to be waged with hair left loose all night.
Too, hair loosely bound from the night before may be pinned up relatively quickly, or tucked into a hat or cap of some description in order to do the morning's work. Loosely braided hair may also be quickly brushed and twisted into a bun, a process that should not take more than two to three minutes for the experienced.
11. Poor personal hygiene is totally period, and therefore we should lay off the deodorants and toothpowders at events.
Wrong. Folks of the period were concerned about personal hygiene, although they didn't have all the science and tests and studies that we enjoy today to bolster their arguments and to (generally) steer them right. Even soldiers were directed through various means to take care of their personal hygiene as well as their general health. An example comes from an issue of the Marshall, Texas Republican, dated May 25th, 1861, p.2, c. 7 in which appears an article as follows:
"To Young Soldiers.
How to prepare for the Campaign. - "An Old Soldier," in one of our exchanges makes the following pithy hints to young volunteers, and they should be heeded.
"1st. Remember that in a campaign more men die from sickness than from the bullet.
"2nd. Line your blanket with one thickness of brown drilling. This adds but four ounces in weight and doubles the warmth.
"3rd. Buy a small India-rubber blanket (only $1.50) to lay on the ground or to throw over your shoulders when on guard duty during a rain-storm. Most of the Eastern troops are provided with these. Straw to lie upon is not always to be had.
"4th. The best military hat in use
is the light colored soft felt; the crown being sufficiently high to allow space
for air over the
brain. You can fasten it up as a continental in fair weather, or turn it down when it is wet or very sunny.
"5th. Let your beard grow so as to protect the throat and lungs.
"6th. Keep your entire person clean; this prevents fevers and bowel complaints in warm climate. Wash your body each day if possible. Avoid strong coffee and oily meat. General Scott said that the too free use of these (together with neglect in keeping the skin clean,) cost many a soldier his life in Mexico.
"7th. A sudden check of perspiration by chilly or night air often causes fever and death. When thus exposed do not forget your blanket."
12. Unfinished furniture is also something of a reenactorism. Even the crates and boxes from which Civil War soldiers sometimes made their furniture for camp had markings on them, but many fellows who spent any extended period of time in camp looked for ways to fill the long, boring hours between activities, and to make their camps seem more like home.
We see evidence of that in the photographs from the period of the Washington Artillery of New Orleans in camp, certainly. We see street signs painted by the men and hung from their tents to remind them of their homes and favorite places. We see "front porches" on the tents, which appear much like our present day pallets, that constitute a place for their benches and chairs to keep them out of the dirt and mud; and those same "pallets" or platforms also appear to extend back into the tents. In two photographs of the Washington Artillery in camp, it appears that the rear stanchions of the tents even have some form of bookshelf attached to them.
Looking at the photographs, too, the grain of the wood is not evident as one might expect, and the variations in period photographs of the relative darknesses of various pieces of furniture in the camps appears as if the pieces must have been either stained and finished or painted. Extant examples bear that out.
Common sense dictates that any wooden goods used in the field for any period of time needed to be protected with some sort of finish, assuming that they expected to be in any place for any amount of time to enjoy the use of those items. Even finished wood takes a beating under the Southern sun and humidity; much more does the environment punish unfinished wood.
Consider, too, the boxes and crates that were used in the Artillery. Artillery ammunition was transported in crates prior to the ammunition being placed in the limber chests. Those crates were color coded, according to the type of round:
12-pounders & 6-pounders
Red: Spherical Case Shot
So artillery ammunition crates appropriated for use in camp by artillerymen would have been painted, certainly. Even boxes used for small arms ammunition were color-coded, although that was less often the practice later in the war among the Confederate suppliers.
13. There is often something of a dispute among reenactors concerning how much we actually parody those whom we seek to honor in our portrayals because of three factors: age, weight, and height. At the very beginning of this list of "reenactorisms", I conceded that there are at least two "reenactorisms" that we must accept as "sacred cows", else we have virtually no one left to reenact. Those two factors were age and weight. We have an excessive number of men who are too old and too tubby to have been allowed - or who would have been able - to stay in the Regular Army or State militia units for very long, had they lived at the time of the war.
