Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inexpensive Changes to Improve your Impression; or, I was a teenage farb

I joined this hobby in 1988 at the age of 14. I know, I know — a mere babe in the hobby. For me, the Bicentennial was witnessed from the other side of the rope lines and it was not until after it was all said and done that I was old enough and found the means to get involved.

The memory is very clear of that frosty February afternoon when I got my chance. A local militia group was encamped in my town for a Washington's Birthday celebration and like usual, I made one of my parents take me down to see it. This time, instead of merely gawking at the muskets and the swords, I did one better. I got a business card. No sooner was I home than I began to craft a letter to the unit asking for more information about joining.

A few days later, I received a phone call. It was the unit commander, and after talking to my father and I, he invited us down to their next monthly meeting to see what it was all about. Soon, both of us "took the shilling".

It was a couple of months before the first event, and though I did not own any 18th century clothing or equipment, I was encouraged to come down and participate with the group. I can remember putting together the best "uniform" I could: a white dress shirt, brown faded jeans, old black dress shoes and a gift shop tricorn hat my parents brought back from Williamsburg several years earlier. I look back now and my stomach turns!

Let me digress here and talk about the word "farb". Not much unlike another four-letter word beginning with the letter F, farb is one of the few words, which takes its form in multiple forms of speech. Farb can be a noun ("Look at that farb!"), a verb ("Don't put that hay bale in my camp, you'll farb it up."), an adjective ("I had to get rid of my canteen, it was too farby."), etc. It is also often equally pejorative. In the course of my presentation, I will be using it, but not in an accusatory manner. The use of farb in this discourse will be synonymous with "historically inaccurate". Authenticity is a continuum and we all will find ourselves at the farby end of it from time to time. The key though is progress, as long as there is progress from historically inaccurate towards greater and greater accuracy. The only time farb should really be a negative is if one is historically inaccurate, and despite the fact they know better, refuse to change. A farb in the worst sense of the word is static, historically inaccurate and proud of it. If farb is too disparaging let me suggest a fun little word I recently came across:

mumpsimus (MUMP-suh-muhs) noun

  1. Adherence to or persistence in an erroneous use of language, memorization, practice, belief, etc., out of habit or obstinacy.
  2. A person who persists in a mistaken expression or practice. [From a story, which perhaps originated with Erasmus, of an illiterate priest who said mumpsimus rather than sumpsimus (first plural perfect indicative of Latin sumere to pick up) while reciting the liturgy, and refused to change the word when corrected]

That being said, looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I was a teenage farb, but I changed. As I spent more time in the hobby, I learned more and incorporated more into my impression. Now, I am happy to say that I am much more historically accurate and less of a farb. This does not lend itself to complacency though. Though I have learned my lessons, the research and its application should never end.

Many people think it is expensive to be authentic. While to some degree this is true, the little things go a long way as well. Below are some inexpensive things that we can all do as soldiers to make ourselves look better. Disclaimer: Many of these points are personal and sensitive. They are only presented as food for thought.

Change #1 - Shave: We all know that besides the French and the Germans, facial hair wasn't all that popular, in fact, in both armies, there were orders against it. An example from an orderly book for the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons in 1782 reads:

"The Orderly Sergeants of Troops and Companies will be very particular that their men for duty come on parade in as neat order as their circumstances will admit — they must be clean shaven"

The orderly books of the 4th New York regiment make at least two mentions of regimental barbers:

"Regimental orders, Aug. 27, 1780:

The Orderly Sergts of Each Company are to furnish the Regimental barber with A Sufficient Quantity of Soape for Shaveing, takeing it from Every mans allowance whenever the Soape is Drawn to the amount of half a pound pr Company pr Month

Brigade orders, Oct. 13, 1780:

The Commandt Judges it proper to alter the mode heretofore adopted of delivering to the barbers of the different Regiments a Large allowance of flour &c. he therefore directs that in future two lbs of flour, one lb of soape, and half a lb of Tallow, pr Company pr Month be delivered till further Orders."

The most obvious thing the general public notices about us is our face. It is human nature. For that reason, facial hair is the most glaring inaccuracy because it can be seen at a distance.

