225051812 Progressive Campaigner
- Sep 1, 2004From: "Bryan Stefancyk" <billyyankjohnnyreb@...>
Also check out the great article by progressive Rev. War reenactor Todd Post
http://www.revwarprogressive.org/ under "Philosophy."
Unkle Larry is not going to get into this one, as we all know he has
posted to this subject many times. Rather for those who have emailed off
list, here is the "Philosophy" Bryan Stefancyk posted to.
Copied from http://www.revwarprogressive.org / Philosophy /
Going on Campaign...
Delving into the living conditions of the 18th Century Soldier
Reprinted with permission from the Brigade Dispatch Vol. XXX No. 4 (Winter
Todd Post 2d Virginia Regiment
Though a veteran of twelve years in this hobby, I am often reminded that I
still a "newbie" in the eyes of most of those around me. In an organization
like the Brigade of the American Revolution, with close to forty years of
history, twelve years is not much at all. However, it does come with its
For the serious living historian, coming in late in the game gives you
opportunities that your predecessors never had. While standing on the
shoulders of giants it allows you to learn from all the research that they
had to trail blaze, learn from their mistakes, and set out on new paths to
push the envelope of authenticity and interpretation.
Another situation I have benefited from is that of starting a new unit. When
a career change required me to move to a new location, it also required me
to create a new "home" for living history. The nucleus of this new group was
fellow "veterans" of the hobby. While there were research questions to be
answered as to what our clothes should look like or what cartridge pouch
pattern we should use, we all had years of living history "know-how" to draw
upon. It also meant that we all could start with a clean slate. Units are
like living entities of their own, over time they take on certain
personalities, certain quirks, and certain bad habits.
General Steuben is quoted as saying the following regarding the mindset of
the American solider:
"In the first place, the genius of this nation is not in the least to be
compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians, or French. You say to your
soldier, 'Do this,' and he doeth it, but I am obliged to say, 'This is the
reason why you ought to do that,' and he does it."
Some things haven't changed. With forty years of research behind us, we have
the luxury to look back at where we came from and conduct self-evaluation.
As Steuben experienced two hundred and twenty-three years ago, some of the
reasons why we ought to do some of those things we've always done need to be
The Campaign Movement
The American Civil War living history community has been experiencing a
growing trend in their ranks. They've come to be known by various names:
campaigner, hard core, serious, progressive, etc., but progressive seems to
be the most accepted. While "hard core" would imply that if one does not fit
into this category, you must be something else with a negative connotation,
and "campaigner" makes people get caught up in whether or nor you use tents,
which is really not what this is about.
Campaigners have taken one of the mottoes of the 60s radicals to heart and
applied them to living history, "Question everything." Like Steuben's
Continental soldier, they want to know why they ought to do the things they
do. This desire to rethink how we go about recreating the life and times of
the common soldier has been coupled with a thirst for higher levels of
authenticity and enough courage to take a hard stand on sensitive issues in
This hard line grit has some times developed into full-blown evangelical
zeal in a manner that is counterproductive, turning what they call the "main
stream" of living history off because of the confrontational nature of their
delivery. But their goal is true; the purpose of our hobby is to recreate
the life and times of the common soldier to the best of our ability with the
highest degree of the historical accuracy based on the best in current
As Revolutionary War living history is generally smaller, it has taken
longer for this to really be called a "movement" as yet, but we are on the
brink of it. This is not to say that this is a new concept, but the means
for bringing progressives together within the hobby are making are becoming
easier. With no rallying point such as the Bicentennial, when national
attention was focused on our hobby, progressives of the past for the most
part seem to have operated independently. This is beginning to change. The
Internet and the commitment of some to pursue this course are acting as the
binder for campaigning in the Revolutionary War community to truly come
together and make an impact.
Progressive: What does it mean?
Having established the philosophy of "progressive", it is necessary to
explore what it means to be a progressive. To articulate this is tricky,
less one falls into the pitfall the "hard core" partisans fall into, which
is to create a hostile "us versus them" mentality. This does nothing besides
create animosity and is damaging to the movement itself. The examination of
what it means to be a progressive is meant to be prevocational though. It is
meant to stimulate constructive debate and truthful self-reflection. If it
can create healthy discourse that brings the authenticity of our hobby even
the slightest bit closer to our goals, it is worth it.
It is important to note the points about to be outlined are generalizations,
and as such, needs to be taken within context. They are broad statements
within the context of what is common to the war, yet might be contrary to
particular aspects of the war.