But we cannot cling to the notion that, had our fellows lived during the war, they would have fairly towered over the men of that period. It just isn't so. Let's look at some of the facts:
William F. Fox, in his study Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (Albany, NY, 1889) had this to say:
"The average height of the American soldiers, as shown by the records of the recruiting officers, was 5 feet 8 1/4 inches (Federal Army statistics - editor). The men from Maine, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky were slightly above this figure. The West Virginians averaged 5 feet 9 inches in height... Of about 1,000,000 recorded heights of soldiers there were 3,613 who were over 6 feet 3 inches, and among them were some who were over 7 feet... The records of the weights of the soldiers are incomplete; but, such as they are, they indicate that the average weight was 143 1/2 pounds..."
(Without a doubt, we exceed that average weight figure - editor.)
U.S. Army Regulations of 1861, under Duties of Recruiting Officers on p. 130, cites no maximum height. That, of course, begs the question as to how they outfitted men of greater than average size in the No. 4 uniform. The Duties of Recruiting Officers does specify that:
"Any free white male person above the age of eighteen and under thirty-five years, being at least five feet three inches high, effective, able-bodied, sober, free from disease, of good character and habits, and with competent knowledge of the English language, may be enlisted. This regulation, so far as respects the height and age of the recruit, shall not extend to musicians or to soldiers who may 're-enlist,' or have served honestly and faithfully a previous enlistment in the army."
Admittedly, the 1861 Regulations almost undoubtedly reflect more accurately the standards of the antebellum Army than the Civil War Army, as they also include a five-year term of enlistment. In any event, they do show that the Army was willing to deal with clothing extra-tall men in some manner.
That's not to say that disparities in height didn't exist, and that the Army didn't take that into account. Our "reenactorism" is that the men of the period averaged probably 5 feet 4 inches or 5 feet 5 inches in height, on average. That simply isn't true. While we're on the subject of height, though, let's see how the Army dealt with height disparities in the ranks.
The process of forming a company by the book (your choice of "books" here - editor) addresses the risk of shorter men necessarily firing over top of taller men. It starts in Scott's, and may even start sooner than that. One functional way it gets done, based more or less on the manuals: Men form one rank and face left, still in one rank. If you are shorter than the man in front of you, change places. It then works out that the men are aligned smallest to tallest from the left flank to the right. Front them, count by twos, and order a left face. The "1s" (ones) step up and to the left of the "2s" (twos), which automatically puts the taller man behind the next shortest man, all down the line. Right face without un-doubling places them in a double line; and then having the men count off by twos one last time results in the company being formed.
Odd numbered companies do it that way, even numbered just the opposite, in the most refined versions, so you get divisions (two companies side by side in a battle line) that are smallest on the outer flanks rising to the tallest where the companies meet. You can see the small to tall in quite a few period photographs of troops in formation. If you do the firing drill correctly, rear rank men are always stepping into the gap between front rank men, and not actually firing over their shoulders.
Just for the sake of looking at some other statistics, let's look at the composition of the Federal military by some unusual breakdowns of their features:
Federal Army and Navy
Average Age at time of
Average Height at time of enlistment: 5' 8 1/4"
Tallest: Cap. Van Buskirk, 27th Indiana 6' 10 1/2"
Shortest: A Pvt. in the 192nd Ohio 3' 4"
Average Weight at time of enlistment: 143 1/2 pounds
Farmers 48 percent
Mechanics 24 percent
Laborers 16 percent
Commercial 5 percent
Students 8 percent
Professional 3 percent
Miscellaneous 4 percent
Hair Color of Union
Brown 30 percent
Dark 25 percent
Light 24 percent
Black 13 percent
Sandy 4 percent
Red 3 percent
Gray 1 percent
Eye Color of Union
Blue 45 percent
Gray 24 percent
Hazel 13 percent
Dark 10 percent
Black 8 percent
Native Americans 75 percent
Foreign Born 25 percent
Foreign Born Troops in the Union Army
14. The almost comical sight of a company of soldiers marching in a ragged procession, stopping precisely when ordered to "Halt!", and then having to close up the line by edging sideways - sometimes up to half an acre, it seems, if there are more than 10 men involved - is a real reenactorism.