Change #2 - Lose weight: Reenactors as a group are often overweight. This is one of those touchy subjects, but it is true. 21st century living and the Information Age more often than not has us sitting as desk jockeys where as our 18th century counterparts were marching 15 miles a day. Joseph Plum Martin, and other primary sources, also deals with the topic of starvation, which also would contribute to a leaner look:

"Soon after this there came on several severe snowstorms. At one time it snowed the greater part of four days successively, and there fell nearly as many feet deep of snow, and here was the keystone of the arch of starvation. We were absolutely, literally starved. I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood, if that can be called victuals. I saw men roast their old shoes and eat them, and I was afterwards informed by one of the officer's waiters, that some of the officers killed and ate a favorite little dog that belonged to one of them. If this was not "suffering" I request to be informed what can pass under that name. If "suffering" like this did not "try men's souls," I confess that I don not know what could. The fourth day, just at dark, we obtained a half pound of lean fresh beef and a gill of wheat for each man; whether we had any salt to season so delicious a morsel I have forgotten, but I am sure we had no bread, except the wheat, but I will assure the reader that we had the best of sauce; that is, we had keen appetites. When the wheat was so swelled by boiling as to be beyond danger of swelling in the stomach, it was deposited there without ceremony.

After this, we sometimes got a little beef, but no bread. We, however, once in a while got a little rice, but as to flour or bread, I do not recollect that I saw a morsel of either (I mean wheaten) during the winter, all the bread kind we had was Indian meal."

Not all soldiers were beanpoles, but fat ones didn't stay that way long and your uniform will never look right if you're more than 10-15% overweight. So it can not be perceived that this is prejudiced thought, I have been grossly guilty of this myself, having topped out at 6'2" and 297lbs. It is possible to do though, as I have gotten down to about 220lbs and like all ventures in historic accuracy, I still have to go a little further. Not only is it helping my impression, its making me healthier and feeling better. In that regard, it is also a safety issue. Living history is physically exerting, combined with the weight of the gear and the constrictive clothing, obesity can lead to anything from heat exhaustion to heart attack.

Change #3 - Reduce the amount of camp equipment: 18th century soldiers almost as a rule carried their personal items, food and cooking equipment on their back or in their hands. Two examples of this come from Joseph Plum Martin and the orderly book of Weedon's Brigade in 1777:

"We halted for the night at the latter place [Burlington, NJ], where we procured some carrion beef, for it was not much better. We cooked it and ate some, and carried the remainder away with us. We had always, in the army, to carry our cooking utensils in our hands by turns, and at this time, as we were not overburthened with provisions, our mess had put ours into our kettle, it not being very heavy, as it was made of plated iron."


"The Genl has recd a confirmation of the Intelligence mention'd in the after orders of last night that the Enemy have disencumbered themselves of all their baggage even to their Tents, reserving only, their blankets & such part of their clothing as is absolutely necessary — This Indicates a speedy & rapid movement & points out the necessity of following the example & ridding ourselves of every thing we can possibly dispense with&emdash;"

For the average soldier or camp follower, no more is needed than a wedge tent, a tin kettle and your packs. "Dining flys" are not documentable to the period and can easily be substituted for with arbors, natural shade or at very least replacing poles of dimensional lumber with poles made from tree branches to give it more of a "jury-rigged" appearance. Their main problem though is that flys become a depository for a collection of camp furniture, which is something the common soldier and camp follower would not have had. Enlisted men would not have had furniture unless they were in garrison, so the ground would be preferable to a campstool. If camp furniture is necessary, a quick fix is to store it in a tent when not being used.

Change #4 - Save the gourmet cooking for home: As mentioned before, food was not a guarantee in the armies. Even when they did get ample supplies, they did not have the elaborate kitchen set ups that we often use in the hobby today. Joseph Plum Martin talks of this as well:

Accordingly two of the club went out and shortly after returned with a Hissian, a cant word with the soldiers, for a goose. The next difficulty was, how to pluck it; we were in a chamber and had nothing to contain the feathers. However, we concluded at last to pick her over the fire and let that take care of the feathers. We dressed her and then divided her among us. If I remember rightly, I got one wing. Each one broiled his share and ate it, as usual, without bread or salt. After this sumptumous repast, I lay down and slept as well as a gnawing stomach would permit.

