The Lamar Rifles

By Jim Butler

Once you have mastered a background and civilian life for a first person impression, you may want to do more with that skill at a living history or event. Some of these are quite simple, but always peak curiosity among the public and other reenactors. Try them and I would love any feedback or suggestions at

1. HUNT FOR GRAY BACKS: Find a pard or two and remove your blouse or frock coat. Sit down on a log or the ground and look over your coat carefully. This was a common function of the soldier as he de-louses his clothes (gray colored louses commonly called Gray Backs by the soldiers. This will always elicit a "What the heck ya doing?!" quite often!

2. PLAY A GAME OF CHANCE: Find 2 or more (I have held games of 10-15 and it easy to do (split in two groups)) pard and grab a gum blanket. Chuck-A-Luck or "Sweat" was a dice game that was very popular amongst the soldiers. Many a man lost a chunk of his meager income at this game (try it and you'll see)!. Of course, gambling for money is illegal, but I suggest playing for a small gift or choice of duties, etc. I have made copies of repro, postage currency (called Shinplasters) for use as chips during the game. Since this game is little known by most of the public, it usually peaks curiosity and draws people closer to see what everyone is milling around a gum blanket for. Please refer a previous article I wrote on how to play the game or email me and I'll get them to you. Also, a pickup game of Poker is also similar in effect. Even on those short reprieves while on the march, many a reenactor is willing to play a few hands to kill the time while he is all waiting for the march to resume.

3. DO SOME PERIOD COOKING: I haven't quite figured out why this raises so much curiosity among visitors and other reenactors is beyond me, but it usually does! Cook up some rations (salt pork, bacon, potatoes beans, etc) in a canteen half or skillet over an open fire. Layout your food on a nearby gum blanket and people will inevitably ask "what are ya cookin?" I will be writing another article soon that will include some palatable period recipes. Adding a period ration issue also adds another element to your impression.

4. CHALLENGE STRANGERS ON PICKET DUTY: While on your post during guard duty you can get bored. So, to make it more interesting, why not actually guard!? This can be difficult if you are on a main road as you will need to yield most people through your post and not hold up others as you engage in first person (don't block up the road!). But, you can challenge both the public and other reeanctors. As they approach, call out "Who comes there!?". Most people won't know how to answer. In many cases if they don't know the countersign or know what to say to me, I'll call out, "Advance one with the countersign!" and I'll waive one of them to me. I'll whisper the countersign to them and thus it looks as if they have given me the countersign. Then when they pass again, they will know it. Of course, if you are in a live tactical situation and need to keep integrity in the picket line, then all bets are off and won't want to reveal your countersign. Issuing passes to your unit will also add more realism to your event.

5. MOCK PUNISHMENTS: Many of you have already engaged in this and already seen the hilarity in it (maybe at the expense of a good-natured pard). But, the public will also find this equally hilarious and also inquire as to what is going on. Of course be careful in the treatment of your victim. Riding the wooden horse, buck and gag, standing on a barrel or wearing a placard, marching a beat with a log or pack full of rocks is also effective. Provide a guard to supervise the activity to add more realism. Be careful and have fun with this one.

6. EXCHANGES WITH THE ENEMY: If you've reenacted even a short time, you will probably know a few people in the enemy's camp. Pre-arrange a time and place to meet (preferable where the public will see if at a living history or reenactment that is for the public). Federals bring coffee or some other ration and Confederates bring Tobacco to exchange. This can raise some curiosity as to why enemies are engaged in such a manner.

7. PAROLE PRISONERS: In a similar vain as #6, you will need a couple of friends from the enemy camp. Arrange a meeting place outside of both camps or just after a battle is good. Have your enemy pards remove all their leathers and have them unarmed. At fixed bayonet, march them as
prisoners to your camp. Have an officer interrogate them briefly and then have them sign an Oath of Allegiance form and parole them out. This is not only a lot of fun, but also interests both reenactors and the public. It is something we don't see happen a lot and we probably should do more.I have various forms I would be happy to provide you a copy of or you can purchase kits from Sullivan Press at

8. WRITE A LETTER: While in camp search around for a scrap of paper (a cartridge wrapper, scrap of newspaper, etc). Then hunt up a pencil and write a letter. The process of hunting up a scrap piece of paper and writing on a scrap will also illicit some questions and interest. I also recommend making copies of some repro stamps and carry them in your period wallet for your letters. Fold it up and seal with some wax. address and stamp it. You could even give it to a spectator.

9. MAIL CALL: This activity takes more preparation or participation than most, but it can be very rewarding and fun. Prior to the event, contact others in your unit and ask them to write a period letter on period paper. Many of the malls have stationary stores that carry various styles of writing size paper. If you're ambitious, you can organize the mail call yourself. If you are willing to write each letter with quill and ink then that is great, but if time is not on your side, here is a good option: If you have a computer that has a word processor with various fonts, then you can very closely reproduce period writing. Compose several letters on your PC and print them on your period paper. Write as many as you have energy to write. You can even use the same letter twice by changing the name and sending it to someone else in the unit (try not to do this very much as most reenactors will share their letters). Then fold the paper twice from the ends and seal it with wax. If you have a wax seal then can use it as well. Glue on a period, repro or copy stamp. Stack and tie up the letters with some hemp or cotton twine. Have the 1st Srgt call "Mail Call" and have him issue the letters. If we are to reenact this properly, we should show great excitement at Mail Call as this was so very important to the soldiers.

10. USE SLANG: Slang changes with the times and most people are not familiar with the slang of the 1860's. By using period slang you will enhance your first person impression greatly! If it seems a bit juvenile, then you need to consider the average age of the Civil War soldier. Rather than list a dictionary of terms, I refer you to an article on the subject of Slang at: . Look under Articles and then Articles on First Person. Aside from the slang article, this site is GREAT!

I am sure that you will come up with other new ideas. I hope the ideas I have listed will inspire you with some new ones. These activities have varying amounts of required preparation, but the one requirement is participation. I encourage everyone to participate and join in the fun of a variety of activities.

Jim Butler of the Huckleberry Mess
125 OVI



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