Why we sweat the details

Sweaty details, plus: Lost Manhood

There’s going to be a series of posts on really basic drill in the next few weeks (because Spring Drill).  Each will focus on the right way to do things, which is to say, the way they were supposed to be done 1861-65.  There will be some discussion on why so much of it went wrong for us, which I honestly believe came about with a combination of dyslexia and out-of-context reading decades ago, combined with some muscle memory from the modern military veterans who form a small but significant portion of reenactors. And I’d like to touch from time to time on the differences between what we do as living historians and what “real” militaries do in their training.

Critics of sweating the details say it’s a form of extremism or fanaticism; sometimes you can pass a campfire and hear someone bemoaning the “drill Nazis” (or, in the case of the material-culture-done-exactly-right folks, “stitch Nazis”). The demurrals to this argument, at least the ones against accurate drill, are many, but boil down to these:

  1. It takes no more time, no more energy, and no more money to do the drill properly than it does to do it improperly.
  2. We are supposed to be depicting history, and doing it accurately adds to the depth and texture of our own experience while simultaneously lending verisimilitude when we inform the public with our actions.
  3. A huge part of the military experience, since forever, is the bonding that takes place. That comes from sharing hardships, danger and experiences. We are usually a little light on hardships and we face almost no real danger. That leaves experiences, and in my world experiences that are successful leave a better residue of camaraderie than those that are unsuccessful or even mediocre. Getting the drill and maneuvering done the way “they” did it is a visibly tremendous shared success.

Another often-heard argument against “doing it right” is our inability to get it ALL right.  If we can’t field troops of the right age, what does it matter if we do the drill in a half-assed way? If we can’t trash the furniture and shutters on houses to build our fires, why sweat the drill?   If our aging bodies can no longer endure the savaging of ten-mile marches or cold, hard ground bivouacs, what’s a little sloppiness doing “Right shoulder, SHIFT?”

The remonstrance:

  1. If we could get it all right, we would; some of it is out of our control, like property damage, our age span and its operational limitations, and above all the modern knowledge we bring to this endeavor to replicate history. But doesn’t that mean we should try even harder, not less hard, to make sure the things we can control are done properly?
  2. Philosophically, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Knowing what’s right and doing it wrong when you could do it right simply makes no sense.

Yet another argument: Not all units in the Civil War were good at drill.  So some slop is acceptable.

The rebuttal:

  1. Varying degrees of skill at drill were a fact, sure.  We’ve all heard about the  regiment at Antietam that came into the fight so green they had to be put in line by  sergeants from another regiment, who simply told them, when they were properly aligned, to stand there and fight. Which they did.  And it would be good to reenact that sometime. But it seems to be the exception.
  2. Drill is tactics. Tactics is maneuver. Maneuver is essential to success.  There’s a plaque at Pamplin Park outside Petersburg that details how a Yankee commander discovered an unmanned portal in the Confederate trench line and gave the “necessary orders” to change the alignment and formation of his advancing line to funnel the most men through that gap in the fastest time possible, and in a way that allowed them to expand the breach as they burst through.  That doesn’t happen — under fire, as part of a general advance, done on the fly — without a great deal of expertise at drill.  Go read it yourself if you want, a day with a visit to Pamplin Park is better than a day without such a visit, anyway.
  3. A great many soldiers took pride in their drill skills.  I present you with the expressively disdainful words of Alfred Bellard, who moved from the 5th New Jersey infantry to the Veteran Reserve Corps after taking a knee wound at
    Corporal Alfred Bellard, 5th NJVI + Veterans Reserve Corps

    Chancellorsville. These come during April 1864, when he talks about the need for drill due to the commingling of service branches in the VRC: “As there was so many men in the ranks, who had never handled a musket (being for the most part from the cavalry and artillery branch of the service) the evening dress parade was done away with and a half-hour’s drill took place instead. It was amusing to anyone who knew how, to see the way in which the new men broke into fours, or made an oblique movement. Sometimes they would crush up and so break the line, or hang back and so leave a gap in the ranks. Altogether it was a nuisance for men who were up in their drill to be placed in the ranks with them.”

Meanwhile: I’m starting a new feature each week, a period clipping from a newspaper. These will be offered without much comment, as a kind of window into life, news, advertising and humor from our era. Here’s the first, from The Jeffersonian of Stroudsburg, Pa., January, 1862. This is umm both advertising, life and humor, I guess, on the terrible affliction of self abuse….



The Clothespin: Taboo?

We use much that is not quite right, but, mysteriously, sometimes don’t use things that are just fine.

Are we suffering from clothespin aversion in Civil War living history?

The lowly but incredibly useful clothespin is rightly missing from Rev War reenacting. They don’t start showing up in period paintings until the 1800s and those who have exhaustively researched this topic (no, really!) say they just weren’t used.  But for those of us trying to depict the Civil War, both “plain” and spring-loaded clothespins were in widespread use.  Plain ones included homemade pins and manufactured, milled pins, the simple split pins we still see today. Like the three-rivet steel frying pan, once you’ve got the idea, it’s hard to improve on it.

But people have tried, mightily. There are bushels of patents for clothespins. And like everything else in the world, there’s a blog! And for clothespin enthusiasts, there’s more than you’d expect on clothes pins, in, of course, a collection at the Smithsonian!

The first mechanical, spring-loaded pins were patented in 1853, by Daniel M. Smith of Springfield, Vt.,  and quickly caught on.  The problem for us is that the common spring-loaded pins we see today aren’t the same.  We have what is called a coiled fulcrum spring, which sounds tricky but once you look at any modern mechanical clothespin, it becomes clear what it means. There’s a picture at the end of this just in case it’s totally outside your experience.  These pins weren’t patented until the 1870s.  The ones that would have been in circulation during the Civil War had a much simpler arrangement, a simple coiled spring between the non-gripping jaws; compress the spring by pinching the non-gripping jaws, the gripping jaws open, you put in the clothing, and let go. They were not as strong as the coiled fulcrum and that’s why you don’t seem them around any more. It was hard to even find a photo.

Daniel M. Smith’s 1853 patent for a spring-loaded clothes pin. Many thanks to the Vintage Clothespins BlogSpot for the tedious job of separating this image from the incredibly arcane and opaque archives of the U.S. Patent Office.