As stated before, each mess would have a tin kettle or iron pot, but beyond that, it was "on your own". For this reason, we find broilers made of barrel straps, pothooks made of old bayonets, etc. Instead of using cooking irons, simply substitute two forked branches and lay a third branch across. Use a sharpened stick or an old ramrod for a spit to roast meat. Not only will it look more accurate, it will mean less loading and unloading at events.

Change #5 - Don't smoke cigarettes: How quickly a hand-sewn uniform costing hundreds of dollars or countless hours can be ruined by two dollars worth of cigarettes and a lighter. It is also a safety concern, when looked at objectively; there is little difference between a lit cigarette and an artillerist's linstock. In an environment where most of us carry a supply of black power on our backs, carrying around a lit ember is ill advised. Just think of the times you have seen someone be asked for a photograph, and to hide the cigarette, they put it behind their back — right next to their cartridge box!

Change #6 - Replace the modern shoes and glasses with period ones: For whatever reason, glasses and shoes are the last part of someone's kit that is addressed, if ever. Many quality merchants are carrying shoes for under $90 in both smooth and rough side out, so they are easily obtainable. For those who have medical considerations (the author himself being flatfooted) there is a fellow who is making custom shoes. Modern shoes, under spatterdashes, do not cut it. Both Townsend and Colonial Williamsburg are making good circular reproduction frames for eyeglasses. Contact lenses or going without glasses are also options. Set these items as long term goals and squirrel away money over time. Saving $5 a week will get you a new pair of shoes in less than five months.

Change #7 - Wear your gear at proper height: A re-enactor with his haversack and canteen swinging below his waist is a re-enactor who has never marched in his gear any farther than the distance from the camp to the parking lot. Veteran campaigners soon learned that your equipment ride a lot better, and don't beat up against your legs, if you shorten up the straps so that they ride fairly high. Don't make the mistake of simply tying the straps up shorter, however. This is a device invented by re-enactors and there is no documentation so far as I know. If you shorten up your straps, do so by sewing them the desired length. Nothing looks worse than seeing a soldier with a big knot of canteen strap on his shoulder, as goes for lapping it over and sewing the strap to itself.

Change #8 - Leave the Hoppes #9 and cleaning rod at home: Why do we use modern cleaning methods when period ones are just as good and demonstrate something to the public? All you need is a little water from the canteen, a twig, a worm, some tow, maybe some olive oil and some brick dust and you are set. Several good articles have been printed about period musket care.

Change #9 - Get thee to a tailor: I've been guilty of this too, we don't wear our clothes right. Breeches should be tight in the legs, loose in the seat and bands shouldn't been too high or too low. Overalls should be tight all the way up the leg. Coats should be tight but without constraint, and hooks and eyes should be in the seam, not on the lining. etc. etc. Proper 18th century tailoring is of a general tight fit, and if baggy or drooping, should be taken in.

Change #10 - Let your clothes "wear": We use period materials for our clothing not only because it creates a more authentic reproduction, but they lay on the body correctly, are more durable, and are in some cases safer. Good wool will not catch an arrant ember as other materials would for instance. For the same reasons, your clothes should be cared for in a period manner. Natural fabrics will last longer if hand washed, bleach breaks down linen over time, and hand-washing gives a more period look. 18th century soldiers had no other tools at their disposal than water and lye soap, so we should do the same, if not using lye soap, at least hand-washing garments. Let some stains collect, they would have in the 18th century.

I hope that these ten points can inspire useful dialogue for the "little things" that we can all do to improve our general impression. These are not mandates, merely suggestions, and just food for thought.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Anyone for Golf?

Posted by Bob Bolton in the RWProgressive Yahoo Group:

So I go to my local public Golf course carrying my Polo mallet
and I'm told at the clubhouse that I cannot play on the course with it because it is not correct. However, I insist even knowing that I am wrong, and the clubhouse attendant is right. He states that the history of Golf shows that only Golf clubs have ever been used to play the game properly.

Now, because I consider Golf as a "hobby" and not a true serious sport as other do, I clumsily try to justify it by saying that my Polo mallet is "almost" like a Golf club and that the Golfers are being too picky, and way too serious about Golf! When some of the Golfers start bemoaning my insistance that I be allowed to play with my incorrect mallet, I remind them that to me, it is just a "hobby" and they must honor my attitude and method of playing the game. If they do not, it gives me the right to disparage their way of playing the game, though they are correct and the history of the game shows that they are.

