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A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

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  • A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

    A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression
    By Cal Kinzer

    Everyone thinks it costs big bucks to have a first-rate authentic soldier impression. However, there are a number of things any Reenactor can do to improve his impression that cost little or no money. Here are a dozen examples:

    (1) Get a Haircut

    Both army regulations and contemporary photographs confirm that hair was kept short by soldiers. The idea that the Rebs wore long hair much like their "cavalier" ancestor is untrue, except for a few cases very early in the war. Problem with cleanliness and lice in the field made short hair a must. Don’t be misled by the photographs of high-ranking officers. Their hair was probably longer than that of the men under their command. Civilian hair styles were shorter for the younger generation during the 1860’s than they were among the older folks, many of whom still had longer hair from the 1840’s or before. By the same token, long beards were probably uncommon for the same reasons. Most photos taken in winter quarters show the majority of the men with no beards at all. Most likely, beards, if worn, would be of the shorter variety and would be worn out of necessity during active campaigning when shaving was an impossibility. Most Civil War soldiers seem to have enjoyed shedding their summer growth of facial hair when they settled down to winter quarters.

    (2) Lose Some Weight

    I don’t agree with the lady who is suing the Park Service because they won’t let her participate as a soldier - but she is right about one thing. Reenactors as a group are grossly overweight. (Comes from munching Pringles while reading the latest Civil Warbook!) your uniform will never look right if you’re more than 10-15% overweight. Not all Civil War soldiers were bean poles, but fat ones didn’t last very long - especially in the combat arms.

    (3) Lose Your Hat Insignia

    Kurt Holman pretty much said it all in his article ("Insignia Of The Common Union Solder", CCG, March, 1991). If you want to look like a real soldier, one of the easiest way to achieve it is to remove all insignia (bugle, corps, badge, etc.) form your headgear. Bugles were not even regulation for forage caps. Many Reenactors may also be surprised to learn that bugles and the side eagle plate were not issued with the Hardee hat. They had to be requisitioned separately. Once the war got going, soldiers rarely did so unless they were on special guard detachments behind the lines.

    Feathers are also wrong. I have yet to see any original photo of a field soldier wearing one. Hat cords were worn sometimes on Hardees, but since they also had to be obtained separately, probably not that much. The only ornamentation that came on the Hardee hat when it was issued was a 1.2" black ribbon which formed a small bow on the left side. The best way to go by far is to have a plain hat or forage cap. Take a long, hard look at your headgear. Nothing will make your impression like a good, correctly-styled hat. Nothing will ruin an otherwise good impression faster than a poor choice of headgear. Even though a hat may be historically correct, this still does not mean it is the right hat for you. Victorian men were very particular about their headgear. Soldiers were no different. Hats during the period had a definite shape and style. There were none of the shapeless(hillbilly) hats you so often see at reenactments. A hat should have a hatband and should not be too "floppy." Wearing a droopy hat is probably the most common mistake made by Reenactors.

    (4) Burnish that Enfield

    Several years ago some of the boys in my unit got into a discussion about whether period Enfields were burnished. After looking at scores of photographs and examining every original we could find that was documented as being issued, we came to the conclusion they definitely were not. In fact, I have yet to see a period photograph of a blued Enfield. (If anyone has one, I’d like to see it!) Yes, the Brits did blue their metal, but the type of bluing they used didn’t last long. It quickly wore off when the weapon was cleaned. American arms had traditionally been burnished and there is no reason to believe that US and CS officers made any distinction in this area with regard to foreign-made weapons. The argument that you will have to clean the weapon if the bluing is removed won’t wash. It’s either authentic or it’s not - the choice is yours.

    (5) Burn Those Gaiters!

    It seems like every once in a while sutlers come up with some off-the-wall item which is specially designed to farb up an otherwise decent impression. Such is certainly the case with the current craze for gaiters. Yes, they had them. Yes, they can be documented. Yes, there are pictures of soldiers wearing them. But they look STUPID! This is precisely the reason why most Civil War soldiers got rid of theirs as quickly as they could. It’s another of those questions of what was typical. A typical soldier in the field, after the first few months of the war, wouldn’t be caught dead with such a silly and useless item.