So, if you see one of these at a flea market, act bored and see if you can pick it up for a quarter. If not, there are plenty of plain, shall we say, “unhinged,” clothes pins from which to choose, including ones manufactured last Thursday.  Look at the unsprung comparison image in Smith’s sketch; it is essentially the same modern clothespin you can buy today. And if you want to craft your own homemade pins out of split wood and leather, that’s OK.

Homemade clothes pins. The leather is wrapped around the wood while wet and pinned into place with brads. When it dries, it shrinks and produces a tight fit.

Why don’t we use these more?  Why haven’t there been debates about the use of these?

Two reason, I think, even if it’s mostly speculation on my part.  First, they don’t show up in period military photos or drawings, that I know of. Second, a great many younger-than-me-at-least reenactors simply aren’t familiar with clothespins.  I remember helping to take down the washing from the clothes line. A lot of folks today remember taking the clothes out of the dryer. So they never got exposed to the potential of the simple clothes pin.

These are modern, plain vanilla clothes pins virtually identical to milled pins made before the Civil War.

It’s a perfectly fine device for its intended purpose; your damp shirt or blanket will dry faster if you stretch it out on a line using a couple of clothes pins, than if you drape it over a line or a limb and effective double its depth. It would seem to be an indispensable part of a laundry exhibit, yet you’ll find dismounted cavalry with mortars are more common.

But it’s also useful for temporarily holding together other things: holding together a corner of a shelter-half that has torn open its grommet; serving as a third hand for holding anything that will fit between the jaws; pinning your shirt to a branch to keep it from blowing away or sliding to the ground; and, in times of desperate need, becoming kindling. Two clothespins in your knapsack weigh approximately one ounce. And, of course, if you can find an 1853 Smith, you can brag on it. 🙂

NOTE: For reference purposes, the photo below is the kind of pin that came into use AFTER the Civil War. For those who want all of the details right, this is The WRONG Clothespin!

The WRONG clothespin for the American Civil War.


Eating civilians. No, wait: Civilians who eat. Yeah.

Eating in the field, Part Five

How, if you brand yourself and market yourself as a family unit in the Civil War military living history world, do you plausibly account for civilians, male and female, at meals?

The very visible answer to this is that a great many units simply don’t bother with plausibility at meals, whether there are spectators around or not. Out come the paper plates, the ketchup bottle, the Manwich makings, aluminum pans and even gas stoves.  Meanwhile, what are the civilians, male and female, doing while the troops are doing their military thing? Very often they are left to their own devices.

There’s another way. It’s more involved, but more rewarding.  If your military unit is already equipped to do company meals, there’s no added expense. There is a need for added cooperation among all members of the group and for synchronization with the event schedule. But it’s in keeping with one of the seven pillars of this site: Learn it, do it, teach it.

The U.S. Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission are the two biggest civilian organizations we associate with the Civil War. There are others. They are represented at some events, sometimes in the form of an informational setup on sutler row and less frequently as a functioning unit actually interacting with troops.  That opens a window of opportunity for a unit that wants to extend and deepen its journey into authenticity and also wants to extend its educational value to the public. It opens to meals plausibly prepared with civilian and military involvement and participation. And it provides a valid, history-based reason for civilians to be at an event and participating as full partners to the military, making a contribution both to authenticity and education.

This poster, aimed at drawing people to a USSC fundraiser, shows the organization’s activities in the field.

In short, it can help your unit get invited to more events and to more authentic events.

Early headquarters, USSC, at Gettysburg. Is this the store owned by Fahnestock & Co?

This essay is no place to explain the many functions of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which included camp inspections, fund-raising fairs on the home front, and other useful activities for events.  You can find useful material online, including “The History of the United States Sanitary Commission and “The Sanitary Commission of the United States Army, A Succinct Narrative of its Works and Purposes.”  This essay IS the place to discuss the USSC’s role in food for soldiers.

What kind of food? Transportable and condensed, intended for distribution in hospitals and field hospitals of the Army. “Concentrated beef soup, stimulants, crackers, condensed milk, concentrated coffee, corn starch, farina” are among the supplies distributed by the USSC at Gettysburg while the battle was raging.  Note, usefully for us, the USSC was present with the Army in the field at other battles, as well.  Further, at Gettysburg especially, food poured in through the USSC for the use of the field hospitals after the battle ended, including poultry, fish, mutton, eggs, soft bread, vegetables, butter, “tons” of ice, and “a variety of other articles of substantial and delicate food.”  Again, for our purposes, this food was both distributed directly to hospitals and made available at kitchens operated by members of the USSC in cooperation with soldiers both wounded and from nearby units. One such location fed 3,000 soldiers in one day, all described as “slightly” wounded.

You can surely see where this is going.

Putting a USSC kitchen next to a field hospital? Excellent opportunities for “first person” 24-7, plus a wonderfully educational combination for interaction with spectators.  And when it’s time for the unit meal, “slightly wounded” soldiers get to help prepare it, under the direction of the civilians in the USSC, using, plausibly if not temporally consistently, all the “substantial and delicate” food you can imagine, so long as it’s not made by Marie Callender or Hungry-Man Meals.  You end up with a tableaux vivant worthy of a photograph instead of having the place look like a modern church pot luck dinner.

The details of this have to be worked out by the participants. I’m painting with a roller here, broad strokes. But here are a couple of things I’ve found important:

  1. Respect the civilian involvement.  Unit leaders need to establish the time for food prep and the time for eating, and make the military schedule adjust to that both in terms of supplying labor and of being on time for dinner. Nothing dismays cooks more than a savory meal ready at the prescribed time, after a heavy investment of time, energy and, usually, some ingenuity, and word that the men are out drilling and “will be along in awhile.”
  2. Have folks other than the meal preparers do the cleanup afterward. Believe me, it makes a lot of tired people very happy.
  3. If you’re the military top guy, stay on top of what the “kitchen” needs, whether it’s wood, water, labor, or a kind word. Use the chain of command to get all of it, including the kind words. There’s nothing like three cheers and a tiger for the cooks.
  4. Invariably you’ll have extra food. It just works out that way.  Put out the word you’ve got it and people are welcome to have at it.  Somewhere there is a fellow looking at the mess in his haversack and wondering if he can order in a pizza. Save him from himself; feed him!
By August of 1863 the USSC had an attractive camp near the railroad east of Gettysburg and close to Camp Letterman and other huge field hospitals.




Have a Cow! Really!

Field rations, Part Four

So, you’ve got a couple of hundred guys who are at a pretty authentic event, they are depicting a Union regiment on campaign, and they all know about Union armies having herds of cattle travel with the armies so there could be a fresh beef ration each day. And they want to experience the full process of “rations.”