A progressive's main purpose is to recreate the life and times of the common
soldier to the best of their ability with the highest degree of the
historical accuracy based on the best in current research. Acceptable
limitations to accuracy are primarily health and safety. Another constraint
is those areas where research has been exhausted with no results due to the
loss of information over time.
All clothing, accoutrements and personal belongings are of the recreated
with the highest historical accuracy in materials and construction
techniques. If an item is available in multiple forms but there is one which
is of greater accuracy, the more accurate item should be the only
consideration, regardless of reasonable cost. There is an understanding that
some items are not available due to the lack of a particular resource or
skills to reproduce that item.
Certain aspects of recreating the life of the Revolutionary War soldier can
not be reproduced such as the considerations of disease or injury. These can
be interpreted for the general public, but not recreated, as doing so can
often undermine the importance of these hardships.
Impressions are based on diligent and exhaustive research, not assumptions
or speculation. Quality primary research or extensively footnoted secondary
sources should be the cornerstone of any impression. Research is not static;
impressions should consistently be examined and reexamined. If in the course
of this reevaluation of research new information is found with contradicts
current interpretation, improvements and changes are necessary.
As with all wars, the common soldier fought the American Revolution and
impressions should reflect that. My choice of impression should be based on
what was most common and what areas are glaringly underrepresented within
the hobby. Consideration should be given to portraying the common foot
soldier before pursuing specialized troop types. This is not to say that
certain branches of service or armies should not be recreated, but within
the ratios they were known to exist during the war.
Recreating the common soldier means recreating his lifestyle as well.
Soldiers generally did not have the luxury to have baggage carried for them,
so personal items should be kept to what the soldier could carry with him.
Likewise, shared equipment such as tents and cooking equipment should be
representative of what was commonly available to the soldier, not simply
common to the period, as life on the home front and in the field were very
different. While in garrison, soldiers were known to increase their personal
items, but as most events are representing armies on the move rather than in
fixed positions, garrison impressions should be limited to the occupation of
posts or towns, or recreation of sieges.
Though not always possible, modifications of impressions to better suit
particular events or scenarios are explored when possible. If a
progressive's impression is not suitable to a particular event (a
Continental soldier at Lexington for instance), alterations to the most
glaring items should be considered.
As 18th century soldiers were required to perform heavy physical activity,
those portraying these soldiers should be capable of the same.
Camp cooking should be representative of what was generally available to the
soldiers, even if it is just in a "best case" scenario, rather than ornate
cooking which though period, is more appropriate in a home kitchen.
The 18th century soldiers life was largely spend away from the battlefield.
Taking this into consideration, everyday life scenarios are just as worthy
of recreation as combat recreations. These include, but are not limited to
drilling, martial ceremonies, sentry duty, food preparation, etc.
As the war was generally fought using massed troop formations employing
linear tactics, whenever possible units with consistent safety and
authenticity levels should be willing to be brigaded together into larger
formations, no smaller than a platoon (sixteen men). Command structure
should be in balance with troop strength so that there are no more
commissioned and non-commissioned officers than which are truly needed to
manage the troops.
As 18th century soldiers did not exist in a vacuum, it is necessary to be
just as knowledgeable regarding the basics of 18th century society and
material culture. Such knowledge should come from respected sources with
A progressive is a "team player", that is, works well with other units and
sees events as opportunities to demonstrate by example. It is
counterproductive to be confrontational or demeaning to others in the living
history community, the best course of action to spread the campaign
philosophy is to participate, leading by example while maintaining their own
standards for themselves.
The Arguments against Campaigning, and the Rebuttals
There are many reasons not to be a progressive, but they generally are
several variations of the same motives; it requires effort. Here are some of
the most common reasons, and the answers to them.
"It's too expensive": Living history in general is expensive, but
campaigning does not add significantly to the cost. Most of the cost is
incurred in the initial investment of joining a unit and starting from
scratch. As we are merely "weekend warriors", most of our clothing and
equipment will last much longer than the 18th century soldier could dream
of. If while in this initial investment an individual went that extra little
step to use linen over cotton, or to hand finish their topstitching instead
of machine stitching, the added cost is not great and the item will last a
long time. The money you save by not purchasing needless or inappropriate
impedimenta offsets these added costs. For instance, the $20 more you might
spend on a linen weskit can be made up for neglecting to buy an undocumented
"It's a family hobby": Families and civilians certainly are important aspect
of what we recreate, their roles are subject to the same rigors of
authenticity as the hobby at large. It should not be forgotten that we are
portraying the War for Independence, which means that realistically the
military has the emphasis in what we do. Civilians are a very important part
of adding to the complete landscape of the 18th century soldier, but a
civilian impression requires the same amount of effort, less their roles are
trivialized. Civilians always had a reason for being with the army;
stragglers and idlers however were not tolerated, as they were nothing but a
liability to an army. Impressions can be developed as wagoneers,
bateaux-men, artificers, refugees, laundresses, nurses, and petty sutlers,
which are just some of the portrayals which can be explored. These roles are
just as educational to the general public as that of a soldier, if not more
so, as they are often overlooked in our hobby.
