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The proper way to "die"

Discussion in 'Reenactors Forum' started by Glorybound, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. Glorybound

    Glorybound Major Retired Moderator

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    Civil War reenactment etiquette: How — and when — to die on the battlefield

    By Paul Farhi, Published: July 15

    There’s no shame or glory in “dying” while reenacting a Civil War battle. There are, however, a few hazards in it. You might get stepped on by advancing infantry, or become seriously dehydrated while lying motionless in the summer sun. And make sure you don’t die on top of an anthill or a cow patty.

    For many of the 10,000 or so reenactors who will participate in a dramatic restaging of the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run on Saturday and Sunday, authenticity is almost everything. From the proper uniform to the right arms to the appropriate facial hair, the goal is to avoid all things “*****,” the derisive term for anything not quite out of mid-19th-century America.

    Dying is no exception. Many reenactors go to great pains to portray the, uh, great pains and suffering of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell in battle. They study photographs of Civil War dead for guidance about the grotesque positions assumed by men who’ve “taken a hit” from rifles and cannons. A few — the truly hard-core — go so far as to simulate the bloating of a newly dead body.

    One of the big issues in any reenactment is deciding who lives and who dies.

    As a rule, reenactors prefer not to. Or at least, they prefer not to die too soon in a restaging that could last 90 minutes or more.

    “No one wants to drive hours on end to go to an event and then march out onto the field, fire several rounds and then take a hit and lay on the field for the rest of the battle,” said Michael Cheaves, who reenacts with the 1st Tennessee Cavalry in Jefferson City. “It kind of defeats the purpose.”

    So, tough choices have to be made.

    Organizers typically brief reenactors about the approximate number of casualties involved in a battle and who will “win” the day’s fight. But if not enough men are falling when the historical circumstances demand it, field commanders will quietly start encouraging more to die.

    At the Manassas reenactment, Jonathan Novak knows his unit, the Confederate 4th Alabama, will take massive casualties. The 4th held out against overwhelming Union numbers 150 years ago, buying time for reinforcements to arrive. It lost almost a third of its number during this first major battle of the war.

    “I personally am of the frame of mind that everything we do as reenactors should be done right, otherwise there is little point in doing it,” said Novak, who lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (He draws a line at eating raw salt pork, a common field ration, but you get the idea.)

    The “when” and “how” of dying during a reenactment present their own challenges.

    The standard is common sense. If you’re in a position to “take a hit,” the honorable thing to do is take it, said Donald Treco, who commands Company F of the 2nd California Cavalry, a Union outfit out of Sacramento.

    “The audience member today is sophisticated enough to know when a shot should have scored a casualty, and when no one falls, it can be met with laughter from the audience,” Treco said. “Just as in Hollywood, the suspension of disbelief. . . is the overall goal.”

    Some meticulous organizers have created clever ways of enforcing the timing of hits. At some events, they’ll assign “fate cards” to units to replicate the actual killed-wounded ratios. If the unit has enough members to match the number that fought, each reenactor may portray an actual historical person whose fate is literally in the cards.

    Others will place red or specially marked blank cartridges in soldiers’ cartridge boxes. When the soldier gets to one of these cartridges, the jig is up. Time to die.

    “There’s a lot of ‘I got you!’ ‘No, I got you!’ at the usual reenactment,” said Jerry Todd, who has participated in Civil War events for 36 years, most recently as first sergeant of the Federal 1st Maine Cavalry. “There are some that will never take a hit, and others you can hardly keep standing up. I’ve seen whole units drop dead when a single musket was fired, and exactly the reverse.”

    Some would-be Federals and Rebs play out their death throes with agonized wails and rending of uniforms. (This is not overacting; gut-shot Civil War soldiers often tore at their uniforms to find their wounds.) Dying is also trickier if you happen to be portraying cavalry; falling off a horse is far more dangerous than falling off your feet.

    Since a dead reenactor might have to remain still for the better part of an hour, the smart ones will tip their caps over their faces once they drop, said Rick Lieb, who reenacts with the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a Federal unit in Youngstown. A disproportionate number seem to end up dying in the shade.