It’s not that hard, just make sure everyone’s on board before you go buying a side of beef. Some events are not about the rations, there’s too much other stuff involved. It should be an event where the ration issue and preparations to eat it are main, advertised features, because it requires focus, diligence and organization, from the regimental staff down to individual messes.

McDowell 2005. Me on the left, reenacting legend Tim Kindred on the right, and the front left quarter of a steer hanging from meat hooks, waiting to be processed.

What you need: An event schedule that calls for issuing the rations on Saturday morning, between breakfast and lunch; a “real” morning roll, so the regimental commissary knows how many rations to issue for each company; a sturdy wooden table for slicing up the beef; some meat hooks, for butchering the side of beef; someone who knows how to butcher beef; lots and lots of brown paper; a TESTED set of scales.

Confederate? Beef is fine, but because Confederate depots drew mainly from farms, not big meat processing plants, and because Confederates weren’t really known for having cattle herds traveling with the armies, you can substitute slab bacon.

You’ll know ahead of time how many people need to be fed and how many rations, of course, based on registration. I’ve been lucky to have Ron Myzie of the 142nd PVI help me figure that out at various events.  I am neither a details guy nor a numbers guy, so if I’d been left to my own devices the army would have starved to death.

Hardtack, ready to be issued. Note that someone on the work detail put down a cloth towel to try to keep the food clean.
McDowell 2005. Brigade commissary, with men prepping the food processing line prior to the arrival of the beef. Note the scales on the yellow box with a slab of bacon being weighed.

This is a big operation, so it requires many hands working together. The regimental commissary needs a work detail to convert the side of beef and the hardtack and potatoes and apples and whatever else is being issued into ration-sized pieces.  This is where the butchers and the scales come in.  Real butchers are preferred, because they have a better eye for the weight of the steer and the number of portions of whatever size they can get out of it. (The Army regulations of 1861 are useful for noting what the daily ration SHOULD be, something like a pound of fresh beef, but you won’t necessarily be issuing a full ration. It’s an event. Your organization may choose to issue a ratio of eight ounces, or ten, or six. The steer weights X pounds, of which X-Y is available as rations (the rest is bone and gristle); the morning reports, due by 8 a.m., show a total of, say, 184 men.   So you convert the actual pounds of meat available into ounces, divide it by 184 and there’s the size of the actual individual ration.  Did I mention you need someone who can do real math without a computer?

The commissary officer calls for a work detail, say two men from each of six companies, plus the two actual butchers known to be willing to help. The orders go out, the men come up, and  a processing line is built.

McDowell 2005. The rations have reached the individual messes and cooking is under way. I believe, but I am not sure, that these are Liberty Rifles grilling with ramrods over a fire that is mostly coals, as it should be. Clearly they’ve read period references.

It’s almost impossible to weight all 184 rations of meat; you’ll be there until Tuesday. It is possible to create a ration of the ideal weight and put it where the men carving the meat can use it as a reference for their cuts. The meat must be divided into company allocations, perhaps on a large piece of canvas or a series of rubber blankets.  The other food is also allocated to each pile.  The work detail cleans up knives and whatnot, and the call goes out for details from each company to show up, with copies of the morning reports for verification, to haul their shares back to the company street. A sergeant and four men from each company, armed with buckets, kettles, rubber blankets and cloth bags, will be useful. The sergeants line up in the same order that the clever commissary sergeant already lined up the piles of rations, and they are, one by one, picked up and carried away.

Did I mention that this process, like the issuing of pay, sometimes requires a couple of sentries on duty at the regimental commissary?

Back on the company street, the sergeant sets out the rations and the men go about picking them up according to whatever system the sergeant uses to insure fairness.  One system known to be used – described by a couple of war-time chroniclers — was to have the sergeant stand facing away from the company with the roster and have another man stand pointing to random individual ration piles, asking “Who shall have this pile?”  The sergeant will presumably be smart enough to not proceed in calling the roster in alphabetical order, which would allow conspirators to game the system for the choice cuts. (It’s not all going to be tenderloin.)  The individuals then decide how to take care of their own rations, covered in part one of this series on food.

By the banks of the Bull Pasture River in McDowell, Va., is a dignified, lonely soldier cemetery created in 2005 in order to bury the bones left over from Beef-o-rama.

That leaves one final task, suitable for some time after the rations are cooked:  Cleaning up the debris from the “shambles,” where the meat was butchered.  There will be quite a bit.  So it’s another work detail, reporting to the regimental commissary. At one McDowell we thought we’d just bury it, not realizing we were in the part of Virginia that rivals Pennsylvania for number of rocks in the soil.   After that we made arrangements to have it dealt with by event staff while the afternoon battle was taking place.  (Leaving it for Sunday afternoon was not a good idea, because bears.  Your mileage may vary.)

Officers were expected to make their own arrangements for food. We’ve usually just theorized they bought rations out of the regimental supply chain and issued enough for officers. Do it however you want, just remember 1. they need to eat, too, and 2. they are probably part of the reason you’re having such an authentic good time. Arranging all this stuff with reenactors and supplies and as many variables as a Saturn rocket launch is not easy.  I remain forever in the debt of the 124th NY who presented me with the delicacy of rabbit when I headed up McDowell 2005 for the federals.

Next week:  OK, you bring civilians with your unit?  Can we deal with that? You bet we can, we won’t even break a sweat. Well, theoretically.




Eating in the Field, Part Three

Commissary 101: The company meal

Last week we covered the equipment needed and the site preparation for producing a quality, authentically accurate company meal in the field. This week we tackle the food itself. It bumps us up a notch on the scale of things, because we’re now dealing with food on a commissary level, plus foraged items. See the pig hanging up above in the featured image? Yeah, foraged. 🙂

So you have a fire pit, camp kettles, some tired guys, and some new arrivals in camp, and it’s nearly time to eat. What’s next?

Civil War units had a commissary component, which oversaw the logistics of food from the army level down to the individual company. At the company level, one sergeant might be assigned as commissary sergeant, the contact point between the regiment and the company, which rations were issued. He’d then oversee distribution with the company. He’d get rations based on that day’s morning reports – see, they aren’t just kerfuffle when you understand how the armies really worked. The morning reports go up the chain, they are consolidated, they are taken to a supply depot, rations are issued to a work detail assembled to bring back the regiment’s rations, they come into the regiment and are distributed by the regimental commissary sergeant.  You can do that Saturday and Sunday, if you want, but let’s start simple and pretend it’s always Friday night and you’re just getting the damn food ready for the expected crowd, you’ve already got the “ration issue” out of  Fred’s F-150. You’re taking it at the company commissary sergeant level, and there’s no further distribution because a decision has been made to have company cooks do the cooking for everyone, rather than individual messes.

