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  1. #1
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    CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    The attached article is provided here with permission by Kevin O'Beirne of the Columbia Rifles.
    Attached Files Attached Files
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
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    Wayne #25, F&AM

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    This article was originally published as, “Captured! Taking ‘Prisoners’ in Civil War Living History”, Camp Chase Gazette, December 2002, and is included in The Columbia Rifles Research Compendium, 2nd Edition.

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    Nice article.

    This doesn't happen enough.
    People should do it more, and do it right.

    Good Job
    Randy Allen

    I want to fight some small man, and lick him.
    Henry Adams 1863

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    Great Artical,

    I never really thought about geting captured. I will have togive this a try and see how it goes. I do fear that I will be " high fived" but we will find out.

    James Sturckler Jr

    13th VA CO H

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    A really nice article Kevin.

    Let me ask this. It appears from the way you've written the article that it is better for event organizers to work out the actions of the captors (such as weapon confiscation) prior to the event and then disseminate that material down through the chain of command before the action starts than to have reenactors just decide on their own to surrender.

    Also as a compromise between authenticity and all reenactors desires to not let their most valuable item (read musket) out of their sight would having the 'prisoners' stack arms (maybe with belts and cartridge boxes hanging from them) and then move away from the arms stacks be appropriate? I imagine that most of the guards would then stand between the prisoners and the stacked arms.

    I think to spectators at a distance having 5 guys guarding 40 armed men would seem a little improbable.

    Thanks.
    Bob Sandusky
    Co C 125th NYSVI
    Esperance, NY

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob 125th NYSVI View Post
    I think to spectators at a distance having 5 guys guarding 40 armed men would seem a little improbable.
    Bob,

    This works well in practice. They point most reenactors miss is the extreme amount of work put into events in the 18-24 months prior to the event taking place, so something as simple as taking and processing prisoners actually works well, as opposed to the alternative.

    Keeping the prisoners' gear within sight is the normal practice, and the gear is normally outside of the guards' cordon. Considering the mix of antique arms, top end reproductions, and all else, this is simply common sense.

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    Excellent article! I must say that I have been 'taken prisoner' a couple times, though only once was I actually put under any sort of guard. The other times I was simply told to 'stay down' and not move. I think I'll take this article along to the next event and see what my pards have to say.
    Pvt. Emilio Vallecillo
    "No Mess at All" Mess

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    At the 2nd Outpost event I had the misfortune of being captured. For those involved it was a pretty interesting unplanned scenario.

    I was the Orderly SGT for our company and on Sunday morning our company was to feign an attack on left end of our flank, while the entire regiment would make the full assault on the right flank.

    Our company formed as skirmishers crossed the creek and started up a small hill. We had found out really fast that our company had bitten off more than we could chew.

    The two rebel companies were making things hot for us. Taking advantage of the many large trees I stood my ground behind a large oak. Finally the rebels had enough of our shenanigans. They fixed bayonets and jumped out of the rifle pits in order to drive us off the side of that hill. I turned to my left to encourage the company to stand there ground but didn’t see anyone in a skirmish line at all. The entire company including the chicken hearted Captain (a membmer of the SC Bar) were running like rabbits.

    It wasn’t too long after that a few rebels spied me looking kinda pathetic and dumbfounded not know what to do next. They demanded my surrender, which I didn’t have much to say about since I was unloaded and was abandoned by my company with my arse hanging in the breeze. I had all my accouterments (expect my haversack and canteen) and my weapon taken from me and was escorted back to their rifle pits.

    I was told to sit down next to fire so everyone could catch his breath. When I took my greatcoat off they jumped with joy to find out they captured a BIG FISH in a little pond. One of them jumped up and said, “Damn we captured their Orderly, whatta we gonna do with him?” The rebel Captain realized he had someone that might be more useful than a private. They poured me a small bit of coffee to take the morning chill off, wished me well, and was then escorted further to the rear of the rebel lines.