    (6) Wear Full Gear

    There is a myth in the reenactment community that soldiers habitually dropped their knapsacks and blanket rolls on going into battle. It is the result of a few early war accounts (or accounts of assaults on fortified positions) in which this was done. (If you read farther in these same accounts, you almost always find that those who dropped their knapsacks or blanket rolls almost always later regretted having done so.)

    Veteran soldiers quickly learned that they would have urgent need of the dry clothing,blankets, and food contained therein once the battle was over - and who was to say thatthey wouldn’t be miles from where they started when the fight was over. The wagonsneeded to carry knapsacks became fewer as the war progressed and the armies cut backon transport. Knapsacks aren’t bad if you pack them right and don’t overload them. They’re much cooler than blanket rolls. There is plenty of documentation on their use inbattle for those willing to hunt for it.

    (7) Take Mind of the Season

    If you are a Federal, try leaving your frock coat or shell jacket home during summer events. They are simply too hot for summer use. The sack coat was virtually universal during the hot months. It is likely that the shell jackets worn by Rebs during the summer were also unlined. On the other hand, it appears that soldiers did switch over to frocks or shell jackets during the winter, at least in some cases, especially if overcoats were not readily available.

    (8) Hike Up Your Traps

    When you see a Reenactor with his haversack and canteen swinging down near his knees,it’s a sure bet he’s never marched in his gear any farther than the distance from the camp to the parking lot. Veteran campaigners soon learned that your traps ride a lot better, and don’t beat the dickens out of 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 advice invented by Reenactors for which 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.

    Similarly, the waist belt and cartridge box should be worn high up - around the true waist - not on the hips (which we modern folks consider to be the waist). Most commercially made haversacks and canteens seem to come equipped with straps made form Michael Jordan. But when you look at the pictures, you will see the original soldiers wearing them up high and out of the way.

    (9) Use Your "Biled" Shirt for a Gun Rag.

    Another atrocity which has been fostered on the unsuspecting Reenactor by so-called"sutlers" who care more about profits than for authenticity is the "biled shirt". This is the ubiquitous which linen shirt which you see most Reenactors wearing. Once again, a quick check of period photographs reveals that most civilian shirts were colored (soldiers, prints,or checks) and that most were either muslin, wool, or a heavier cotton. Federals(especially in the East) seem to have worn the issue woolen shirt (even in the summer). There is one account of a burial detail at Gettysburg. They could tell the dead Federals from the Rebs because the Feds were all wearing the off-white woolen Army-issue shirt(and this was in July!) As a general rule, colored shirts or off-white woolen or muslin shirts are far more authentic than the white linen shirts being worn by most Reenactors today.

    (10) Lose the Sweat-Band

    In spite of an absolute lack of documentation, many Reenactors insist on wearing handkerchiefs on their heads as sweat-bands. This makes us look like a bunch of 60’s radicals or Kung-Fu experts. Does it follow that since Civil War soldiers had handkerchiefs they would have used them in this way? Not necessarily. Standards of personal looks are different now. As near as I can tell, the practice of wearing headbands was something we borrowed from Asia during the Vietnam War. It would have been foreign to the thinking of 19th Century people. If it can’t be documented as being widespread, it doesn’t belong.

    (11) Un-Blouse Those Socks

    To many, this will seem like heresy. After all, everyone knows that Civil War soldiers tucked their trousers in their socks. Right? Well, maybe in some cases and in certain circumstances. One thing is for certain, it is incorrect to do so on formal occasions (such as guard duty, drill, dress parade, etc.) Nor does one see photographs (most of which were taken in camp during winter quarters) of soldiers with their pants tucked in their socks.

    In the field, it might have been done by some. However, my personal experience has been that (1) it lets small seeds, dirt clods, and pieces of gravel down in your brogans, (2)it’s hotter in the summer, and (3) it stretches out and eventually ruins your socks.

    A good rule of thumb is that trousers should never be bloused in camp, on the drill field, or on dress occasions. On the march or on the battlefield it is more acceptable,although still probably not the practice by the majority. If you’re a little on the heavy side,by all means don’t blouse your trousers. It only accents your weight and makes you look like a top!