    “Hard-cores” will stay facedown so spectators can’t see their chests rising and falling as they breathe. Some will spatter fake blood. A few less rigorous types, however, have been known to sneak a camera onto the field and snap a photo or two of the action unfolding around them. (So f*rby!)

    Novak points out that Civil War soldiers were more likely to be wounded than killed in battle and more likely to die from infection or disease after it than during it. Even so, when he takes a bullet, he tries to make it look right.

    “I think of where I was hit, how my mind and body would react to such a wound, and if I would survive it,” Novak said. “. . . I try my utmost to avoid it all looking like a scene out of a B movie.”

    At smaller events, where manpower is in short supply, dead soldiers often make miraculous recoveries and rejoin the ranks again and again.

    At Manassas, the dead will be expected to remain that way until the event concludes, with the bugling of taps or church call and the order to “rise up.”

    That is, of course, one of the beautiful things about a reenactment. Unlike the real conflict, with its horrifying carnage and destruction, no one sustains much worse than a bad sunburn at these battles.

    As Jerry Todd put it, “Reenacting, for the most part, is kids playing army.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifes...-battlefield/2011/07/11/gIQAgNcRGI_story.html
     

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  3. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    I never had any problem "taking a hit" during a civil war battle reenactment. Way too often reenactors take too long to "die" and leave the spectators wondering why all of us are such bad shots or if we are wearing blue/gray kevlar.

    Plus, if you get shot early in the battle it means you don't have to spend much time cleaning your musket from all the fouling that takes place when firing a lot of black powder during a battle.

    I first always tried to get in the front rank so I can take a "hit" first and fall face down, after first seeing if a rebel on the other side of the field has drawn a bead on me. There is nothing more satisfying than firing a blank round at someone who sees you do such and then have that person have the grace to go down as though he has actually been shot by you.

    Second, I ALWAYS look for a shady place to die under. Do not ever, EVER, underestimate heat problems in a wool uniform on a hot summer day. You can still look like you took a direct "hit" and die comfortably under a shady tree.

    Last, but my no means least, a civil war reenactor should never, EVER feel bad about appearing to panic during a battle and just run away from the fight. I first did this at a reenactment in Perryville, KY, on the actual battlefield. Yelling out in a frightened voice, "We're about to be flanked!" or "Betrayed! Betrayed!" and then running like a jack rabbit is just as authentic a portrayal of a scared civil war soldier as you can get. Remember Lincoln giving pardons to soldiers with "cowardly legs?" EXACTLY!

    Anyway, that's Unionblue's certified way of taking a hit or deserting under fire.

    Or, you could do what one of my fellow reenactors did at the 125th Shiloh reenactment. The man simply did not want to go to all the trouble of cleaning his musket or worrying about finding shade to "die" under, so, as soon as he stepped off of the chartered bus we used to get to the reenactment, he took a "hit" from a reb sniper in the parking lot on the first day. :smile:

    Until our next post,
    Keep low, look for the shade, and the nearest exit from the battlefield.

    Unionblue
     
  4. wilber6150

    wilber6150 Brigadier General Moderator

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    I have to remember that one :smile:
     
  5. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Brigadier General Moderator

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    Well, temperatures for July 23 is due to be 100-101 degrees (without humidity included) and only slightly better on Sunday.

    Safety over acting should be the rule.

    M. E. Wolf
     
  6. Joey12thga

    Joey12thga Banned

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    Taking it Like a Man
    by Paul Calloway


    We've all heard the complaints:

    1) "...we fired [insert number ranging from 5-10] volleys into the [Federal/Rebel] line(s) and not one [blue belly/johnnie] went down!"

    2) "The [Yanks/Secesh] must be wearing their [blue/grey] Kevlar suits today... they are invincible"

    and on and on it goes.

    Perhaps an examination of reenactment hits and hit-takers will serve to educate us all on the state of hit-taking in the hobby.

    After close examination I have concluded that there are no less than four separate categories of Civil War Reenactors as it relates to taking a hit during battle reenactments. Those categories are:

    1. The Hit-Takers
    2. The Lemmings
    3. The Occasional Hero's
    4. The Powder-Burners

    Let's examine each of these categories closely.