In my mind it is just Golf the way I see it, and ignoring the history, the way I shall play it, regardless of what the Golfers say...the Golfers, tired of the debate, give in.

After finally getting to play a round of "mallet-golf", having caused great debate, consternation, and disrupting the enjoyment of those who came to play the game as it should be played, by serious enthusiasts...I go home. I travel home with the uplifting satisfaction of getting my way even though I know deep down that I was incorrect. But, in the end, it is just a hobby (to me) and I was not hurting anyone and after all, I had fun!

I think tomorrow I'll go Bowling. Hmmm...now where's my

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Notes on the Use of Open Order

Ample evidence exists which indicates that the British Army adapted itself to service in North America in uniform, tactics, and exercise. This article will address what the necessities of War did to the familiar "In three Ranks...The Files at four Inches Distance" formation ordered by HIS MAJESTY'S MANUAL EXERCISE OF 1764.

Some notes on proper distances:

"A PACE, or the length of each step, is the measure taken from the space between the two feet of a man walking, usually reckoned at 2-1/2 feet [or, 30 inches measured from the heel of the rear foot to the heel of the front foot]." (Smith's Universal Military Dictionary [1779], p. 198).

Pickering also states a pace is "2 or 2-1/2 feet" (p 50), as does Cavan (p 32). James' Military Dictionary (1810) also states the military step is 30 inches. The 1795 "Rules and Regulations...", concurs and also states that the measure is taken from heel to heel (p 7).

The DISTANCES of the various ranks and files, as described by Lieutenant-General Humphrey Bland in 1759, are:

  • ORDER: one pace (30") between ranks, 6" between files.
  • OPEN ORDER: two paces (60") between ranks, one pace (30") between files.
  • EXTENDED ORDER: four paces (120" or 10') between ranks, two paces (60") between files.

(N.B. It bears mentioning that A RANK is the order or straight line made by the soldiers of a battalion or squadron, drawn up side by side. A FILE is the line of men drawn up standing one behind the other). Smith (1779) also indicates identical distances for close, open and extended order.

Bland also states that "When a regiment is to exercise, or to be reviewed, the Files are to be opened, the distance of which between one another, is one pace, or the length of an outstretched arm" (p 11).

CADENCE: During the American Revolution, the slow step is one step every second or 60 steps per minute, and the quick step is two steps per second or 120 steps per minute as mentioned by Pickering: "...the slow-step, being performed only to slow-timed music, [is] one step to a second of time; the quick-step, which is taken in half the time, or two of them in a second; and that is the way in which most men naturally walk." (Pickering, p 43). James' Military Dictionary mentions the "ordinary step" in the text but doesn't indicate what it is, though he does say the quick step is 108 steps/minute, and the "quickest step" or double-quick time is 120/minute.

Richard Lambart, Earl of Cavan's "A New System of Military Discipline, Founded upon Principle" (which according to the Frontspiece, was printed in Philadelphia in 1776), describes how to form, move and maneuver a battalion of infantry.

Cavan states: "...The recruits or soldiers being formed into battalion, or line drawn up in three ranks, or three deep, the Adjutant is to see that the ranks be at open order or at whole distance, and well dressed, that the files be completed, the men do cover well, and that each man does stand in his proper order..."

Cavan's 'whole distance' here appears to be open order, and it doesn't really appear from the text that a battalion generally close to do anything when marching or wheeling, although Cavan does mention closing the files and wheeling on a couple of occasions. My first impression of this is that Cavan expects to normally exercise the battalion in this order, andform a battalion for action in this order.

Now the question here, as I see it, is were any Continental officers reading this book in 1776? And, if so, how much of it were they using? David Dundas, writing after the war (1788)is very very critical of the 'loose order' employed in America, and from what I've found so far, wants to form his files allowing only 21 inches per man. Quite close indeed.

William Windham, in his "A Plan of Discipline for the Norfolk Militia" (1759) assumes that each man will about 30 inches frontage, or the military pace. Windham also has a very very interesting discussion on the genesis of the manual exercise necessary for firearm using troops that is keen to see from an 18th century point of view and frankly, is *still* quite good as an explanation.

