Friday, March 15, 2019

How to Stay in Fighting Form Through the Winter

"The first thing in the morning is drill, then drill, then drill again. Then drill, drill, a little more drill. Then drill, and lastly drill. Between drills, we drill, and sometimes stop to eat a little and have roll-call." ~Oliver Norton, 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry

During the Civil War, infantry tactics of the Napoleonic era dictated that the soldiers spent close to half the day drilling when they were in camp. The officers basically drilled the men until their arms were ready to fall off. And then they stopped briefly to eat or rest a bit, and then started to drill again.  The idea was to instill in the men a 'muscle memory' of the required movements, so they could obey orders even when half asleep from exhaustion or in the heat of battle. They wanted it to become a reflex.

As reenactors who only do this as a weekend hobby for about three or four months out of the year, and only get to do a well-organized Battalion Drill perhaps once or twice a year, of course it is rather easy to fall out of shape. The months spent cooped up indoors without much physical activity can leave us rather, well... soft. 

If you're looking for a way to keep your muscles toned for battle during the long winter indoors, (and you're like me and don't have gym equipment or can't afford a gym membership,) here are three exercises that an experienced reenactor showed me who had been doing Rev War since 1976. It works best with a long musket, like the Springfield or the Enfield, but I've been involved in World War II more and more and I found it works just as well with my M1 Garand. It trains the specific groups of muscles that we use most often when dropping to our knees after running, getting up to run, and of course aiming our rifles.

I found these exercises to be most effective, try to do them once a day. It only takes a few minutes, and yes, you will have to get out your weapon to do this:


1. Hold your rifle or musket by the barrel and the stock horizontally, and raise it straight above your head (pretend you're one of those guys fording a river in 'Nam)

2. Raise and lower it slowly like a barbell several times, then hold it up as long as you can until you feel your arms getting shaky. Then rest for a few seconds, and repeat.  This works your shoulders and upper arms.


 3. Bring the rifle down behind your head, so you feel your back stretching out. Dang that feels good. Stand up as tall and straight as you can.

4. Aim your rifle or musket straight ahead, supporting it with your elbow on your hip, and crouch down on one knee, then come back up. Do this slowly 3 times. Rest for a few seconds. Repeat.  This targets the specific parts of your legs used in crouching down and rising up to move. Your knees will hurt for a bit. That's how you know you did it right.

5. Aim your rifle or musket straight ahead while standing, then pick up one foot and place it against your other knee, like "Jethro Tull playing a flute" Keep standing on one leg, and try to hold your aim steady for as long as you can until you start to wobble. This is harder than it sounds, but it works a lot of muscles at once. The longer you can stand to do it, the stronger you will get!

6. While you got the rifle out, why not go through the Manual of Arms? (if you got the ceiling height for it) I have to go out and practice in the garage, due to some dents in the ceiling from a certain blunt instrument...  Here are some videos for musket drill you can follow for an example.

LionHeart Filmworks just made some new Casey's drill videos this year.

Or, follow Casey's Manual "By the Book" with this one:

Monday, February 18, 2019

A soldier's face revealed after 155 years

In the small cemetery of Emmanuel Church in historic New Castle, Delaware, there are very old burials and headstones dating as far back as the 1680s. One slightly more recent grave caught my attention for the amount of writing inscribed on it. This is the gravestone of Captain John Evans, a soldier in the 2nd Delaware Volunteers during the Civil War. It says where and when he was KIA, and unlike most soldier burials, it lists all the battles he fought in.
His headstone is below.

It reads:

To the memory of
my beloved husband
Of 2nd Regt. Del. Vols.

After having distinguished himself
at the Battles of Gains Mills,
Savage Station, Peach Orchard,
White Oak, Malvern Hill,
Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville,
Gettysburg, Auburn Hill,
Bristoe Station, Mine Run and Wilderness,
He fell in the pride of early Manhood
May 19th, 1864.
In the 27th year of his age
At the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.
He was a true and faithful follower
of Christ from early youth.
He rests in peace.

With the appalling death toll of Civil War battles and the short life expectancy of officers, I think it's amazing he survived 13 major battles, including the deadliest days in American history. What an incredibly brave soldier he must have been. 

Now, thanks to a visit with the Delaware History Museum's research library this past Saturday, and with their permission to share for my readers, I have a copy of this man's photograph.

So here he is...this is Captain John Evans himself in 1861.

No more a faceless name carved in weathered stone... now this long-dead soldier can get the admiration he deserves. The things he must have seen and survived. We can only imagine.

This young individual, at age 27, led an entire company of 100 men in battle. A hundred scared boys with muskets, some of whom were mere teenagers, others may have been older than he was. He led them through 14 battles, no less.

I don't know how he was killed, but I think his career speaks for itself. With thirteen engagements under his belt, he must have been no coward.

So let his name and face be known, after all these years!

...I myself am related to a Union soldier who was killed in 1864, at the battle of Reams Station. And he was about the same age. His tale was somewhat less noble... but his is a story for another time.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Advice for Soldiers at Public Events

-Don't be the guys who ignore the public's questions.
-Don't be the guys who give sarcastic answers to the questions.
-Don't be the guys who sit around and drink beer and smoke cigarettes.
-Don't be the guys who turn their backs on the National anthem.
-Don't be the guys who ignore the command staff when they pass by. SALUTE!
-Don't call an officer by his first name. "Captain _____ Sir" only!
-Don't walk right into the Colonel's tent. Get your Captain to escort you and ask permission.
-Don't sit around mocking the spectators.
-Don't sit around mocking the 'farbs'.
-Don't sit around and talk trash about other reenactors.
-Don't sit around and talk trash about that guy's girlfriend/wife.
-Don't sit around and talk about modern politics in an 1860's camp.
-Don't sit around, period!

Get up and walk around!

-Go pose for pictures with young visitors; it will make their day.
-Go find a veteran and talk to them, invite them into your camp.
-Go visit other units, try talking to them. Make new friends.
-Go find the answer to a question you don't know.
-Go party with the other side on Saturday night, see what they think of your event.
-Go to the dance, even if you don't dance you can still watch.
-Go act out a scenario with friends to entertain the public.

-Go find where all the laughter and music is coming from, that's where the fun is.

Remember the public, we are here for them.

-Without them we have no local interest.
-Without the local interest, we have no funding.
-Without the funding, we have no events.
-Without the events, we have no excuse to wear our fancy blue suit in public.

"I thank de lawd everyday for Mista Lincoln who gave me these beautiful clothes!" - Glory