Someone new to reenacting often has so many questions that he is overwhelmed, and doesn't know where to start. Perhaps it will help to consider a typical Ferguson's Artillery member as he prepares for and attends a typical weekend reenactment.
One week before: "I know that I committed to attending the battle this coming weekend. I better check Ferguson's Yahoo groups web site to see if there are any updates. If we don't have enough guys going, we won't be able to man the gun. I'll also look at the battle's web site again, to check directions, camping site location and regulations, and for any last minute changes... The Weather Channel is calling for clear skies, so we won't have a repeat of last year's Mud March between camp and the battlefield."
Thursday: Our reenactor checks the tires and the oil in the car, and starts laying out his kit so that the car can be packed to leave right after work, tomorrow. It's a two hour drive, which will leave plenty of time to set up camp before sundown. First, he hauls out the tent, gives it a sniff, and decides it's not too musty from the last event. He remembers the poles and stakes, not like the time he had to spend two nights on the wet ground by a sputtering fire, his front steaming and his back freezing, just like great grandfather at Dranesville in December of '62. Next, he gets his camping box off the garage shelf, and is thankful that he finally got that organized. It holds his lantern, his candles, matches, hatchet, first aid kit, and all the other stuff that he has found indispensible for any camping expedition, in any century. The modern stuff he'll keep in the box, out of sight of his compatriots and spectators, so as not to ruin the period appearance of the camp. He doesn't forget his sleeping bag, which he'll hide under the patchwork quilt. His mattress ticking, stuffed with straw provided by the event host unit, will be his bed, and he'll bring a camp stool for sitting around the fire after dinner. Then, it's into the house to get his uniforms together. The event staff has decided that Ferguson's will portray Federal artillery on one day, and Confederate the next, so he gets out both uniforms. Blue sack coat and sky blue trousers, blue kepi cap and a cotton printed shirt, all purchased second hand some years ago, go into his knapsack. Cotton drawers, and a pair of socks complete the Union uniform. He looks at his brogans critically, and decides that they'll protect his feet for at least the rest of the season, but he may have to invest in some more shoes before long. His Confederate uniform goes into the pile: belt ; the spare shirt; second pair of socks; gray, jeans wool trousers that he made five years ago, with the suspenders; gray shell jacket; brown slouch hat and the red kepi, the choice to be determined by the need for sun protection balanced against the vanity of that flash of red in an otherwise drab outfit. No need for the overcoat this time of year, but he throws the rubber poncho in, to use as a groundcloth if not otherwise needed for the unexpected rainshower. Haversack for his lunch, tin plate and cup, fork, and canteen get tossed in, also. Toiletries? Toothpowder and brush, and a bar of lye soap, and don't forget the sewing kit for emergency repairs; he often loses a button in the heat of battle. Now, off to the kitchen to pack the cooler; he'll pick up ice on the trip out of town. The cooler fits nicely in the period wooden box he made, which doubles as a seat. The unit has decided to go out together to eat Friday night, and have a potluck campfire meal Saturday night, and the event is providing Saturday lunch, so he only has to prepare for breakfasts, and Sunday lunch. Some fruit, cheese, bread, dry sausage, and some canned drinks suffice for his needs. The unit has all of the cooking irons: coffepot, grate, large pans and pots, etc, so that he doesn't need to bring any of that heavy stuff.
Friday: The Private leaves work early, and stops at the bank on the way home. He needs to have $15 a day to pay his share of the cost of the black powder and primers which will be expended during the battles; he muses that $30 is pretty cheap for a weekend of fun. He gets a few extra dollars, in case he wants to eat at one of the food tents at the camp. His wife is waiting for him at home, and has her stuff packed, and has loaded it all in the car. They pile in, load the CD changer with period nineteenth century music, and two hours later they check into the motel where his wife wanted to stay. Their tent is too small for all of her ballgowns and hoops, and she really likes to have a shower in a real bathroom every morning. She'll attend the reenactment activities each day, but retire to civilization each night. They drive to the reenactment site, register, pick up a bale of hay provided by the event and throw it on the cartop. No registration fee at this event, because they belong to the Palmetto Battalion, to which they pay a yearly $20 dues. The map has the artillery camp clearly marked, and when they pull up, one member of Ferguson's has already set up his tent. The three of them make quick work of setting up the Private's camp, and everyone pitches in to help as other members arrive. A couple of guys couldn't get off work early, and will arrive the next morning at daybreak. They drive to a local restaurant, and after a good meal and alot of catching up on each other's activities, return to the campsite. They make a fire, and those who don't turn in immediately trade stories and go over the next day's plans. Ferguson's lieutenant brings word from the officers' meeting that they will be doing a Federal impression tomorrow, and that they will get to be Confederate on Sunday. There are about twenty guns at this event, equally divided between the two armies. The ordnance sergeant reports that he has prepared thirty rounds for the weekend, and that there are enough primers for both battles. Most of the guys have already moved their vehicles out of camp to the reenactor parking area, but the organizers at this event are not sticklers about having cars in camp on Friday night, and the gun, trailer and truck are parked beside the tents, to be moved early tomorrow. The conversation having succumbed to full bellies, and with some heads nodding, the soldiers head off to their respective tents.