By 1775 the file interval had been relaxed to six inches, as indicated by the instructions for dressing printed on the last page of the H. Gaine edition of the Manual Exercise, New York, 1775: "In dressing Ranks, the Soldiers must observe, to stand upright, and without stooping to cast their Eyes smartly to the Right and Left, and see the Third Man's Breast, taking care to keep Six Inches distance between the Files."

As early as 1776, official recognition was given to the use of open files, as evidenced by this quotation from the ORDERLY BOOK OF GENERAL HOWE, Boston, 29 February 1776: "Regiments when formed by Companies in Battalion, or when on the General Parade, are always to have their files eighteen inches distant from each other, which they will take care to practice in the future, being the order in which they are to engage the enemy." This order was reinforced later the same year, as quoted from the ORDERLY BOOK OF GENERAL HOWE Halifax, 26 May, 1776: "The Grenadiers and Battalions in the Line are to form in the future in three ranks, with the files as formerly ordered, at 18 inches interval."

By 1777, it can be seen that the British Army had adopted a two rank formation with open files. GENERAL BURGOYNE'S ORDERLY BOOK (Edited by E.B. O'Callaghan, Munsells Historical Series No. VII, Albany, 1860) mentions on Page 4; orders for 20 June 1777, specifies lines of two ranks with open files. HADDEN'S JOURNAL AND ORDERLY BOOK (Edited by H. Roger, Albany 1884) covering Burgoyne's campaign, states on page 75: "...according to the present established rule of open files and two deep." General S ir Henry Clinton's THE AMERICAN REBELLION (Edited by W. Willcox, Archon, 1971) says on page 95: In reference to Howe's final policy of two ranks and open files, it is noted that Clinton did not implement any change in the formation because: "We have al ways succeeded (with) it; the enemy have adopted it; they have no cavalry to employ against it..."

Charles T. Kamps, Jr. in his paper FILE SPACING REVISITED, provides this passage explaining the change in formation: "The reasoning behind the evident change from the "doctrinal" three rank, closed files formation to two ranks at open files is perha ps best summed up by Frederick Wyatt, Curator and Librarian of the School of Infantry,Warminster, in his book, THE BRITISH INFANTRY 1660-1945 (Poole: Blandford Press, 1983): "The basic tactical requirement in North America was for a looser, more flexible system, based on small bodies of men fighting in rough lines, often of one rank and never more than two; the third rank had never been of great value as far as fire power was concerned, and in thick country it became a positive menace. Extension was ever ything, so that if you could lap round the flanks of your enemy you were well on your way to beating him.

Unfortunately for those of us attempting to re-create the exercise of the British Army in the later parts of the War, the exact mechanics of opening and closing files was not well recorded. We shall attempt to reconstruct the method by which the ancien ts did so by reference to existing period sources, coupled with a dash of common sense. We shall start by assuming that our formation (platoon, company, regiment, battalion) is at the shoulder, in two ranks, at close order. The question is; How do we open our files in a uniform, regular, and orderly fashion, and what are the commands used to do so?

A clue to the mechanics of opening files is given in John Williamson's THE ELEMENTS OF MILITARY ARRANGEMENT, AND OF THE DISCIPLINE OF WAR; ADAPTED TO THE PRACTICE OF THE BRITISH INFANTRY (London, 1782) Vol. 1, page 54: "In close order, the o ay be opened or closed as exigencies may require."

This shows that by 1782 it was common to form with a close order file interval of around fifteen inches. What is useful to us here is the mention of an out-stretched arm. If the soldiers in our formation were to side step to the left while stretching t heir right arm out so that their closed fist just touches the shoulder of the man to the right of them, they would have spaced themselves out to a file interval of about two feet.

What command would be used to have the men do this? For an answer we shall look at the LIGHT INFANTRY DISCIPLINE by Maj-Gen William Howe, Sept. 1774 (microfilm copy in the National Army Museum, London).

  • Battalion form at order
    The files to be at two feet intervals
  • Battalion form at open order
    The files to be at four feet intervals
  • Battalion form at extended order
    The files to be at ten feet

Given the understanding that At Order means open files, and At Close Order means closed files, we can now open and close the file intervals in our formation.

To open files, give the command:

Company (Platoon, Battalion.), Form at Order, March!