Perhaps the most obvious place in which we reenactors show that we are not faithful advocates of drill is in our marching. There are several simple concepts to keep in mind when marching that will save us from putting on the ridiculous spectacle of coming to a halt and then having to all shuffle sideways for five minutes in an effort to look as if we can form a straight line.
The first simple concept to bear in mind is that, when in formation, we stand elbow-to-elbow. Should we be commanded "Right Face!", even though we are obviously no longer elbow-to-elbow, we should return to the exact same place if we're then commanded "Front!" (or "Left Face!", to reverse the previous order). That means our elbows should again be touching. How is it that works? Well, we're occupying about 15" to a side, and so long as our feet land in the right place, then our shoulders and everything else should, too.
That seems almost insultingly simple to write. And that leads us to the real point. We know that we occupy a specific amount of space. How can we make that knowledge work for us in our drilling?
The manuals tell us that, when marching, we should maintain a distance between our front and the back of the man in front of us of 15". We have already noted that 15" is the amount of space we occupy to one side in formation. What happens if we maintain a space of 15", then, between our front and the back of the man in front of us in line?
Well, for one thing, when we come to "Halt!" and we have all maintained that distance, we will halt uniformly and be evenly spaced. And when we're commanded "Front!" or "Left Face!", we will all - once again, as in formation - be touching elbow-to-elbow, and not have to do our sideways shuffle to close up the huge gaps between our men.
In other words, we'll look soldierly.
So when we do not double our lines, the distance to maintain is 15" between us and the next man.
And when we double our lines, the distance is then twice the amount, since we have to make way not only for ourselves, but for the fellow beside us when we double. That means we need to keep only 30" between us and the fellow in front of us. If we keep that 30" distance, we won't have to do the sideways shuffle then, either.
There are some serious ramifications to this, however, if we're going to march properly and arrive as we ought to. When marching, we have an obligation to maintain the cadence that is drummed or established by those at the fore of the company. That results in an obligation for the taller men leading the company to take short (to them) steps of approximately 28" to 30" in stride (from the rear of the trailing heel to the tip of the leading toe). It also means that each man has the obligation to stay in step - and the resulting risk to the man who marches with his steps counter to those of the company (he steps with his right when everyone else steps with their left) of having the man behind him march right up the backs of his legs - which satisfies THAT man's obligation to staying in step.
As the old saying goes, "Experience is a hard master, but fools will learn no other way." If we're to march crisply and properly, we must stay in step and keep the right distances between us. Men no brighter than we are did so in the wars before. We should be able to do so now.
15. The sounds of the Civil War that we have lost are something of a reenactorism. Sometimes, even the most well-schooled historians among us know so little that they don't even know how much they don't know. And sometimes, even the most practiced reenactors of us don't know what we've overlooked or missed. Placing ourselves so far back in time is not always an easy thing, and we can't even begin to guess what we're missing. Such is the case when we reenact the military life of the Civil War, and yet the sounds of the drum and fife and bugle are all but entirely absent.
We hear commanders on the field shouting out their orders, when many of the orders of their Civil War predecessors would have been spoken to the bugler beside them, and the correct signal given to the men in the field through the notes of the bugle.
Among reenactors, if we were to suddenly give out even a few commands by bugle, it's embarrassingly likely that few of us would know what to do. We simply haven't been acquainted with those sounds, just as we're largely ignorant of the drum calls and the fife melodies. The means are available to correct that, thanks to CDs and the work of some men who are heavily invested in American Civil War bugling as well as fife and drum work. What remains to do is avail ourselves of the opportunity to learn from them and train our ears to understand what the period bugle, drum, and fife calls tell us.
