Take your braying imbecility and shelve it!
I was helping someone find source information on how officer relationships played out during the Civil War, ie., subordinate vis-a-vis superior, everyday stuff, plus who defers to whom and actual honors rendered by troops. In the course of the research I stumbled, literally, onto a document requested by the federal House of Representatives in 1819. They wanted a report on systems of martial law (that is, actually military rules for running armed forces), field service and police. The report was delivered in 1820, signed by then Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was, in the wake of the not-so-great performance of the armed forces in the War of 1812 (which he helped start), charged with reorganizing and modernizing the United States military. The report itself was written by Major General Winfield Scott, who was a brigadier in that war, and, for the martial law portions, Judge Advocate Major Samuel Storrow.
What they submitted is very much a prototype for a more familiar document for the Civil War living history community: The Army Regulations. You can see the Regulations emerging from this report.
What’s included in this, and not spelled out in the regulations themselves, gives us a window into the deportment and attitudes expected of the nation’s military leaders.
Whatever you thought was going on, put it aside. Here’s the foundations of what we should be putting into practice in the field and in our reenacting clubs. And, by inference, we can figure out what we should be setting aside as not only a modern anachronism, but as simply ineffective, bad leadership.
The stunner for me was Article 2, “Base of Discipline.” I got ready for a detailed “how-to” of lashings, thrashings, imprisonments and other harsh measures. What I read was unicorns and rainbows.
“1. It is the intention of the Government that there be established in every regiment and corps, and throughout the army, as one corps, a gradual and universal subordination or authority, which, without loss of force, shall be even, mild and paternal, and which, founded in justice and firmness, shall maintain all subordinates in the strictest observance of duty. It requires that enlisted soldiers shall be treated with particular kindness and humanity; that punishments, sometimes unavoidable, shall be strictly conformable to martial law, and that all in commission shall conduct, direct, and protect inferiors, of every rank, with the cares due to men from whom patriotism, valor, and obedience, they are to expect a part of their own reputation and glory.”
But that’s just the beginning.
Section III, Interior economy of regiments and companies, Article 16, Unanimity or Esprit du Corps:
“A spirit of good will, and even of brotherhood, particularly among the members of the same regiment, is essential to the good of the service, and to establish which the colonel will use the legal power and moral influence belonging to his rank and station. Timely interference to prevent disputes among officers, or to heal them if they should unfortunately arise, advice to the young and the inexperienced, parental reprehensions (in private) of the disorderly, and prompt arrests of the disobedient, are among his surest means of accomplishing those highly important ends, and towards the attainment of which he cannot fail to receive the assistance or support of every well -disposed officer. The general deportment of officers towards juniors or inferiors will also be carefully watched and regulated. If this be cold or harsh on the one hand or grossly familiar on the other the harmony and discipline of the corps cannot be maintained. The examples are numerous and brilliant in which the most conciliatory manners have been found perfectly compatible with the exercise of the strictest command; and the officer who does not unite a high degree of moral vigor with that civility which springs from the heart cannot too soon choose another profession, in which imbecility would be less conspicuous, and harshness less wounding and oppressive.”
Please re-read the last sentence; memorize it if you want. No, really: It says if you can’t be civil, find something else to do.
We live at a moment in history when bullying and spite is the daily watchword, even in our hobby. We have all suffered under or seen reenacting officers who are complete braying assholes. Usually we describe it as confusing reenactor rank with real rank. Turns out that’s wrong. They are confused, but about what the “real guys” were, mostly, like.
Not everyone adhered to the conduct described by Scott as optimal for success; people are people and some are assholes. But now, “the rest of us” have one more item in the toolbox to bring assholes to heel: It’s not the kind of behavior the army sought in the years leading up to the Civil War.
And for the miserable little people who have nothing better to do than go online and disparage others for perceived deficiencies of uniform or military skill: You must be getting your fuel from bad movies, modern politics or poor self esteem, because what you’re doing is simply not anything leadership would have recognized as effective technique for improvement in our time period.
More on this in future posts. But for now, please spread it far and wide. We have enough hurdles to overcome and could surely benefit from some period-correct civility within our hobby. 🙂