The men of the front rank turn their heads to the right, and raise their right arms, side stepping to the left far enough that their closed fist just touches the shoulder of the man to their right. The right hand man of the front rank stands fast. The rear rank does not turn heads or raise its arms, but covers off behind the front rank.


The men turn their heads to the front and drop their arms.

To bring the men back to Close Order, the command is given:

Company (Platoon, Battalion), Form at Close Order, March!

The men turn their heads to the right, and side step to the right until they are at their normal (close) file interval.


The men turn their heads to the front.

When opening files in large formations, such as several platoons or companies, care must be taken to leave enough of an interval between each unit so that the files have room to extend.

When dressing the men at Order (in open files), upon the command:

To the Right, Dress!

The front rank turns their heads and raises their arms as they did when forming. On the command:


They drop their arms and turn their heads to t he front.

The formation may be ordered to Form at Order! while assembling, in which case they do not form at Close Order and extend themselves, but rather form up at Order.

When the formation is at Order, there is little need for the front rank to kneel when firing, for there is ample clearance for the rear rank. The front rank should therefore fire as a single rank, and the rear rank should fire as a rear rank, that is, making the step forward with the left foot.

Marching, turning, inclining, and wheeling will of course require more attention from the soldier to maintain his proper dressing, but with practice this can be achieved.

(This article was inspired in large part by the efforts of Charles T. Kamps, Jr. with his rich correspondence about file spacing, andincludes material provided by Michael Grenier of the 64th Foot, Vincent J-R Kehoe of the 10th Foot, Stephen Belyea of the 74th Foot, and Mark Nichipor of the NPS, all of whose research and effort are greatly appreciated.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

What is a progressive when it comes to Revolutionary War living history?


Though a veteran of many years in this hobby, I am often reminded that I still a "newbie" in the eyes of most of those around me. In a hobby with close to forty years of history, my years are not much at all. However, it does come with its advantages.

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 reexamined.

The Progressive 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.

Progressives 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 living history.

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 research.

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 progressives in the Revolutionary War community to truly come together and make an impact.

Progressive: What does it mean?
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.

  1. 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.
  2. All clothing, accoutrements and personal belongings are recreated with the highest historical accuracy in materials and construction techniques. This applies to proper patterns based on research, proper fit according to 18th century practices, and employing period construction methods at very least where outwardly visible. There is an understanding that some items are not available due to the lack of a particular resource or the skills to reproduce that item. In instances where items already owned are known to be incorrect, this is acknowledged and steps are taken to correct the inaccuracy in a timely manner.
  3. Certain aspects of recreating the life of the Revolutionary War soldier cannot 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.
  4. 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.
  5. There is a general effort to recreate what was common, rather than the extremely unusual or unique. While there are isolated documented incidences of such things as women disguised as soldiers and facial hair on soldiers, these sorts of things are far from the norm for the period. Given we can only attempt to represent the past with significantly smallernumbers, such impressions would present a skewed representation of the armies and society as a whole of the period.
  6. 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.
  7. Though not always possible, modifications of impressions to better suit particular events or scenarios are explored when possible. Progressives should attempt to insure that the clothing worn and equipment used is appropriate to the specific event being recreated and/or their specific impression being given.
  8. As 18th century soldiers were required to perform heavy physical activity, those portraying these soldiers should be capable of the same.
  9. 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 to the period, is more appropriate in a home kitchen. Foodstuffs should be limited to issued rations or what was seasonably and regionally appropriate to a particular scenario and cooked in a manner that would be common for the average soldier.
  10. 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.
  11. 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. Progressives should make every effort to brigade together in collaborative efforts at mainstream events.
  12. 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 ample documentation.
  13. 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 progressive philosophy is to participate, leading by example while maintaining their own standards for themselves.

The Arguments against being Progressive, 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 being progressive 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 lantern stand.

"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 that the progressive philosophy 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 the Progressive Movement
The progressive movement 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, and 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 progressive ideals, not demand it. Participants in the hobby number in the thousands and some might find themselves leaning towards the progressive mindset, some may not . 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.

This article was inspired by "The Campaigner's Manifesto" by Nicky Hughes regarding American Civil War living history. Thanks to Chris Anderson, Mark Hubbs, Chuck LeCount, Greg Theberge, and Rob Weber for their input.