Saturday: The bugle sounds reveille at 7:00 am, and Ferguson's men tumble out of their tents to join the early risers around the campfire. They hit the PortaJohns, and have coffee before moving the truck and gun out of camp, leaving the cannon on the battlefield in a line of ten other Union guns. Back at camp, some make breakfast over the fire, and some visit the Sutler area to purchase a hot meal. All assemble back at camp, and the sergeant completes roll call, and orders a tent inspection. All modern stuff, or "anachronisms" to the period, must be out of sight before spectators begin visiting at 9:00. Those who cannot abide by the rule must keep their tents tied shut. Coolers, cans and anything out of place is hidden before the sergeant expresses his satisfaction and calls the men to attention. They march to the morning formation, where the entire armies are assembled, to receive the day's plans, instructions and safety rules. As they march back to camp, a couple of late arrivals straggle up, and are loudly derided for being "Ramada Rangers" and missing roll call. The event organizers are serving lunch at noon, and the men are dismissed until they are to reassemble at 1:00 in camp. Most of them head off to Sutler Row, where merchants have erected their tents and sell reenacting gear, clothing, weapons and food to soldiers and visitors. Those who remain in camp welcome the visitors as they wander through, answering their questions and teaching them about the life of a Civil War artilleryman. Our Private joins the sutler crowd, and runs into his wife at the Palmetto Soldiers Relief Society tent, where the ladies are gossiping and getting ready for the morning tea and fashion show. They make plans to meet after the battle, as she'll be busy until then, touring the antebellum home and gardens on site, and speaking to the visitors about the PSRS's programs to assist the soldiers in camp and on campaign. At noon, the men congregate on Sutler Row, and line up to fill their tin plates and cups with the beef stew, cornbread, biscuits and cookies that the event has provided. Everyone is back at camp at 1:00, and once all of the canteens are filled, they shoulder their haversacks and march to the battlefield. For the next hour, they drill on the gun, sharpening the skills they need to serve the piece safely and efficiently. Some spectators are watching, and the lieutenant explains the period drill in which Ferguson's Artillery takes such pride. He notes that they have a dozen men today, and since only seven are needed for a full crew, there will be replacements for the men who go down wounded during the battle. Our Private begins formulating his scenario for taking one of the loud, theatrical, glorious "hits" which have become his trademark. At 2:30 the spectators are all in the viewing area, and the battle begins with the skirmishers trading fire. The cavalry swing into action, and the Union infantry appear out of the woods, marching toward the entrenched Confederate troops. The cannon open up, and soon the smoke is swirling over the field, obscuring the movements of the infantry. For forty-five minutes the battle rages, the Federal troops repeatedly assaulting the dug-in Rebels, until one last charge drives them from their trenches, and the Confederate cannon go silent. The dead and wounded, including the grievously injured and moaning Private, litter the field. The bugler sounds "Taps" and the fallen are ordered to resurrect. The troops reassemble, and the infantry fire three volleys to salute their ancestors. The artillery responds with a rolling fire salute of its own, and as the smoke disperses, the spectators applaud and drift away to the camps and Sutler Row. Ferguson's men march back to camp, and review the battle while enjoying boiled peanuts and some muscadine grapes scavenged from the woods. Dinner is a potluck over the campfire, and as the sun sets, the eatables appear and go into the pot. After the meal, the stories begin, to the accompaniment of a harmonica at a nearby camp. Some men prefer a more active participation, and get cleaned up for the Saturday night dance. At this event it's in a building, which makes the dancing easier than those held under a tent, on sometimes rough ground. The band is a good one, and teaches the period dances to those not already schooled. The ladies have brought their ball gowns, since there is no muddy floor to soil the hems, but the soldiers have thoughtfully remembered to wear their white cotton gloves to keep the perspiration off of the finery. Finally exhausted, the Ferguson's members repair to camp, and after some down time at the campfire, retire to their tents. Our Private says goodnight to his wife, who returns to the hotel's soft bed and hot shower. He contents himself with a bed of straw, which feels like goosedown to his tired muscles. He is briefly awakened by coyotes yipping in the distance, but doesn't stir again until the bugle sounds at 7:00.
Sunday: The previous morning's routine is repeated, but today the men get to wear their gray and will fight against the invading Federal vandals. Church services are offered at 11:00, and after some communal hymns, the preacher finishes the sermon and all join hands to sing "Dixie" before returning to camp or Sutler Row. Lunch is "on your own" today, and most opt for canned meat, fruit or other handy victuals which don't require cooking. The Paymaster collects powder fees from the men, and an event representative brings him the bounty which is provided to help defray the cost of powder and primers. Some of Ferguson's men can be found napping in the long grass, when the call comes to assemble. Again, gun drill is scheduled before the battle. A potential recruit is visiting today, outfitted with some spare Ferguson's clothing which fits about as well as the original issues would have. He is introduced to the drill, and put through his paces just as would have been done 150 years earlier. He warms to the task, and will be pulling the lanyard to fire the gun in battle. The infantry ranks are somewhat smaller when the firing starts; some of those who live far away have already struck camp and headed home. The spectators are out in force, however, and are treated to a Southern victory. After the battle, the trucks are summoned to pick up the guns, and the Ferguson's crew load up the cannon. They retrieve their cars from the reenactor lot, and head back to camp, where those fortunate enough to have wives find their belongings neatly arranged for packing into the vehicle. The tents come down, the camp is cleaned and fire extinguished, goodbyes are exchanged, and Ferguson's Artillery disperses. On the drive home, our Private regales his wife with the story of his latest glorious exploits and tragic wounding. She shows him her purchases from Sutler Row, and they leave the nineteenth century behind until the next scheduled event.