Regimental commissary McDowell 2005, getting ready to issue bacon and hard tack. I’m still trying to figure out what happened to that wonderfully sturdy table, which mysteriously disappeared sometime in the past ten years!

So, what’s good for Friday night?  Bubble and squeak.  You need beef and cabbage, salt and pepper, and vinegar. It’s a one-dish meal with an evening-long shelf life, which means there’s something for the folks who arrive after dark.

There’s no reason your second sergeant, or a corporal who wasn’t busy earlier, can’t be the “commissary sergeant,” which in our special little world means the executive chef. He needs a hands-on sous chef plus about three assistants.

Here are the tasks. The sereant supervises it all and makes sure things are done in the right order and when they need to be done, and also grabs additional idle rank and file for more work details like wood and water if they come up. The “sous chef” handles all the actual cooking, so there is one mind coordinating food, heat, flavor, etc.

  1. Sous chef supervises: Slice up however many heads of cabbage you think you need. The slices should be about a half-inch wide and a couple of inches long. Pile them up in the serving basins for now.
  2. Sous chef supervises: Slice up as much beef as you want. (You are going to be alternating cabbage and beef cubes in one of those camp kettles.)  It needs to be small cubes and slices, no bigger than an inch. Beef is more tender if you cut it across the grain.
  3. While those preparations are taking place (by people who washed their hands), one assistant gets a good fire going in the pit, and does nothing but keep it going to the level desired by the sous chef.
  4. Sous chef does this part hands-on: When the food is sliced and diced, the meat gets thrown in a big skillet, as much as it will handle at a time, and liberally hit with salt. (Typically you’re going to be sweating out salt at our events, so this shouldn’t be a big deal except for those specifically medically restricted. You can make arrangements for them.) The skillet already has a couple of tablespoons of sweet oil, and it’s been propped over the fire pit for awhile;  it is smoking hot when the beef goes in.  Turn it until it’s brown on all sides. You aren’t cooking it all the way here, you are affecting its taste and texture in the final dish. Repeat step four until all the beef is browned, at which point the executive chef needs to issue a stern reminder that nobody snacks until everyone gathers to eat.  It will smell that good.
  5. While the meat is browning, an assistant cook puts a quart of water in one of the kettles and suspends it over the fire pit. Try to get it boiling; some fiddling with the height of the kettle above the fire will be necessary. Figure it out with just water onboard rather than not figuring it out until later and then spilling half the food into the fire pit (did that).
  6. Put in a layer of beef. It will dance around in the water. Then put in enough cabbage to get above the water. Then a layer of beef just enough to cover the cabbage. Then a layer of beef to just cover the cabbage. Continue until it’s all in there.
  7. You probably don’t need to cook this more than 15 minutes before it’s ready to eat, if the fire is good and hot and you can see the stuff cooking.  You test by tasting:  It’s all hot, the beef is tender and savory, the cabbage is crunchy and sweet.  An important note: Overcooked cabbage just plain sucks. It is an exfluncticated, sodden, sour, mess. Properly cooked cabbage is almost like another vegetable entirely, crunchy and sweet.  You’re going to use that “sweet” in the next step in the process.

While the kettle is cooking, prepare the serving area. It should involve a bench or table, with a couple of serving basins (clean the ones you used earlier to stack up cooked beef or cut cabbage before using them for serving. This is why you have assistants.) Each serving basin should have its own ladle. You also want a big bowl, which you fill with vinegar, with either big spoons or small dippers handy. The last item is salt and pepper, and perhaps some sliced soft bread if you’re a thoughtful kind of executive chef.  Transfer the cooked cabbage and beef combination into the serving bowls, and have the company officer call them to fall in for dinner.

Now, there’s a traditional right way and a modern wrong way here, and I’m going to give you the right way as handed down to me by actual Army Lt. Col. Tim O’Neill: the officers eat last, after making sure all the men in their charge are properly taken care of. The men have their own mess equipment, so they go down the table, spooning up the bubble and squeak, and, most importantly, hitting it with a dollop of vinegar as they go by that bowl.  It does two things and it does them very well:  It wakes up your taste buds so you get the full benefit of that beef, and it sets up an acidic contrast to make that cabbage seem even sweeter. It’s a larraping good meal, an easy dish, a surprising one to a lot of folks, and gets asked for a lot by those who have had it once or twice.

No seconds until all, including officers and cooks, have firsts. If you’re awaiting late arrivals, give some thought to what you need for them before doing seconds. That’s the executive chef’s call, with back up from the commanding officer if necessary.

After the meal: A new work detail is assigned by the first sergeant to clean up the company equipment, store the leftover food, return the knives and such to storage, and facilitate the water and soap needed for the men to clean up their invidual mess equipment.  It should be guys who haven’t done anything yet and aren’t tired, because it requires some diligence and attention to detail and some plain hard work.

The kettles: Scour them. Clean sand is good. A small whisk of tightly wrapped straw is good. Rinsing with boiling water is good. Coating them lightly on the inside with olive oil after they are clean is good.  Stack them inside each other with, if you are clever, some of that brown paper in between so the dirty outsides don’t mess up the sparkly clean insides.

Frying pans: Turn them upside down on the fire to burn out food sticking to them, scour them with whatever you’ve got, rinse with boiling water, coat them with oil and put them on the fire again briefly so the oil hardens/soaks in microscopically/seals the steel. It’s fast “seasoning”. Whoever takes care of the equipment may have to address this further at home.  Primary goals: Clean them for the next use, and stop them from rusting.

So, what about that food, with no ice chest? Really, all we’re talking about is the beef, because cabbage and vinegar and soft bread don’t require refrigeration at all.  One could, for a medium-length haul to an event of several hours, put the beef in one of the kettles and pack it with ice for the trip.  Alternatively, beef, vinegar, bread and cabbage are available everywhere; making the local shopping mall your last stop before pulling into camp pretty much moots the whole preservation issue.


Next week: From regimental commissary to companies, one steer, two armies.