"If you're so authentic, why don't you contract smallpox and use real musket
balls?": Not to be undiplomatic, but this is truly a "head in the sand"
response. Rather than looking at what tangible steps campaigning is trying
to emphasize, detractors are zeroing in on those conditions that can not be
replicated. What separates from "playing soldier" and "interpretive living
history" is the willingness to pursue what we can reasonably attempt to
recreate. Though from an unusual source in a discussion of authenticity, the
Alcoholics Anonymous prayer which asks for "The serenity to accept the
things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to
know the difference" provides a good response to this excuse. We can not
recreate the hardships of disease, wounds or starvation without trivializing
them. Hand finishing our seams, using proper materials, and presenting a
more "martial air" to what we do can be done. The wisdom is knowing the
difference and acting upon it.
"We've always done it this way...": For an organization born in the 1960s,
it should not be too much of a stretch to embrace the ideology of the time
of "question everything." Though history is in the past, our comprehension
of it is ever changing. What we knew of the Revolutionary War forty years
ago is vastly different than what we know today. Failure to implement new
information as it is discovered is irresponsible interpretative living
history. We should be able to answer the question the public is bound to
ask, "Is this really what it was like back then?" with a straight face and
straight answers. I came across a quote, which I can not place, but I think
sums it up well: "Questioning is one of the noblest of human acts. As human
beings require knowledge and truth in order to live successfully,
questioning is also one of the most selfish of acts...it represents the
struggle to discover the truth necessary to live."
"I don't have it documented to the war, but there is an obscure reference
in...": Documenting an item to your impression is just as important as
documenting it to the period. For instance, reflecting ovens are well
documented to the 18th century, however they would be entirely incorrect for
an army on the move. There might even be items that were issued to the
armies, but incorrect in the context of which we represent. Bed rugs were
some times issued in winter garrison, but to have one in your tent while
portraying a battle which took place during a campaign when two armies
collided with each other would be just as historically inaccurate as a
wool/polyester blend blanket. Our portrayals should not only be accurate to
the period, but accurate to the situation in which the soldiers were living.
It would be like saying that a vintage 1940s radio could be toted around if
portraying a soldier of World War II on the beach at Normandy.
"It's too physically demanding...": A soldier's life was physically
demanding, therefore recreating the life and times of that soldier will have
an element of challenge to it. Call it an occupational hazard. However,
which sounds like more of a challenge? Packing a car, van or truck full of
equipment, unloading it at the event, hauling it to where you are encamped
for the weekend, packing the car, van or truck again at the end of the
weekend and unloading it back at home. Or, leaving your gear in its
period-correct packs and walking in and out of the event with those packs?
Some Final Words on Campaigning
Campaigning appears to be the "next step" in living history, the next
evolution in a hobby that is based on history, but should always be
changing. While it requires a greater attention to detail and perhaps a
greater degree of effort in certain areas, campaigning also eases our burden
and is easier on our pockets in other ways.
The ideas and views expressed in this article are meant to advocate
campaigning, not demand it. The Brigade of the American Revolution has
membership rolls in the thousands and some might take up campaigning, some
may choose not to. This is a personal decision either way. It is my hope
though that this article was food for thought.
When we consider how much time, money and energy we invest in living
history, we should also consider why. Is it just to "play soldier"? That can
be achieved at the local video arcade or paintball establishment. If it is
to understand and appreciate the "adventures, dangers, and sufferings of a
Revolutionary soldier" as Joseph Plum Martin referred to his life as, we
need to approach it with the level of detail it deserves.
See you on campaign...
This article was inspired by "The Campaigner's Manifesto" by Nicky Hughes
regarding American Civil War living history. Thanks to Chris Anderson 2d
Virginia Regiment, Mark Hubbs Garrison Regiment , Chuck LeCount North
Carolina Volunteers, Greg Theberge 40th Regiment of Foot, Light Infantry,
and Rob Weber Steven's Brigade, Virginia Militia for their input.
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