Saturday, October 23, 2010

From Hardee hat to correct footwear, Authentic Campaigner website espouses accuracy

It appears no detail or footnote is too small for the dedicated Civil War living historian.

To wit, FranklinGuards NYSM went online to ask, “How do YOU break ranks.” He added a couple sentences from some of what he had read and asked other groups what they do.

“Casey's Tactics, Vol. I, School of the Soldier Part III, para. 426; Hardee's do., para. 411,” was the one-sentence reply from Pvt. Schnapps, posted on the Authentic Campaigner.

Since 1999, the Authentic Campaigner website has served a loyal community of living historians, many of whom do their research on what life, drill and fighting was like for a Civil War soldier.

They come to the site to learn about events and join the myriad discussion threads on authenticity, preservation, music and other topics. They also buy, sell and trade items. They have a fondness for "Events By Us and For Us" or "EBUFU", which unlike most re-enactments, are closed to the public and promote scenarios that are as close to the real thing as possible.

The Civil War Picket recently spoke with the website’s founder Paul Calloway, a 41-year medical sales professional in Fort Wayne, Ind. Calloway is a member of the Tar Water Mess, a living history unit based in Kentucky and Indiana.

Q. Why did you set up Authentic Campaigner?
A. Several units had websites. I first set up a glorified list of resources. The purpose was to take the good news of authenticity and share it with everyone. This wasn’t secret information. The originators just wanted credit. I could post a link to it or I could host.

Q. What is the principal message?
A. To do your best to be as much like a Civil War soldier as possible.

Q. How would you describe the different classifications of re-enactors/living historians?
A. FARBs (those who show an indifference to authenticity in behavior and gear); mainstreamers, who tend to buy uniforms and equipment off the rack; progressives, who are trying to improve their impressions; and hardcores, who flat out try to do it right. We look at research on uniforms, what they wore and ate. For some re-enactors, the coolers come out after dark when the public is away.

(Click this link for a more detailed description of re-enactors).

Q. What is the evolution?
A. As you move along, you tend to steer clear of doing a particular impression. When you look at some guys, particularly for the Trans-Mississippi, they can do 10 different impressions.

Q. Who are your readers? What kind of page views?
A. They cross the entire spectrum, but they trend toward progressive and hardcore. Sometimes we have to dial down the mainstream discussion if it strays from authenticity. Our civilian forums section has continued to grow. We get between 10,000 and 15,000 page views a day, with big interest particularly in spring and early summer.

Q. What about politics and moderation of forums?
A. We have several moderators. Our mission is to steer clear of modern-day politics. People who post on forums must use their real names.

Q. What kind of costs are involved for you and readers?
A. For $10 a year, a reader can access the site to buy, sell and trade items. (There are no fees to be in discussion groups). It costs us about $300 a month to run the site. Advertising helps. It’s not a profit-making website.

Q. How about fundraising? I’ve seen where the Authentic Campaigner has partnered with the Civil War Preservation Trust.
A. We have been able to donate some money for preservation. We were able to give money to help present the McRae Family Papers at the South Carolina Relic Room & Military Museum.

Q. What about research for the hobby?
A. Guys want to look at records and photos to better understand the battles. Some regiments have a lot of details [in archives or libraries] while others do not. You can get information at the Library of Congress and local libraries. My advice is to get off the computer and go to the library. To research the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, we went to Ashtabula to read postwar accounts, letters and to learn what they ate. We wanted to be sure we were acting appropriately.

Q. How can the layman spot authenticity?
A. Look at the way the fabric falls o a uniform. You can tell by how someone is wearing the equipment. You can look at photos to learn these things. A lot of re-enactors look at what they guy next to them is using [without thinking about it]. If you are on a march and see wall tents that weren’t in that area during the war, you know it’s wrong. For example, with the 105th Ohio, we knew they didn’t have knapsacks in one battle.

Q. Are there some authentic events that particularly stand out?
A. In 2000, Craig Hadley of the Cracker Outpost put on an event in at Lookout Mountain, Tenn. Twenty-five young men around 20-years-old practiced drills. It was very impressive. Perryville 2003 was good. RippaVilla Plantation in Spring Hill, Tenn. These events are best when you are living like a soldier. No freeways. Fill your canteen from the river. It’s not as hard as you think to speak in the first person (portrayal of a character).

Q. Today’s re-enactors are heavier and older than the lean young men of the Civil War?
A. There’s not a lot we can do about the latter, but we can do something about the former.

Q. What about authenticity of camps during events?
A. It’s interesting. Kids recognize the difference right away. They’ll say ‘these are the real soldiers.’ They can tell uniforms and camps are different. They way we interact is different.

Q. Who are your competitors?
A. The Civil War Reenactors home page is a big site. It tends to be more mainstream. We work with them and aren’t really competitors. Both serve an audience.

Q. What trends have affected the hobby in recent years?
A. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have taken a lot of the guys out of the ranks. A lot are part timers. The hobby has a lot of people from the military. The hobby will be around. The 150th anniversary series of re-enacted battles will provide an opportunity for the hobby to restore itself.

Q. What about costs and the way to get into the hobby?
A. I’d say a gear and gun for the mainstreamer will run around $1,000. That will be about $1,500 for authentic. People look at vendors on the site for that kind of thing. A mainstream Hardee hat will cost about $70. A Tim Bender hat, with authentic material and hat forms, might go for a little more than $100. Start with an infantry impression and then branch out to something like the cavalry or artillery.

Q. What’s the outlook for your website?
A. It’s odd in that we don’t care about money. We don’t want to grow at the expense of authenticity. We want to do this the right way. You’re going to find people from all walks of life on the site. We don’t want to promote FARBism.

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