Eating in the field Part Two

Haversack 201: The company meal

Planning, organizing and cooking a meal on a company basis (we’ll call a company “whatever size your usual unit happens to be”) is not only an authentic experience, it’s also fun and allows individuals to behave in a useful, period-functional way for their impression.

The gear

Things you can leave home:

  1. The steel fire grate.
  2. All your cast iron cookware.
  3. All your ice chests.
  4. All your Tupperware, etc.
  5. Tinfoil, plastic, etc.

Things you need:

  1. Camp kettles.  These originally came in sets of three, which nest together (like Russian dolls) for compact storage on the road, whether that’s an Army wagon or a hatchback.
  2. Decent sized steel frying pans, one or two.
  3. Tin basins. These are for serving food, not cooking food, and for washing up.
  4. Cloth sacks of various sizes for carrying the real food you’re going to be working with.
  5. Some very sharp, kind of large knives.
  6. Some brown paper. For wrapping stuff and for using as a buffer between your raw meat and your table top. It then becomes firestarter.
  7. A sharpening stone.
  8. Some “sweet oil.”  It’s olive oil.  Use it for frying. Use it for wiping down your musket to stop rust. Use it for fire starter. Use if for sharpening your knife. Find a period bottle and fill it with sweet oil, it will make your life in camp much better.
  9. A concession to safety: dish soap. Put it in a period bottle.  Also, label it clearly, as we found out the hard way that beef fried in dish soap, rather than sweet oil, is just not as tasty….
  10. For the fire:  A large iron tripod, or, since Sibley tent tripods are worth their weight in gold, two sturdy forked sticks (at least a couple of inches across and four feet long) and an even sturdier crosspiece from which to suspend the kettles.  Some chains and hooks to vary the height of the kettles above the fire, and get one of them off without dismantling the whole affair, are also useful.
  11. A box to put some of this in will save time and energy and take up less space in your vehicle.  You’ve saved space by leaving the coolers and grates home.
  12. A sturdy shovel or spade. (Learn the difference.)
  13. A sharp hatchet (for kindling).

I’m photographing the right stuff, here, by the way.

A useful company kitchen: newsting kettles, several frypans, a metal serving pan, a box to store stuff, knives, hooks, chains, soap, etc. Note that all frying pans are steel, with riveted handles.
Large steel frying pan, three rivets

Where do you get such stuff?  Here’s Carl for some nesting kettles and wash basins (there are other vendors, look around), plus Ebay, flea markets and antique malls for the frying pans. The frying pan for use in our camps is steel, NOT cast iron. The handles are attached with three rivets. You can find them now and then in antique stores and flea markets for not much money. Oddly enough, Wal-Mart had exactly what we need a couple of years ago, although they have since disappeared in my area. You can find appropriate pans here, though. You could have dropped one of them into a real bivouac in 1862 and nobody would have found it out of place.

Two knives, ladle, spatula, dipper, and the mess box. The piece of wood at the back of the box has two long slits; the knives are stored here, sharp side down. There’s a knit potholder in there, and one concession to safety forced on me by my comrades, a butcher’s glove of modern material that can’t be cut. Folks got tired of me insisting “no, none of the blood got into the dinner” every time I got cut….. The shorter knife came from a Green River outlet, while the longer one is an excellent German steel knife from a local flea market. All this stuff can be picked up at flea markets and antique shops for not much money.

Knives: I find Green River butcher and camp knives to be good for our purposes, again, I’ve gotten a wonderful old German knife at a flea market for $2. The one you want has a 7 to 10 inch blade, a wooden handle, and hones up quickly with a soft stone.  Hooks: Simple cast iron hooks are everywhere these days, including arts and crafts stores.

A box within the mess box; from left, yellow glass jar with pepper, corked jar with soap (note prominent label) glass jar with olive oil, yellow glass jar with salt, plus a bunch of fat pine I’ve been carrying around as firestarter for so long the pitch has crystallized and turned into grey lumps on some of the sticks. They came from a Bentonville event in North Carolina about 1998.

Chain: I used leftover chain from my days as a trapper, it’s half-inch links and compacts nicely for storage, in a (sturdy) canvas bag.

The process

Don’t even bother starting to cook until you have five or six guys present. Ideally, the first sergeant tells a corporal what the menu will be, where the fire should go, where the food and gear are located, and away we go. The corporal assigns two men to dig the fire pit, which should be a trench a foot-and-a-half across, a foot deep, and at least four feet long.  Two other men are assigned to gather and prepare wood, including splitting kindling, and stacking it near the fire pit. Two men get the rations and, with the corporal closely supervising, figure out how much to prepare for the expected number of people in camp. They may need to set up a table or bench nearby. (We’ll deal with the food itself next week. I’m pretty sure I’ve exploded some heads just with this, for this week!)

When the pit is dug and the firewood collected, the four men involved with that work together to install a forked stick at each end of the pit and hang the cross pole between them.  This is possibly the toughest part of the job, and the toughest to get guys to take seriously. Those four-foot forked sticks need to be two feet into the ground, in the narrowest possible hole, with rocks and anything else shoved in alongside the pole itself to make it capable of supporting some pretty serious weight.    You could have several kettles hanging, from one to five gallons in capacity, and each gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. Again: STURDY!

So the last job is getting water, and the latest arrivals can be put to work filling up those kettles and basins.

Next week: Finally, the cooking.

Feature photo, top of page: Duryea Zouaves on the cook detail. Note the pit, the camp kettles suspended on hooks and chains down into the fire pit, a board along the edge of the pit to keep from collapsing it while working the kettles. Note also that these guys decided it would be better to invest in a steel rod assembly to hold the kettles over the fire, rather than forked sticks and poles – nobody is going to burn up the steel rods on a cold, wet night in a desperate attempt to get warm and dry!  The steel will store compactly on a period wagon, even though it’s heavy.

Eating in the Field

Part One: Haversack 101

Living out of your haversack doesn’t have to be a deprivation experience, nor do you need to fill it with ice or convert it into a refrigerator. Fear about food spoiling over the course of an event, are, with some easily avoided exceptions, mostly fairy tales.

If your unit wishes to try something new, something different from the oft-seen spectacle of a Kiwanis supper served in front of tents, here’s the broad rules for a good experience with a few comrades:

    1. No modern packaging. No tin foil, no clear wrap, no plastic. Wrap it in brown paper or cloth. Cloth sacks are invaluable in keeping the sugar out of the coffee- out of the bacon- out of the flour.
    2. Plan on spending time preparing your food. Right, this is not the modern expectation. We think about food and, moments later, we eat food, thanks to microwaves and electric ranges. Food in 186x required preparation.
    3. For your first time eating from your haversack, keep it simple.