That's not to suggest that all commands were given by bugle, for that's simply not so. It would have been highly impractical to have every man learn several hundred distinctly different bugle calls in order to capture the entire range of commands possible. In American Civil War By The Bugle Series III: Artillery Bugle Signals Manual For Non-Buglers, edited by R.J. Samp, page 11, Firing Or Manuevering By The Bugle, it notes that
"We can find NO instance of the aiming or maneuvering of specific pieces or sections by the bugle. Not that they didn't do it (Captain Truman Seymour's 1862 manual - not adopted - proposed precisely this kind of command control by bugle), but please let us know if you find a quote in a diary such as 'First Section' & 'Commence Fire' & 'To The Right', by the bugle."
The point is this: there are indeed many commands which were given through the bugler, and those are all but totally absent from most of our events.
16. Then there's the question of the sights we don't know that we're missing. When's the last time we assembled as a group for an event with hundreds of other reenactors and noted the absence of Signal Corps flags and signal towers, or signal torches and signal pistols? Signaling became a vital part of the military war effort early on in the war, extending even to the Artillery where Signal Corps units often served as adjunct members of the Artillery, as well as working as Artillery spotters.
Many of our events could be better coordinated and controlled on the field if we but had Signal Corps soldiers available to the command staffs of both sides to communicate immediately and directly with one another. Thanks to the custom and practice by the Signal Corps of recording all messages sent and received, and requiring signatures from the intended recipients of the messages, scenarios may be better maintained, corrections made as needed, and a record reflecting who knew what, and when, can give a virtual "blow by blow" account of what has taken place at an event. That gives a measure of accountability to those commanders who seem perpetually confused as to what shouopd take place when on the field; or those who are deliberately guilty of "scenario busting" (i.e., "Gee whiz, my men just became overcome with the moment when they realized they could reverse history and take that hill their ancestors had been denied, so...").
Again, an organization exists - the Signal Corps Association / Signal Corps Association Reenactors' Division - to help fill that gap and correct that imbalance, and will be most useful to us all if we'll only avail ourselves of the opportunities they offer.
17. In the field, we often see forage caps and kepis with the sides of their bills curled, as we often see the bills curled on modern baseball caps. However, a little glance through books that show the headwear of the Civil War show us brims on Kossuth hats - slouch hats - with their brims drooping, but not so with the forage caps and kepis. The brims are flat, not curved. Curved forage cap or kepi bills is a reenactorism.
There's more to the story than that, though. When looking at the forage caps and kepis from the Civil War, note the difference in appearance of the bills. Ours today seem to be a flat finish and the buff leather portion of the bill - the underside of the bill - seems awfully rough compared to the Civil War bills. Besides being flat, what's the difference, then?
The leather bills were treated with a combination of varnish, lampblack, and sometimes several other chemicals. The leather then was not treated as it is today, for our forage cap and kepi bills are treated with black leather dye (which tends to either have a brownish tint to it, or allows the brown of the leather underneath the dye to "peek through") which are then treated with a sealant. That sealant is a flat, or semi-glossy finish - but not glossy, as varnish is.
When you see photographs of Civil War kepis, you will almost undoubtedly note the shine of the bills, even though they appear to be very cracked and quite aged. In most cases, the cracking that you see is not in the leather itself (although it can be), but is almost always the cracking of the varnish finish.
How do we make our forage caps and kepis look more authentic to the period we reenact? Where exactly do we go to get lampblack, anyway?
There is a reasonable approximation of lampblack that is, for most folks, pretty accessible, and often free.
Used photocopying machine toner.
Mixed well with varnish, the used photocopying machine toner works extremely well in covering up the brown leather of the bill, and soaks effectively into the leather so that the bill does not later take on a brownish cast to it. By covering both the top and the underside of the bill, the varnish seals both top and bottom quite effective and fairly lastingly, and helps reduce the height of the nap of the buff leather on the underside of the bill.
