The Freshman Year
By Pvt. Marty Burke - 2006 article
Well boys, I have finished my first campaign season and, as we are coming out of winter quarters, I have this opportunity to reflect on that first year. Hopefully you older hands will be reminded of the days when you were a fresh fish as well, and I hope you newer men will be inspired to carry on.
There sure is a lot to learn with this reenacting business. I really started off by getting some books and doing some reading before I fell in with the 6th. Mostly soldiers diaries and such, and though Iíve read 4 or 5 of them, I still feel like I am just scratching the surface. I have also dipped into Hardeeís now and then, but man, its hard to learn how to march just by reading about it. I recently picked up Silas Tackettís ĎGuides Postsí and find it easier to absorb. Hopefully I can use it to do some more homework and polish up my drill (which is beginning to reveal itself as an ongoing challenge). My interest in reading about the war in general, dates and events and such, comes and goes; it is the things that I will apply in my impression as an infantryman that really concern me at this point.
Drill seemed to be a constant problem this year. I felt like Iíd been thrown into a cyclone when I showed up at the spring muster. I had only drilled once before, and while I was busy trying to remember the manual of arms, the company was working on battalion maneuvers. That first Saturday was just too long, and by about 4 pm I just could not absorb anything more. That is not to say that I did not learn; Captain Walker and 1st Sgt Gibbs of F Company helped a lot, and of all the unfamiliar voices I heard in the ranks that day theirsí were the friendliest. I also do not know how I
would have lasted as long as I did without Ian and Brandon on either side of me. However, due to this experience, I have thought a lot about what environment we need to create for our men in order that they may best learn drill. One conclusion I have come to is that we new guys need to speak up when overwhelmed. I also think that our NCOís need to recognize that when a manís capacity has been reached, it is time for him to head back to camp and let it all sink in. Beyond a certain point, we just cannot absorb any more information. Throughout this whole first year I felt the need for company drill far more than battalion drill, and I cannot help but feel that our company muster in January was a great first step for 2006.
One of the regrets I had was that I wish I had joined up in a year that was better for our veterans. A lot of our veterans had situations in their lives outside of reenacting that kept them away. In retrospect I think the company as a whole really felt this void. Part of the drill issues had to do with the percentage of new guys in the ranks. At Corinth there were a lot of us who were attending our first event, and a large proportion of the rest of the company were guys who were Company K vets but ones we were meeting for the first time. Fortunately they possessed enough experience to lead us, but I am afraid we may have put them off with our inexperience and ineptitude. I hope in the future we will see more of our veterans because we are sorely in need of their experience and ability; and besides, I want to get to know these guys that I have heard so much about.
On another note I sure am glad I pestered Dusty and Phil with so many e-mails about what to buy when I was getting outfitted. I think they probably wondered if I was a neurotic, but I really tried to take the warnings about sutlers seriously. It really is such a maze and despite having a fairly well paying job, I still felt the financial pinch in getting outfitted. One really has to spend his money wisely but if he does so, it is manageable. The trick is to buy the right stuff initially so that you do not have to buy everything twice. Also, take advantage of loaner gear. I now have the AOT impression pretty much covered, but now its time to think of the Zouave impression. Maybe Iíll just wait on that and get a knapsack first (because blanket rolls really are kind of a pain). Hmmm, or maybe IíllÖ.
Finally, the really important stuff...the pards. Some of this I have already alluded to, but your comrades are by far the most important part of this hobby. At first I made the mistake of reading the Authentic Campaigner website too much. The personalities I saw in action there were just not of the type that I wanted to encounter socially, and if the guys I met in the ranks were all like them then I knew I was lost. As a result of this I almost gave up on the hobby before I got started. Learning the skills of the hobby and getting outfitted are really big hurdles and people need support while they undertake to meet these challenges. I learned from my pards that while we have a unit that strives for authenticity, our members temper that goal with humanity and reality. Everyone is self-conscious at first and one of the things I had to bear in mind while I was inventing myself as a reenactor was that I had to keep my goals realistic; and furthermore that the expectations my comrades had of me had to be realistic as well. Even if I had started out with a Rockefellerís bank account to buy my gear with, I still would not have known how to use it, or what it was that I was supposed to be portraying. That was my greatest relief; when I realized that my pards did have realistic expectations of me. It did not just end there. They took it upon themselves to provide me with the gear, directed my research, and helped me with the education that I needed to create the best impression I could. They basically led by example. So, instead of having a mean-spirited approach that emphasized my shortcomings as a rookie, they took it upon themselves to enable me. In retrospect it almost seems silly to me that I had these concerns,but at the time they were very much real. When you are first dipping your toe into the water you really do not know what to expect.
So now I guess I get to talk about where I am at heading into my sophomore year. I definitely feel confident as a reenactor; I am starting to find my niche. I certainly do not know all there is to know about the hobby or the Civil War and I am sure I never will, which is just fine; there would not be much point to continuing in all of this if I did. I sure feel like I have established some good friendships, and I am really looking forward to enjoying more time with my mates. I am also looking forward to using some of that new-found confidence to be more outgoing and meet more folks at events. It would be nice to use what experience I now have to help our recruits make the transition into the hobby a little easier; and of course I want to get more gear and work on more and better impressions. Mostly though I just want to get out there and use what Iíve got; I want to go campaigning.