 (We will explore ways to incorporate the family camping reality of many reenacting units into a satisfactorily historic experience in the next chapter. I’m going to write about food for four to five weeks, since it’s easy to incorporate into a more historically pleasing experience.)

Very early war Confederates with a mess-sized cook fire. Note the huge tents!

Tip #1: Most people who get sick shortly after reenacting events are suffering from food contaminated with fecal coliform.  Whether it’s portapotties, a trip behind a laurel bush, or lack of awareness about just how fast horse manure can get from the horse to the field to your shoe to your hand to your food, it’s contamination and it will make you sick.  So the first tip is two-fold: Be aware of the danger you face, and wash your hands before you handle food. This isn’t a modern imposition. Most everyone in 1860 grew up with the admonition that cleanliness was next to Godliness, even if some were too stupid or too tired or too far away from soap and water to implement the advice.

Tip #2:  You can fry food, you can boil food, but either way, the smaller the chunks you start with, the faster the process. Faster cooking means less time spent nursing a fire and less time gathering firewood.

Tip #3: Things that you wouldn’t normally think of combining, like ham, rice, apples and onions, take on a whole new aspect in the field.  The solution for that combination is to put the thing that needs the longest cooking on the fire first, then add the rest in stages. That would be rice (you have to bring it to a boil and then keep it at a simmer. Twice as much water as rice), onions (take longer than you think), ham, and apples (if you overcook apples, they disintegrate into a visually disturbing red mass of peels.)

Tip #4: Things that are first fried and then boiled impart different flavors. Fried onions added to rice and carrots yield a very different taste and texture than onions that are simply boiled.

Things you can bring:

Beginner’s menu:
Dry sausage (it’s available at most supermarkets. It’s the stuff they don’t refrigerate. That’s a clue that it won’t spoil. It will last longer than an Egyptian mummy.)
Two apples
Two small onions
A small sack of coffee
A small sack of sugar
A small sack of salt.

This menu uses minimal water. You can cube the sausage, apples and onions, fill up your big tin cup half way with water, dump it in and put it on to boil. Crumple up a piece of hardtack when it’s about done and you’ve got most of the basic food groups warm and tasty.

Intermediate menu 1:
A pound of slab bacon (it will all get eaten, don’t worry).
One each: onion, potato, carrot and apple.
Coffee, sugar, salt

You now have the option of frying the bacon in a pan or canteen half, generating grease, and breaking up hardtack and frying that in the grease also. It is surprisingly good, especially if you eat this Saturday after a day outdoors.  The rice can be boiled and used in combination with any of the other ingredients.

Intermediate menu 2:
All of the above, but substitute groats for rice. Groats are shelled but not pressed or otherwise processed oats or buckwheat. It’s cereal; you cook it like rice, and it can go either as breakfast, in which case you might want to hit it with sugar, or a main meal, in which case it’s used just like rice.

Hardtack and groats can be found at various suppliers, you just need to get online.

Beyond the basics:
When you figure out this stuff isn’t going to kill you, it’s time to refine what you do. Our 19th century counterparts had access to vegetables and foods that have fallen out of favor today, things like parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes. It is also good to check what the availability of food would have been in the areas and at the times being reenacted; apples have a long storage life, but peaches as peaches have a short season. Canned or preserved peaches are a different possibility.

Researching the foods available will help you prepare your impression for the weekend, and learning these skills will not only heighten your education, but also your appreciate of the common Civil War Soldier and help you look “1863.”


Create order from chaos: It’s one, or two.

We’ve all been there: It’s a large, confusing battle scenario, guys drop out, the battle line moves, the command comes down to “Right face, MARCH!” and everyone is looking at each other, grabbing elbows to tug others into a different spot, and saying stuff like, “Well, I’m a one, so I’m right where I was, you’re out of position.” One file has three men, another has two, and a third has five. The only file with four men, the right number of men, spends the whole time marching by arguing “How can we all be in the same file? We’re all number twos!”

It doesn’t have to be that way.  We’re too attached to that number we got when the company formed.

You just form files of four men, march off, and figure out your new number on the fly, based on just one simple constraint: Where are you in that file of four men?

It’s not like your number is army-issued property and you’ll be charged money if you lose it.  It’s a one or a two, it’s a temporary, ephemeral assignment, there’s a limitless supply, you didn’t have to sign for it, and whether you were a one or a two five minutes ago doesn’t matter now.

Once you have a new number, you always know exactly what to do when the company commander says “Front!” Right?

The simple answer is that we are always numbered from left to right within the file, one – two – one – two.  Always. Whether marching by the right flank or marching by the left. Start from the left according to the direction you are now marching and count, one-two-one-two.

Here’s the color company in line of battle, top, and marching by the right flank, below. One, two, one, two, from the left in the direction you’re facing. In your mind’s eye, march by the left flank: Now the ones step up and to the left, and, miracle of tactics, it’s again one, two, one, two from the left in the direction you’re facing.


tThere’s only two things you can do with a one or a two, depending on whether it’s a left face or a right face: On a right face,  you only have one option per number, which you already learned back in School of the Soldier.  Just turn or turn and step up, and in what direction.  Ditto on a left face.  So if you’re already marching by the flank, a little bit of on-the-fly analysis gets you all the information you need, nobody needs to say a word – which is a good thing, because you’re supposed to be marching to the step, which means without chatter, so you can hear the battalion commander.

Getting your new number is easy.

If, instead of trying to restore the original positions, a company of soldiers  ordered to “Right face, MARCH!”  out of a battle tangle simply peels off into files of four men and starts marching, everyone instantly has a new number. Left face, same thing.

Why? Because it’s always one, two, one, two, from the left facing the direction of march.  No, really, it’s just exactly that simple. You don’t need to remember so much as you need to understand that it’s the positions in the rank and file that are numbered, not the individual solder, and you take on the number and functions of whatever position you occupy.

What about “the touch of the elbow” on the move?  Which way?  In the absence of a command from an officer to accomplish some particular desired result, the touch of the elbow is toward what will be the company front, the side where the first sergeant is marching. That’s “guide is to the right” when the command was “Left face, MARCH!” and “guide is to the left” when the command is “Right face, MARCH!”

It’s easier to show than it is to explain.