    (12) Acquire the "Plain Nondescript" Look

    One strongly suspects that many Reenactors wear frilly, colorful, or even outlandish gear and insignia for all the wrong reasons - to be noticed in the crowd or to call attention to themselves. This is precisely the thing you don’t want to do if there are people shooting at you! The most important rule to remember if you are looking to improve your impression is that combat soldiers are infinitely practical men. The veterans made a real fetish of traveling light and they did their best to rid themselves of anything which was superfluous or unnecessary to the everyday necessities of life in the field. As the war progressed, even their officers came to recognize that practicality made for more efficient armies. Most veteran troops would have laughed at some of the ridiculous things worn by modern Reenactors: feathers, brass insignia, gaiters, etc. The best way to get that "look" for which we are all striving is to try to appear as plain as possible. As General Sherman said, "The longer the war goes on the less our men look like soldiers and the more they look like common day laborers". By the second year of the war, the veterans on both sides had discarded the finery of the early period, adopted very plain and functional dress, and had settled down to the grim business of survival.

    [edit. This article was originally hosted on the Bully Boys website and is posted here with their permission. - PC]
    Last edited by Eric Tipton; 01-21-2018, 03:13 PM.
    Paul Calloway
    Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
    Proud Member of the GHTI
    Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
    Wayne #25, F&AM

  • #2
    Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

    My dad and some other great early ''campaigner'' type guys offered this same advice to some NC ''mainstreamers'' 15 years ago and they were summarily scorned, ignored, or chased off. The boys just said "we did'nt like being talked down to by them know-it-alls''. I'm serious.

    It seem's to me that dad and the old fellows still get that same reaction to their views today...
    Last edited by Vuhginyuh; 02-04-2004, 07:43 PM.
    B. G. Beall (Long Gone)

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

      I have known Cal since the late 70's and I have always been proud to call him a friend. His advice given here in one form or another has been around at least that long. Too many in the campaigner movement think they are on to something relatively new but they aren't. This struggle for authenticity has been going on for as long as many of them have been alive.

      Equipment and clothing have changed tremendously over years unfortunately in many cases the attitude and the desire is what is lagging behind. Years ago you were limited by both your attitude and gear but now with all the improvements it is only the approach to the hobby and the attitude that hold people back.

      Take what Paul has posted here and use it if you haven't already, you will find your impression improved greatly with no monetary investment.
      Jim Kindred

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

        Hi,

        Nothing personal towards Mr. Kinzer but, frankly, a significant portion of his writeup appears to be, to put it charitably, "debatable." Let me pick just three items of his to discuss:

        Regarding (3) hat brass, etc., please throw me a bone. I'm not sure what Cal means by his hat brass comments. I haven't read the article he references but I would likely take issue with some of it. Circumstances, of course, varied, but Indiana troops sure as heck were issued hat brass, numerals, eagles, etc. when available. Why do I know this? Take a look at 1st Sergeant James F. Cantwell, Company G, 80th IVI:

        List of persons who have contributed information to the 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment website


        In fact, an 84th Indiana QM-issue listing I found at the Indiana Historical Society, dated September 1862, also specifically states that hat brass was concurrently issued to the regiment, along with its uniforms, before it deployed. Another, unpublished, c.1862 image of two men in Company I, 32nd (1st German) Indiana that I just received today shows at least one of them wearing the letters "32" on the front of his forage cap as well as a badge of some kind directly above the numbers. Doing this was actually close to what Para. 1521 of the Army Regulations actually stated (i.e., company affiliation was to be designated by "yellow metal letters in front"). The 1865 report of Indiana QMG Asahel Stone also flatly states that small quantities of "Bugles, Hat," "Bands and Tassels," "Eagles," and "Feathers" were even issued to Indiana Legion (state militia) units.

        As stated above, "Bugles" were indeed "not regulation" but this was simply a case of the Regulations not keeping up with widely adopted "de facto" custom. There was plenty of confusion and dissatisfaction when it came to the Regulations as they existed: indeed, I've found at least two published letters bitching about the significant disconnects between "what was said" and "what was done." Using Kinzer's observations as starting point, I would argue that a slavish adherence to the Regs by reenactors is, in my view, almost as bad as "farbidity" since enlisted men and commanders at times had to finesse and make up things as they went along where there was no guidance. Therefore, it seems apparent to me that, in the case of hat/cap brass, troops logically adapted the provisions of Paras. 1515 and 1516 (dealing with officer and enlisted hat brass) for forage caps as circumstances required. Period images of New Hampshire troops regularly show their caps adorned with bugles, company letters, and regimental numerals. The bottom line is that, when it came to hat brass, some troops wore it constantly, others never did, and many of their commanders didn't care one way or another.