    Once there I found myself not among friendly enemies. Nope! They had a bunch of mounted ruffians also known was the Critter Company guarding about 20 other wags from the main attack that didn’t fare so well either.

    The first ruffian I meet really liked my dress hat and demanded a trade for his hat. When I turned down the offer he pulled out his revolver and offered to trade a .36 caliber ball for my attitude. After that I agreed and complimented him on how much more dashing he looked with my hat.

    During my short time with those that had first captured me it wasn’t so bad. We had a mutual respect as formidable enemies. Not so behind the lines of battle our hosts the Critter Company treated us rather harsh.

    Out of the entire weekend that little slice as a POW was more memorable than anything else.
    Bill Young
    WIG/GHTI and a Hoosier by the grace of God
    Jubilee Lodge #746 F&AM Whiteland, IN

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    Western Independent Grays

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    This ain't rocket science - as Kevin says we just don't do it right. Great article. I would suggest that an abridged version be made that details procedures for events - the end portion of the current article, and adopted by organizers with modifications for particular circumstances. At Franklin, we had it set up that the AoP would take and guard the prisoners from the Red River Battalion, while the dead and wounded were also removed to the hospital and the "dead camp." This had the effect of reducing the survivors to reorganizing the "shattered" unit, another thing we rarely get to do, but that was the natural result of losing prisoners and casualties.

    The other thing I like about the entire prisoner scenario is the Provost Guard impression gets to be exercised for something other than checking passes and such.

    No reason that can't be done at any event with good planning and follow through once the event starts, which appears to be the breakdown in those events where it does not work. The follow through part takes attention to detail and adherence to scenario, on the part of both the guards and prisoners. There have been a few events of late where the plan was good but the scenario broke down in favor of comfort and "down time."

    I think the concern about "property" is a bit of a red herring. Stacking arms in sight of the prisoners makes sense from both an ownership and a logistics standpoint. Anyone not wanting to be separated from his weapon by a few feet does not get it.

    One of the big questions of course is how long to prisoners stay caught - keep them overnight, like Franklin, exchange them each night, like BGR or? As long as it is done discretely, after dark, and in a manner that is period or at least military, it works.
    Soli Deo Gloria
    Doug Cooper

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    Re: CAPTURED! Taking Prisoners in Civil War Living History by Kevin O'Beirne, Columbia Rifles

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob 125th NYSVI View Post
    A really nice article Kevin.
    Thanks, and glad you liked it. This is the first I've noticed some action on this thread, so please pardon me for not replying to your post for more than a month.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob 125th NYSVI View Post
    Let me ask this. It appears from the way you've written the article that it is better for event organizers to work out the actions of the captors (such as weapon confiscation) prior to the event and then disseminate that material down through the chain of command before the action starts than to have reenactors just decide on their own to surrender.
    Well, I suppose it all depends on the goals of the event. If a "POW scenario" and important aspect of what's being portrayed, yeah, I think it should be planned in detail well before the event and the goals and "rules" for it made known to the participants who will be part of the scenario.

    If, on the other hand, it's not much of a part of the scenario, less effort can be put into planning it beforehand.

    Finally, if it's a mainstream event, where POWs are rare and many folks don't know how to deal with them (or to even look to "take" prisoners), then some pre-event planning and communication of intent and goals is certainly going to be a good thing.