Here it is, laid out for you. The badly depleted color company battle line faces toward the bottom of the page, the squares with “x” through them are fallen comrades left behind as the unit is pressed back. You can see that filling gaps has thrown soldiers here and there. The color guard has disintegrated as its members were shot down and the closest reluctant hero now finds himself with the all-important flag.

The command is given “Battalion, left face, march,” which pretty much means form up into a flank march on the move. Here’s that happening. The men just form files of four, with absolutely no regard for their former number. Note that the poor fellow who ended up with the regimental colors had the remaining wit to get into what will be a front rank position when the command to “Front” is given.


And here’s the end result. I’ve put the men’s “old” numbers in parentheses just to drive home the main point of all these words, which is that the number you had when the company is formed in camp has diddlysquat connection to what number you’re going to get after things hit the fan. It should be obvious by now to regular readers that the touch of the elbow is to the second sergeant’s side of the company, which will be the front, so everyone knows, by simple observation, not only what their new number is, but whether they’re in the front rank or the rear rank. And that means everyone knows what to do when the march is halted and the command is given to “Front.”  Right?

One nice side benefit of this is that you can pick up stragglers, add them to the rear of the company, and they get a number, too, on the move. Might have to explain it to them if they don’t read this blog regularly or never stopped to think about the drill manuals.

When I’m teaching this in the field, an objection usually comes up right about now that the new arrangement takes no consideration for men’s relative height, so you can end up with a short man in the rear rank, not ideal for firing.  True enough. The solutions are simple. First, if you’re firing through the gap between the front rank men like you’re supposed to, rather than “over the shoulder” like we often do, it won’t matter.  Second, if  you’re dealing with a severe height discrepancy (or a new member who really needs to be in the front rank so everyone can keep an eye on him), just change ranks when the company is aligning itself after fronting.  No big deal, either way.

Next week: How the soldiers of 1861 had their wives do the cooking for them (Not.)

http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cai.2a13607 Battered and tattered but ready for the next command, as soon as the captain gets done jawing with the greedy undertaker who had the brass to ask whether many casualties had been taken…..

STFU! No, really, STFU!

We do living history because it’s fun, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time when the absolutely correct thing to do is be quiet.

It gets missed by almost everyone, but when you are under arms in a formation, in any branch, you are, if you are a private, supposed to be quiet. The exception would be when you are put at “In place, REST” or, on the move, if you are placed at “route step.” Then you can blither. Until you are called to attention or, on the route step, “to the step.”  That’s when you take up the step, check your interval, and prepare to receive an order.

This brings up a couple of other, related, things that a great many of us apparently didn’t realize. (I say “apparently,” meaning in my reenacting journeys it’s apparent to me ….)

  1. When you are marching to the step, you are, if you are a private, supposed to be quiet. All you have to do is mind your step. You can do that without vociferational expository ejaculations.
  2. When you are marching to the step, you are, if you are a corporal, supposed to confine your comments to the quiet minimum necessary to keep the men near you in step and keeping the touch to the side of the guide. We covered the guide a couple of months ago. Reference it if necessary.
  3. When you are marching to the step on a flank march, if you are the covering sergeant near the rear of your company, it is up to you to call a cadence if you see the company has hopelessly succumbed to the hysteria of mass bipedal dyslexia. The guiding sergeant can’t see that, can he? He’s at the front of the company, looking forward. Take the initiative; help your men look good.
  4. If you are a file closer of any rank behind a company front moving forward, you’ve got to do the same thing.
  5. The individual who is always in step is the leading (guiding) sergeant. He is the person from whom everyone else takes “the step.”  NOT the company officer, who is expected to flit about from time to time doing officer things, and who is not required to march to the step, although it is usually easier for him to do so.

Why be quiet?  So you can hear orders. And not look like stumblebums.

A very, very important point that we often don’t seem to quite grasp is that when a battalion is formed, the battalion commander is the one giving the orders, not your company commander. Case in point: moving forward.  When the battalion commander says “Forward, MARCH!” every single left foot in the battalion should be in motion. You do NOT wait for your company commander to repeat the command.

The reason? A battalion should move as one unit. Delay between companies creates gaps. Those gaps will mess you up big time at the next halt.

What does it all matter?  Ask your company if they’d rather look like the military units they are attempting to depict or like a goofy mob of clumsy ignoramuses.  You will get smartass answers, to be sure, but unit pride is unit pride and bonding is bonding, and we have no live bullets or actual danger to bring out either one. This is how we do it, execution of maneuvers.

Another moment of silence: This applies to company commanders in a flank march. Why are you yammering about “by file left, MARCH!” when the battalion commander already gave that command and the company ahead of you is already doing it? The turning point is already established, the expectation is clear; all you are doing with your howling is stepping on the next command from the battalion commander or, possibly, quiet attempts by your corporals to square away some nuance of alignment. You are supposed to “echo” battalion commands under one circumstance and one circumstance only: When you see that your company did not hear the command and is not carrying it out. Then you can shriek all you want. You can also break silence when you know darn well the command desired by the battalion commander is one your company is not fully prepared to execute: Instruct them in what to do, as loudly as necessary but no louder. No sense calling attention to yourself.

One last note, not on silence but we did mention you can break silence when at route step. That would be the time to tell the fellow ahead of you that he’s supposed to maintain his interval, if not his step, and, more importantly, while the weapon can be carried in any comfortable position, the muzzle still has to be up in the air. Why? Who knows? But it’s right there in Casey and every other manual, if only people would read the manuals. It might have something to do with safety, but for us it is much more to this point: It’s what’s supposed to happen.

Besides, you look like an idiot when you sling your weapon muzzle down and the powder runs out…..




The color guard under fire


This is the third and final installment explaining the proper, practical use of the color guard to move a battalion battle front. Today we talk about all the things involved with engaging the reenacting enemy: lack of opportunity for battalion drill.

Let’s tackle what happens when the advancing battalion, with colors six paces in front, reaches the point where the colonel wants to engage the enemy.  The command is of course “Battalion, HALT,” but what does that mean to the color guard?  Immediately, nothing except “stop moving”. The color guard then needs a battalion-commander instruction, “Colors and guides, POST“, to come in out of the hail of fire presumably being laid down by the enemy at this point.

Union VI Corps, Wilderness. It appears the colors are back in the line of file closers in this on-the-spot sketch.
Battle of Corinth. Looks like “charge bayonet” for this advance, with the colors held high.