    The Hit-Takers:

    These men are a small but growing sect within the reenacting community. They are usually easy to spot during a battle reenactment because they are always the first to suck dirt. Many times Hit-Takers are specialists of one sort or another. One Hit-Taker may specialize in taking extraordinarily dramatic hits such as falling in creeks or bowling other men over as they careen toward the earth.. Hit-Takers may go down in the first or second volley. Some Hit-Takers have been known to specialize in screaming in agony for 20 to 30 minutes.

    Usually Hit-Takers in general will shun the hospital stewards who are as pesky as hound dogs trying to tree a coon. The steward will often take personal issue with the Hit-Taker's refusal to acknowledge his badgering and will launch a full-scale assault on the Hit-Taker's sincere attempts to appear dead. Hit-Takers can often be recognized by the bewildered looks they give to the legions of ice maidens who are often as pesky as the stewards but usually better looking.

    Max Rounds Normally Spent: 20
    % of Total Reenactors in this Category: 5%




    The Lemmings:

    The Lemmings are those reenactors who consider themselves Hit-Takers but really aren't. Lemmings wait until the end of the battle before finally going down in mass. Due to the large numbers of Lemmings, the mortality rate in the last 10 minutes of a Civil War Reenactment is often roughly equivalent to that of the first wave assaults at Normandy. Special Note: Lemmings are usually the loudest complainers when it comes to other reenactors not taking hits.

    A highly specialized strain of Lemmings can be identified by a deeply ingrained resurrection complex. The reenactors in this specialized sub-category will often take early hits in droves (again the Lemming thing) but then shirk their way to the rear rather than staying dead. This is an important distinction and is what separates them from true Hit-Takers. Once at the rear (where-ever that really is) they will liberally resurrect and rejoin the fray with renewed vigor. It should be further noted that these Lemmings are still just Lemmings and can be found again dying in droves at the end of the battle.

    Max Rounds Normally Spent: 40 (30 for Lemmings with a resurrection complex.)
    % of Total Reenactors in this Category: 30%




    The Occasional Heros:

    Occasional Heros are Powder-Burners with a new lease on life. These guys have probably shot more loads than most championship race horses. Occasional Heros can usually be spotted propped up on one elbow chatting with other Occasional Heros as the battle winds to a close. Occasional Heros will sometimes take a dramatic hit - usually the result of tripping over their canteen or haversack.

    Max Rounds Normally Spent: 60
    % of Total Reenactors in this Category: 30%




    The Powder-Burners:

    These men have refined the loading process to the point of expertise and can easily load and fire four to five times per minute.Often times they've removed their cartridge box tins in order that they might pile in more rounds. Their haversacks are usually full of extra rounds and at least one full tin of caps. These men will carry enough picks, wrenches and other gadgets to open a 19th century gunsmith shop. They'll pride themselves as occassional Heros or Lemmings but in reality the only hits they are taking at reenactments are courtesy of Mr. Beam and Mr. Daniels.

    Max Rounds Normally Spent: 650
    % of Total Reenactors in this Category: 35%




    Some additional items of note:

    - The categories above tend to run in groups.

    - The Powder-Burners especially will almost always be found grouped with other Powder-Burners and can be found furthermore to exist at company, battalion and even brigade levels.

    - Lemmings and Occasional heros will make the transistion to Hit-Takers from time to time. This can be a permanent transistion and is often due to a natural propensity toward laziness or slobiness (two strangely redeeming qualities for a Civil War reenactor to possess.)



    Hit Propensity Modifiers:

    +5% Low on Caps
    +5% Low on Rounds
    +10% Gun Fouled
    +10% Gun too Hot to Touch
    +15% Completely Enveloped by the enemy**
    +20% Pretty Ice Maidens Roaming in Vicinity
    +20% Detached from Pards
    +50% Video Personnel in Vicinity (Internal Modifier +10% chance of one man charge on enemy lines.)


    **NOTE: The complete envelopment modifier does not apply to Powder-Burners. Proceed directly to Little Big Horn Scenario.

    Given all of this scholarly research I leave it to each of you to decide in what category he (or even she) resides in. The figures and percentages noted above are of course indisputable having been thoroughly researched and documented. Footnotes to these figures may be provided at the author's discretion. [Some really other important and legal-sounding mumbo-jumbo should be inserted here.] See you at the next shin-dig!
     