    In recent years, since this article was first published in CCG, some of my comrades have used it as a blueprint for a POW scenario at the mainstream event at Mumford, NY (Genesee Country Village). When the scenario was a bit smaller and more managable--meaning, fewer were aware of it in advance and all those who participated had been briefed weeks and again days in advance of how to act and what to expect--it came off very, very well. Probably one of the, if not THE, best POW scenario I've been part of (I was one of the POWs, wearing gray; along with several other CRs; a few more CRs were in blue as part of the capturing force and guards). The next year it was tried, more folks had head that it was a "cool scenario" after the spectator battle, and consequently there was a good deal more of us Rebs surrendering, and a LOT more Yanks wanting to be in on the "guard thingg". A number of us had been briefed again, pre-event, about it and tried to act accordingly. Those who just "jumped into it" on the spur of the moment, or who hadn't contacted the organizers of the scenario in advance to learn what was expected, ultimately really hosed up the scenario. We had really defiant Rebs bragging about "killin' Yankees" (and all these "Rebs" were from western New York, to boot!), and we had guards who had no clue how to act. I was a CS lieutenant that year, and I was personally "interrogated" by at least five different Yank officers, when in fact there was only one Yank officer of the guard/provost-type person, who was actually the last guy to interrogate me. When I was taken prisoner the guards allowed me my sword AND my side arm until I quietly deposited them away from where I was being held, lest it look "weird" to the scores of event spectators who were observing it. In the end, when folks don't know how to act--and a POW scenario is so foreign to most reenactors, few really have a clue how to act in one (at least per the way real POWs and guards acted)--the scenario is almost always going to become goofy and "Hogans Heroes"ish.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob 125th NYSVI View Post
    Also as a compromise between authenticity and all reenactors desires to not let their most valuable item (read musket) out of their sight would having the 'prisoners' stack arms (maybe with belts and cartridge boxes hanging from them) and then move away from the arms stacks be appropriate? I imagine that most of the guards would then stand between the prisoners and the stacked arms.
    Got me. While I've never heard or read of an historic situation where men captured in battle had their ordnance stores confiscated in this way, maybe it was done somewhere. The scenario I envision at the typical reenactment is not the same as John Brown Gordon leading the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia to surrender to Bartlett's division of Yanks at Appomattox on April 12, 1865. In formal surrenders of massed bodies of troops, whether Appomattox, or perhaps Vicksburg or Donelson or Harper's Ferry '62, yeah, the losing side stacked arms, but that's more understandable to me than what you'd do with 5 or 10 guys surrendering during a "battle". Also, for larger numbers of guys captured in a "battle" to stack arms, that may mean they have to hang onto their weapons for a while after being captured to have enough men to make a stack or two.

    In the end, I guess there will undoubtably be compromises to reality when portraying POW scenarios, and each event and the men on the scene ultimately have to decide what degree of compromise is "okay" for them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob 125th NYSVI View Post
    I think to spectators at a distance having 5 guys guarding 40 armed men would seem a little improbable.
    On that one I disagree and offer this: What spectators expect to see is of no consequence. Instead, what matters is how it really happened. I have read accounts of many more than 30 or 40 men being held by a mere handful of guards. I believe the article itself even has some examples of this--one that comes to mind is the account from spring 1862 near Hanover Courthouse, VA when a single Yank captured something like 96 Confederate soldiers. To further illustrate this, here's a quote taken from my oft-plagarized article about how soldiers behaved when wounded:

    “A bullet hit me on the left shoulder and knocked me down as quick as if I’d been hit with a sledge hammer. The first thought I had was that some rebel had hit me with the butt of his gun, for I felt numb and stunned, but I was not long in finding out what was the matter… After a while I began to feel better… I picked up my gun and tried to shoulder it but I found that my left arm was powerless so I went…where our fellows had a heavy line of prisoners and a very thin skirmish line of themselves, and took my place outside the rebs… I felt sick and faint and the blood was running down the inside my clothes and dropping from my pants leg and my shoe was full and running over.”
    - Beaudot, William and Herdegen, Lance, An Irishman in the Iron Brigade, New York: Fordham University Press, 1993, pp. 96.

    Another, very famous example, is the WW1 fight in which Corporal Alvin York and a very small squad captured over 130 Germans and spent quite a while stumbling around afterward trying to find American troops to turn them over to.

    How was it that a small number of men could keep a larger number in check? I think it goes to the psychology of captured men: they are defeated and downcast. They are usually willing to do what they're told, and fearful that one of those few, nervous guards around them will get an itchy trigger finger and blast him.

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