What’s that mean?  Get back into the ranks. A simple about face will do. The manuals I’ve seen seem to be a little vacant on this point.

What do you do when you get there? Face front again. Just turn around. No pivoting around colors or anything fancy; speed matters.

Meanwhile, all the company commanders go back to the right of their own companies. The ones on the left flank moved to the left of their companies last week so they could look down their company line to see if it was aligned with the colors, remember?

This all takes a few seconds, and everyone just needs to be patient. And the alignment of companies need not be perfect; this is commented on in several manuals. If it is seriously messed up, the correct command in Scott’s Infantry Tactics (1861), the manual used at the beginning of the war by many Union regiments,  is from the battalion commander: “Captains, rectify the alignment.”  This often produces, in our modern world, arguments about who is on the correct alignment. It’s pretty simple: The color guard is the correct alignment, then the companies on each side align themselves to the color guard, everyone else straightens things out based on the line set by those two companies. If everyone shuts up and lets the company commanders give instructions, it will quickly be “not just good, but good enough” to lay down fire.

Stone’s River. Looks like the battle line in the rear is at “right shoulder shift.”

The battalion commander may now give a firing command, like “Battalion, fire by company, COMMENCE FIRING,” at which point the captains take over and fire their companies according to the standard protocol that keeps several companies loaded at any given moment. But the color guard?

The entire color guard steps one rank back, so the colors are not out in front but are still visible to the battalion. It’s not necessary to wave them – no sense slapping the face of the nearby files with the waving flag, those things can inflict pain even if they are silk. The second sergeants we “borrowed” in last week’s essay, to fill out the third rank in the color guard,  can go back to their posts as file closers and make sure the men are firing safely. The sergeant major, also borrowed to maintain order and direction, can go back to the left flank of the battalion where he now clearly belongs.

This movement of the flag into the rear rank comes to us from Scott’s Infantry Tactics” was published in 1861. It is apparently common practice for the period. Here’s the text, from the Drill Net site maintained by the Liberty Greys:

  1. The colonel wishing to cause the fire by company to be executed, will command:

Fire by company. 2. COMMENCE FIRING.

At the first command, the captains and covering sergeants will take the positions indicated for them, respectively, No. 498.

  1. The colour and its guard will step back at the  same time, so as to bring the front rank of the   guard in a line with the rear rank of the battalion.  This rule is general for all the different firings, except in square.

So far, so good.  We’ve covered the very basics, and while it’s certainly possible to go both blind and insane reading “Evolutions of a Battalion” in all the manuals, there are just a couple more things worth knowing for the expectations we face at reenacting events.

Union XII Corps engaging on the far right at Sharpsburg. Colors appear to be in the rear rank. It’s the Third Massachusetts regiment.

First, battalion wheels.  If you are a battalion commander, you’re better off not even trying this. It is much easier to grab a company, turn it to the direction you want the battalion to face, and have the other companies rejoin that company on the line it just set. It’s called changing front, and you can do it “change front forward” or any other direction, and on any company you choose.  You can research it at Drill Net if you’re a field grade officer looking to improve your group’s efficiency and esprit de corps.

Second, sometimes battalions overlap in an advance, with the trailing battalion not able to bring all its muskets to bear. That was a real no-no back when, and it looks clumsy now.  If you’ve seen it happening while moving forward and still have room, you can oblique the entire battalion – just so all 200 guys know the guide shifts to the direction of the oblique for the duration of the move and does NOT stay at “center dress” on the colors.  If you’re jammed up when it’s time to start shooting and have no space to go all slantindicular,  the alternative is to bring the battalion to a halt, reel in the colors, and order “Battalion, right (left) face, MARCH”, move them to clear the battalion in front, then order “Halt! Front!” IF your group is disciplined enough to remember to preserve the spacing created by the “right face” or “left face,” you should snap into a decent battle line quickly.

Third, what do you do with the colors when it’s time to assault? Oddly enough all the manuals seem to be silent on this, (I welcome a correction and will publish it prominently if someone can tell me where to go to find it) but there are a couple of ways to go.  Presumably you have halted to deliver a withering volley preparatory to the final assault, so your colors are in the rank and file. You really don’t want to just put them six paces in front for the final assault, they’d be shot down instantly. So you can’t do the “Forward,…….. MARCH” thing.  Elmer Woodard, a long-time student of these things, recommends, in his excellent treatise on the color guard, that the battalion commander’s command of “Battalion, charge bayonets, forward, MARCH” will get the job done, especially if the color guard is made aware this will be the command for assault and they are to go no farther forward than the front rank, where they may die nobly if so inclined.

Fourth, what’s the correct arms position for a battalion advancing in line of battle? Again, there doesn’t seem to be a single answer.  People have studied manuals, letters from soldiers, memoirs, drawings and everything else. A simple “shoulder arms” is probably sufficient.  However, “arms PORT” also works well, and seems to give soldiers more ability to balance themselves going across rough terrain.  They were drilled using port arms; before its demise, there was a video in the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg of a veteran at one of the reunions doing the arms drill; he went from shoulder arms to arms port to charge bayonet in rapid succession.

Fifth, what about the battalion guides, the fellows who move out parallel to the color guard, one at each end of the battalion, with little flags in their muskets, with upturned muskets, or with small flags on pikes.  They were part of the original show, and, when you had a battalion of 900 or 1,000 men, were invaluable for keeping the companies on the far ends from getting too far ahead or behind; they were the best drilled noncoms and they took care to keep looking in at the color guard and lining up with the colors and the guide off in the distance at the other end.

If that’s what you’ve got, great.  However, what we often have is fellows too young to carry a musket assigned to the duty.  It is rare that they know the drill, it is even rarer that they can keep an alignment, and they end up being subject to much abuse and induced confusion when they get conflicting instructions from everyone within earshot as to whether they need to go right, go left, go faster or go slower. We just pile on the agony.  I wouldn’t want the job. I suggest that if you are using boys to get them into the excitement, quietly pass the word among the companies closest to them to not actually use them as guides and don’t yell at them. Our battalions are often as small as an original company, 80-100 men; it’s just not that hard to use the color guard by itself for alignment.

Next time: STFU! No, really, STFU!

Featured photo (top of page): The 8th NY, an ad hoc regiment made up of well-drilled groups from several umbrella organizations, begins its fatal advance at Cross Keys, Va.,  two Civil War cycles ago.  They are about to get clobbered when they top the rise and find a Confederate brigade waiting for them.