Apply four to five very thin coats of varnish mixed with used photocopying machine toner, and you will have an authentic look that will last you a lifetime.
On the other hand -
I wrote of reenactorisms of which I was aware and which readily came
to mind. Feeble mind that it is, many escaped me. Let me address one reenactorism with an example of the difference readily apparent to most of us when we read the period example: that of prayer. Then, let me address what is alleged to be a reenactorism, but in fact is not: the use of William Gilham's work.
First, the prayer issue. So many prayers offered up at reenactments are not period prayers, or anything close to them. I do not seek to remove all aspects of spirituality from the prayers offered at events by making them nothing more than rote liturgies (though most would be markedly improved by such an alteration), but rather to show how the men of that age prayed - prayed because they were immersed in the Bible and thought, as best men are able, the thoughts that turned Heaven-ward and God-ward. They spoke the language of the Bible because they were well familiar with it, and therefore more accurately spoke the thoughts of men and women headed to be with God one day.
The study of 16th through 19th century theology, homiletics, and prayers were all areas in
which I used to be something of an expert, and still maintain an interest in. I made those assertions with some high degree of confidence
in what I said.
Bear in mind that most folks in this country in the period we portray were
Protestants (as is still true today), and their theological bent was Reformed
in nature - and that included more than half the Methodists, almost all
Presbyterians, most Episcopalians and Lutherans, certainly the Dutch
Reformed, and the majority of Baptists (not surprisingly the Reformed and
Primitive Baptists, of course, but also including Southern Baptists, who
today would largely be accurately regarded as Arminian rather than Reformed).
The Reformed groups were certainly far more concentrated in the South than
The men we portray in the
Washington Artillery were primarily, if not exclusively, from the American
Quarter of antebellum New Orleans - Protestant country, largely, and not so
prominently Catholic. There were few enough Catholics numbered among the
men of the Washington Artillery that the archdiocese of New Orleans did not see
fit to provide them with a priest / chaplain.
By the time of the war, Northern Baptists (or the American Baptists),
Unitarians, and Congregationalists, along with the Quakers and the Shakers
and the Millerites and many other sects found mainly in the North or
non-slave states (I won't list the Mormons because they are neither Protestants
nor Catholics, and not claimed by Christian religions) were both Arminian and, in many cases, Abolitionists, too.
Among the Reformed groups, though, they still knew how to pray. Let me show
you a prayer that is fairly representative of Reformed prayers. I can attest
to this being the way that folks steeped in Reformed theology actually do
pray (at least with reference to the style of the prayer, the Biblical
reference points, and the esteem in which they hold God as the Sovereign of
the Universe), for I've heard these sorts of prayers hundreds and thousands
of times myself among Reformed folks.
A Prayer For The Southern Cause.
O LORD, Our Heavenly father, high and mighty King of kings and Lord of Lords
- who dost from Thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth, and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms empires, and
governments - look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these Confederate States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor, and thrown
themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee.
To Thee they have appealed for the righteousness of their cause. To Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support which
Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in council and valor in the field;
defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince the North of the unrighteousness of their cause; and, if they still persist in their sanguinary purposes, oh! let the voice of Thine own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop their weapons of war from their unnerved hands, in the day of battle.
Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of that honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation, that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony, and peace may be effectually restored; and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish among Thy people.
Preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of their minds; shower down upon them and the millions they represent such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world; and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come.
All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.
Second, the allegation all too common within reenacting circles that using William Gilham's 1861 (or 1862) edition of A Manual Of Instruction For The Volunteers And Militia... is a "reenactorism" is one that escaped me at the time I wrote of the other reenactorisms. However, it's one of which we should all be aware, since the Washington Artillery did vote to use William Gilham's work as their guidebook. Please let me offer some thoughts developed elsewhere on the subject of where William Gilham's work fits in.
