Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tales of a Male Civilian Coordinator

I have been told that I'm a rarity - I am a male civilian coordinator.
Yes, you heard correctly: a male civilian coordinator.
"But, aren't men supposed to be in the military, fighting?" you may ask.
Most are, and that's a good thing. It'd be hard to have a Civil War reenactment without the men fighting the battles, right?

Civilian Men of the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society

But, in reality, the average guy fighting in the American Civil War was around 25 years old. I am nearly twice that age. Yes, I do realize that men my age fought, but that was pretty rare. Plus, I have two sons in the military unit already. Muskets aren't cheap, you know. And neither are the leathers. And, to be honest, I'd rather spend my weekends with my wife. I mean, I work 40 hours a week, usually opposite hours of my wife, who also works 40 hours a week, so we don't get to see each other as much as we'd like. So, by portraying a male of the early 1860's I can spend more time with her. And, in this way, she will enjoy these time-travel excursions a bit more.
Now I have found that virtually every other unit I know that I reenact with have women as their civilian coordinators. And their civilian contingent is made up of mainly women as well. Like there were no males left at home in the early 1860's.
Slowly, however, we are finding more and more men taking on the impression of a civilian during the Civil War era. And, for someone like me it's a welcome sight. When I first began my civilian impression, men in the civilian contingency were few and far between, and those that spent their time in the civilian camps were often referred to as "one of the women" by the men in the military. A supposed dig.
But, guess what? Over the last few years more and more men are joining the citizen ranks, giving the visitor a more well-rounded lesson of life on the homefront.

Home crafts such as rag rug making was an everyday occurrence in the 1860's

In a way I was a sort of pioneer, I guess.
And I continue to be voted in as the civilian coordinator!
This all came about due to the growing civilian contingency. The 21st Michigan (one of the units in which I belong) decided to add a civilian coordinator to it's roster of "leaders." I was asked, was elected, and now have served five years in this position. In that time we have grown from a wallflower-type group of less than a dozen civilians to an out-front large collection of progressive living historians. I like to think it's because that we hold period dress meetings where we practice our 1st person, study period-correct clothing, and work on our impressions. And I feel it's because of these meetings that we now have a farmer, a mid-wife, a postmaster (yours truly), a laundress, a school teacher, a Michigan senator (Senator Jacob Howard), a Quaker abolitionist (Laura Haviland), a preacher's wife, a watergirl, fiddle player, and, coming soon, a sheriff based on an actual Michigan sheriff.

The 21st Michigan Laundress
"Two cents to wash a pair o' socks. 'Course, it's half off iffin' you only got one leg!"

We also have various members that demonstrate period-correct crafts such as a spinster, a woodworker, knitting, crotcheting, quilting, tatter, rugmaking, and a butter maker. And, as I said, we also work on our 1st person language...doing our best to stay away from words and phrases not used during the era we are representing. It's really not as hard as one might think. We study letters, diaries, and read books written in the period. And, the replicas of the actual etiquette books truly help with our mannerisms. By mixing it all together we feel we are fairly close to what the one from the early 1860's may have been like. Well, we still have to work on it, of course, but we're getting there.
Then, after the discussions and practicing is done, we'll play a parlor game such as Questions and Answers. Great fun!
I hold these meetings twice a year - in the spring at my home and in the fall at another member's home. We all dress in our period clothing (except for the newbies, of course, who may not have period clothing yet, but are still welcome), use no electric lights, eat period-correct food and snacks, and in this way, we can do our best to work on what we need to give as accurate impression to not only the public, but to ourselves...to help us time travel. I found that folks will concentrate more while dressed correctly - they get more into the spirit of the era.
Members of other groups have taken notice and have actually come up to me and asked me "what's your secret?"
Well, what I wrote above is it: to be period, one must dress and act period. Study the language, the mannerisms, the activities, the everyday life of those who we are attempting to emulate. Read of their world - not necessarily of the rich and of all the politics, but of the average person of the era. Then throw you're own personality into the mix and what will/should turn out is what I would consider a fine representation of a middle class citizen of the Civil War era.
It has worked great for our group. I bet it will work for yours as well!

The good Senator Jacob Howard speaks to his fellow Michiganians
"Vote for Me!!!


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