        Lastly, Kinzer's comment about looking like "a real soldier" struck a nerve with me. How, precisely, do we define "looking like a real soldier?" I'm sure those troops in nearly-spotless Heavy Artillery frock coats who marched to almost certain death at Cold Harbor considered themselves to be just as much "real soldiers" as the the crustiest privates in the Army of the Cumberland. I guess we have to be really careful about "projecting" our sensibilities on people who lived 140 years ago. They were similar to us in many ways yet, in others, completely different. And what constitutes a "real soldier" to us may not have been to them. If I'm missing Cal's point, then I apologize in advance.

        Regarding (4) "burnishing of Enfields," Geoffrey Walden would undoubtedly take issue with him, as per his on-line article, having personally examined hundreds of original Enfields. Stripping bluing from rifles was indubitably practiced...but it wasn't UNIVERSALLY practiced as Mr. Kinzer infers. This charming little custom, for what I've read, even varied from regiment to regiment within brigades.

        As for (6) "wearing knapsacks into battle," Mr. Kinzer's conclusions are, again, highly debatable to put it kindly. I'm not sure if he looked very deeply into the "Official Records" or other period documentation: I did this myself about a year ago and discovered at least 60 different AAR's alone in the "OR" specifically mentioning that packs were either dropped before going into action or simply left behind on wagons in the rear. The dates and locations of these reports varied widely so "dropping packs" was NOT an "early-war thing" and the size of the sample indicates it was a common habit. Troops certainly did, on occasion, wear their knapsacks into battle (as shown in that famous photo of Confederate dead by the Hagerstown Turnpike at Antietam) but that doesn't mean it was universally practiced. If your First Sergeant, Captain, and Colonel all tell you to "drop packs," and rounds are zipping over your head, what are you going to do? Argue with them?

        Mr. Kinzer's piece does contain interesting and useful information and, again, I want to make clear that my comments are not personal in any way, shape or form. However, I would submit that Mr. Kinzer's piece relies a lot more on "opinion" and "feelings" than documented sources. I would posit that the overall picture is a lot more complex than we all would initially think.

        Respectfully,

        Mark Jaeger
        Last edited by markj; 02-04-2004, 09:18 PM.
        Regards,

        Mark Jaeger

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

          However, I would submit that Mr. Kinzer's piece relies a lot more on "opinion" and "feelings" than documented sources
          Mark -
          That's why we put this article in the Editorial section rather then the Research section. As the section description states, this is Heavy on Opinion.
          Paul Calloway
          Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
          Proud Member of the GHTI
          Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
          Wayne #25, F&AM

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

            when it comes to the gaiters..... You really need to research your unit to find out about how long they lasted. Paul is correct in saying that most units would dump this calf wrappers in a heart beat; however I know of two units the 6th and 7th NJ that wore thier gaiters all the way unitil the fall of 63' which at that point were scraped mainly becuase no fresh supply was available to the new soldiers coming in. They are indeed a great item for that early war impression for a unit that was know to wear them. When you hit an 1863 and later event they should be indeed as Paul states burned! This is inded a debatable article but the points are well made and the article is well placed in the editorial section! My point I always make to people in the hobby is the plain soldier impression and the short hair! I see as many of you have those ponytail hippies and the guys with more brass and exotic items. The simple fact is when you put gear in your pack, put in on and jump up and down if its too heavy you wont want to march with it! There are great aricles out there as well as first hand accounts on how to PACK A KNAPSACK in period fashion ECSP the federal double bag. Take note the straps on top can be used for a blanket but are meant for the great coat the blanket goes with your shelter half inside.
            Drew Ingram
            7th NJ CO A
            2nd Battalion
            6th Marines
            WIA: FALLUJAH, IRAQ

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

              I'm going to chime in here also. You may want to look photos of the Iron Brigade. There is brass on their Hardee's, gaiters over their shoes, and their diaries and journals state they dropped their packs at the Luthern Seminary on the way to Mc Pherson's Ridge at Gettysburg. The 24th Michigan were required to wear their Gaiters, Hardee's with Brass and feathers by their commander. I agree the 2nd Wisc. dropped the brass and gaiters prior to Gettysburg, but, saying dropping all this to improve your impression is just another reenactorism. I would recommend doing proper research concerning the unit you wish to portray and then decide how to fill out your kit.
              Dave Prince
              4th Texas Co. E.
              Dave Prince