In Defense of Gilham
There seems to be a great deal of heated discussion over Gilham's A Manual
Of Instruction For The Volunteers And Militia Of The (United or Confederate -
choose one) States, its usage, and comparisons with Hardee's manual. The
primary issues or concerns seems to revolve around how heavily Gilham may
have been used, and where its usage compares with Hardee. Chasing Gilham's
"ghost", with particular attention paid to the development and use of his
manual, has led to the following views, conclusions and opinions on the
1. Gilham's work was nothing new. It was simply a compilation, and rehash,
of others material such as Hardee, Scott, Poinsett, etc., just as theirs were
of others. In fact, the Confederate version of 1862 is really nothing but a reprint of the United States version of 1861 with a different cover page.
Nonetheless, the strength of Gilham's text is in what it includes. For the
volunteer and militia officer, it leaves almost nothing out. In one single
volume - distinct from all other similar works - an officer is instructed in the drill, duties (line and staff officers), organization of the various arms and army, advice on fighting and tactics, explanation of weaponry and ammunition, target practice, conducting courts martial, music, and a glossary of all terms used.
For the citizen-turned-soldier, it is the most complete textbook for the
training and supervision of commands. For this reason, General Philip
Kearney wrote the publisher (Charle Desilver of Philadelphia) on August 3,
1861 that "It is comprehensive, complete, and reliable. I regard it the best
Military Work that exists." George McClellan wrote on May 23, 1861,
"I...think it an excellent work to be placed in the hands of the Volunteers."
Gilham's strength, again, is in what it includes; namely, everything needed
for a novice officer.
2. With reference to its usage, and in comparison to Hardee's manuals'
usage, we know that the Confederate government never adopted any one manual
as its official choice. In May 1861, a resolution was proposed in the
Provisional Congress of the Confederate States to adopt Hardee; and that the
Secretary of War purchase "ten thousand copies...the cost of the same shall
not exceed one dollar a copy." This resolution was tabled and apparently
never acted upon. Furthermore, with only a few exceptions, there don't seem
to be any surviving orders, from the army level, stipulating what manual is
to be used by the troops. Thus it appears that the decision was left up to
the states and / or officers.
There are extant orders from Virginia and Georgia stating that Gilham is
their choice, and endorsements from Adjutant Generals to the governors of
Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and New York for the adoption of Gilham.
Georgia supplied their troops with copies, while in Virginia the officers had
to purchase their own copies.
3. As for the heavy use of Gilham's early in the war, and then changing to
Hardee later on, this is a common enough argument and contention.
There is a paucity of evidence to support this claim. We can only speculate
and offer our S.W.A.G. (scientific wild-ass guess). Is it fair to suggest
that just because Hardee is the latest, in its revised form, that Hardee is
therefore the best? Millions of Coke drinkers who protested when they tasted
the "New Coke", and finally got Coca-Cola to return to them what's now "Coke
Classic", would tend to disagree with the generalization that "the latest is
necessarily the greatest".
Maybe changing horses in midstream was widespread, but there seem to be so
few major and important differences between the drills that it would not be
surprising if many of the officers held to what they started with. Besides,
standardization was never a specialty of the Confederacy, even if it was
with the Washington Artillery.
All of that being said, claims that the use of Gilham among reenactors today
is nothing more than a "reenactorism" is a bit harsh. One researcher has
examined over 40 id'd copies of Gilham that were used by soldiers north and
south, east and west, from 1861 to 1865. The material he has gathered is
being compiled presently with the intention of publishing it in late 2002,
along with his conclusions regarding the relative impact and breadth of use
of Gilham's ...Manual.... Suffice it to say, without giving away all of his documented conclusions, that Gilham's use was far more extensive and intensive than those will admit who call use of Gilham's ...Manual... a "reenactorism".
This is relevant to us because the Washington Artillery had voted to adopt
William Gilham's work as their guidebook through the morass of drills,
procedures, and military etiquette.
Is the use of Gilham's work, then, nothing more than a reenactorism? When used in the wrong places and by the wrong groups, I suppose it must be. How often is that the case?
It's anyone's guess.