  7. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    I've progressed from the Hit Taker catagory as defined by the illustrious Paul Calloway to outright refusing to fire a blank except over a grave anymore. I've known men who earned a Purple Heart for real and have come to be outright offended by some of those who play war. There is a fine line between acting and stupidity and far too many re-enactors embrace the second instead of first. Perhaps I've been too close to the Angel of Death to mock her and that experiance has jaded me.
     
  8. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Re-enacting summed up in one phrase.
     
  9. Nytram01

    Nytram01 Sergeant

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    I'd be a horrible reenactor. I fear I'd be a modern day William Topaz McGonagall who when playing MacBeth refused to die at the hands of McDuff and kept fighting until McDuff died.
     
  10. maggerylaundress

    maggerylaundress Private

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    Thanks for that, Joey12thga - I'm laughing out loud, but only because it's so true!

    I reenact in So. CA, so the smaller #s of men on the field exacerbate the problem. Battles last @ 30 minutes, but if the accurate amount of people actually died at each volley, the battle would only last @ 10 minutes. My unit commander has been trying to convince our command to shorten the battles and go to the "fate-card" system, but they're such a pack of mules (DON'T get me started on the RIDICULOUS politics involved) I'm not sure we'll get anywhere. We may implement the system just for our unit and see how it works (and Command will get after them for all dying too early...).

    My other pet peeve is when 90% of the dead just flop over and take a nap instantly - as if the enemy were such good shots that they got it through the head every time. I wish we would take it more seriously and not just "play war" - war IS horrific, and we could get that across a little if people would take the trouble to _act_ (it's called a reenACTment, for gosh sakes) on the field instead of just shoot & then stretch their limbs under the nearest shade-tree . . .
     
  11. Joey12thga

    Joey12thga Banned

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    That's a national epidemic. One reason I tend to shy away from the battle festivals.
     
  12. DixieDude007

    DixieDude007 Cadet

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    well i fire about 30 rounds a battle at a slow-moderate pace...as a student on a LIMITED income i cant fork out 45 bucks each month for a pound of powder. However once i feel like i have fired enough and im sure that i have one round for the memorial volley i take a shot to the heart and fall on my face.
     
  13. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    ?? 1 Lbs of FFG is still less than $20... but I refuse to play war for other reasons.
     
  14. Republican Blues

    Republican Blues Sergeant Major

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    Wherever your buying your powder is freaking hosing you bro. And if you only get 30 rounds out of a lb, your charging way to heavy
     
  15. 1stSgt E

    1stSgt E Cadet

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    Most definitely!!
     
  16. Dred

    Dred First Sergeant

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    At Cedar Creek one year I thought it would be cool to take a hit in a gully retreating towards cannon lining the ridge opposite. a Little too close. IT was way too loud! And pieces of the canister kept falling at me. I decided I was merely wounded and crawled out of the way to die near the house lol In the shade of course. :wink:
     
  17. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    So by what I read in this article you really should die in a clump of trees while throwing up and....er....being indisposed? :smile:
     
  18. sargebill

    sargebill Sergeant

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    I second that.
     
  19. Tin cup

    Tin cup 2nd Lieutenant

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    1 pound of powder=7000 grains

    7000 grains divided by 60 grains for .577-.58 cal ammo=116 loads
    7000 grains divided by 110 grains for .69 cal smoothbore ammo = 63 loads
    7000 grains divided by 70 grains for .69 cal rifled ammo = 100 loads

    Those that double charge their guns need to vacate the reenactment, and get out of the hobby.

    Kevin Dally

    PS. DON'T die in a fire ant mound!
     
  20. DixieDude007

    DixieDude007 Cadet

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    im not getting 30 rounds of one pound.I got a some from Bass pro for 25 bucks in march (my bad wrong price) (the only place i could find it quick in my area) and i still have about half a pound left and that will last me through at last a while if i keep going at my normal rate of fire. i use 50-60 grains of in a cartridge. However, i still do not have 25 bucks to blow on powder...i need my money for books and things of that sort
     
  21. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Just tell the old fogies what one textbook sets you back. :smile:
     
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