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                I agree with you here That is what I said in my post. You need to research YOUR unit as much as possible! But this thread is in the editorial section which is heavy on opinion so as much research is not required. If this was in the reseach section it would be a diffrnet story but it is well placed here!
                Drew Ingram
                7th NJ CO A
                2nd Battalion
                6th Marines
                WIA: FALLUJAH, IRAQ

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                  Mark Jaeger is right on the money as far as he went, charitable in fact. It is interesting how cyclical the conventional wisdom is in the hobby. For my part, I just wish Cal had recommended retro-verting (to borrow a Curt-Heinrich Schmidt term) those Enfields by making some historical feature improvements to them vs "burnishing the metal parts".

                  Overall though, there is some good common sense advice mixed in with all the rest.
                  Last edited by Craig L Barry; 09-20-2007, 01:43 PM.
                  Craig L Barry
                  Editor, The Watchdog, a non-profit 501[c]3
                  Co-author (with David Burt) Suppliers to the Confederacy
                  Author, The Civil War Musket: A Handbook for Historical Accuracy
                  Member, Company of Military Historians

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                    I wouldn't put a lot of stock in much of Mr. Kinzer's research as it is, as Paul pointed out, opinion heavy.

                    While he may be correct on a lot of points there are the units like 2nd Wisconsin, 24th Michigan and others that shoot his theories right in the posterior.

                    One thing I've discovered in 24 years in the hobby is... there are no absolutes! The other replies in this thread point that out quite succinctly. I think the evidence is available for us in the surviving photos, relics, museum displays, diaries, etc.

                    One thing I've enjoyed over the years is always being able to learn something new. "A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression" is no substitute for research, research, research.

                    Rick Keating
                    Rick Keating
                    104th Illinois Vol. Inf.
                    1st Illinois Battalion

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                      This was cutting edge stuff about 15 years ago. It's here more out of nostalgia than anything else.
                      Paul Calloway
                      Proudest Member of the Tar Water Mess
                      Proud Member of the GHTI
                      Member, Civil War Preservation Trust
                      Wayne #25, F&AM

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                        Guys,

                        This is basically an example of how to set yourself apart from the mainstream as a generic authentic, without specific unit research. We all know how un-authentics dress at mainstream reenactments, so this should not be a big surprise. When Cal wrote this, he was not referring to EBUFU events with heavy unit research. I would say this is a "how to" for the progressive reenactor, plain and simple.

                        I think his basic point still holds true today, and is good advice for a generic reenactor.
                        Last edited by HOG.EYE.MAN; 09-20-2007, 05:42 PM.
                        [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

                        Aaron Schwieterman
                        Cincinnati

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                          Hello All. I think that the fundimental facts in Mr. Kinzer's article were very good. However, there were several things that I did not like about his article. First of all, Mr. Kinzer makes far too many generalizations. It just doesn't make any sense to say that ALL soldiers got rid of their gaiters before the middle of the war. Just like today, nobody's tastes and preferences are the same. If some gent thought that gaiters looked good on him and were useful, he would have kept them until they wore out.

                          The other thing that bugs me about Mr. Kinzer's article is that he says several times that something looks bad. Yes, gaiters may look bad, but if they are authentic, that is more important. People thought differently about how things looked in the 1860's than they do now. It sounds like Mr. Kinzer is saying what looks good or bad by today's standards. Please forgive me if I am wrong. I may just be misunderstanding the meaning of Mr. Kinzer's words.
                          Sincerely,
                          William H. Chapman
                          Liberty Rifles

                          "They are very ignorant, but very desperate and very able." -Harper's Weekly on the Confederate Army, December 14, 1861

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                            "I have yet to see a period photograph of a bluedEnfield. (If anyone has one, Id like to see it!)" - Cal
                            Cal's the type of guy I avoid. ;)
                            [COLOR="Olive"][FONT="Arial Narrow"]Larry Pettiford[/FONT][/COLOR]

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                            • #15
                              Re: A Dozen Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Personal Impression: By Cal Kinzer

                              #13 LEARN THE BUGLE CALLS and utilize a bugler at all events.
                              RJ Samp
                              (Mr. Robert James Samp, Junior)
                              Bugle, Bugle, Bugle

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